Accepted Paper:

A theory of rentiership and rent-seeking for science and technology studies  


Kean Birch (York University)

Paper short abstract:

I develop the beginnings of a theory of "rentiership" as it relates to (technoscientific) knowledge. Drawing on the intellectual history of ‘economic rent’, I conceptualize how knowledge (considered as a social process) is (1) turned into an asset, and (2) understood as capitalized property.

Paper long abstract:

As the recent furore around Martin Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals in the USA illustrates, economic rent-seeking is emerging as an important phenomenon in contemporary capitalism. As the economy increasingly revolves around the value of intangible assets (e.g. knowledge, experience, goodwill, branding, etc.), it highlights the importance of understanding how (technoscientific) knowledge is turned into an asset, how it is monetized, and how it is capitalized. I define this process as "rentiership" - or the dark side of entrepreneurship - in which value is mined and extracted from knowledge as well as social relations, personal desires, environment, etc., rather than created as the result of productive and risky investment (e.g. development of new product). Considering the diversity of knowledge, however, it is important to engage theoretically with the intellectual lineage of economic rent as a concept. In this paper, I draw on theories of economic rent from classical political economy (e.g. Smith, Ricardo, Marx), neoclassical and old institutionalist economics (e.g. Marshall, Veblen), Marxism (e.g. Harvey, Smith), and others to theorize the conversion of knowledge - conceived as a social process - into capitalized property (i.e. asset). I then unpack the techno-economic configurations that are involved in this conversion and consider the implications of rentiership to research and innovation.

Panel T005
Turning Things into Assets