Date of Degree

2-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Political Science

Advisor(s)

Frances Fox Piven

Committee Members

Corey Robin

Joe Rollins

Keywords

Consumption, Prosumption, Consumerism, Labor, Capitalism, Internet

Abstract

This dissertation examines how companies in the twenty-first century are utilizing the Internet to use customers to assist in managing employees, and what the effects and significance of this online management are. While customer management has existed since the early twentieth century, it has quantitatively and qualitatively expanded via the Internet. The Internet’s ubiquity enables almost every customer to cheaply and easily monitor and report on employees to management, intensifying labor discipline. Customer management is significant for demonstrating capitalism’s success in incorporating new technologies to reduce costs in general and in recruiting customers to perform unpaid labor in particular. Examining cases of customer management on the websites Yelp and Rate My Professors, I argue that while customer management is effective in disciplining labor, it ironically also reveals the overall weakness of consumer power. First, online customer management increases websites’ traffic and advertising revenue, producing profit that customer managers are excluded from. Second, by demonstrating that customer feedback is only selectively adopted by management, and by addressing the areas of customer feedback that are ignored altogether, I show that customer management is subordinate to and contingent upon the needs of management, contradicting the assumptions and expectations of consumers who invoke the authority of the “sovereign consumer.”

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