David recently released a new book, Digital Feudalism: Creators, Credit, Consumption and Capitalism and he was nice enough to take the time to answer questions about it. He is currently an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington. He also serves as the director of the Center for Theory.
What motivated this project?
When I wrote my last book, Streaming Culture, I felt like it didn’t go far enough to describe the current moment of capitalism. I was using the term “unending consumption” to describe capitalism, but that was only one part of it. The more I thought about the current moment, the more I thought another book was necessary to capture what I saw as quintessential elements.
You argue that we are experiencing a "new moment in capitalism, characterized by the global economies' reliance on processes of consumption, work, and debt." Could you speak briefly about these processes as they relate to what you refer to as "digital feudalism?"
Similar to the feudal period, I see consumption, work, and debt working in debt to accelerate capitalism on the back of the poor masses. Karl Marx described the moment of transition as primitive accumulation. The transition involved enclosing private property, evicting serfs from the land, forcing serfs to work as wage workers, making those new workers meet their needs by purchasing commodities, and increasing the speed of capitalism by deploying a national debt. The same forces are at work today. We see an increase in things people need to buy, stagnant wages, the jobs people have are increasingly precarious, and the only way they can make ends meet is to spend using credit cards.
What do you think is at stake in the historical juncture you explore? What modes of resistance or change do we have within the constraints of digital feudalism?
This is a good question. What’s at stake is increased exploitation. But I do not see it as a moment of transition out of capitalism. I think capitalists have figured out how to hyper-juice the system in a way that it keeps chugging along. Probably the biggest risk for capital is the increasing debt. People are seeing through the idea that we actually have to pay debt. If we can just pay for things on credit, capitalism can keep making more commodities and the thing gets further super-charged. What resistance comes from it? I don’t know. Too often we imagine things are different, that people are beginning to rise-up, but it never lasts. Striketober was a great example. These moments take off, but the press began reporting on inflation. Then instead of talking about strikes and wages, we’re talking about inflation.
What do you hope the reader takes away from this book? What do you wish to contribute to ongoing discussions of platform studies and/or contemporary critiques of capitalism?
The book was written with a more general reader in mind. My hope is that the general public reads it and begins to think about the problems with capitalism. For academics, I hope people read it and find it as a useful tool for analyzing the current moment. In my greatest hopes, people would begin to talk about “digital feudalism.”
In what ways did your time in the Cultural Studies program help prepare you for the work and research you are doing now?
The Cultural Studies program at GMU gave me the theoretical toolbox to help. From a greater understanding of Marx and Marxisms to the ability to read cultural texts, which I utilize in the book to explore everything from Squid Game to the “metaverse.”
Would you happen to have any other current or future projects you'd like to tell us about? Where can we learn more about your work?
I’m currently working on the Handbook of Critical Music Industry Studies. As most of my work builds from research on the music industry, I decided to edit this volume with Ryan Nolan to intervene in the field of Music Industry Studies. Too often, music industry programs focus on getting students jobs in the music industry as currently structured. Our aim is to reimagine both the programs that teach people to work in music and the music industry itself. People can find out more about my work at http://davidarditi.com.
April 26, 2023