Commodification and Disruption. Theorizing Digital Capitalism

Abstract

There is little disagreement that digital technologies are transforming contemporary economies and societies. However, scholars have only begun to systematically think about how digitalization - the process whereby more and more of what we say, think, and do becomes mediated by digital technologies - is both driven by and transformative of capitalism. This paper argues that when one speaks about digitalization, one cannot be silent about capitalism. It reconstructs commodification and disruption as key features of capitalist development. It then shows how three digital revolutions - the platform, (big) data, and artificial intelligence revolutions - have ushered in a new wave of commodification and disruption, giving rise to digital capitalism. The paper further argues that when one speaks about digital capitalism, one cannot be silent about politics. Having identified central challenges digital commodification and disruption pose, it points to coalitional struggles and ideational battles as key features of the politics of digital capitalism. The paper combines scholarship on capitalism with scholarship on digitalization, offering a simple but historically and theoretically grounded framework for how to think about, but also for how to study, digital capitalism.

Timo Seidl
Timo Seidl
Post-Doc

I am a Post-Doc at the University of Vienna’s Centre for European Integration Research (EIF).