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

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human capital, social capital, EGT, evolutionary economics, externalities), often flirting with the mix of anti-authoritarian counterculture, libertarianism, and techno-utopianism constituting the Californian ideology typically attached to Silicon Valley and beyond (as originally denounced by Barbrook, Cameron, 1996 and, more recently and germanely to the concerns of this thesis, by Formenti, 2011 – but see the third chapter of this thesis for a critique of the latter). Similarly, Gorz also draws on externalities and the notion of intrinsic value, widely used within neoclassical environmental economics (Gorz, 2003, pp. 31, 72-80, 101; but see Harribey, 2004 for a critique of how this glosses over the distinction between use and exchange value).

Despite this difference, a distinctive feature of the cognitive capitalism debate is its attempt to identify ‘breaks and shifts within capitalism’ (Toscano, 2007, p. 5), in resonance and dialogue with earlier (and similar, see sub-section 2.3.4) debates (see, for example, Moulier Boutang, 2008, ch.2, for a classification of earlier characterisations of contemporary capitalism under the guiding principle of ‘old wine in new bottles’ versus ‘new wine in old bottles’). Thus, the cognitive capitalism debate is characterised by a clear, although not entirely successful (see below), will to go beyond the concept of post-Fordism. Taking the debate on the crisis of Fordism as its point of departure, the concept of cognitive capitalism is understood by its proponents as describing a putatively new historical phase corresponding to the exhaustion of industrial capitalism (of which Fordism is seen as the last phase), and the transition to a new mode of regulation (Corsani et al., 2001, p.3-4). As such, it is seen as a third historical phase of capitalism (Moulier Boutang, 2008, p.81, referring to Wallerstein’s notion of historical capitalism, see Wallerstein, 1996), following a first mercantile phase and a second industrial phase in the long dynamic of capitalism in the Braudelian sense (Corsani et al., 2001, p.14;

Vercellone, 2007a, p.14, footnote 3). Also problematic is the joint legacy of the French Regulation School and Italian post-operaismo. Indeed, while the first statement of the research programme associated to cognitive capitalism (Corsani et al., 2001) is in continuation, or at least dialogue, with the Regulation School, drawing from it method and concepts, Vercellone (marking a difference with Corsani et al., 2001, of which, however, he is one of the co-authors) sees cognitive capitalism ‘as a response to the insufficiency of the interpretations of the current mutation of capitalism in terms of the transition from a Fordist to a post-Fordist model of flexible’ accumulation, with the ‘interpretative category of “post-Fordism”, adopted by both a critical Left coming from workerism [operaismo] and by economists of the regulation school, essentially’ remaining ‘prisoner of a neoindustrialist vision of the new capitalism’ (Vercellone, 2007a, p.14, footnote 3). Vercellone’s contention with the espousing of post-Fordism by postoperaismo and French Regulation theory lies in their understanding of ‘the new model of production’ and ‘new nature of the relation of capital to labour... principally as an immanent overcoming of the socioeconomic factors’ terminating ‘the rigid paradigm of mass production’, essentially ‘traced back to the technological leap of telematic and microelectronic innovation’ characterising ‘the third industrial revolution’ (as opposed to class conflict) (Vercellone, 2007a, p.14, footnote 3). Therefore, for Vercellone, although they capture ‘some significant elements of rupture’, the concept of post-Fordism and its attendant debates remain ‘bound to a factoryinspired vision of the new capitalism seen as a further development of the Fordist-industrial logic of the real subsumption of labour by capital’; thus, they are understood as ‘inadequate’ to comprehend what Vercellone understands as ‘the profound transformation of the antagonistic relation of capital to labour related to the development of an economy founded on the driving role of knowledge and the figure of the collective worker of the general intellect’ (Vercellone, 2007a, p.14, footnote 3). Therefore, the main disagreement with the theories and concepts of post-Fordism emanating from within the cognitive capitalism debate centres on the lack of understanding within the former of what the latter and (especially) Vercellone identify as a historical break in the relation of capital to labour, characterised by a reversal ‘of the move from formal to real subsumption’ (Toscano, 2007, p.4) similar to ‘the return movement from real to formal subsumption’ corresponding, in Hardt and Negri’s perspective, ‘to the recent reappearance of many antiquated, parasitical forms of capitalist appropriation’ (Hardt, Negri, 2009, p.230). Nonetheless, as the next sub-sections will demonstrate, Vercellone’s (2007a) attempt to recast the debate in a Marxist light fails in its intent to depart from both post-operaismo and Regulation theory, remaining in line with their methods and concepts. Coinciding with Hardt and Negri’s reading of contemporary capitalism and with the research programme of the cognitive capitalism debate (Corsani et al., 2001) for all practical purposes, Vercellone’s recasting reconfirms the encounter of Italian postoperaismo and French Regulation Theory as fundamental formulations for cognitive capitalism (Fumagalli, Lucarelli, 2007) – both as a concept and a debate – and as necessary complements to immaterial labour to complete the post-workerist paradigm. Similarly, the departure from the post-workerist interpretation of, and intervention in, the post-Fordism debate is negligible, since, as shown by Smith’s (2008) comparison of Vercellone, 2007a (which is concerned with differentiating cognitive capitalism from post-Fordism) and Virno, 2007 (which is concerned with locating Marx’s concept of general intellect within post-Fordism), the difference between the post-operaista interpretation of post-Fordism and cognitive capitalism is ‘terminological’, rather than reflective of any ‘major substantive disagreements’ (Smith, 2008, p.8).





