Zuboff, Maxmin, and Elbow

In The Support Economy, Zuboff and Maxmin offer “metaprinciples” for what they call the new “distributed capitalism.” I’ll quote some of the more interesting ones here.

  • All value resides in individuals. […] Individuals [rather than enterprises] are recognized as the source of all value and all cash flow. […] Distributed capitalism thus entails a shift in commercial logic from consumer to individual, as momentous as the eighteenth-century shift in political logic from subject to citizen.
  • Distributed value necessitates distributed structures among all aspects of the enterprise. Value is distributed, lodged in individuals in individual space. This is the common origin for corresponding distributed structures in every aspect of the enterprise. It necessitates distributed production, distributed ownership, and distributed control.
  • Relationship economics is the framework for wealth creation. Distributed capitalism creates new wealth from the essential building blocks of relationships with [perhaps ‘among’?] individuals. Using the new framework of relationship economics, enterprises […] invest in commitment and trust in order to maximize realized relationship value.
  • All commercial practices are aligned with the individual. Under distributed capitalism, commercial practices are aligned with the interests of individuals […] . This is operationalized by a strict dictate that cannot be compromised: no cash is released […] until the individual pays. […] Cash flow is thus the essential measure of value realization.
  • New valuation methods reflect the primacy of individual space. New approaches to valuation emphasize the intellectual, emotional, behavioral, and digital assets that enable infinite configuration, sustain alliances among enterprises, and nourish relations of deep support with individuals. (321-323)

Now, some of this sounds like the bad old new-economy cheerleading, and I wonder how much of that comes out of Maxmin’s corporate background (founder and Chairman of Global Brand Development, former CEO of Volvo UK and Laura Ashley, et cetera) — but if you read closely, there’s some genuinely revolutionary stuff in there.

The stuff on individuals and distributed value sounds like a hopeful twist to Foucault’s panopticism, and the relationship economics stuff made me think of Bourdieu’s ideas about how class is constructed. Earlier in the book, Zuboff and Maxmin contend that “Rather than being diluted, the value of information can increase as it is distributed, allowing more people to do more with more, as it enables collaboration and coordination across space and time” via digital technologies (293), and this is genuinely startling, turning the conventional economic wisdom, with its assumptions about scarcity and value, on its head.

And it also, well, feels right to me in the way it fits with my ideas about the value of the circulation of writing in the wired writing classroom, and also with the way it confounds the economic instrumentalism of viewing composition as a service course. That last bullet point helps me to say that there are deeply economic components to writing instruction while avoiding saying that it’s all about helping students write for other classes so they can get a good job. That last bullet point says, here’s how Peter Elbow’s theories about individuals and their needs can and do connect to the economic concerns of writing instruction.

Cool cool cool.

Anyway, I’m done with the book, so once I get the last few Post-Its blogged, I’ll be working on fleshing out Chapter 5 and trying to give a structural and analytical spine to the big, doughy, formless mass that ought to be Chapters 1 and 2.

(So, yeah, you know you’re in trouble when you start anthropomorphizing your dissertation, thinking of one chapter as that spindly, skeevy-looking little fellow who hangs out smoking on the street corner, and another pair of chapters as obese siamese twins who you’re trying to train to walk upright, knowing that you’ll one day have to separate them, hoping that they’ll survive the procedure, dreaming about being able to play catch with them. And, see, now I know I’m probably going to start having dissertation dreams, like where I’m interviewing at MLA and all these misshapen little dissertation-progeny are in the interview with me, and Chapter 6 bares her teeth and hisses at the interviewer who asked a question about Bakhtin, and Chapter 3 has ignored my protestations and brought along his double martini from the Wordsworth-Coleridge Society cash bar and is loudly crunching on the ice, and — well, you get the idea.)

Zuboff, Maxmin, and Elbow

One thought on “Zuboff, Maxmin, and Elbow

  • November 1, 2004 at 1:08 am

    I still completely fail to see how Zuboff and Maxmin think we could – never mind might, but could – get from the current economy to that one. I think we’d likelier get patrons and clients on the old Roman model, myself; and deeply creepy data-mining.

    What did I miss? What makes it economic reasoning instead of a conversion tract about how things *should* be (and a pony)?

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