The mediation of business: Organization in the age of algorithmic cultures
Business as usual can no longer proceed without networked media. The work of organization is incessantly enmeshed with media systems and the grammar of code. Digital data has become the new empirical ground upon which reality is verified and acted upon. The governance of data is now a key managerial function in the organization of workplace operations. Think of the algorithmic trade in derivatives so central to banking today and a key factor in the global financial crisis, demonstrating both the limits of human control and the rise of machinic self-organization defined by technologies of anonymity. Algorithmic trade challenges not only the parameters of business, management and organization, but equally business knowledge and its teaching is thoroughly structured and conditioned by forms of algorithmic agency.
Finance, however, is only one horizon in the business of algorithmic culture. Think of the way social networks are enlisted for neuromarketing where data profiles of potential customers are generated and serve both as the interface of the organization to its customers and as neuropolitical machinery to manage subjectivities. Or consider the supply chain operations of the vast global complex of procurement centres, warehouses, ports, IT zones, shipping container yards and intermodal terminals. Such settings are spaces of material abstraction for the real-time coordination of the movement of people, finance and things. This is the managerial science of logistics – the art of high-tech organization – which provides a key foundation for the business school where algorithmic culture is paramount. Finance, marketing and logistics are three constitutive disciplines where business confronts data, code and algorithms.
The ubiquity of data affords it a special commodity status, resulting in new regimes of enclosure that inscribe a scarcity value upon that which is infinitely reproducible and undiminished when shared. Such is the ontology of code. Data and code are not merely the means of management but the most valuable assets of enterprise. The management of data has become central to the informatization of economic and of social life as such. Indeed, the social has become increasingly organized around technologies of governance special to database economies. As capital and the state extend their reach into the social, with biopolitics becoming a matter of iris scans and algorithmic mining of global information transfers, the question arises as to how such devices may be deployed in ways that refuse technologies of control. What other hopes are there for network cultures beyond the social production of capture? Do the mediated and disruptive affects of contagion at work in events like the Occupy movement offer alternative forms of organizing beyond the technologies of management and governance?
The reproduction of capital via algorithms is in no small part sustained by those parts of finance capital reinvested in the teaching of the very algorithms of capital. The business school – as well as other parts of the university such as incubators, faculties of media, informatics and creative industries – are key sites where finance capital invests in the knowledge of itself and in training those that design its infrastructures and become its informatic agents. Business schools are cashed up with an abundance of resources, yet they find themselves at their limits when tricks such as creative accounting prove fatal to capital itself. While having always relied on knowledges seemingly antithetical to its interests, such as those of the humanities, capital now increasingly relies on knowledge of the media of business and of organization in algorithmic cultures. With organization studies having already entered the curricula of business schools, media theories of communication and organizing networks provide another avenue of intervention into the business school.
This workshop is therefore an invitation to engage in a collective thought experiment: design a curriculum for a study of organizational forms that eschews generating technocrats responsible for producing policy architectures and management systems that ensure the continuity of capital as we know it. We consider curricula design as an organizing device to conceive and undertake diagrams of collective research. How could this be done? Would this involve an anthropology of organization as it manifests within the institutional culture of the business school contra the digital cultures of networked media? Or would we be looking to investigate the interface between the business school and the career trajectories and workplace settings of its graduates and corporate-state supporters? How to write a history of the media of business and organization in the age of algorithmic cultures? And how to identify the mediation of business knowledge through online learning environments and the global trade in networked forms of certification (MOOCs delivery of MBAs, for example)?
These provisional questions provide just one point of entry into a workshop that aims to make a concrete intervention into the contours of learning within the business school and the academy more widely. It does so by staging an encounter between organization studies and media theories of network cultures. The experimental collective design of a curricula for what may be tentatively called a ‘Bachelor of Mediated Business’ will require a catalogue of concepts relevant to organizing business studies within the algorithmic parameters of code and the sociality of networks. Having assembled the analytical rubric through which the business school is situated as an object of intervention, this workshop will follow up with an edited collection of texts for publication in a special issue of an organization studies journal.
Organization and contact
For further information and expression of interest please contact any of the organisers:
Götz Bachmann, Centre for Digital Cultures, Leuphana University Lüneburg (goetz.bachmann AT inkubator.leuphana.de)
Armin Beverungen, Centre for Digital Cultures, Leuphana University Lüneburg (armin.beverungen AT inkubator.leuphana.de)
Timon Beyes, Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School (tbe.lpf AT cbs.dk)
Ned Rossiter, School of Humanities and Communication Arts / Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney (n.rossiter AT uws.edu.au)