IASH-SSPS Research Fellowship, June - July 2021
Lana Swartz is an assistant professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Most of her research is about money and other communication technologies.Her monograph, New Money: How Payment Became Social Media was released from Yale University Press in August 2020. Her co-edited book, Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, was published by MIT Press in April 2017. She was a 2020-2021 Berggruen Fellow and 2020-2021 Visiting Scholar at Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. Previously, she was a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. She received a PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California and an SM in Comparative Media Studies from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Project Title: Shadowing the Digital Economy
I am working on a book project on the history and present of Internet scams, tentatively titled, Scam: Shadowing the Digital Economy. I theorize “scams” as capitalism out of place: what we call a scam is used to perform boundary work that delegitimates certain forms of economic activity (and exploitation) and legitimates others. Scams are particularly important to understand at present historical conjuncture because the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate capitalism seem to be in flux. I argue that in order to understand this contestation, we have to understand the role of the internet. Like all forms of economic activity, scams map to communication channels. The social web, from its earliest days to the present, has created new opportunities for commerce of all kinds, including that which are labeled scams. Scams function to push up against and discover the limits of social, economic, technological systems. In turn, scams, like all undesired behavior, shape the norms and rules of communication systems. These rules have institutional effects that have consequences beyond the initial cases they were meant to deal with. Scams, then, tell us something about the important socio-technical vulnerabilities the economy and in our media and communication ecosystems. This book is therefore envisioned as both a shadow history of the digital economy, and a history of the shadow digital economy.