Category: Social Theory

Racist computers

Is the world being taken over by bigoted algorithms?

Pasquale cites a 2013 study, “Discrimination in Online Ad Delivery,” in which Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney found that black-identified names (including her own) frequently generated Google ads like “Lakisha Simmons, Arrested?” while white-identified names did not.

More on Frank Pasquale’s ‘Black Box Society’ here.

Whistleblowing as cohort effect?

At, Charlie Stross considers generations, loyalty, work and surveillance:

Generation Z will arrive brutalized and atomized by three generations of diminished expectations and dog-eat-dog economic liberalism. Most of them will be so deracinated that they identify with their peers and the global Internet culture more than their great-grandparents’ post-Westphalian nation-state. The machineries of the security state may well find them unemployable, their values too alien to assimilate into a model still rooted in the early 20th century. But if you turn the Internet into a panopticon prison and put everyone inside it, where else are you going to be able to recruit the jailers?

More here.

Joseph Schumpeter and

In his ‘Theory of Economic Development’ (1911), Joseph Schumpeter notes the importance of innovation and the role of the entrepreneur in economic growth. Specifically, the importance of carrying out ‘new combinations’ is emphasised, yet whilst the innovative entrepreneur has a creative role here, Schumpeter notes in later work that,

I have always emphasized that the entrepreneur is the man who gets new things done and not necessarily the man who invents.


Earlier this month, musician Arty noted on twitter that despite the use of significant elements from Arty & Mat Zo’s ‘Rebound’ in‘s ‘Let’s Go’, that no clearance rights to use the song had been sought or issued, adding later,

I was never contacted or consulted by Interscope Records, and never signed any license agreements

In addition to ‘Let’s Go’, on ‘#willpower’ it is noted that ‘Bang Bang’ contains elements of Sandro Silva & Quintino’s ‘Epic’, ‘#thatPOWER’ contains elements of Arty’s ‘Kate’, ‘Great Times Are Coming’ contains elements of Denis Koyu’s ‘Tung’, and so on. The Will.I.Steal facebook page looks into this further.

But is this theft? Or is acting as the Schumpeterian entrepreneurial source of economic growth, enacting new combinations and realising innovation? His account of the Arty & Mat Zo incident implies that the problem lies in the fact that the law can simply not move at the pace of creativity, and his admiration of innovation is in no doubt:

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I would invite the best Japanese chef ever. Then I’d invite today’s best scientists and innovators like Dean Kamen, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Marc Benioff, and the world’s most influential venture capitalists, and the dinner would be about investing in new innovation led by youth in inner cities.

More here., #willpower, the #willpower logo and variations thereof are trademarks of William Adams and/or, llc.

‘Relax…it’s Courtney Love!’

As the riff from ‘Celebrity Skin’ starts up after Courtney Love shocks the establishment prudes in her recent e-cigarette commercial, thoughts naturally turn to some other work from the late 1990s – Thomas Frank’s ‘Commodify Your Dissent’:

Corporate America is not an oppressor but a sponsor of fun, provider of lifestyle accoutrements, facilitator of carnival, our slang-speaking partner in the quest for that ever-more apocalyptic orgasm. The countercultural idea has become capitalist orthodoxy, its hunger for transgression upon transgression now perfectly suited to an economic-cultural regime that runs on ever-faster cyclings of the new; its taste for self-fulfillment and its intolerance for the confines of tradition now permitting vast latitude in consuming practices and lifestyle experimentation. Consumerism is no longer about “conformity” but about “difference.” Advertising teaches us not in the ways of puritanical self-denial (a bizarre notion on the face of it), but in orgiastic, never-ending self-fulfillment. It counsels not rigid adherence to the tastes of the herd but vigilant and constantly updated individualism. We consume not to fit in, but to prove, on the surface at least, that we are rock `n’ roll rebels, each one of us as rule-breaking and hierarchy-defying as our heroes of the 60s, who now pitch cars, shoes, and beer. This imperative of endless difference is today the genius at the heart of American capitalism, an eternal fleeing from “sameness” that satiates our thirst for the New with such achievements of civilization as the infinite brands of identical cola, the myriad colors and irrepressible variety of the cigarette rack at 7-Eleven.

More here.

(Bonus material: Earlier this month, Courtney also appeared in advertisments for Yves Saint Laurent. Relatedly, the Guardian notes the continuing influence of punk on fashion, in advance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s punk exhibition ‘Chaos to Couture’.)

Not enough sociology?

At, Jay Gabler responds to the recent n+1 editorial ‘Too Much Sociology’:

…sociology has provided many explanations for the rise of sociology, among them Émile Durkheim’s theory of functional differentiation and Max Weber’s theory of rationalization. Durkheim and Weber both predicted that as a society, we would increasingly come to see ourselves in rational—that is, scientific—terms. In other words, we would increasingly come to understand our society in sociological terms. Unlike Marx’s predictions, that one has come true.

More here.

‘Marx’s Economy and Beyond’

Over at normblog, Norman Geras and Mark Harvey question Marx’s theories regarding where value arises within capitalist systems:

Labour-power, cornerstone of his theory of value and exploitation, is not amenable to being described or theorized by reference to some standard, universalizable labouring-situation, which might then be captured in a mathematically expressible schema. For there is no transcendent situation of the labourer in capitalist economies, and one of the reasons there is not is that the circumstances of those who work and the pressure upon them to exchange their labour-power are never purely economic facts, as they might be within a closed economic system. The worker’s position within capitalist formations is subject to moral, legal and cultural constraints, which themselves contribute to defining the price for which the commodity labour-power is sold and the conditions under which and manner in which it may be used by its purchasers. Moreover, the production of labour-power cannot be treated as comparable to the production of other commodities.

Full text here.

Richard Florida: ‘Bollocks’

Richard Florida strongly reasserts commitment to his ideas about a ‘creative class’ after Joel Kotkin’s assessment that “the experiment appears to have failed” :

As in all economic transformations, the invisible hand of the market can only take us so far. The rest is up to us. This is not a time to complain about or belittle this shift, or, as with Kotkin, to pretend that it is not even taking place. We need to build the new institutions and the new social compact that can harness its power and extend its benefits to everyone


‘The system that wasn’t there’

A detailed blog post on the philosophy of Ayn Rand at the Rotman Institute:

For many on the left, the sub-prime meltdown, financial crisis, and ongoing recession are proof positive that the laissez-faire, deregulatory approach is dead in the water. Rand’s followers have drawn the opposite conclusion: the crisis is the result of too much interference and the failure of governments to fully implement the measures they propose. Going half-way, the argue, simply will not work.

In this they may be right.

William Eggleston in the age of mechanical reproduction

In his seminal ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1936), Walter Benjamin writes:

To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense.

Or does it? The recent judgment of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York implies that some reproductions of William Eggleston‘s iconic photographs may now be categorized as original reproductions.

Will the ‘authentic’ reproductions now become more valuable? If so, they will have to exceed the price of the 36 new prints auctioned last month which approached a combined sale value of six million dollars, the most expensive lot selling for $578,500.


In 1899, Thorstein Veblen wrote ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions’, Chapter 7 of which was entitled ‘Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Cultureand contained the following text:

…Our dress, therefore, in order to serve its purpose effectually, should not only be expensive, but it should also make plain to all observers that the wearer is not engaged in any kind of productive labour.

In 2011, the median annual income in the US was $26,588.

In 2013, in New York, it is possible to buy a T-shirt for $91,500.