[iDC] sentiment geeks and the social graph

Jonathan Beller jbeller at pratt.edu
Wed Oct 14 14:15:10 UTC 2009

want to express my enthusiasm about this post (below) and throw in my  
own 20 cents worth (adjusted for inflation). Mark's approach,  
culminating with the citation of Clough addresses precisely the  
problem of strict adherence to the dialectical categories instantiated  
by Marx. I am thinking here of the astute analysis by Christian Fuch's  
of that weird farm game, in which he suggests that if one buys the  
game then what is done is not productive labor because it does not  
produce surplus value, but if one plays it on a multi-user platform  
such as facebook (whose value is directly tied to various methods of  
statistical compilation for the accounting of user attention) than it  
would be. While it is clarifying to see Marxian categories so neatly  
and deftly applied, it also reveals something about the obsolescence  
of the categories (at least as they appear in Marx), precisely because  
it would seem that it is in the gray areas and the informal sectors  
that we can track the far reaching changes that are upon us. We should  
recall here that while Marx is the master theorist of the medium of  
money, he was never able to solve the problem of the medium of the  
road (Was building the road productive or unproductive labor, was it  
the work of valets or of the proletariat?). In my own view, what is  
revealed by this distinction between productive and non-productive  
labor generated by the rigorous application of the categories to  
gaming in the manner in which Marx might have done it in 1860's is not  
the correctness of the distinction but the need for updating the form  
of the categories. Ditto for the humans and animals discussion with  
Margaret Morse in which a hard line was drawn by Christian between  
those two categories -- categories which after all evolved in the  
dialectical development of each set's purported members and which  
therefore each mutually presuppose one another, are inseparable, and  
contain the one within the other. Recognizing that (the  
deconstructability of the binary), the question becomes what is at  
stake (historically and politically speaking) in maintaining the  
distinction. One could ask the same thing about productive and non- 
productive labor.

For Christian, it seems to me, the stake in the latter categories, is  
nothing less than Marxism, and for this investment in the struggle for  
the identification of exploitation I am full of respect and  
solidarity. As I have intimated in other posts on this list-serve,  
this question about the new and hidden forms of productivity is one of  
the most important questions of our era. And it would seem that unless  
you could say what was productive and unproductive labor you could not  
properly say what was capitalist exploitation. And if you cannot  
identify exploitation, then you cannot localize it nor can you  
effectively challenge it. For what it's worth, I actually agree with  
much of this line of thinking: if there is no more exploitation than  
there is no more Marxism.

It is here, on the question of expropriation, that I think that Mark's  
post is particularly illuminating, as well as Clough's suppositions  
about a "a probablisitc, statistical background which provides an  
infra-empirical or infra-temporal sociality, the subject of which is,  
I want to propose, the population, technologically or methodologically  
open to the modulation of its affective capacities." (I think Morse's  
consideration of erotics may also be very significant here, but I  
would have to know more than I do about what she has in mind.) What is  
implied by these approaches is the far -reaching break up of the units  
of account: the subject of exchange, the object as commodity, the  
spatio-temporal framework (chronotope) of the exchange with capital.  
This breakup of the very entities coalesced in and as the categories  
of a prior century's political economy was already implicit in the  
idea of the deterritorialized factory and the attention theory of  
value that I used to describe the deep political economy of cinema and  
television, as well as in the Italian's version of the social factory,  
their development of Marx's idea of social cooperation, and the  
current work on the general intellect and cognitive capitalism. It  
seems to me that the digital explosion (really not possible in its  
current form without the NASDAQing of silicon valley) has been a long- 
term effort to harness these emergent energies that are simultaneosly  
revolutionizing the productive forces and transforming the form of  
value -- dominant digitality is sturctured by an effort to create the  
algorithms that would formalize (and thus monetize) all of the  
energies being expended in informal economies (cinephilia,  fandom,  
gender performativity, fetishism, etc., in short, affect).  
Retrospectively we can see that celebrities and charismatic dictators  
were programs, software running on the social machinery, created by  
the labor of human attention as the concrete expression of individual  
and mass desire. Like the roads before them, these social forms were  
products --pathways -- necessary for the preservation and  
intensification of corporate profiteering. Same for the pyrotechnics  
of commodities -- Baudrillard's category of candy fascism to describe  
the allure of the omnipresent commodity is pertinent here. What you  
have today is engines of expropriation functioning through formerly  
informal channels of value -extraction (community, cooperation,  
tradition, etc). These engines of expropriation and the media which  
are their conditions of possibility give rise to the attention theory  
of value, as well as the creation of new categories or moments for the  
general form of social wealth (money) in the form of know how, cool,  
pleasure, etc. The massive capital investment in digital culture is an  
effort to formalize and thus monetize these social engines of creation  
that extract attention and pay, dis-symmetrically, in social  
currencies that emerged along with the masses during the long  
twentieth century. Thus the platform is an algorithm of capture.

