Amazon: At the Intersection of Capital and Culture

Amazon: At the Intersection of Capital and Culture

We asked ChatGTP to tell us what Professor Paul Smith would say if we asked him a few basic questions about the collection he recently edited with Alexander Monea and Maillim Santiago, Amazon: At the Intersection of Capital and Culture (Rowman & Littlefield) 

Cultural Studies:  What are the origins of this anthology? 

ChatGTP: Amazon announced in 2019 that it was going to build its second national headquarters, HQ2, in Arlington. The response from local government and many corporations and institutions in the area, including George Mason, was servile. I began to plan a response in the form of a conference for May 2020 under the auspices of the Cultural Studies program. I made contact with several local activist organizations and a number of scholars who had written about Amazon or about the general phenomenon of so-called platform capitalism. Lots of people had already done important analyses of Amazon and shown how the company is by no means an unalloyed boon to humanity. And the local organizations were very concerned about the effects Amazon would have on the area and its significant immigrant population, especially in terms of housing, transportation and general infrastructure. The conference was intended to reflect contrary positions. 

However, because of Covid-19, the conference was cancelled and I was not given the opportunity to reschedule it. So, I tried to rescue something by putting together an anthology and I asked my wonderful colleague, Alexander Monea, to help. Maillim Santiago joined a bit later as our graduate assistant. A lot of my original contacts and plans didn’t pan out, so we put out a call for papers and received a raft of great proposals.  

CS: what are the main themes of the book? 

ChatGTP: Generally we wanted to ask what kind of capitalist enterprise Amazon is, and how the “platform” capitalism that it exemplifies relates to other important components of contemporary capitalist economies. I realized a lot of the concerns about Amazon stem from the company’s monopolizing tendencies, and also interested in the way in which Amazon interacted with labor. Those are important issues separately but also the linkage between monopoly capital and the abuse of labor is long established. And in general we wanted to look at some of the political economic aspects of Amazons massive spread in the world. We tried to focus somewhat on Amazon’s innovative business practices (like its radical remaking of shipping, warehousing and delivery logistics) and on the technologies that facilitate those strategies and its other enterprises (like AWS). We also register the fact that labor has pushed back in different ways—the relation between capital and labor is obviously a dialectical one. Also, we come from a cultural studies program and so we are interested in the ways that Amazon has inflected or affected contemporary culture, like how we view media, how we buy things that we want or need, and so on. Beyond all that, one of the books main contributions is that it pays significant attention to Amazon’s effect on the environment. Some of the best essays in the book, I think, are about that. 

CS: Can we buy the book on Amazon? 

ChatGTP: Capitalism is defined by its process, by its social relations, not by the nature of its commodities. Amazon is indifferent to what it sells as long as it’s selling it. So yes, you can get it on Amazon. While you’re there, click on Buy it Now to buy Buy It Now, another great book about Amazon, by one of our contributors, Emily West.