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

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Thus, for Hardt and Negri, it is “multitudinous” social movements that ‘determine new forms of life and cooperation’, creating ‘that wealth that parasitic postmodern capitalism would otherwise not know how to suck out of the blood of the proletariat’, since they posit production as increasingly taking ‘place in movement and cooperation, in exodus and community’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.397, emphasis added). Therefore, ‘rather than an organ functioning within the capitalist body, biopolitical labor power’ is seen by Hardt and Negri as ‘becoming more and more autonomous, with capital simply hovering over it parasitically with its disciplinary regimes, apparatuses of capture, mechanisms of expropriation, financial networks, and the like’. Hence, for Hardt and Negri, the ‘rupture of the organic relationship’ between capital and productive social life as understood by Marx ‘and the growing autonomy of labor are at the heart of the new forms of crisis of capitalist production and control’ (Hardt, Negri, 2009, p.142, emphasis added). By now, readers familiar with autonomist Marxism and the history of Italian operaismo will have recognised Negri’s lineage (see Negri, 1991 [1979]), for which departure, or, more figuratively, suspension, from its origins in Marxian political economy is strikingly apparent.

2.3) Cognitive capitalism80 As Camfield notes, ‘in the shadow of Hardt and Negri’s hegemonic figures of labour lurks [the] potentially more credible notion... of globally-dominant forms of capitalist accumulation’, a notion that Hardt and Negri themselves fall short of proposing. Indeed, although bearing Other than by post-workerist autonomist Marxists, the concept of cognitive capitalism is also used systematically by Enzo Rullani (2000, 2004) and André Gorz (2003). Several points of contact exist between their work and post-workerist autonomist Marxism. Indeed, while Rullani straddles economic theory and (critical) management and business studies (with specific emphasis on the EK, industrial districts and post-Fordism), Gorz’s own trajectory closely resembles the (declining) trajectory of Italian post-workerist Marxism (an account of which will be provided in the following sections). Hailing from the Marxist analysis of the labour process (Gorz, 1973), Gorz gradually shifted to arguing the loss of relevance of the industrial working class in light of the changes of work and the labour process in the last decades of the twentieth century (1980), and arguing against work itself and a work ethic posited as deriving from an existentially and culturally limited economic rationality (1988). Finally, in dialogue with, and drawing from, post-workerist writing, Gorz has recently come to reject the persistent validity of value theory in light of the putative rise of knowledge as the central factor of production and, therefore, of cognitive capitalism itself (2003). Although this chapter refrains from providing a full assessment and account of the intellectual trajectories of Rullani and Gorz, reference to Gorz’s work will be made as part of the debate on cognitive capitalism. For a collection of (appreciative) accounts of Gorz’s work and trajectory, see Fourel, 2012; for a critique of Gorz’s rejection of value theory in Gorz, 2003, see

Hermann, 2009; and, for assessments of Gorz’s contribution to the debate on cognitive capitalism, see:

Pouch, 2004; Harribey, 2004; Gollain, 2010; Vercellone, 2009, 2012; Gorz, 2004. An assessment of Rullani’s (2000, 2004) views on the KBE can be found in Bologna, 2007.

implications for contemporary capitalism, and based on a classification of ‘the succession of economic paradigms since the Middle Ages in three distinct moments, each defined by the dominant sector of the economy’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.280), Hardt and Negri’s theory of immaterial labour does not, by itself, stand up to the challenge of elevating ‘to the global scale concepts which regulation-school and social-structure-of-accumulation-style political economy have usually applied at the level of nation-states’ (Camfield, 2007, p.38, note 89), leaving the socio-economic foundations of their political theoretic edifice incomplete as a theory of contemporary capitalism. Nonetheless, as this section will show, the debate on cognitive capitalism, in close connection with Hardt and Negri’s theory of immaterial labour, has sought to respond precisely to this challenge along similar lines as those perceptively anticipated by Camfield.

