[iDC] Intro and response to Ross/Terranova

Stmart96 at aol.com Stmart96 at aol.com
Tue Oct 20 19:12:22 UTC 2009

Very  Sweet  Paolo   especially the very last  question suggesting "not of 
but from labor"   I was noticing how  much Marx talked about cooperation 
when teaching Capital this  semester.   And this doubleness  
alienation-cooperation   made me think how the psyche as explored by Freud and his others  
might  really need to be rethought beyond thermodynamics as one feature of work 
to  be done  to understand the move from immaterial labor to the  
commons--- not sure that word is  so good.   
Hope to see you at the conference Patricia 
In a message dated 10/20/2009 1:21:08 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
carpi at newschool.edu writes:


I am Paolo Carpignano. I  am Associate Professor of Media Studies and 
Sociology at the New School. This  semester I teach a course called The Political 
Economy of Media which focuses  specifically on the relationship between 
work and media and thus it deals with  some of the themes of the conference on 
Digital Labor. In fact, attending the  conference is one of the class 
assignments this semester. 
Also, the Vera List Center  asked me to respond to the Changing Labor Value 
panel, one of the Preludes to  the conference. What you will find below is 
my response in the form of a  posting that I wrote for my class discussion.  
I know that it is too long  and  not very good for the format of this 
online discussion but Trebor  suggested that I post it anyway.
So, here it is:

Response to the Changing Labor  Value panel

It might be useful to start  from the differences. Had Richard Sennet 
participated, as it was announced  originally, it would have been easier. After 
all his work is representative of  a very learned but moderately progressive 
critique of the current problems of  labor and it would have provided a more 
clear-cut counterpart to the more  radical and transformative approaches of 
Andrew Ross and Tiziana Terranova  (from now on AR and TT). In their case, 
difference might be too strong a word.  It might be more appropriate to talk 
about degrees of emphasis. Yet, I am  going to highlight a few areas where, 
in my opinion, they diverge in the hope  of adding some clarity to the 
current discourse on the nature of labor and on  its possible political 

There is a strong sense of  continuity, almost inevitability in the picture 
that AR gives of the current  restructuring of labor, particularly in the 
case of the so called creative  industries and new media industries, 
resulting in a high degree of flexibility  and precariousness of working conditions. 
AR explicitly claims that such  restructuring is but the latest stage of a 
trend that started in the 1920’s  under the managerial practices of Human 
Relations. I find this assertion  rather problematic because either it is too 
general a statement about the  constant attempt on the part of capital to 
regiment its workforce by force or  inducement (and in this case it can be 
applied to the history of capitalism  even before the advent of Human 
Relations), or, if it is the result of a  comparative analysis of specific managerial 
strategies , it misses the  important point that the current capitalist 
turn in regards to labor is a  repudiation of Human Relations’ theories and 
practices of the past. In fact,  at the risk of simplifying, one can say that 
the break between Fordism and  Post-Fordism, consists, to a great degree, in 
the substitution of Human  Relations with what it is often called 
distributed management or self  management, and therefore with an entirely new 
conception of what management  and labor are. Historically, Human Relations were 
developed to respond to the  failure of Taylorism and Scientific Management in 
order to create a docile  work force that could be molded to fit the 
dictates of standardized mass  production   (the assembly line being the epitome 
of such arrangement),  and to recognize the need to deal with workers 
subjectivity and their  rebellion to work rules and rhythms. Thus, Human Relations 
began to consider  the work force as a counterpart to be dealt with through 
some form of  communication and negotiation. It led eventually to the 
recognition of shop  floor representation albeit with a clear separation of 
management from waged  labor. More broadly, it corresponded to the dialectics of 
classes of the  Keynesian system and of the welfare state. The neoliberal 
turn and the  Post-Fordist mode of production have drastically changed the 
terms of  engagement.  In rethinking the enterprise, to the point of envisioning 
 its disappearance in a series of distributes entities, current management  
theory tries to capture the realities of a drastically reconfigured labor  
dynamics characterized by work teams, temporary employment, flexible skills  
and amateur “free labor” . But for AR these new realities are but an 
extension  of old Human Relations strategies. The difference today is only in the 
degree  of “permissiveness” (his word). It is not by chance that for AR 
Harry  Braverman is a paradigmatic author. Capitalism leads inevitably to a  
progressive impoverishment of the quality of labor and to a socialization of  
alienation and exploitation, a sort of proletarianization of the whole 
society  that might not take the form of deskilling, as Braverman claims, but 
that  nevertheless leads to even worse conditions of sacrificial labor and 
self  exploitation.

