Capitalist Sociology, Technology, and Collaboration

The goal of capitalist economics is finding ways to increase the profitability of capital. A socialist or humanist economics, in contrast, has improving the quality of human life as it’s main goal. Similarly, a capitalist sociology is focused on research that facilitates capital accumulation and profits. There’s a lot to recomend in James Manyika, Kara Sprague and Lareina Yee’s recent piece, “Using technology to improve workforce collaboration,” but in the end, it’s limited by it’s capitalist focus.

Even in the most superficial sense, for example, the writer’s class biases are obvious. Their definition of a ‘knowledge worker’ for example, seems very focused on the middle to upper professional classes, rather than on, say, nurse, police officers or firefighters (to cite the most obvious examples) less often associated with intellectual work, collaboration, and writing. Similarly, the goal of the research is explicitly oriented towards increasing productivity and so profits.

Perhaps less obviously, the lack of collaboration noted by the researchers might simply be another example of the low-grade resistance to exploitation that you might expect to find in any workplace. In that sense, it’s more related to workers taking long lunches and leaving early on Friday. Given the insecurities of professionals, and the internecine competition if not warfare encouraged in a market economy, we shouldn’t be surprised to find collaboration stunted, at the very least.

In the end, too, we have to ask for whose benefit are we improving collaboration? “Imagine the economic benefits for organizations,” he author’s write, “able to double the number of inspired employees or triple the volume of new product releases.” Imagine the social benefits, we might counter, of a workplace where people do work that matters to themselves and their community. Imagines workers who decide that another consumer project is a waste of time and energy.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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