In my quest to construct a theoretical framework for understanding what is happening and what is possible for the practice of participatory communications, I have had to go back and refresh my understanding of Capital, starting, of course, with Karl Marx. Whatever you might think about "Marxism" and its failures, Marx's brilliant exposition of what capital is and how it works remains illuminating today. We cannot understand our culture without starting here.
I have read bits of Capital (not cover to cover, but the important stuff). I have also read various critiques of it over the years. One book I find particularly important is David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity. Published in 1990, this book cuts through the "isms" (in an often pithy way) and lays out a thesis that demonstrates postmodernism is simply another reflection of capital's movement, not something that exists outside of it. If you want to get a sense of what modernism was (is) and the postmodern reaction, this is a very approachable book to read.
Harvey's politics ring throughout the book (viz. his discussion of Reaganomics as "economics with mirrors" which has some strong relevance for today!), and he is seeking a place of resistance to the force of capital. To him, postmodernism and its fragmentation is NOT that place. Here's his description of capital:
Capital is a process and not a thing. It is a process of reproduction of social life through commodity production, in which all of us in the advanced capitalist world are heavily implicated.
In other words, everything is for sale, including our bodies, our leisure time, our attention. Everything is ruled by capital. This is not a good thing in terms of the emancipation of the human being (the human spirit). Harvey is seeking, if not escape (which might be impossible) then a way to fight back. He writes:
...it becomes possible to launch a counter-attack of narrative against the image, of ethics against aesthetics, of a project of Becoming rather than Being, and to search for unity within difference, albeit in a context where the power of the image and of aesthetics, the problems of time-space compression, and the significance of geopolitics and otherness are clearly understood.
Harvey's project in this book was to provide that context. What I would add to this is that we need a platform where it is possible to accomplish this. I suspect that platform is the Internet. Because, isn't that what participatory communications is doing? Providing a way to have narrative (conversations) vs. image (traditional marketing)? Renewing a discussion of ethics? Enabling us to create a new, digital identity? Form groups across space and time in order to take some kind of action in the world?
Surely we can see the forces of capital massing at the borders, seeking to take it over. Read Lessig's The Future of Ideas for a good explanation of the coming (its already here) war.
I read book's like Harvey's for ideas, which I then start questioning from the framework of the online world. It is fascinating work. It is also hopeful, as I must admit, my project is towards finding that space of resistance as well.