For TT, instead, the importance  of the present restructuring consists in 
the novelty and discontinuity that  they represent in relation to the 
previous social economic formation. TT is  interested in understanding the current 
changes in managerial practices, but  also in reading these changes against 
the grain, so to speak , from the other  side of the relationships of 
production. Thus, she is interested in analyzing  not only the new forms of 
extraction of value from labor, but also the new  subjective practices that 
accompany and shape those relations, and in drawing  implications for a new 
political strategy. Interestingly enough it is Marx  that provides a guide for the 
understanding of the present turn in the nature  of labor. Marx shows that 
there are always two inextricably connected sides of  the labor process: the 
side of exploitation and alienation, and the side of  cooperation. In 
general, the Marxist tradition has emphasized the former and  left the latter to 
the realm of politics and consciousness, beyond the labor  process. Yet, the 
changing nature of labor in Post-Fordism has shifted the  balance of 
productive forces on the side of cooperation. Increasingly, it is  social 
engagement, both in the sense of interpersonal relationship and  symbiosis with 
technological artifacts, that drives innovation and creativity  to the center of 
production by transforming machinery into media. But  cooperation is also 
the site of subjective practices of resistance, and here  is where TT sees 
the opening of new possibilities for alternative forms of  production. We 
could say succinctly that where AR is describing the new  conditions of labor as 
a social factory, TT sees them as a factory of the  social. Work in the new 
productive landscape is increasingly characterized by  communication, 
symbolic interaction, affective engagements. It entails less  and less 
fabrication and more social cooperation, (what she and others call  “immaterial labor”
). And these are the material conditions that give rise to  new subjective 

The difference between the two  approaches becomes even more evident when 
they try to envision future  developments and to formulate alternatives.  In 
my view, AR analysis  leads ultimately to a very defensive position. It 
seems that his main concern  is to alleviate the deteriorating working 
conditions of the labor force and to  fight the onslaught of neoliberalism’s 
restructuring, which undoubtedly has  created, particularly in the present crisis, 
massive unemployment, the  increase in precarity and the abolition of safety 
nets.   To respond to  such devastating dislocations much more has to be 
done in terms of providing  adequate income maintenance programs (see for 
instance the current push on  health care) or for the development of new forms of 
labor organization that  expand across economic sectors and global 
fragmentation. But if we follow TT’s  perspective, these struggles have a much 
greater strategic value to the extent  to which, in addition to being defensive 
measures, they prefigure new  productive arrangements and alternative social 

Take for instant the proposal  of a guarantee income.  Whatever the 
difference between Europe and the  US, in terms of historical circumstances and 
short term feasibility, it  appears to be an issue that is gaining ground and 
could be central to a policy  debate in the near future. However, a guarantee 
income can be conceptualized  quite differently and have different 
political implications. For AR a  guarantee income is a remedy for the instability 
and flexibility of  employment. By providing income security it increases the 
chances of finding  adequate employment. For TT a guarantee income is, in a 
larger context, a  stepping stone in the direction of severing the relation 
between income and  work. A guarantee income based on life needs and not 
productive performance  goes a long way in prefiguring and give sustenance to 
experiments of non  economic productive arrangements. The political value of 
a struggle around a  guarantee income is in the linking of immediate 
defensive measures to the  strategic new institutions of cooperation, what TT 
calls the commons. Seen  from this point of view, the path from the guarantee 
income to the commons is  part of the process that, in the Italian Marxist 
literature that TT refers to,  is called the “exodus”.  In other words, the 
potentials expressed by the  current social dynamics point to the opening of 
areas of self valorization and  autonomous social practices that are quite 
different from the preceding  dialectics of classes.

I think it is clear by now  where my preferences lie. However I think that 
the conceptual framework and  the practice of the new commons are still, to 
say the least, in their infancy  and there are some fundamental political 
and theoretical issues that have to  be addressed and clarified. What is the 
nature of the commonality that it is  detected in current subjective 
practices and proposed for future institutional  forms? For instance, it is not 
clear to me to what extent there is a direct  path from immaterial labor to the 
commons.  Is the common a realization  of labor, albeit a labor based on 
cooperation rather than competition? Is it  the old Marxist notion of 
emancipation of labor through labor? And if so, how  does it differ from the 
historical experience of soviets and workers’  councils, except from the heightened 
sociality of immaterial labor? It could  be just another version of 
industrial democracy, a democracy for the social  factory.  If, on the contrary, it 
means not just exodus of labor but  from labor, and from its connotations of 
productivity, utility and  efficacy, then it would be nothing short of a 
redefinition of praxis itself.  And maybe that is what is required today.


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