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Organized immaturity, the reduction of individual capacities for public use of reason constrained by sociotechnological systems, constitutes a significant pushback against the project of Enlightenment. Forms of immaturity have long been a concern for philosophers and social theorists, such as Kant, Arendt, Fromm, Marcuse, and Foucault. Recently, Zuboff’s concept of “surveillance capitalism” describes how advancements in digital technologies lead to new, increasingly sophisticated forms of organized immaturity in democratic societies. We discuss how sociotechnological systems initially designed to meet human needs can inhibit the multidimensional development of individuals as mature citizens. To counteract these trends, we suggest two mechanisms: disorganizing immaturity as a way to safeguard individuals’ and collectives’ negative freedoms (freedoms from), and organizing maturity as a way to strengthen positive freedoms (freedoms to). Finally, we provide an outlook on the five further articles that constitute the Business Ethics Quarterly Special Issue “Sociotechnological Conditions of Organized Immaturity in the Twenty-First Century.”
The power of the digital platforms and the increasing scope of their control over individuals and institutions have begun to generate societal concern. However, the ways in which digital platforms exercise power and organize immaturity—defined as the erosion of the individual’s capacity for public use of reason—have not yet been theorized sufficiently. Drawing on Bourdieu’s concepts of field, capitals, and habitus, we take a sociosymbolic perspective on platforms’ power dynamics, characterizing the digital habitus and identifying specific forms of platform power and counterpower accumulation. We make two main contributions. First, we expand the concept of organized immaturity by adopting a sociological perspective, from which we develop a novel sociosymbolic view of platforms’ power dynamics. Our framework explains fundamental aspects of immaturity, such as self-infliction and emergence. Second, we contribute to the platform literature by developing a three-phase model of platform power dynamics over time.
Organized immaturity refers to the capacity of widely institutionalized sociotechnical systems to challenge qualities of human enlightenment, autonomy, and self-determination. In the context of surveillance capitalism, where these qualities are continuously put at risk, data transparency is increasingly proposed as a means of restoring human maturity by allowing individuals insight and choice vis-à-vis corporate data processing. In this article, however, I draw on research on General Data Protection Regulation–mandated data transparency practices to argue that transparency—while potentially fostering maturity—itself risks producing new forms of organized immaturity by facilitating user ignorance, manipulation, and loss of control of personal data. Considering data transparency’s relative “successes” and “failures” regarding the cultivation of maturity, I outline a set of possible remedies while arguing for a general need to develop more sophisticated ethical appreciations of transparency’s complex and potentially problematic implications for organized (im)maturity in the digital age.
Organisations increasingly use digital nudges to influence their workforces’ behaviour without coercion or incentives. This can expose employees to arbitrary domination by infringing on their autonomy through manipulation and indoctrination. Nudges might furthermore give rise to the phenomenon of “organised immaturity.” Adopting a balanced approach between overly optimistic and dystopian standpoints, I propose a framework for determining the moral permissibility of digital nudging in the workplace. In this regard, I argue that not only should organisations provide pre-discursive justification of nudges but they should also ensure that employees can challenge their implementation whenever necessary through legitimation procedures. Building on Rainer Forst’s concept of the right to justification, this article offers a way to combine contract- and deliberation-based theories for addressing questions in business ethics. I further introduce the concept of meta-autonomy as a capacity that employees can acquire to counter threats of arbitrary domination and to mitigate organised immaturity.
Drawing from Michel Foucault’s reading of Immanuel Kant’s essay “What is Enlightenment?,” and specifically his definition of ascesis, we associate maturity with a capacity for, and interest in, forming the self. On the basis of an empirical study of making vinyl records following the successful commercialization of digital media, we identify micro-disciplinary techniques of self-forming that emerge as enthusiasts steadily learn the craft of vinyl record manufacturing. It is, we argue, through technology, rather than against it, that organizational immaturity can be resisted. Craftwork involves testing and transforming, rather than just acquiring, traditional skills. Maturity involves an ongoing struggle of selectively and reflectively engaging with technologies via attempts to be the subject of one’s own subjection. The former contributes to the latter.
Digital technologies induce organised immaturity by generating toxic sociotechnical conditions that lead us to delegate autonomous, individual, and responsible thoughts and actions to external technological systems. Aiming to move beyond a diagnostic critical reading of the toxicity of digitalisation, we bring Bernard Stiegler’s pharmacological analysis of technology into dialogue with the ethics of care to speculatively explore how the socially engaged arts—a type of artistic practice emphasising audience co-production and processual collective responses to social challenges—play a care-giving role that helps counter technology-induced organised immaturity. We outline and illustrate two modes by which the socially engaged arts play this role: 1) disorganising immaturity through artivism, most notably anti-surveillance art, that imparts savoir vivre, that is, shared knowledge and meaning to counter the toxic side of technologies while enabling the imagination of alternative worlds in which humans coexist harmoniously with digital technologies, and 2) organising maturity through arts-based hacking that imparts savoir faire, that is, hands-on knowledge for experimental creation and practical enactment of better technological worlds.