My research centers on the role of regulations and institutions on the internet. I make conceptual and empirical connections across digital media studies, social theory, law, and economics, formulating a humanistic account of digital society with implications for the study and design of internet systems.
Electronic commerce is my primary area of focus. In “Exchange relations on the dark web” (Critical Media Studies, 2017), I analyze the economic and social dynamics of Silk Road, a peer-to-peer black market on the dark web. Drawing on court documents, discussion board conversations, and governmental records obtained through FOIA requests, I show that Silk Road represented a conflictual sphere of internet exchange, marked by an absence of state economic regulation, a lack of status codes, and an ineffective reputation system. Contrary to its founder’s vision of a libertarian utopia, the digital free market in contraband was plagued by blackmail, scam, coercion, and monopoly. These fraudulent economic practices were underwritten by a market logic that exploited the site’s unique infrastructure, and they teach us about the role of regulatory systems and institutional forms on electronic commerce platforms.
I also write about broader trends in the digital economy. In “The concept of digital capitalism” (Communication Theory, 2018), I argue that the term ‘digital capitalism’ lacks analytic and empirical clarity. After offering a critique of contemporary approaches to the topic, I draw on media theory and economic history to formulate a dialectical account of digital capitalism. I then sketch the relation digital media and capitalism as a point of departure for future research, concluding with a discussion of structuralism and nominalism in contemporary media theory.
Header: Amazon Warehouse by Andreas Gursky. Courtesy of The Broad, Los Angeles.