Bedouins of Silicon Valley: A neo-Khaldunian approach to sociology of technology

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Abstract

The standard narrative of the emergence, rise and decline of Silicon Valley companies focuses on the evolution of institutions and technological waves, not the mentality of the innovators and entrepreneurs. This article argues that this type of explanation of the rise and decline of the Silicon Valley firms and institutions can hardly be sufficient. The suggestion is that a neo-Khaldunian theory could shed light on the issue. This article is an attempt to, first, distinguish between the medieval and modern aspects of Ibn Khaldun’s theory and second, to use the latter to examine Silicon Valley as a social phenomenon. It will be argued that Ibn Khaldun’s theory is of most contemporary relevance when we read it as a general account of a cyclical replacement of the untrained with the trained, while over and above the specific, environmentally deterministic cycle he identifies between ‘city-dwellers’ and ‘Bedouins’. In the case of Silicon Valley, these could be read as metaphors for, respectively, the established tech firms versus the garage-based start-up ‘geeks’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536-551
JournalThe Sociological Review
Volume67
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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