Sub-theme 25: The Institutional Fabric of the Information Age: People, Power and Organizations [merged with sub-theme 69]


Call for Papers

A steady flow of new goods and services, along with a great deal of new organizational practices, have over the last few decades made their way into a broad range of social and economic areas. Associated with information-based companies (e.g. Google, Amazon, Apple) and social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), these goods, services, and practices feature the innovative use of computing technologies, counter-intuitive business models, and new modes of organizing. These developments signify the deep-going commercialization of online behaviour (e.g. Google) and other forms of sociality through the production of "social data" (e.g. Facebook) (Alaimo & Kallinikos, 2016; Profitt et al., 2015; Van Dijck, 2013). At the same time, they cast production, consumption and employment in a new context that redefines the meaning of everyday behaviours (culture, communication, communion, etc.), modifying the distance they have commonly maintained from formal systems and economic transactions of modernity (Gellner, 1996; Heller, 1999; Kallinikos, 2004).

While redrawing the boundaries between personal pursuits and institutional life, the insertion of the everyday into the circuits of commercialization is indicative of parallel transformations in the social division of material and immaterial labour, the distribution of wealth, and the political power of public and private sectors. These transformations, we claim, perturb the entire institutional system of modern societies and redraw the boundaries that have separated government and politics from economy and both of them from civic life and informal behaviours. Major corporations such as Facebook and Google increasingly assume roles and responsibilities that previously belonged to governments , e.g. infrastructure building (telecommunication, self-driving cars), policy formulation (privacy, surveillance), even international relations. The grand vision of a possible future of humanity laid out by Schmidt and Cohen (2014) is a telling example of this displacement.

The totality of these shifts would seem to suggest a transition to a new era of capitalism where economic and political power is closely imbricated with access to, and control of, information (Boltanski & Ciapello, 2005). The same capillaries that encapsulate the flow of global information and redefine its economic relevance also enable the flow of power and influence. This applies equally to "hard" and physical conduits of the Internet (subterranean and sub-oceanic optical cables, supercomputing centers, big data processing facilities, etc.) as does to "soft" capillaries of social media, political campaigns, and financial transactions. Contemporary scholarship has singled out and discussed one or another aspect of these changes and their social implications. Yet, as these changes mature and consolidate, they diffuse and penetrate every aspect of work and life, raising novel questions and opening new lines of inquiry. It would seem of urgent importance to study the logics of these organizations and the institutions they tend to establish in ways that avoid trading analytical rigour for ideology, without, at the same time, losing sight of the greater system of historical and institutional relations within which they make sense – in particular, the modes of objectification and mechanisms of control that enable these models (Foucault, 1982; Ekbia & Nardi, 2012).

In this sub-theme, we are interested in understanding the shape and contours of this new type of information-based power. While modernity is marked by closely knit power-knowledge structures (à la Foucault), and post-industrial economies of the mid- to late twentieth century by the rise of a tertiary service sector and its influence (à la Bell, Machlup, and others), the current economy reveals novel forms of power that are, at once, pervasive, persistent, and diffused. What are the novel characteristics of these new forms of control and power? What are the social, political, and organizational mechanisms that support these forms? What other mechanisms are available, socially and technically, that can support alternative forms of distribution of power?

We invite contributions of both theoretical and empirical nature that explore the mechanisms and forms of power in one or more of the following areas:


Logics of production and institutional transformation

  • What operations underlie the making of information-based goods and services, and how do they differ from more conventional ways of producing goods and services?
  • What sort of organizational and institutional implications these differences carry in terms of business models, employment practices, and organizational structures?


Commercializing sociality and online participation

  • In which ways do social media platforms and other online organizations benefit from users and their interaction and communication habits?
  • How is user online platform participation organized and made the target of commercialization and monetization strategies?


Politics, community and markets

  • How can one theorize the redrawing of the boundaries between a diffuse everyday and the more formal societal presence of markets and organizations?
  • How might these shifting boundaries transform or undermine modern institutions of governance, democracy, and public participation?
  • Is there any empirical evidence that bespeaks different societal roles on the part of businesses and organizations?




  • Alaimo, C., & Kallinikos, J. (2016): "Encoding the everyday: Social data and its media apparatus." In: C. Sugimoto, H. Ekbia & M. Mattioli (eds.): Big Data is not a Monolith: Policies, Practices, and Problems. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press (forthcoming).
  • Boltanski, L., & Chiapello, E. (2005): The New Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Verso.
  • Ekbia, H., & Nardi, B. (2012): "Inverse Instrumentality: How Technologies Objectify Patients and Players." In: P. Leonardi, B.A. Nardi & J. Kallinikos (eds.): Materiality and Organizing: Social Interaction in a Technological World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 157–176.
  • Foucault, M. (1982): "The Subject and Power." Critical Inquiry, 8 (4), 777–795.
  • Gellner, E. (1996): Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals. London: Penguin.
  • Heller, A. (1999): A Theory of Modernity. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Kallinikos, J. (2004): "The Social Foundations of the Bureaucratic Order." Organization, 11 (1), 13–36.
  • Profitt, J., Ekbia, H., & McDowell, S. (2015): "Introduction to the Special Forum on Monetization of User-Generated Content – Marx Revisited." The Information Society, 31 (1), 1–4.
  • Schmidt, E., & Cohen, J. (2014): The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Van Dijck, J. (2013): The Culture of Connectivity. A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.