If one adhered to the old categories, or more precisely the old forms  
of the distinction between productive and non-productive labor, one  
could be tricked into thinking here that on the one hand we have labor  
(workers going to factory, prosumers going to facebook) and on the  
other hand we have psychology/erotics/play (our desires for Hitlers,  
our admiration of Bill Gateses, our adventures in gameboys and books),  
but this would be a mistake. Real subsumption means that all (most) of  
the extra-economic categories now fall within political economy.  
Therefore whether I work for facebook (as a "user) or simply valorize  
a culture in which facebook is a viable platform by playing the kind  
of game that others play there, I am a producer of facebook. I  
valorize the media-environment. This claim is not really different  
from saying that whether you voted for Bush or simply lived in the US  
while he was a president (or for that matter if you still live in the  
US now) you were a beneficiary of neo-imperialist wars and you abetted  
the US ethno-nationalist white suprematist patriarchal project. I'm  
not saying that if these conditions apply to "you,"  you chose to do  
this, or that you are the (full) subject of this choice, but I am  
saying that part of what you normally think of as you contributed to  
it. Your very metabolism participated in murder. How to account for  

Right. So perhaps you can see that even though I am critical of   
Christian Fuch's particular deployment of the political economic  
categories in his post and in some of his other writings, I am also in  
full agreement when he says, "The law of value does not, as claimed by  
autonomous Marixsts, become unimportant today (Christian Fuchs, "A  
Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy of Transnational  
Informational Capitalism," RETHINKING MARXISM VOLUME 21 NUMBER 3 (JULY  
2009)). The question is, what are the emergent categories, or, more  
exactly, the new mediations of the value form that continue to  
contribute to the massive accumulation of capital and dispossession of  
persons that is anything but discontinuous with prior eras of  
capitalist violation. If anything has changed it is that the law and  
value (the law of value?) has greater purchase on human creativity  
than ever before. I am not being glib here, it would be a grave  
mistake to assume that the law of value has been transcended or  
rendered defunct. Rather,  I am endeavoring to telegraph (not tweet)  
the hypothesis that the law of value has penetrated our corporeal  
practices and our cognitive-linguistic practices: a situation which at  
once renders them all suspect and also posits them as sites of  
struggle. To aid us in organizing this struggle we might channel Lenin  
and propose the following thesis:

Digitality, the highest stage of capitalism.