2.3.3) A theory of the historical development of capitalism84 With its reading of ‘the crisis of Fordism’ as a ‘superior level of “great crisis”’, signalling ‘the exhaustion not only of a model of development specific to industrial capitalism but the tendential crisis of some of the more structural invariants of the long-period dynamic’ opening ‘with the first industrial revolution’ (Vercellone, 2007a, p.14, footnote 3), the cognitive capitalism debate addresses the historical development of capitalism as much as its current stage. Two fundamental research questions structure this project: assessing whether or not ‘the tendency to the diffusion of knowledge’ signals ‘a break with... the logic of the capitalist division of labour and of technical progress operative since the first industrial revolution’, and assessing whether or not the use of Marxian concepts can ‘allow for the identification of the radically new character of the contradictions and of the antagonism’ characterising cognitive capitalism (Vercellone, 2007a, p.15). Therefore, the theory of historical change animating the cognitive capitalism debate is underpinned by a theory of crisis resting on the ‘tendential fall of... capital’s control of the division of labour’, understood as explicitly opposed to ‘traditional Marxist’ approaches investigating crisis ‘in terms of value’, ‘overaccumulation of capital’ and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (Vercellone, 2007a, p.18). Thus, the categories of formal subsumption, real subsumption and general intellect, deployed to understand the ‘conflictual relation of knowledge to power’, structure the understanding of the historical development of the capitalist division of labour attached to the concept of, and deployed in the debate on, cognitive capitalism. These categories are seen as ‘useful in crafting a theoretical reconstruction in historical time... to identify the significance of the current turning point in the dynamic of capitalism in the longue durée’; thus, they inform ‘a periodisation … of the capitalist division of labour and of the role of knowledge’ within it in three (partly overlapping) stages (Vercellone, 2007a, p.15). In Vercellone’s account (2007a), each phase is described as the combination of a particular model of production as basis for capital accumulation, a particular form of subjugation of labour to capital, and a particular status of knowledge with respect to the production process. Similarly, Moulier Boutang (2008, p.94) proposes that, to define cognitive capitalism as a third historical capitalism, it is necessary to combine ‘a type of accumulation, a mode of production and a specific type of exploitation of living labour’, whereby a ‘system of accumulation’ is constituted by the ‘association of what the Regulation school calls a mode of production with a type of accumulation’. While obviously influenced by the Regulation school, this historical account echoes closely, in content and method, Hardt and Negri’s classification of ‘economic paradigms since the Middle Ages in This section addresses primarily Vercellone, 2007a. Nonetheless, similar elements can be found in Vercellone, 2006b, Corsani et al., 2001, Moulier Boutang, 2008.

three distinct moments, each defined by the dominant sector of the economy’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.280).

In this vein, the first stage of the historical development of capitalism, spanning from the beginning of the sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth centuries, is identified as the ‘stage of formal subsumption’, first instance of capitalism, ‘based on the... putting-out system and...

centralised manufacture’, and defined by a ‘relation of capital to labour... marked by the hegemony of the knowledge of craftsmen and... workers with a trade, and by the preeminence of... mechanisms of accumulation of a mercantile and financial type’ (Vercellone, 2007a, p.15). The second stage, spanning from the first industrial revolution all the way up to the (putative) ‘social crisis of Fordism’, is identified as the ‘stage of real subsumption’, characterised by a division of labour marked by ‘a process of polarisation of knowledge’ through ‘the parcelling out and disqualification of the labour of execution’, and the ‘overqualification of a minoritarian component of labour-power, destined to intellectual functions’. Thus, ‘the attempt to save time, founded on the law of value-labour, is accompanied by the reduction of complex labour into simple labour and by the incorporation of knowledge in fixed capital and in the organisation of the firm’, with capital accumulation based on the large factory ‘of the Mancunian model [at first], then those of Fordism’, specialising in the production of standardised mass consumption goods (Vercellone, 2007a, p.16). The last and third stage, the current one, is that of cognitive capitalism. It is posited as born in the late 1970s after (and out of) the (putative) ‘social crisis of Fordism and of the Smithian division of labour’, whereby the ‘social crisis of the Fordist wage’ manifested itself ‘in a multiplicity of conflicts’ leading to the ‘destabilisation of the Fordist organisation of work and the institutions of disciplinary society’ (Vercellone, 2007a, p.27, footnote 37). Putatively characterised by a ‘relation of capital to labour... marked by the hegemony of knowledges’, ‘a diffuse intellectuality, and... the driving role of the production of knowledges by means of knowledges connected to the increasingly immaterial and cognitive character of labour’, the new dynamic of the division of labour is posited as ‘accompanied by the crisis of the law of value-labour and... the strong return of mercantile and financial mechanisms of accumulation’ (Vercellone, 2007a, p.16). Therefore, the main features of this ‘new configuration of capitalism and of the conflicts’ deriving from it are seen as understandable through the lenses of the Marxian concept of general intellect, taken to anticipate them in large part (Vercellone, 2007a, p.16). In this perspective, the current processes of financialisation are understood as tightly connected with, if not caused by (Moulier Boutang, 2008, pp.201-217), the transformation of the division of labour within the crisis of Fordism: with the posited exhaustion of industrial capitalism seen as having pushed capital to privilege indirect instruments of domination, ‘financial globalisation’ is ‘interpreted as capital’s attempt to make its cycle of valorisation more and more autonomous from a social labour process that it does not subsume anymore’ (Corsani et al., 2001, p.14; similarly Vercellone, 2007a, p.23; for post-workerist treatments of finance, see Marazzi, 1998, 1999, 2009).



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