[iDC] A text on finance and digital labor

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at aliceadsl.fr
Fri Nov 6 22:55:04 UTC 2009

Hello friends,

Well, this has been a great list these past few months, with such strong 
debates, very interesting times. As I've been settling back into the US 
during the same time it seemed an excellent chance to get acquainted 
with many people's work from a new standpoint. Now the conference is 
almost upon us and it will be a pleasure to meet very many of you and 
see what evolves from this point forth.

About six months ago when I realized I was going to not one but two 
shindigs on "digital labor" (the first at Western University in Ontario 
last October), I decided to write about the economic meltdown, which 
appears to be a major crisis and restructuring of the informational mode 
of production. It seemed clear that the concept of digital labor 
shouldn't be restricted to the Internet strictly speaking, much less 
"social media," but should cover all the activities and environments 
that are modulated by computer processing. And society being what it is, 
the key element is the computer processing of money. The gentrification 
of cities, the acceleration of transnational travel, the incessant 
deployment of plasma screens in public spaces, the mobility and ubiquity 
of networked communications, all that appears to be driven by business 
and above all by the business of networked financial trading. So the 
question here is about the destinies of knowledge work under the rules 
of neoliberal finance -- and also about the threat of precarity, the 
danger of falling through the cracks in a system that is not designed to 
ensure the general welfare, but only to protect capital against risk. It 
was difficult to really understand something about derivatives and 
electronic exchanges, but anyway, this is it:


The idea was to connect the basic abstractions that our societies run on 
with the most immediate aesthetic experiences of the city and also of 
the screen. I wanted to articulate the text around artworks, both in 
order to open the imaginary space in which fundamental questions can be 
raised, and also to get at the ways in which everyday life in the 
financialized societies is positively saturated with art, to the point 
where it becomes a fundamental resource of governmentality, or sometimes 
even a mirror of domination. It's the knotted space where free play and 
social determinisms coincide. I was glad to see Jonathan Beller quoting 
Matteo Pasquinelli on this list. Matteo's recent book, Animal Spirits, 
has renewed the tradition of Autonomous Marxism as an activist theory of 
the present. I've tried to make good use of his concepts, in hopes that 
cultural and intellectual production can contribute to cutting the knot 
politically. We have not talked much on the list about some major 
struggles going on -- over the austerity measures in the California UC 
system, over the climate change conference coming up in Copenhagen -- 
but it seems to me that such struggles are crucial and that work with 
the symbolic, i.e. "digital labor," has everything to do with them.

Thanks for all the ideas, and see you soon,


More information about the iDC mailing list