The Dialectic of Digital Culture Published

While The Dialectic of Digital Culture was supposed to be published in mid-September, the team at Lexington Press is incredibly efficient and released the book early!

Jennifer Miller and I spent the weekend in New York City attending the American Sociological Association Annual Conference. When we arrived, our fabulous editor Courtney Morales had her copy in print. Then we started receiving emails and texts from contributors that in fact the book arrived. Of course, since we were away from home, we didn’t receive our copies until Wednesday.

The book would not have been possible without the support of the University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Liberal Arts, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Department of English, and the Center for Theory. We’re also grateful for all of our wonderful contributors.

The books look great and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Thank you to Courtney, Shelby Russell, and the rest of the team at Lexington Books. Order your copy now.

Here are some pictures from the American Sociological Association conference.


David Arditi holding The Dialectic of Digital Culture for the first time.



Jennifer Miller

Jennifer Miller presenting her Chapter from The Dialectic of Digital Culture



Brian Connor presenting his Chapter from The Dialectic of Digital Culture at ASA.

Dialectic of Digital Culture at the American Sociological Association Conference

Several of our contributors will be presenting their research at the American Sociological Association Annual Conference in New York City. Both Editors will be at the conference presenting their research.

On the Critical Theory I: Dialectical Engagements, Jennifer Miller will be presenting her chapter from the entitled “Queer Ends: Digital Culture, Queer Youth, and Heterosexuality Beyond Heteronormativity.” Also on that panel, contributors Brian Connor and Long Doan will be presenting “Government vs. Corporate Surveillance: Privacy Concerns in the Digital World.” We hope that you join them to receive a glimpse of the work in the book.

In a similar vein to The Dialectic of Digital Culture, I will be the discussant for Digital and Social Media: Perceptions, Uses and Impact. The papers on this panel present a unique opportunity to think about the digital dialectic in more areas. I’m also presenting my music industry research on the Open Topic on Marxist Sociology. My paper “Copyright as Enclosure: State, Capital, and Primitive Accumulation” explores the way copyright is used to exploit musicians.

Contributor Nancy Weiss Hanrahan will be at the ASA as well serving as a discussant for “Positionality and the Construction of Feminist Theory.”

Digital Culture – Undergraduate Syllabus

We want to make it easy for everyone to use The Dialectic of Digital Culture in courses, so we’ll be sharing a syllabus from time to time. Here is an example of how the text can be used in an undergraduate class about Digital Culture. Please email us if you have any questions.

Digital Culture_Undergraduate


Book Endorsements

Book Endorsements

Arditi and Miller wrap some excellent essays with an introduction and conclusion centering on Frankfurt School dialectical theory and the emergence of the digital disaster. The core of the book deals with the idea of a digital dialectic and its analysis in chapters on power, politics, culture, and being human. The editors have lined up a stellar group of essays that profoundly engage our digital world and the edges between questions of music, economy, ecology, memes, and related topics. The dialectical nature of the analyses provides both an entryway and unity to the essays. The book makes numerous substantive contributions to several fields and is worth a read for its scholarship and for those building a knowledge base about our contemporary digital world.

In The Dialectic of Digital Culture, Arditi and Miller have assembled a fascinating collection of essays exploring the promise and peril of contemporary digital culture. Insisting that we think about digital media dialectically—as both empowerment and capture—the authors collectively inspire readers to pierce through facile narratives of progress and to think more critically about their relationship to digital technologies. Readers will also find the rich diversity of technologies, platforms, practices, and case studies covered in this book to be engaging and enlightening. This is required reading for students and scholars of digital culture.

Out of Tune: How record companies induce panic about music piracy to increase their profits and exploit artists

From Inquiry Magazine, Fall 2015.

illustration of man wearing digital headphones who is restrained by large foot

On May 2, 2000, Lars Ulrich, drummer for the band Metallica, announced that his group was suing Napster, a free file-sharing service that let fans download music online. During the press conference outside Napster’s headquarters, Ulrich presented the company with a giant stack of papers listing the names of 300,000 Napster users. His assertion: Napster was enabling these people to steal music.

Dramatic optics aside, the issue at hand that day was—and remains—much more complicated than that. It hinges on Americans’ basic misunderstanding of copyright laws. When Ulrich and the music industry argue that file-sharing is theft, they are participating in what I call the “piracy panic narrative,” which goes like this: File-sharing is piracy; piracy is stealing; stealing is negatively affecting recording artists’ ability to make ends meet.

Similar to past panics focused on witches and communists, the piracy panic narrative classifies file-sharers as dangerous enemies. They threaten music, the industry argues, because artists will not write songs if they cannot earn a living from their creative works.

In my new book, iTake-Over: The Recording Industry in the Digital Era, I demonstrate how major record labels produce this panic narrative to secure stronger rights for their industry. Since the public is largely unaware of the mechanics of copyright law, we easily accept the recording industry’s assertion about the illegality of file-sharing—after all, no one wants to steal from their favorite artists. But what we don’t realize is the industry is leveraging this public support to try to change current law so their argument will actually have the legal grounding they’ve claimed it does all along.

In truth, the main barrier to musicians being paid fairly is the recording industry itself, not file-sharers. Record contracts enable the wholesale exploitation of musicians by requiring that artists sign away their own copyrights. As a consequence, they give up their artistic autonomy and a potent source of income. In return for signing a contract, artists receive a monetary advance to record an album, which they must pay back before they see any profits from its sale. They do this with the royalties they earn, but since those usually amount to only 8-15 percent, most artists never make money from their work. Record labels, on the other hand, earn roughly 40 percent of revenue sales.

These record contracts serve as the backdrop for the latest iteration of the piracy panic narrative, which this time targets streaming music services. In a very public move, Neil Portnow, president of The Recording Academy, used the 2015 Grammy Awards to decry the paltry royalties artists receive from streaming services such as Spotify, asking, “What if we’re all watching the Grammys a few years from now and there’s no Best New Artist award because there aren’t enough talented artists or songwriters who are actually able to make a living from their craft?”

His implication, of course, is that if the public does not pay for music, no one will create music. As I’ve explained, this stands in stark contrast to reality, where the vast majority of musicians make no money yet record labels earn millions. Sony Music, for example, has a contract with Spotify that stipulates that the company receive millions of dollars apart from the royalties paid to artists. But Portnow isn’t mentioning this industry-wide exploitation in his appeals to fans.

Ultimately, neither file-sharers nor streaming websites are to blame for the deplorable payments most recording artists receive. The real culprit is the very structure of the contracts every musician must sign—a much more insidious and difficult target to defeat.

Illustration by Brian Stauffer