How time flies! I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post. I’ll try and do a little better. One reason things have been so busy for me is that I finally completed a draft of a seminar paper that has been steadily growing into something bigger.
On Monday I submitted an abstract based on this evolving opus to a conference at UCLA. The theme of the 18th Annual Southland Graduate Student Conference is “Synthetics” and the paper I’ve been working on connects Max Weber to contemporary questions of identity and production, so this seems like the perfect venue to work on my ideas. Here’s my abstract:
The Networked Shell: Max Weber and the Ethic of Work in the Digital Era
In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber twice used a metaphor that has become a touchstone in cultural analysis for the past century: the “iron cage” of capitalism in which we have all been trapped. The Puritan overtones of this translation represent a semantic intervention by Weber’s first American translator, Talcott Parsons. In his translation of the work Peter Baehr makes a convincing argument that this iconic metaphor should in fact be translated from the German (stahlhartes Gehäuse) as the “shell as hard as steel.” In a close reading of Weber’s original text I will flesh out this reading: the “shell as hard as steel” is an organic, protective carapace that shields and defines as much as it limits and confines its inhabitant. I will follow the metaphor of the shell as hard as steel from Weber to the darkness of World War II and the intellectual and technological revolution that sprang from its ashes. From there I will pick up the story of how cybernetics and post-war military-industrial research blended with the 1960s counterculture to create the network society of the 1980s and 1990s and, more recently, our own synthetic cultures of virtual production. By following its thread from Max Weber through the twentieth century, I hope to create an interpretive foundation on which to answer a very Weberian question: what is the ethic of work in the digital era? What does it mean to be an individual trapped/integrated/liberated by the networked shell of contemporary capitalism?
We’ll see if they like it.