Rejecting capitalism is like living out Don Michael Corleone’s famous phrase from The Godfather Part III: ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in’. Traditionally, capitalism has used violence to lay claim to everything that escapes from it. But today this violence is complemented by more insidious forms of coercion that are based as much on seduction and pleasure as they are on cruelty and oppression. We now work for capitalism as much in our free time as we do when we are being paid – not because we have to, but because we want to.
Like so many other households, mine is doing its best to maintain some sort of order under the current conditions, organizing around the new abnormal of the COVID-19 pandemic as best we can. However, as we enter yet another month of semi-lockdown (this was written in a Copenhagen flat at the end of January 2021) entropy looms large. Routines that used to go unquestioned can now become the main task – and sometimes the highlight – of the day: do I need to shower? Should we prepare a home-cooked dinner?
Some scholars churn out paper after paper with small arguments and thinly sliced contributions, and may compile them into books that connect the dots and offer broader perspectives. Others leave fewer, but much bigger footprints. Shoshana Zuboff, professor emerita at Harvard Business School, certainly falls in the second category. Her first book, In the age of the smart machine: The future of work and power (Zuboff, 1985), remains a pillar in fields of research focusing on digital technologies, information systems, organization and management, and knowledge production.
In a compelling paper that appeared in 2007, Slavoj Zizek recounted the following anecdote, funny and disconcerting at the same time: Italian leftist journalist Marco Cicala had confessed him that after having submitted an article featuring the word ‘capitalism’, the editor had asked him whether using that term was actually his only choice: in case it wasn’t, why not replacing it with a synonymous, like ‘economy’?
Towards the end of 2015, the ephemera collective organised, chaired and participated within two separate Q+A panels celebrating the launch of Gerard Hanlon’s The dark side of management: A secret history of management theory. The events took place in The University of Leicester’s School of Management and Copenhagen Business School’s Management, Politics and Philosophy Department. Each of the events were recorded, transcribed, edited and amalgamated into the following feature.
ephemera: Let’s start with an overview and some introductory remarks.