Jonathan Beller
Humanities and Media Studies
and Critical and Visual Studies
Pratt Institute
jbeller at pratt.edu
718-636-3573 fax

On Oct 13, 2009, at 5:28 AM, Mark Andrejevic wrote:

> there are really some great conversations taking place on this list  
> -- I'm trying to keep up! But I also thought I'd add some follow-up  
> thoughts tangentially related to the exploitation discussion. The  
> familiar framing of submission to various forms of online monitoring  
> in terms of the logic of exchange (we submit to the collection of  
> information about ourselves in return for access to "free" goods and  
> services) needs further interrogation: not just in terms of what  
> information is collected vs. what information we consciously  
> disclose about ourselves, and not just in terms of the economic and  
> social relations that structure the "free" exchange, but also,  
> perhaps, in terms of the split between the forms of gratification  
> associated with online services and the data gathered about us.  
> These might be seen, increasingly, as overlapping categories.
> I'm thinking here of a constellations of developments associated  
> with so-called sentiment analysis: the use of the internet as means  
> not just for gathering information, but for measuring sentiment. For  
> starters, we might include in this category Mark Zuckerberg's  
> conception of Facebook as a means of reconstituting the organization  
> of information online in terms of a "social graph" -- a means of  
> organizing information and facilitating searches based not on, as  
> Wired magazine puts it, "the cold mathematics" of a Google search,  
> but on a more "personalized, humanized" algorithm that draws on our  
> social networks to shape our searches and provide us with customized  
> results. Alongside this individual use of the social graph is the  
> goal of enlisting so-called sentiment analysis -- an attempt to  
> gauge sentiment by sorting through large-scale databses (what Pang  
> and Lee have called "opinion mining") -- for marketing purposes.  
> Companies like Jodange and Scout Labs (which I learned about through  
> a NYTimes piece on sentiment analysis), promise a kind of gestalt  
> reading of the data flow: a means of seeing the whole without  
> necessarily having to read through all the discreet data, that is  
> reminsicent of the new spate of attempts to privilege gut instinct,  
> first impressions, body language, etc. (as outlined, for example in  
> Gladwell's Blink and represented in a spate of shows about adepts  
> who are able to beat the machines -- the cold mathematics of the  
> algorithm -- through their ability to read emotions and gauge  
> impressions -- Lie to Me, the Mentalist, etc.).
> So Jodange, for example describes its goal as: the development of  
> "business applications that drive tangible value by allowing  
> knowledge workers to better understand who is influencing their  
> customers, competitors and marketplace in an environment where  
> information continues to originate from an exploding number of  
> information sources" and Scout Labs promises to help clients track  
> social media and "find signals in the noise to help your team build  
> better products and stronger customer relationships." The site  
> includes the following (anonymous -- maybe the web is speaking)  
> testimonial: "Scout Labs provides an intuitive and elegant interface  
> for managing a wealth of conversations across the web. It makes  
> social media monitoring dead-simple."
> I'm not sure what this adds to the portrayal of interactive  
> applications as (among other things) a means of gathering  
> information about consumers -- but I'm intrigued that the goal is  
> not simply demographics, patterns of browsing or purchasing  
> behavior, and not even the collection of data about indvidual  
> preferences, but the goal of discerning in the data flow a dominant  
> feeling tone coalescing around particular products, initiatives,  
> people or campaigns. At work here is a kind of prosopopeia in the  
> sense in which Zizek has been using it recently -- the creation of  
> some kind of aggregate non-subject whose sentiments can be read off  
> the data.
> It's hard, when looking at these developments, not to be struck by  
> Patricia Ticineto Clough's observation that, "this is a dynamic  
> background, a probablisitc, statistical background which provides an  
> infra-empirical or infra-temporal sociality, the subject of which  
> is, I want to propose, the population, technologically or  
> methodologically open to the modulation of its affective capacities.  
> Sociality as affective background displaces sociality grasped in  
> terms off structure and individual; affective modulation and  
> individuation displace subject formation and ideological  
> interpellation as central to the relation of governance and  
> economy" (from The New Empiricism: Affect and Sociological Method,  
> European Journal of Social Theory 2009).
> _______________________________________________
> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity  
> (distributedcreativity.org)
> iDC at mailman.thing.net
> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive:
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream:
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
> RSS feed:
> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
> iDC Chat on Facebook:
> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20091014/0dcd9481/attachment-0001.htm 

More information about the iDC mailing list