Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Translating between Marxese and AdamSmithish

When academic sociologists and policy types get together, socialist jargon is a given. Ironically, there are structural similarities between their research topics and the way capitalists use free-market clich├ęs to describe their problems.

I attended a workshop on “The Global Rise of Horizontal Communication: Social Networks, Civil Society and The Media” last week. It was organized by ARNIC and held at the Annenberg Center at USC. Terms like social movement, power, collective processes, media systems and mobilization were rife.

However, with a bit of translation it sounded just like a business conference. Case studies were the order of the day – research focused on describing what was happening, with little attention to underlying Why questions – and the transformative power of technology was taken for granted.

The key to the translation was this mapping from left-wing sociology to right-wing commerce:

The setting and mechanism: social movements → markets
The desired outcome: social change → economic growth
The key action: appropriation → innovation
The hero: activists → entrepreneurs

With this handy guide, visitors from each world can learn a lot from the other. Social change activists could benefit from the clear statements of goals and metrics that are de rigueur in business. On the other hand, businesses could learn from the focus on inclusivity and grass-roots action espoused by communications theorists.

No comments: