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

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although still an attractive model for many unregistered professions (especially in the Italian context), influencing ‘associational models and mortgaging content and forms of coalition’, professionalism is ‘worn-out by time and... the new organisation of knowledge work’ and, therefore, a false route leading to the creation of organisations dominated by ‘processes of exclusion’ and failing to address what Bologna posits as the ‘real needs of tutelage’ of second generation autonomous work (p.21, and, in greater detail, ch.2).

However, Bologna (with his co-author Banfi) believes that embryonic alternative organisational models are emerging. ‘The idea of coalition’ that he sees as slowly developing in the ambit of ‘own-account work with high specialist competences’ (Bologna, Banfi, 2011, p.26) differs significantly from the ‘“delegation of the representation of interests”’ (p.27) traditionally characterising the relationship between workers and trade unions. Pervaded by the same desire of self-determination at the heart of the choice of self-employment and by a ‘“do-ityourself”’ attitude as ‘fundamental state of mind’ of independent work (p.28), in Bologna’s opinion, this ‘conception of coalition’ leads second generation autonomous workers to distrust delegation mechanisms and institutional negotiation structures (because of the traditional extraneousness of independent work to ‘the system of industrial relations’ and ‘labour law’), and to disbelieve hopes of public welfare provisions and assistance allowing maintenance in old age of ‘the social status acquired’ through ‘independent work’ (p.26). Trust is awarded exclusively to coalitions advancing demands directly related to one’s professional activity (which, for Bologna, partly explains the ‘persistence’ of wide support ‘to professional associations’ modelled along the lines of ‘medieval guilds’), and the fear of losing social status induces a conception of coalition as form of mutual help (p.27). Thus, for Bologna, coalitionbuilding develops framed by a loose sense of organisational belonging, a belief in organisations as service providers,125 and the uncertainty of compensation.126 Furthermore, in Bologna’s opinion, understanding ‘the existential condition of freelance’ workers ‘in relation to their typical context’ and, therefore, locus of work from the standpoint of the ‘sense of sociality and perception of risk – the two main factors’ which Bologna identifies as leading to coalition-building – requires understanding the role of the internet as an instrument of knowledge sharing and ‘struggle in the social demand of a new space of encounter’ (pp.28-29). Indeed, for Bologna and Banfi, the ‘main risk’ for the self-employed resides in confirming their ‘know-how’ while ‘exposing’ their ‘knowledge to the continuous...

metamorphoses’ of productive activity, without the protection of ‘positional rents’ preserving ‘the certainty of revenue’ (p.32). Thus, the internet and social networks provide shock absorbers, allowing second generation autonomous workers to tame risk through use of social networking websites for self-promotion to counteract ‘the precariousness of intermittent jobs’ (p.27), the possibility of strengthening existing knowledge and acquiring new knowledge outside the constraints of expert certification and professional orders, and the reduction of production costs through use of free, open, and sharable technologies and instruments (pp.32Furthermore, Bologna and Banfi believe that the internet and web 2.0 provide an environment where the weak ties constituting the ‘intrinsic weakness’ of this type of Although Bologna does not see these as ‘innate characteristics’ of a distinct social figure, but ‘properties of’ the current ‘historical time’, in which ‘group identity’ is progressively consolidating (Bologna, Banfi, 2011, p.27).

Since, as opposed to traditional employees, second generation autonomous workers are not faced by a wage acquiring an objective character through parameters set by national contracts and the possible existence of laws and regulation setting sectoral minimum wages; further, for Bologna, their compensation is highly subjective and largely dependent from their offer, ‘a market gesture’ which he understands as ‘“constitutive” of the relationship with the counterpart’ (Bologna, Banfi, 2011, pp.27-28).

organising can aggregate around ‘social collective issues’, gaining the necessary ‘“density” of communication’ and ‘exchanges’ (p.40) to allow for successful ‘web-based coalitions’ (for instance through communications overflow, fact checking, and ‘“blame & shame”’ tactics and campaigns, pp.41-42).

However, Bologna and Banfi also wonder ‘whether the sedentary mobility of the internet combined with the solitary work of the freelance’ can generate ‘a need of sociality entirely different’ from that traditionally associated with wage employment. While they see the internet as the ‘new locus of knowledge work’ (p.21) and hotbed of new forms of coalitionbuilding practices and processes, they also see as a negative feature its tendency to become the ‘exclusive channel of sociality’ at the expense of the ‘“physicality”’ characterising past coalition-building processes (p.43). Indeed, for Bologna, the internet provides, at least initially, an accessible instrument for protest fit for the isolated individual (Bologna, 2007, p.19).





Therefore, the expressions of rage, suffering and unease, and the accounts of experiences ‘not necessarily negative’ but framed and determined by ‘today’s peculiar mode of organisation’ of work (p.12) available on the blogosphere signal a nascent ‘assumption of identity’ (p.14), which Bologna posits as increasingly acquiring a ‘class character’ (p.19). Nonetheless, however powerful an instrument for identity assumption and coalition-building, the internet alone remains insufficient ‘to kick-start negotiation dynamics with the public powers’, and cannot substitute the visibility and ‘public dimension... of protest’ (p.21). Thus, as this ‘new sense of group identity’ is forming, and exactly because ‘remote communication’ is ‘stripped-down’ of the energy transmittable through ‘proximity with other individuals’, Bologna and Banfi posit the importance of ‘relations of proximity’ as coming back to the fore as an ‘inescapable instrument of coalition’ (Bologna, Banfi, 2011, p.43). Thus, for Bologna and Banfi, the experiences (both libertarian and business-oriented) of spaces for coworking in Berlin, London, Paris and Milan (ch.8)127 signify a retreat of the idea that virtual remote communication through the internet suffices to build networks, and the re-emergence of ‘a need for physical contact’, human relations, and less individualistic instruments and practices to confront the workings of the market (p.227). They see this ‘desire of community’ as ‘independent work’ starting ‘to learn how to avoid’ the pitfalls structural to its condition (p.227), showing that it is in the relation of proximity that knowledge truly forms and that ‘specialist competencies represent a valuable asset’ (p.44). While ‘others’ (which the reader should not hesitate to identify with the adherents to the Negrian consensus) may read this desire of community as instantiation of the ‘“general intellect”’ (as indeed characteristic of the Negrian consensus – Coworking refers to the activity of own-account workers working independently from one another in shared working environments and, often (though not necessarily always), sharing common values (see, th for instance, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-working, last accessed on the 9 of August 2013).

see the second chapter of this thesis), ‘more modestly’, Bologna and Banfi identify it as the ‘activity’ of several individuals ‘converging towards a new’ and collective ‘acquisition of thought’ (p.44).

3.3) Against utopianism 2.0 Different from Bologna’s construction, Formenti’s recent work has centred on providing ‘a contribution to the sociology of the web’ (Formenti, 2011, p.IX), especially through a trilogy analysing its anthropology, economics, and politics (respectively, Formenti, 2000, 2002, 2008).

While the first volume of the trilogy outlined ‘elements of’ a ‘“cultural anthropology”’ of the internet through assessing ‘the impact of the new technological imaginaries on ordinary social relations, the world of work’, the culture of social movements, the mass-media system and ‘new forms of artistic creativity’, the second focused on the ‘Net Economy’ (Formenti, 2008, p.IX). In the latter, Formenti suggested that, ‘despite the massive loss of contractual power’ affecting knowledge workers after the crisis of the new economy and the attempts of ‘“normalisation”’ of the internet pursued by ‘western governments’ after ‘the attack on the Twin Towers’, significant room for manoeuvre remained for constituting a ‘“social bloc” founded on the convergence of cultural values and economic interests’ of the ‘social subjects (researchers, hackers, virtual communitarians, etc.)’ having guided and reaped the economic benefits of the ‘digital revolution’ and ‘internet entrepreneurship’ (Formenti, 2008, pp.IX-X).