2.3.1) Completing the paradigm Taking stock from the crisis of the 1970s, the (presumed) primacy of knowledge in the accumulation process, and earlier debates on the current nature and configuration of capitalism itself, the concept of cognitive capitalism has been recently proposed as a description of the new mode of regulation characterising contemporary capitalism (Corsani et al., 2001, p.3). Indebted to Hardt and Negri’s (2000) Empire (see, for instance, Moulier Boutang, 2008, pp.33-34, for a passionate defence of the latter’s daring theoretical nature) and developed by drawing from, and in parallel with, the immaterial labour debate itself, the debate on cognitive capitalism addresses the lacking element identified by Camfield (2007) as discussed above. Further, by providing an economic perspective on the same phenomena tackled by Hardt and Negri’s trilogy and their structural implications for capitalism,81 the debate on cognitive capitalism supports and reinforces the socio-economic foundation of Hardt and Negri’s political thought (and version of post-workerism) by complementing their theory of immaterial labour and completing the trajectory of post-operaismo’s reading of contemporary capitalism. Flourishing in the noughties around the journal Multitudes and part of the work of the research unit Matisse at the University of the Sorbonne (for which, see http://matisse.univ-paris1.fr/capitalisme, last accessed on the 9th of August 2013), the debate on cognitive capitalism and its research programme have found consolidation in the publication of two collective volumes (Vercellone, 2003 and its updated and revised Italian translation as Vercellone, 2006a) and one authored book (Moulier Boutang, 2008).82 A See Negri, 2003 for recognition of how some core contributions to Vercellone, 2003 and the cognitive capitalism debate express a kindred perspective to his own reading of contemporary capitalism. But see also footnote 83.





The expression is also starting to gain momentum across radical scholarship as a buzzword in its own right, as shown, for example, by the collection published in Peters, Bulut, 2011, and two recent issues of distinguishing feature of the debate on cognitive capitalism is the extent to which it differs from the one on immaterial labour in breadth and scope. Indeed, the latter is defined by very low heterogeneity in terms of adherence to the paradigm, and strong polarisation around acceptance of the concept (with those accepting it deploying post-workerist concepts and method, and gaining prominence in the noughties across leftist and radical scholarship and activism). On the other hand, the debate on cognitive capitalism has been characterised by: a) greater pluralism of contributions, ranging from explicitly post-workerist positions (for example: Hardt, Negri, 2000, 2004, 2009; Moulier Boutang, 2008; Marazzi, 1998, 1999, 2008) to those critical of the way the debate has developed (as, for example, Chesnais, 2006 and Caffentzis, 2011), through those attempting to recast the debate in Marxist terms (Vercellone, 2007a); b) a more heterogeneous and eclectic theoretical framework, drawing from Italian operaismo, but also (and more or less selectively across) Marxian political economy, Veblenian institutionalism, classical political economy, Schumpeterian and Kondratiev inspired approaches, the Braudelian theory of the longue durée, world-systems analysis, French Regulation theory, etc. (see, for examples, the contributions to Vercellone, 2003 and 2006a);

and c) a varying degree of adherence to the concept and a consequent greater disposition to debate, signified in the tentativeness of titles such as Sommes-nous sortis du capitalisme industriel? (Vercellone, 2003) and ‘The Hypothesis of Cognitive Capitalism’ (Vercellone, 2005).

Nonetheless, despite the pluralism characterising the debate and the attempts to recast it in Marxist terms, and given the debate’s focus on defining a new regime of accumulation where ‘knowledge tends to be subjected to direct valorisation’ and ‘production transcends the traditional locus of the firm’ (Corsani et al., 2001, p.9), the core theoretical proposition of cognitive capitalism lies undoubtedly at the encounter of Italian post-operaismo and the French Regulation School (Fumagalli, Lucarelli, 2007). It is with this core (of which Corsani et al., 2001, Vercellone, 2007a and Moulier Boutang, 2008 are representative) that issue will be taken.83 the European Journal of Economic and Social Systems (Fumagalli, Vercellone, 2007 and Lebert, Vercellone, 2011) which gather contributions from authors characteristically associated with the core scholarship of the cognitive capitalism debate as well as more eclectic takes on the topic.

