Is there a new capitalism?

An earlier post considered Dave Elder-Vass’s very interesting treatment of the contemporary digital economy. In Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy Elder-Vass argues that the vast economic significance of companies like Google, FaceBook, and Amazon in today's economy is difficult to assimilate within the conceptual framework of Marx’s foundational ideas about capitalism, constructed as they were around manufacturing, …

Guest post by Dave Elder-Vass

[Dave Elder-Vass accepted my invitation to write a response to my discussion of his recent book, Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy (link). Elder-Vass is Reader in sociology at Loughborough University and author as well of The Causal Power of Social Structures: Emergence, Structure and Agency and The Reality of Social Construction, discussed here and here. Dave has …

Systems management and the War on Poverty

One of the important developments in engineering and management thinking since World War II is the value of approaching large problems as systems rather than simply as a sum of separable components. Designing a ballpoint pen is very different from designing an aircraft or a fire control system; in the latter cases there are multiple …

Large structures and social change

The relationship between feudalism and the origins of capitalism was of great interest to Marx. Here is one way that Marx puts the idea in The Poverty of Philosophy: M. Proudhon the economist understands very well that men make cloth, linen, or silk materials in definite relations of production. But what he has not understood …

Do all roads lead to Rome?

Here is a fascinating data visualization experiment by moovel lab testing a piece of ancient wisdom, "All roads lead to Rome" (link). The experiment is discussed in the CityLab blog of the Atlantic. It is not a full map of the auto routes of Europe; instead, it is a construction of the routes that exist …

Large causes and component causal mechanisms

Image: Yellow River, Qing Dynasty Image: Free and Slave States, United States 1850 One approach to causal explanation involves seeking out the mechanisms and processes that lead to particular outcomes. McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly illustrate this approach in their treatment of contentious politics in Dynamics of Contention, and the field of contentious politics is in …

Structures, diagrams, rules, and flows

When we refer to the structure of some complex entity, we often intend to capture one of the following ideas: the parts and their arrangements the parts and their interactions the flow of content -- information, money, value, ideas -- through a set of interconnected parts Clouds and monads lack structure -- monads because they …

Three concepts of social structure

There is an important ambiguity in the idea of social structure that needs to be addressed. The word is sometimes used to refer to functioning entities or units within society. The state is a structure within society; likewise is the system of public education. A corporation is a structure, and so is the feature of the economic …

Social structures as entities

  Image: first organizational chart (link)   One mark of modernity is the fact that we swim in a sea of structures -- states, markets, militaries, employment systems, social networks, taxation systems, and systems of racial and gender disadvantage, to name several. In place of a perhaps mythical pre-modern society in which social life was …

The mode of production as society’s structure

Figure: Althusser's conception of the CMP (RP Resch, Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory) Sociologists study social structure and the effects that structures have on individual behavior and life outcomes. But what do they have in mind when they refer to "structure"? It turns out that there are important ambiguities in the idea of …

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