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«      Boffo, Marco (2013) Interrogating the knowledge‐based economy: from  ...»

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For Lazzarato, the origins of these processes are to be found in ‘the “great transformation”’ beginning in the 1970s, which putatively changed ‘the very terms in which the question [of work] is posed’ (Lazzarato, 1996, p.134). Indeed, for Lazzarato, such “great transformation” has determined a renewal of the relation between production and knowledge, changing the content of labour so that ‘manual labor is increasingly coming to involve procedures that could be defined as “intellectual”, and the new communications technologies increasingly require subjectivities that are rich in knowledge’ (Lazzarato, 1996, p.134). But, for Lazzarato, the novelty would not simply be ‘that intellectual labor has become subjected to the norms of capitalist production’; rather, the novelty would lie in that ‘a new “mass intellectuality” has come into being, created out of a combination of the demands of capitalist production and the forms of “self-valorization”’ produced by ‘the struggle against work’. Thus, Lazzarato posits ‘[t]he old dichotomy between “mental and manual labor”, or between “material labor and immaterial labor”’, as ineffective in attempting to grasp ‘the new nature of productive activity’, since he understands ‘[t]he split between conception and execution, … labor and creativity, … author and audience’ as having been ‘simultaneously transcended within the “labor process” and reimposed as political command within the “process of valorization”’ (Lazzarato, 1996, p.134). As a result, for Lazzarato, ‘waged labor and direct subjugation (to organization)’ would ‘no longer constitute the principal form of the contractual relationship between capitalist and worker’, since the content and character of the labour involved in immaterial production suffices (putatively) to grant to labour an increasing degree of autonomy from capital and simultaneously lead to the emergence of ‘a polymorphous self-employed autonomous work...

as the dominant form, a kind of “intellectual worker” who is him- or herself an entrepreneur’ (Lazzarato, 1996, p.140).

Part and parcel of the body of work taking place within and around the journal Futur Antérieur, Lazzarato’s (1996) definition and analysis of immaterial labour exemplify and summarise the Italian autonomist underworld of the 1980s and 1990s, while also forming the embryo of all subsequent debate on both immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism. However, although praised for re-establishing ‘the importance of production within the biopolitical process of the social constitution’, this early work has also been charged by Hardt and Negri (2000, p.29) as guilty of isolating immaterial labour from other struggles ‘by grasping it in a pure form’. Thus, to depart from their previous work in Futur Antérieur and to address the critiques of it on the grounds of ‘Cartesian dualism’ and ‘masculine bias’ (Dyer-Witheford, 2001, p.72), Hardt and Negri have proceeded to redefine immaterial labour, in Empire (2000), as ‘the communicative labor of industrial production that has newly become linked in informational networks, the interactive labor of symbolic analysis and problem solving, and the labor of the production and manipulation of affects’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.30). Furthermore, in doing so, Hardt and Negri have also specified and qualified Lazzarato’s claim of the dominance and centrality of immaterial labour in contemporary capitalism through theorising what they see as the ‘passage […] from the domination of industry to that of services and information’ and, concomitantly, as a ‘process of economic postmodernization, or better, informatization’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.280). Thus, Hardt and Negri distinguish ‘three types of immaterial labor’ driving ‘the service sector at the top of the informational economy’: a) the labour ‘involved in an industrial production that has been informationalized and has incorporated communication technologies in a way that transforms the production process itself’; b) the ‘immaterial labor of analytical and symbolic tasks, which itself breaks down into creative and intelligent manipulation on the one hand and routine symbolic tasks on the other’; and c) the labour involving ‘the production and manipulation of affect and requir[ing] (virtual or actual) human contact, labor in the bodily mode’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.293). Through this redefinition, the concept of immaterial labour is expanded and posited as becoming increasingly central in the valorisation process, spreading across various sectors of the economy and pushing even traditional types of labour to incorporate its qualities. Thus, for Hardt and Negri, the archetype of immaterial labour is performed in ‘[t]he service sectors of the economy’, which (putatively) ‘present a richer model of productive communication’, since ‘most services’ are ‘based on the continual exchange of information and knowledge’. With ‘the production of services’ resulting ‘in no material and durable good’, Hardt and Negri can therefore redefine ‘the labor involved in this production as immaterial labor – that is, labor that produces an immaterial good, such as a service, a cultural product, knowledge, or communication’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.290).

While receiving much critical appraisal and becoming a landmark of critical thinking and radical scholarship in the first decade of the century, Hardt and Negri’s (2000) Empire also sparked controversy. Particularly contentious was its central claim that the Empire emerging ‘from the twilight of modern sovereignty’ acted, ‘[i]n contrast to imperialism’, as ‘a decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule’ progressively incorporating ‘the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers’, with the ‘distinct national colors of the imperialist map of the world hav[ing] merged and blended in the imperial global rainbow’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.xiixiii). In light of the military invasion of Iraq of 2003, and the continuing character of geopolitical rivalry and imperialism in the world economy since the end of the Cold War (see, for example, Burgio et al., 2005), such a position seemed untenable. While also addressing these critiques, Hardt and Negri’s (2004) Multitude primarily aimed to describe the (new) social subject posing the ‘living alternative’ growing ‘within Empire’ (Hardt, Negri, 2004, p.xiii).





