Research Seminar: The Celebrity Founders of Digital Capitalism

Dr Alison Winch (University of East Anglia) discusses the power and influence of major digital founders.

Please note this event will be held online via Microsoft Teams. To request an invitation to this event, please email before 12pm on Wednesday 27 January.

What legitimates the extraordinary power and reach of the founders of Amazon, Google, Facebook and others? These billionaires are some of the richest people in the world and their corporations impact our everyday lives in multiple ways. We have seen their wealth increase during the pandemic.

In our forthcoming book, we suggest that these founders constitute a ‘patriarchal network’. Even though they might appear in public as rivals, their material interests are shared not just at the general, sectoral level, but very literally through investment in each other’s companies and outside interests.  

Using a 10 million word concordance that we built using popular books about the technology sector, we find that the celebrity narratives these founders draw on are fundamentally American stories drawing on the imaginary of the frontier pioneer and his household, including its classed hierarchies of race, gender, citizenship.   

This paper maps a patriarchal network consisting of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergy Brin and Larry Page, Peter Thiel, Sheryl Sandberg. I then focus on Sandberg whose bargaining location in the network reveals its racialized patriarchal structure in illuminating ways.  

Alison Winch is a Media Studies lecturer at the University of East Anglia. Her books include Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood (Palgrave 2013) and The New Patriarchs of Digital Capitalism co-authored with Ben Little (forthcoming Routledge).