Material World: the Myth of the Weightless Economy

Ursula Huws

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The task I have set myself in this essay is to re-embody cyberspace: to try to make visible the material components of this virtual world. In this, I find myself rather oddly positioned. Having been arguing for over two decades for greater importance to be given in economic and social analysis to white-collar employment, and to the ways in which information and communications technologies have facilitated its relocation, it seems perverse, to say the least, to respond to this sudden new interest in the subject by saying, in effect, 'Well, hang on a minute. Are things really changing all that much? How 'dematerialised' are most developed economies? To what extent is service employment really expanding? What contribution does 'knowledge' make to economic growth? And how global are most economies anyway?'. In addressing such questions a delicate path has to be picked. On the one hand it is necessary to subject the claims of the proponents of the 'new economics' to some empirical tests. Before throwing out the bathwater, in other words, it is wise to check it for babies. On the other, it is necessary to avoid the opposite danger of assuming that nothing has changed: that because something cannot be measured accurately with existing instruments it does not exist at all. I cannot claim to have walked this path to its conclusion. However I hope here to have flagged some of the more important landmines to be avoided along the way
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocialist Register
Publication statusPublished - 1999


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