To do so, and setting an ‘unacknowledged shift’ (Camfield, 2007, p.23) from their earlier work in Empire (Hardt, Negri, 2000), Hardt and Negri’s (2004) Multitude provides a redefinition of the concept of immaterial labour, while also strongly reaffirming its predominance; thus, for Hardt and Negri, ‘in the final decades of the twentieth century industrial labor lost its hegemony and in its stead emerged “immaterial labor”, … labor that creates immaterial products, such as knowledge, information, communication, a relationship, or an emotional response’ (Hardt, Negri, 2004, p.108). Following this redefinition, for Hardt and Negri immaterial labour is to be understood as comprised of two often overlapping typologies of labour: a) ‘primarily intellectual or linguistic [labour], such as problem solving, symbolic and analytical tasks, and linguistic expressions’, and b) ‘labor that produces or manipulates affects such as a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement or passion’ (Hardt, Negri, 2004, p.108). The third term of the definition given in Empire, i.e. ‘the communicative labor of industrial production... newly become linked in informational networks’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.30), has now been dropped. In short, for Hardt and Negri, labour in contemporary capitalism has become biopolitical, for it is posited as now creating ‘not only material goods but also relationships and ultimately social life itself’ (Hardt, Negri, 2004, p.109). Worthy of notice, although the expression cognitive capitalism does not come up in the book, Multitude (Hardt, Negri, 2004, p.374, footnote 8) indirectly acknowledges the debate by referring to Vercellone, 2003 for the concept of ‘cognitive labor’ (even if the latter is seen by Hardt and Negri as only referring to some of the ‘aspects of immaterial labor’ without capturing its generality, similarly to other ‘conventional terms such as service work’ and ‘intellectual labor’, p.108).79 Even more subtle is the shift recently operated in Commonwealth (Hardt, Negri, 2009), which proposes a reading of the current financial crisis as caused ‘by the new ontology of biopolitical labor’ (Hardt, Negri, 2009, p.264). Indeed, in line with Hardt and Negri’s own earlier admission that ‘immaterial labor is a very ambiguous term’ and that ‘it might be better to understand the new hegemonic form as “biopolitical labor”’ (Hardt, Negri, 2004, p.109), and potentially in response to those critics highlighting the contradictory and ambiguous nature of a definition of immaterial labour meant to designate, alternatively, the activity itself and its result (such as, for example, Harribey, 2004, or even Vercellone, 2007a as quoted in footnote 79 of this thesis), the concept of immaterial labour is silently dropped (appearing only once as ‘immaterial laborpower’, Hardt, Negri, 2009, p.258) and replaced by ‘biopolitical labor’ (pp.133, 139, 140-152, 158, 165, 172, 179, 244, 264, 270-272, 286-292, 309, 315-316, 352-354).

Note, though, that on the contrary Vercellone insists on supplementing immaterial labour with the term cognitive (‘immaterial and cognitive labour’) since ‘the concept of immaterial labour … used by itself to characterise the present change in labour, is … insufficient and imprecise’, the ‘essential trait of the present transformation in labour’ not being ‘limited to its many immaterial dimensions or, more precisely, those of its products’. Rather, ‘It can above all be found in the reappropriation of the cognitive dimensions of work by living labour, with respect to all material and immaterial activity’ (2007a, p.16, footnote 8).

2.2.2) … to systemic implications Following from the presumed hegemonic character of immaterial production (Hardt, Negri, 2000, 2004, 2009), the putative hegemony of knowledge in production (Vercellone, 2007a) and, ultimately, the hegemony of (the putatively new) immaterial (character of) labour, a systemic understanding of contemporary capitalism ensues. Indeed, since knowledge and information are believed to be the most important means of production, labour power is seen as having become inseparable from the individual worker (Moulier Boutang, 2008, p.179;

Vercellone, 2007a, p.33), and living labour and knowledge are consequently seen as inherently inexpropriable. Further, this is taken to imply the breakdown of the division between work and leisure time and, therefore, ‘the progressive indistinction between production and reproduction in the biopolitical context’, highlighting ‘the immeasurability of time and value’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.402). Indeed, for Hardt and Negri, ‘[a]s labor moves outside the factory walls, it is increasingly difficult to maintain the fiction of any measure of the working day and thus separate the time of production from the time of reproduction, or work time from leisure time’. In their view, bereft of ‘time clocks to punch on the terrain of biopolitical production … the proletariat produces in all its generality everywhere all day long’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, pp.402-403). Furthermore, for Hardt and Negri, the putative breakdown of the distinction between work and leisure, together with that between production and reproduction, implies the blurring of the distinction between profit and rent, with capital posited as ‘captur[ing] and expropriat[ing] value through biopolitical exploitation... produced … externally to it’, becoming ‘predatory... insofar as it seeks to capture and expropriate autonomously produced common wealth’. As a result, for Hardt and Negri, ‘the exploitation of labor-power and the accumulation of surplus value should’ now ‘be understood’ and reconceptualised ‘in terms of not profit but capitalist rent’ (Hardt, Negri, 2009, p.141; see also p.258).

Understanding these systemic properties as both ‘presupposition and result’ of the hegemony of immaterial production and immaterial labour (Hardt, Negri, 2004, p.148), Hardt and Negri posit them as also setting the context for a changing relationship between capital and labour in the direction of greater autonomy of the latter (and the social productive process as a whole) from the former. Indeed, since immaterial labour is seen as drawing upon, and reproducing, human faculties posited as outside the scope and control of capital – such as communication and knowledge, together with the affective, cognitive and linguistic abilities of individuals – it is also seen, as a consequence, as constantly opening spaces outside capitalist control.

Therefore, for Hardt and Negri, ‘the cooperative aspect of immaterial labor’ should not be understood as ‘imposed or organized from the outside, as … in previous forms of labor’; rather, it should be seen as naturally flowing from the new immaterial and biopolitical character of labour, whereby ‘cooperation is completely immanent to the laboring activity itself’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.294), and capital becomes parasitical on the (social) commons, defined as ‘the incarnation, the production, and the liberation of the multitude’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.303).



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