From its critical location in the Bay Area, the BESI Technology cluster is uniquely positioned to deploy and build upon UC Berkeley’s existing expertise in the study of the political economy of new technologies, both digital and biotech.

The tech industry is arguably the most transformative economic force in the world today. The rise of digital platforms has already revolutionized the way people work, pay for goods and services, and contract with each other. Big data and predictive analytics have transformed how corporations make money and how states govern. Digital networks have shrunk distances and compressed temporalities, ushering in a new age of globalization.

“Disruptions” associated with tech innovations have knocked over long-established legal protections and collective norms in practically every sector of the economy, while fueling dangerously speculative imaginaries and bubbles. Finally, tech is implicated on both sides of the green transition, a potential source of solutions but also out-of-control electricity consumption.

The capitulation of protected markets (e.g., the taxi industry), licensed occupations (e.g., real estate), knowledge monopolies (e.g., the news media, higher education), and common expectations (e.g., the right of people to repair their own devices, appliances, and vehicles) to the power of large tech firms is a political and legal achievement.

Technology is not destiny.

In many ways, these market reorganizations are desirable in that they enhance efficiency; they may also promote inclusion and incorporate a real concern for fairness. In other ways, they foster enormous concentrations of economic power and wealth, sow division, and undermine privacy and solidarity. Only a political economic approach can grapple with the specific institutional arrangements that sustain the development of this constantly shifting sociotechnical ground, as well as attend carefully to its outcomes. 

Cluster Lead

Armando Lara-Millán, Associate Professor, Sociology, UC Berkeley

Participating Faculty

Vinod Aggarwal, Distinguished Professor and Alann P. Bedford Chair in Asian Studies, Political Science, UC Berkeley

Morgan Ames, Assistant Adjunct Professor, UC Berkeley School of Information

Desirée Fields, Associate Professor, Geography and Global Metropolitan Studies, UC Berkeley

Marion Fourcade, Professor of Sociology, UC Berkeley; Director, Social Science Matrix

Jonathan Simon, Lance Robbins Professor of Criminal Justice Law, UC Berkeley