the southside group

We are a monthly discussion composed of George Mason faculty and students. We are open to anyone interested in participating in an eclectic and serious discussion of contemporary problems under the broad rubric of political economy. All events for the 2020-21 academic year will be held by Zoom.

Matt Scherer, Steve Pearlstein, and Bassam Haddad are the principal organizers of the southside group. Our emails are on our respective George Mason faculty pages. Email Matt Scherer to be added to the mailing list for further details ( and meeting links.


2020--21: Political Economy of Digital Technologies

May 6, 2021 Lilly Irani's Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India


Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Can entrepreneurs develop a nation, serve the poor, and pursue creative freedom, all while generating economic value? In Chasing Innovation, Lilly Irani shows the contradictions that arise as designers, engineers, and businesspeople frame development and governance as opportunities to innovate. Irani documents the rise of "entrepreneurial citizenship" in India over the past seventy years, demonstrating how a global ethos of development through design has come to shape state policy, economic investment, and the middle class in one of the world’s fastest-growing nations.

Drawing on her own professional experience as a Silicon Valley designer and nearly a decade of fieldwork following a Delhi design studio, Irani vividly chronicles the practices and mindsets that hold up professional design as the answer to the challenges of a country of more than one billion people, most of whom are poor. While discussions of entrepreneurial citizenship promise that Indian children can grow up to lead a nation aspiring to uplift the poor, in reality, social, economic, and political structures constrain whose enterprise, which hopes, and which needs can be seen as worthy of investment. In the process, Irani warns, powerful investors, philanthropies, and companies exploit citizens' social relations, empathy, and political hope in the quest to generate economic value. Irani argues that the move to recast social change as innovation, with innovators as heroes, frames others―craftspeople, workers, and activists―as of lower value, or even dangers to entrepreneurial forms of development.

With meticulous historical context and compelling stories, Chasing Innovation lays bare how long-standing power hierarchies such as class, caste, language, and colonialism continue to shape opportunity in a world where good ideas supposedly rule all.

April 8, 2021 Silvia M. Lindtner's Prototype Nation: China and the Contested Promise of Innovation


How did China’s mass manufacturing and “copycat” production become transformed, in the global tech imagination, from something holding the nation back to one of its key assets? Prototype Nation offers a rich transnational analysis of how the promise of democratized innovation and entrepreneurial life has shaped China’s governance and global image. With historical precision and ethnographic detail, Silvia Lindtner reveals how a growing distrust in Western models of progress and development, including Silicon Valley and the tech industry after the financial crisis of 2007–8, shaped the rise of the global maker movement and the vision of China as a “new frontier” of innovation.

Lindtner’s investigations draw on more than a decade of research in experimental work spaces—makerspaces, coworking spaces, innovation hubs, hackathons, and startup weekends—in China, the United States, Africa, Europe, Taiwan, and Singapore, as well as in key sites of technology investment and industrial production—tech incubators, corporate offices, and factories. She examines how the ideals of the maker movement, to intervene in social and economic structures, served the technopolitical project of prototyping a “new” optimistic, assertive, and global China. In doing so, Lindtner demonstrates that entrepreneurial living influences governance, education, policy, investment, and urban redesign in ways that normalize the persistence of sexism, racism, colonialism, and labor exploitation.

Prototype Nation shows that by attending to the bodies and sites that nurture entrepreneurial life, technology can be extricated from the seemingly endless cycle of promise and violence. 

March 11, 2021 Dyer-Witheford and Matviyenko: Cyberwar and Revolution Digital Subterfuge in Global Capitalism

"Global surveillance, computational propaganda, online espionage, virtual recruiting, massive data breaches, hacked nuclear centrifuges and power grids—concerns about cyberwar have been mounting, rising to a fever pitch after the alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential election and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Although cyberwar is widely discussed, few accounts undertake a deep, critical view of its roots and consequences. Analyzing the new militarization of the internet, Cyberwar and Revolution argues that digital warfare is not a bug in the logic of global capitalism but rather a feature of its chaotic, disorderly unconscious. Urgently confronting the concept of cyberwar through the lens of both Marxist critical theory and psychoanalysis, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Svitlana Matviyenko provide a wide-ranging examination of the class conflicts and geopolitical dynamics propelling war across digital networks. Investigating the subjectivities that cyberwar mobilizes, exploits, and bewilders, and revealing how it permeates the fabric of everyday life and implicates us all in its design, this book also highlights the critical importance of the emergent resistance to this digital militarism—hacktivism, digital worker dissent, and off-the-grid activism—for effecting different, better futures."

