"The Coup We Are Not Talking About"
"We can have democracy or we can have a surveillance society,
but we cannot have both"
Dr. Zuboff, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School,
is the author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.”
New York Times, Jan. 29, 2021
Shoshana Zuboff (born 1951) is an American author, Harvard professor, social psychologist, philosopher, and scholar. She is the author of the books In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power and The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism, co-authored with James Maxmin. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, integrates her lifelong themes: the digital revolution, the evolution of capitalism, the historical emergence of psychological individuality, and the conditions for human development.
Zuboff's work is the source of many original concepts including 'surveillance capitalism', 'instrumentarian power', 'the division of learning in society', 'economies of action', 'the means of behavior modification', 'information civilization', 'computer-mediated work', the 'automate/informate' dialectic, 'abstraction of work', and 'individualization of consumption'.
Zuboff received her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and her Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University. Zuboff joined the Harvard Business School in 1981 where she became the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration and one of the first tenured women on the Harvard Business School faculty. In 2014 and 2015 she was a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School.
Zuboff's new work explores a novel market form and a specific logic of capitalist accumulation that she named "surveillance capitalism". She first presented her concept in a 2014 essay, "A Digital Declaration", published in German and English in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Her follow up 2015 scholarly article in the Journal of Information Technology titled "Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization" received the International Conference on Information Systems Scholars' 2016 Best Paper Award.
Surveillance capitalism and its consequences for twenty-first century society are most fully theorized in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Zuboff's scholarship on surveillance capitalism as a "rogue mutation of capitalism" has become a primary framework for understanding big data and the larger field of commercial surveillance that she describes as a "surveillance-based economic order". She argues that neither privacy nor antitrust laws provide adequate protection from the unprecedented practices of surveillance capitalism. Zuboff describes surveillance capitalism as an economic and social logic. Her book originates the concept of 'instrumentarian power', in contrast to totalitarian power. Instrumentarian power is a consequence of surveillance capitalist operations which threaten individual autonomy and democracy.
Many issues that plague contemporary society including the assault on privacy and the so-called 'privacy paradox', behavioral targeting, fake news, ubiquitous tracking, legislative and regulatory failure, algorithmic governance, social media addiction, abrogation of human rights, democratic destabilization, and more are reinterpreted and explained through the lens of surveillance capitalism's economic and social imperatives.