A Critique of Linguistic Capitalism (and an artistic intervention)

Design informatics research seminars

As Orwell’s 1984 reminds us, control of language equals control of thought. This talk suggests that today, private tech companies such as Google have an extraordinary power over the circulation and exploitation of words, but the logic driving that control is neoliberal as opposed to overtly political. It is the logic of what Frederick Kaplan (2014) has called linguistic capitalism. Highlighting the similarities between language in the age of Google and Orwell’s Newspeak, this talk exposes the political power of language, and explains my own critique of linguistic capitalism in the form of an artistic intervention called {poem}.py. This project fuses poetry, code and advertising data to make visible the workings of linguistic capitalism, printing out receipts for the words which are processed through Google. In this way poetry can be reclaimed from the algorithmic marketplace, and returned to art.

Pip Thornton is a PhD student in Geopolitics and Cyber Security at Royal Holloway and is co-supervised by Prof. Pete Adey in Geography and Prof. Keith Martin in the Information Security Group. She holds BA degrees in History and Politics (Liverpool) and English Literature (Open University), and a Masters in English from King’s College London (KCL). Her thesis is titled Language in the Age of Algorithmic Reproduction and she has a research blog at

Design Informations T room, 1.09 Evolution House, 78 West Port, Edinburgh, EH1