February 11, 2021 Eden Medina, Cybernetic Revolutionaries

"In Cybernetic Revolutionaries, Eden Medina tells the history of two intersecting utopian visions, one political and one technological. The first was Chile's experiment with peaceful socialist change under Salvador Allende; the second was the simultaneous attempt to build a computer system that would manage Chile's economy. Neither vision was fully realized—Allende's government ended with a violent military coup; the system, known as Project Cybersyn, was never completely implemented—but they hold lessons for today about the relationship between technology and politics.

"Drawing on extensive archival material and interviews, Medina examines the cybernetic system envisioned by the Chilean government—which was to feature holistic system design, decentralized management, human-computer interaction, a national telex network, near real-time control of the growing industrial sector, and modeling the behavior of dynamic systems. She also describes, and documents with photographs, the network's Star Trek-like operations room, which featured swivel chairs with armrest control panels, a wall of screens displaying data, and flashing red lights to indicate economic emergencies. Studying project Cybersyn today helps us understand not only the technological ambitions of a government in the midst of political change but also the limitations of the Chilean revolution. This history further shows how human attempts to combine the political and the technological with the goal of creating a more just society can open new technological, intellectual, and political possibilities. Technologies, Medina writes, are historical texts; when we read them we are reading history."

December 16, 2020 Jamie Cohen-Cole, The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature

"The Open Mind chronicles the development and promulgation of a scientific vision of the rational, creative, and autonomous self, demonstrating how this self became a defining feature of Cold War culture. Jamie Cohen-Cole illustrates how from 1945 to 1965 policy makers and social critics used the idea of an open-minded human nature to advance centrist politics. They reshaped intellectual culture and instigated nationwide educational reform that promoted more open, and indeed more human, minds. The new field of cognitive science was central to this project, as it used popular support for open-mindedness to overthrow the then-dominant behaviorist view that the mind either could not be studied scientifically or did not exist. Cognitive science also underwrote the political implications of the open mind by treating it as the essential feature of human nature. While the open mind unified America in the first two decades after World War II, between 1965 and 1975 battles over the open mind fractured American culture as the ties between political centrism and the scientific account of human nature began to unravel. During the late 1960s, feminists and the New Left repurposed Cold War era psychological tools to redefine open-mindedness as a characteristic of left-wing politics. As a result, once-liberal intellectuals became neoconservative, and in the early 1970s, struggles against open-mindedness gave energy and purpose to the right wing."

November 18, 2020 Andrew Ferguson, The Rise of Big Data Policing & Brian Jefferson - Digitize and Punish: Racial Criminalization in the Digital Age 

"Andrew Guthrie Ferguson reveals how these new technologies ―viewed as race-neutral and objective―have been eagerly adopted by police departments hoping to distance themselves from claims of racial bias and unconstitutional practices. But behind the data are real people, and difficult questions remain about racial discrimination and the potential to distort constitutional protections. In this first book on big data policing, Ferguson offers an examination of how new technologies will alter the who, where, when and how we police. These new technologies also offer data-driven methods to improve police accountability and to remedy the underlying socio-economic risk factors that encourage crime. The Rise of Big Data Policing is a must read for anyone concerned with how technology will revolutionize law enforcement and its potential threat to the security, privacy, and constitutional rights of citizens."

