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A Maussian Bargain: Primitive Accumulation in Digital Capitalism - Marion Fourcade

Thursday, October 3, 2019 at 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Wolff Conference Room, Room D1103, Albert and Vera List Academic Center, D1103 6 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003, Room D1103

The Department of Sociology at the New School for Social Research presents Marion Fourcade's lecture "A Maussian Bargain: Primitive Accumulation in Digital Capitalism."

Primitive accumulation in the digital economy—the appropriation of data about people, organizations, and things and their transformation into a form of capital— has often been described, following David Harvey, as a process of “accumulation of dispossession,” a pervasive loss of rights buttressed by predatory practices. Yet this argument does not square well with the fact that enrollment into digital systems is often experienced as a much more benign process: signing up for a “free” service, responding to a “friend’s” invitation, or being encouraged to “share” content. In this lecture, I rely on sociological and anthropological theory to show how digital firms capitalize on spontaneous and engineered forms of reciprocity to build their business and accumulate data assets. In-depth interviews with the designers and critics of digital systems help explain the cultural genesis of these “give-to-get” relationships and analyze the socio-technical channels that structure them in practice.

Marion Fourcade is Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (School of Social Science) for 2019-2020. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2000 and is an alumni of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. A comparative sociologist by training and taste, she has analyzed in her work national variations in neoliberal transitions, political mores, valuation cultures, and economic knowledge. Ongoing collaborative work with Kieran Healy and Daniel Kluttz focuses on the rise, consolidation and social consequences of new classificatory regimes powered by digital data and algorithms. Other current research interests include the microsociology of courtroom exchanges (with Roi Livne); stratification processes in the social sciences (with Etienne Ollion); the politics of wine classification and taste in France and the United States (with Rebecca Elliott and Olivier Jacquet); and the social dynamics of sovereign ratings (with Caleb Scoville). Professor Fourcade’s work has appeared in American Journal of SociologyAmerican Sociological ReviewTheory and SocietySocio-Economic ReviewAmerican Behavioral ScientistAnnual Review of Sociology, Journal of Economic Perspectives and other outlets. She is a recipient of the Lewis Coser award for theoretical agenda setting, the American Sociological Association's Distinguished Book Award and the Ludwik Fleck prize for outstanding book in the area of science and technology studies from the Society for the Social Studies of Science. Website:

Event Type

Lectures and Panel Discussions


General Public


Politics, Policy and Government


The New School for Social Research, Department of Sociology


Anthropology, Economics, Politics, Sociology



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