The Politics of Digital Capitalism - Europe and Beyond


Anke Obendiek & Timo Seidl


March 1, 2021

Course Description

Digital technologies are rapidly transforming the way we live our lives and organize our societies and economies. This process of digitalization, whereby more and more of what we think, say, and do becomes mediated by digital technologies, confronts societies with a number of challenges ranging from questions of competition policy to content moderation to welfare state adjustment. Technology, however, is not social destiny. Societies can - and do - respond to these challenges very differently, which in turn changes the nature and trajectory of digitalization itself. The question then becomes: why do countries react different to digitalization, why do some deregulate while other re-regulate, why do digital platforms win some political battles but lose others? In this course, we will look at political responses to a particular set of challenges posed by digitalization: those that stem from its commodifying thrust. Commodification has two dimensions here. First, digitalization creates markets for things that were previously walled off from commercial exploitation, with the commodification of personal data and the emergence of markets for human attention being the most important example. Second, digitalization allows actors to circumvent decommodifying institutions that are meant to protect individuals from the vagaries of the market. The systematic violation of labor law by companies like Uber - who insist that their drivers are independent contractors in order to avoid labor regulations - is the most important example here. Throughout the course, we try to understand digital capitalism as well as the political responses to it, drawing on recent theoretical and empirical studies covering not just Europe but other countries as well.