October 14, 2020 Louise Amoore, Cloud Ethics

"In Cloud Ethics Louise Amoore examines how machine learning algorithms are transforming the ethics and politics of contemporary society. Conceptualizing algorithms as ethicopolitical entities that are entangled with the data attributes of people, Amoore outlines how algorithms give incomplete accounts of themselves, learn through relationships with human practices, and exist in the world in ways that exceed their source code. In these ways, algorithms and their relations to people cannot be understood by simply examining their code, nor can ethics be encoded into algorithms. Instead, Amoore locates the ethical responsibility of algorithms in the conditions of partiality and opacity that haunt both human and algorithmic decisions. To this end, she proposes what she calls cloud ethics—an approach to holding algorithms accountable by engaging with the social and technical conditions under which they emerge and operate."

September 16, 2020 Alex Pentland, Social Physics

"Alex "Sandy" Pentland directs MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program and co-leads the World Economic Forum Big Data and Personal Data initiatives. He helped create and direct MIT’s Media Laboratory, the Media Lab Asia laboratories at the Indian Institutes of Technology, and Strong Hospital’s Center for Future Health. His research group and entrepreneurship program have spun off more than thirty companies to date. In 2012 Forbes named Pentland one of the seven most powerful data scientists in the world. His research has been featured in Nature, Science, and Harvard Business Review."


Spring 2020: Political Economy of Digital Technologies

Thursday January 30 12:00pm--2:00pm: Automating Inequality

  1. Eubanks, Virginia. Automating inequality: How high-tech tools profile, police, and punish the poor. St. Martin's Press, 2018.

Thursday February 27 12:00pm--2:00pm: Surveillance Capitalism

  1. Zuboff, Shoshana. The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. Profile Books, 2019.

RESCHEDULED: VIRTUAL MEETING: April 30 12:00pm--2pm: Modeling the Climate

  1. Edwards, Paul N. A vast machine: Computer models, climate data, and the politics of global warming. Mit Press, 2010. Available through the library: gmu library link.

RESCHEDULED: VIRTUAL MEETING: May 28 12:00pm--2:00pm: From Counterculture to Cyberculture

  1. Turner, Fred. From counterculture to cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the rise of digital utopianism. University of Chicago Press, 2010. This text will also be available through the library.

Fall 2019 schedule

Wednesday October 23, 12:30--1:30

In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West (2019)

Location Southside Dining Hall, Blackstone Private Dining Room

Wednesday November 20, 12:30--1:30

Postponed until the Spring term

Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor (2018)

Location Southside Dining Hall, Blackstone Private Dining Room

Spring 2019 schedule

7 FEB – 1. “Study”

  • Moten, Fred, and Stefano Harney. The undercommons: Fugitive planning and black study. Wivenhoe, UK & New York: Minor Compositions, 2013. Preface—Chapter 3.

28 FEB – 2. The Color of Law and a Consumer’s Republic

  1. Rothstein, Richard. The color of law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America. Liveright Publishing, 2017.
  2. Cohen, Lizabeth: A Consumers’ Republic: the politics of mass consumption in postwar America. Vintage 2003. --- Chapters 3,4,5.

21 MAR – 3. Gentrification: The Brooklyn Brownstone – with Prof. Suleiman Osman

***We will meet at 'the Globe' this week.

  • Osman, Suleiman. The invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the search for authenticity in postwar New York. Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Available through GMU library

4 APR – 4. More “Study”

  • Moten, Fred, and Stefano Harney. The undercommons: Fugitive planning and black study. Wivenhoe, UK & New York: Minor Compositions, 2013. Chapters 4–7.

18 APR 5. Neoliberalism and Home Rule: DC – with Prof. Johanna Bockman

  • Bockman, Johanna. "Home rule from below: The cooperative movement in Washington, DC." Capital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington, DC (2016): 67-85. + etc.

2 MAY – 6. Public Palaces

  1. Klinenberg, Eric. Palaces for the People: how social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarization, and the decline of civic life. Penguin, 2018.
  2. Honig, Bonnie. Public Things: democracy in disrepair. Fordham University Press, 2017. Introduction and Epilogue.

More details:

Meetings in Southside Dining Hall, Blackstone Private Dining Room. If you don't have a meal plan, the PPE program will cover your lunch. Sign in at the cash register rather than paying when you arrive.

All people welcome. Questions?