Introduction: Capitalism, unpacked
How does capitalism – in its various guises – capture the value that we produce in society? There are many ways to answer this question, because capitalism has many ways to extract value from us (Chertkovskaya et al., 2016; Hanlon, 2017). On the surface, everything seems above board. Businesses erect factories and offices for us to work in; workers sign contracts and receive wages for their daily efforts; and shareholders put in the capital and get a return on their investments. But below the surface, things are not quite so straightforward.
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.
Giorgio Agamben is a household name in management theory (Ek et al., 2007; Banerjee, 2008; Cunha et al., 2010; O’Doherty et al., 2013; Beltramini, 2020). Agamben’s (2011) recent book, The kingdom and the glory (henceforth The kingdom), has received praise and criticism from management theorists, yet its impact cannot be underestimated. Agamben's theoretical work has broad historical philosophical ambitions, is unapologetically controversial, and attempts to diagnose and show the origins of the malaise that is affecting liberal democracies today.
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’?
This book – re-issued as a paperback in September 2018 – engages with alter-capitalist tropes of thoughts that envisage possibilities of pathbreaking socio-economic transformations in a world where everything is subsumed under the pervasive hegemon of global capital.
Back in 2010, when 3D printing was at the peak of the hype-cycle, activists from the Swedish Pirate Party showed up at an IKEA trade fair and solemnly announced that it was only a matter of time before 3D printing would disrupt the furniture industry, just like it happened to the record industry after Napster.
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.
Background: Capitalism, for-profit enterprise and the growth fetish
Capitalism is an economic system in which most businesses and the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit (Shleifer, 1998). Underlying the modern evolution of this system has been the neoclassical concept of Homo economicus, in which humans are believed to be mostly selfish and competitive, and the best way to incentivize innovation and facilitate economic activity is to appeal to individual self-interest (Gintis, 2000).
Scholars across different levels and topics of adult education have recently called for addressing spiritual experiences in learning. As learning has become a lifelong task in post-industrial societies, the means of managing learning should allegedly be human-centred, that is, conform to the human capacities of learning to learn and the ability to find meaning and fulfilment in daily learning experiences.