In addition to the above, there is good reason to doubt the effectiveness and practical relevance of the pluralism characterising the cognitive capitalism debate with respect to the adherence of its participants to the post-workerist reading of contemporary capitalism. In this respect, Negri’s (2003) review of Vercellone, 2003, together with its response to those contributions within the latter directing internal and external critiques to the cognitive capitalism perspective, provides a strikingly eloquent example of the limits of, if not intra-paradigmatic tolerance for, such pluralism. Indeed, Negri identifies the contributions of Vercellone and Herrera, Dockès, Dieuaide, Vercellone, and Moulier Boutang as ‘pars constituens’ of the book because of their development of ‘the thematic of the General Intellect’ and their description of ‘a scenario of the post-Fordist economy which realises fully the real subsumption of society to capital’, while ‘identifying at the same time the contradictions’ entailed by this process. Thus, for Negri, these contributions represent ‘a theoretical basis’ for the definition of the ‘new’ condition of 2.3.2) In search of a third historical capitalism beyond the Knowledge-Based Economy and post-Fordism Taking the ‘critique of the political economy of the new liberal theories of the knowledgebased economy’ as point of departure, and positing the irreducibility of ‘the current mutation of capitalism... to the mere constitution of an economy founded on knowledge’, the very aim, within the cognitive capitalism debate, to understand the current configuration of capitalism as a ‘knowledge-based economy framed and subsumed by the laws of capital accumulation’ (Vercellone, 2007a, p.14; similarly, Toscano, 2007, pp.5-6) is implicit in the designation of the research programme itself. Thus, while the appeal to capitalism is meant to refer to ‘the enduring element in the change of the structural invariants of the capitalist mode of production... the driving role of profit and the wage relation or, more precisely, the different forms of dependent labour on which the extraction of surplus labour is founded’, ‘the term “cognitive”’ is meant to emphasise the putative ‘new nature of the conflictual relation of capital and labour, and of the forms of property on which’ capital accumulation putatively rests (Vercellone, 2007a, p.14, note 1; similarly, Lebert, Vercellone, 2006). Nonetheless, the extent to which the debate distances itself from the mainstream, in general and with specific reference to mainstream economics, is questionable, as evident from the attitudes of some of the main proponents of cognitive capitalism (both as a concept and a debate on the contemporary nature of capitalism). For instance, Vercellone (2007a) and Moulier Boutang (2008) differ significantly in this respect (although they share the same historical account of the development of capitalism and characterisation of its current stage, see below). Indeed, Vercellone is critical of the ‘neoclassical theories of endogenous growth and [the] knowledgebased economy’, for he considers their account of ‘the diffusion and... evermore central role of knowledge’ flawed for its abstracting from ‘capital/labour antagonism’ and the ‘conflicts of knowledge and power’ structuring what he sees as the contemporary ‘transformations in the division of labour’ (Vercellone, 2007a, pp.13-14; for more of Vercellone’s views on EGT, see Herrera, Vercellone, 2000); thus, Vercellone is explicitly concerned with recasting the debate in Marxist terms (Vercellone, 2007a; Toscano, 2007). On the other hand, Moulier Boutang (2008)

builds (even if only rhetorically) on authors and concepts from the mainstream (for example:

‘cognitive work and the new anthropological composition of productive subjectivities’ (Negri, 2003, p.201). On the other hand, Negri dismisses the internal critiques of Schmeder and Corsani as unable to grasp the ‘most characteristic feature of the point of view defended by Vercellone’ and company, i.e.

that the ‘development’ and ‘mutation of the economic horizon result from class struggle’ (Negri, 2003, p.202). Similarly, Negri dismisses (unappreciatively and hastily) the external critiques of Chesnais and Serfati for their ‘stubbornness’ in holding undiminished capital’s grip on the production of knowledge and division of labour, which both Chesnais and Serfati consider as still subject to the strict logic of Taylorism. Polemically, Negri posits such ‘stubbornness’ as only paralleled by what he perceives to be Chenais’s and Serfati’s ‘incapacity to understand the most evident mutations of the contemporary productive horizon’ (Negri, 2003, p.203).



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