However, taking stock after the resurrection of the ‘Net Economy’ without ‘the recomposition of the social bloc’ supporting its first phase, the failure of the prospected alliance between knowledge workers and internet entrepreneurship, and the deepening of the processes of ‘commercialisation/normalisation’ of the internet (Formenti, 2008, p.X), the third book of the trilogy marked a turning point in Formenti’s reflection. Facing ‘the theoretical limits’ of his former analysis, it put forward substantial self-criticism without renouncing ‘the revolutionary hopes held in the past’ (Formenti, 2011, p.XI), but denouncing the naive rhetoric of those still holding similar hopes despite material developments. Thus, Formenti redirected his efforts towards criticising the mix of ‘technological determinism, unrealistic libertarianism and neoliberalism’ constituting the ideological discourse of the noughties (Formenti, 2008, p.XI).

However, and without full explicit acknowledgement, much of Formenti’s discussion and critique of these hinges upon the concept of “prosumption”,128 and, as will be argued below in section 3.4, this poses immanent limits and contradictions to his analysis.

For an introduction to this concept, see Ritzer et al., 2012. For critical review and assessment, see the following section of this chapter.

Coming after this reconsideration of the ‘“revolutionary” potential of the web’, Formenti’s latest contribution marks a ‘further’ pessimistic ‘evolution’ of his thought (Formenti, 2011, p.XI). Deliberately written in the sarcastic style of pamphlets and ideological polemics, the book moves from ‘irritation and outrage’ (p.IX) towards a host of discourses functioning as legitimation of ‘the relations of control and exploitation founded on the web’ (p.74), although with varying degrees of directness, self-awareness, and voluntariness of their legitimation effect. The volume comprises two parts. The first, more polemical in tone and intent, concentrates on ‘theoretical and ideological discourses’ celebrating the unprecedented ‘modalities of exploitation of social creativity’ devised by capitalism in recent decades, ranging from the ‘free work – individual and collective’ – of prosumers spontaneously cooperating through the internet, to the ‘usage of new technologies to intensify’ rhythm, intensity and duration of work within and without the networked firm (p.83). Thus, Formenti critically reviews the utopian scenarios of the gurus of the new economy (pp.13-44): the ‘digitalsocialism’ (p.13) of Wired magazine, a ‘sui generis collectivism’ (p.18) which, appealing to libertarianism and classical American individualism, interprets value as emergent property of an internet understood through the metaphor of the living organism, rejects state intervention on the internet, and espouses the “natural” laws of the market (pp.13-18);129 the ‘praise of piracy’ (p.18) of those reframing the question of whether the ‘“collectivist” practices of online communities’ anticipate a ‘post-capitalist society’ into assessment of the possibility, desirability, and functioning of a capitalism without private property (pp.18-26);130 the win-win scenario of the ‘theorists of wikinomics’ (p.26),131 who see the web 2.0 as a challenge to traditional organisational models based on hierarchy and centralisation, allowing for the capacity to overcome the traditional trade-off between size of the firm and diseconomies of scale, and the attendant capture of value produced outside the boundaries of the firm by those involved in peer production networks and practices; and the ‘strange case of Doctor Castells’, whereby ‘a rigorous scientific analyst’ of our times becomes ‘an uncritical apologist’ of the new media (p.32), praising the breakdown of the distinction between interpersonal and mass communication allowed by horizontal networks, the web 2.0, and user-generated content as empowerment of the communicating subject against corporations (p.38).132 With equal critical verve, Formenti provides an assessment of some recent controversies over the politics of the internet (Formenti, 2011, pp.47-77). Thus, he reviews favourably the work of For an example, see Kelly, 2009.

For examples, see: Rifkin, 2000; Lessig, 2004; Benkler, 2006; Jenkins, 2006.

For examples, see: Tapscott, Williams, 2008; Shirky, 2010.

Castells, 2009.



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