Rutgers Gloria Steinem chair teaches her first course on corporate data mining
Naomi Klein, a journalist who published books such as “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate” and “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” is serving as Rutgers’ first Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies. Starting this year, and for the next two years, she will be teaching courses and organizing events here at the University.
Klein said she designed her first course herself. It is entitled “The Corporate Self,” which looks at the integration between the corporation and the self. The self is a new frontier for capitalism, in relation to mining personal data online and influencing personal behavior.
“I had a learning curve,” she said. “I got up to speed about what new technologies and this particular business model is doing to the very idea of self.”
A survey given to students at the start of her course this semester revealed that constant surveillance has become normalized, Klein said. People assume they are always being tracked and consider the stakes to be low.
The normalization of constant surveillance can be better understood through historical arcs of previous enclosures of public space, starting with the enclosure of British lands in the 17th and 18th centuries. Like past experiences, our personal data is being enclosed and made into a commodity, Klein said.
Some students responded that they like the surveillance because they are able to see advertisements for the clothes they like, she said.
“But what is very worrying is what is possible when these very powerful surveillance technologies are in the hands of governments that don’t believe in democracy and are interested in controlling their populations,” Klein said.
China, for instance, is doing a social experiment that uses surveillance to monitor citizens’ behavior. The government then gives them rankings as to whether they are supposedly good citizens or not, she said.
The course’s research also ties back into Klein's first book, “No Logo,” which looks at a person’s self as it relates to corporate branding. Klein said since the book was written in 1999, social media has allowed people to become their own brand, as they no longer have to model themselves after certain branded lifestyles.
“The idea that everybody should be their own brand, marketing themselves … was pretty much theoretical until you had social media platforms that gave people the capacity to market themselves without very much money,” she said.
In the Fall 2019 semester, Klein said she wants to focus on the Green New Deal, which her book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate” essentially calls for.
“I think that has really been a mistake to think of climate change as an issue that can be pried apart from other issues,” she said. “So what is exciting to me about the Green New Deal is that it is not one policy, it is a plan for industrial transformation that recognizes that if we are going to change at the speed required to avert climate chaos, we have to do it so that it's fair. We have to design it so that it doesn’t replicate current injustices.”
She said she will be doing a series of events that she hopes will feed into the shaping of what is a really ambitious policy proposal that still needs to be fleshed out within communities and experts.
Klein began her career as a journalist while attending the University of Toronto, where she became the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Varsity. She was then able to hold jobs at different Canadian newspapers and publications.
After working as a progressive journalist for a few years, she returned to the University of Toronto. This is where she first noticed the growing influence of multinational corporations on society, inspiring her work ever since. Klein left the University of Toronto before finishing her degree in pursuit of a journalism internship.
When the position of being the Gloria Steinem Chair first came up, Klein's friend in the Journalism and Media Studies Department said it was a unique position. She said it is rare to be offered a job in academia when you are not necessarily from an academic background.
“It’s rare to have a job that says we want you to teach, but we also want you to keep doing what you're doing. Be a hub for journalists, organizers, feminism, media and culture," Klein said.
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