Biopolitical marketing and the commodification of social contexts

Authored by: Detlev Zwick , Alan Bradshaw

The Routledge Companion to Critical Marketing

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138641402
eBook ISBN: 9781315630526
Adobe ISBN:


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Digital marketers like to talk about the consumer empowerment generated by new information and communication technologies. Marketing experts agree that we have more choice, more information, more entertainment, more transparency, and lower prices thanks to Amazon, Facebook, Youtube, and all the rest. The Empowerment-through-Technology chorus is so loud and cohesive that we might easily take its message for granted. And in some limited respect, consumers might feel empowered when shopping on or in the malls comparing prices across many stores with their iPhones on hand. But let us be very clear about the idea of empowerment that is promoted by the cheerleaders of what Jodi Dean (2009) calls ‘communicative capitalism’. Real empowerment, so much should be clear, can never be ‘granted’ to consumers by those in economic (and thus political) power. In the final analysis – and putting aside for a moment the fact that even empowered consumers are still constructed first and foremost as subjects of consumption – the ideal of the empowered consumer (rational, enlightened, informed, restrained, un-manipulable) is completely antithetical to any needs of capital. Therefore, any call for actual consumer empowerment would automatically be a radical demand and an insurgent claim aimed at undermining and replacing capital’s power to dominate labor totally. In the end, it is important to recognize that any technology employed by marketing today aims to become a technology of consumer control (even if never completely successful), which permits empowerment only in a version sanctioned by capital. That is why marketing (and capital more generally [see Lazzarato, 2004]) today is biopolitical. It wants to govern life completely while appearing to not govern at all. So, how does marketing do this?

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