Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Op-ed in Globe & Mail newspaper

My first op-ed in Canada's Globe & Mail newspaper is just out. It's called "We must consider what can happen if our personal data become a private asset":
"The promises attached to smart cities, smart networks and new industrial revolutions are premised on the transformation of our personal data into private assets. Economists and business commentators argue that this transformation is essential for the future success of countries like Canada."
Read the rest here.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Friday, 3 November 2017

Repost from Conversation Canada: What exactly is neoliberalism?

What exactly is neoliberalism?

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Paper chains hang on the White House fence in Washington in October 2010 during a demonstration against the IMF and World Bank neoliberal economic policies during their annual meeting. Has the term neoliberalism run its course? (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Kean Birch, York University, Canada

I struggle with neoliberalism – as a problematic economic system we might want to change – and as an analytical term people increasingly use to describe that system.

I’ve been reading and writing about the concept for more than a decade. But the more I read, the more I think that neoliberalism is losing its analytical edge.

As a result of its growing popularity in academia, media and popular discussions, it’s crucial to understand neoliberalism as a concept. We need to know its origins and its definition in order to understand our current political and economic mess, including the rise of nativism that played a part in Brexit and Donald Trump’s election a year ago.

Neoliberalism is regularly used in popular debate around the world to define the last 40 years. It’s used to refer to an economic system in which the “free” market is extended to every part of our public and personal worlds. The transformation of the state from a provider of public welfare to a promoter of markets and competition helps to enable this shift.

Neoliberalism is generally associated with policies like cutting trade tariffs and barriers. Its influence has liberalized the international movement of capital, and limited the power of trade unions. It’s broken up state-owned enterprises, sold off public assets and generally opened up our lives to dominance by market thinking.

As a term, neoliberalism is increasingly used across popular media, including The New York Times, The Times (of London) and The Daily Mail. It’s also used within international institutions like the World Economic Forum, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

New blog for Department of Business & Politics at CBS

This is just a short blog for the Department of Business & Politics at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. The blog focuses on my future research agenda around rentiership - or the 'dark side' of entrepreneurship and innovation. I spent 3 months at DBP this year as a visiting scholar and really benefited from the intellectual environment in the department and wider business school - as well as really enjoying Copenhagen as a city. This is just a taster of a paper I wrote while there:
"I want to start this blog by writing about tractors. Writing on the Motherboard website, Jason Koebler argues that American farmers are buying black-market software from Ukraine in order to hack their John Deere – and other manufacturer – tractors because those manufacturers have made it increasingly legally difficult to do “unauthorized repairs” on those tractors. This is because, as part of their license agreements with tractor manufacturers, farmers are forbidden from “tampering” with their tractor’s software. It all sounds like the plot of a William Gibson novel".

Rest of the blog can be read here.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

4S Open Track Proposal: "Technoscience Rent"

4S Conference, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 30 August - 2 September 2017


Technoscience Rent


Kean Birch, York University, Canada


Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, UK


As an increasing number of 'things' (e.g. infrastructure, student debt, medical care, personal data, sunlight, etc.) are turned into assets, it is necessary to work out how value is appropriated from those assets through new forms of 'rentiership' (or rent-seeking). Often presented as the dark side of innovation and entrepreneurship, rent-seeking comes in many forms, including: government fiat (e.g. GHG emissions); monopoly (e.g. intellectual property); organizational arrangements (e.g. business models); and market configurations (e.g. value chains and networks, platforms). It is helpful to build on and go beyond the assumptions built into both Marxist and neoclassical economic literatures that rent-seeking is a problematic activity that distorts or corrupts the ‘naturalized’ working of capitalism or free markets. As such, the purpose of this open panel is to consider these different forms of rentiership as they constitute and are constituted by different forms of technoscience, in order to unpack the concept analytically and empirically and its political and normative implications for science, technology, and innovation. The panel welcomes papers on different forms of rentiership in technoscience, different conceptions of rentiership drawing on Marxist, neoclassical, and other traditions, and discussions of the analytical, political, and normative usefulness of rentiership as a concept.


Birch, K. (2016) Rethinking value in the bio-economy: Finance, assetization and the management of value, Science, Technology and Human Values DOI: 10.1177/0162243916661633
Birch, K. (2017), Financing technoscience: Finance, assetization and rentiership, in D. Tyfield, R. Lave, S. Randalls and C. Thorpe (eds), The Routledge Handbook of the Political Economy of Science, London: Routledge.
Birch, K., Tyfield, D. and Chiapetta, M. (2017) From neoliberalizing research to researching neoliberalism: STS, rentiership and the emergence of commons 2.0, in D. Cahill, M. Konings and M. Cooper (eds), The SAGE Handbook of Neoliberalism, London: SAGE.
Felli, R. (2014) On climate rent, Historical Materialism 22(3-4): 251-280.
Frase, P. (2016) Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, London: Verso.
Fuller, S. (2002) Knowledge Management Foundations, Woburn MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Fuller, S. (2016) The Academic Caesar, London: Sage.
Haila, A. (2015), Urban Land Rent, Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.
Krueger, A. (1974) The Political Economy of the Rent-Seeking Society, American Economic Review, 64(3): 291–303.
Langley, P. and A. Leyshon (2016), ‘Platform Capitalism: The Intermediation and Capitalisation of Digital Economic Circulation’, Finance and Society, early view.
Lazzarato, M. (2015), Governing by Debt, South Pasadena CA: Semiotext(e).
McGoey, L. (forthcoming) The Elusive Rentier Rich: Piketty’s data battles and the power of absent evidence, Science, Technology & Human Values.
Muniesa F. (2012) A Flank Movement in the Understanding of Valuation, The Sociological Review 59(s2): 24-38.
Pike, A. (2015) Origination, Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.
Sayer, A. (2015) Why We Can’t Afford the Rich, Bristol: Polity Press.
Slater, T. (2015) Planetary rent gaps, Antipode DOI: 10.1111/anti.12185
Swyngedouw, E. (forthcoming) From Accumulation to ‘Value Grabbing’? A Political Ecology of Rent, Capitalism Nature Socialism.
Ward, C. and Aalbers, M. (2016) Virtual special issue editorial essay ‘The shitty rent business’: What’s the point of land rent theory?, Urban Studies 53(9): 1760–1783.
Zeller, C. (2008) From the gene to the globe: Extracting rents based on intellectual property monopolies, Review of International Political Economy 15(1): 86-115.