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

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Allowing Bologna to hold that ‘the social and productive function of self-employed work is not very far from that of the mass worker of the Fordist epoch’ (Bologna, 1992, p.19, quoted in De Angelis, 1993, p.172), this approach is analytically flawed, as it conflates two very different levels of abstraction: the concrete (or the historical) – i.e. the concrete modalities in which labour is deployed within the material organisation of production – and the abstract (or the logical) – wage labour ‘in the strict economic sense’, that is ‘capital-positing, capital-producing labour... living labour which produces both the objective conditions of its realization as an activity, as well as the objective moments of its being as labour capacity, and produces them as alien powers opposite itself, as values for-themselves, independent of it’ (Marx, 1993, p.463).154 This type of reasoning is in no way exclusive province of post-operaismo; see Banaji, 2010 for an account of its relevance and persistence within Marxist debates.

This conflation is at the very heart of the reasoning whereby the scholarship of the cognitive capitalism debate, together with the Negrian consensus guiding it, (mis)construe Marx’s value theory as valid only in, and for the analysis of, industrial capitalism (as opposed to the mercantile and cognitive phases of capitalism, posited as, respectively, preceding and following that of industrial capitalism) (Jeon, 2010; but see also the second chapter of this thesis).155 Furthermore, this conflation favours a reductio ad unum precluding from view the plurality of the forms in which labour is deployed and exploited at any given historical time.

Thus, not only is precariousness understood as a specifically post-Fordist phenomenon,156 but specific forms of labour and segments of the labour force are identified as hegemonic (as in Hardt and Negri’s case) or typical (as in Bologna’s case). It is noteworthy that the purposes justifying this analytical process for Hardt and Negri, on the one hand, and Bologna, on the other, are diametrically opposed. While the former are moved by strategic concerns (whereby immaterial labour and the multitude are privileged for their hegemonic character within biopolitical production, see Hardt, Negri, 2000, 2004, 2009, and Camfield, 2007 for further discussion), the latter is moved by ethical ones. Indeed, Bologna deems second generation autonomous workers the ‘true “cognitive” class’ because of their being compelled to provide ‘an organisation of work’ requiring ‘to associate knowledge of formalised procedures’ to inventiveness and ‘relational talents’ in addition to specific competences (whereas the ‘waged knowledge worker’ is only required to adhere to structured procedures and is not compelled to invent new systems) (Bologna, 2007, pp.105-106).

Furthermore, for Bologna, this state of things makes second generation autonomous workers directly responsible for their actions and destinies (as opposed to traditional employees, posited as always able to act in deference to the organisational hierarchical structure of command as substitute for responsibility), while subjecting them to greater risks, not least that of 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’ (Bologna, Banfi, 2011, p.32). Yet, while this depiction of For example, and in this vein, Hardt and Negri (1994, p.278) propose the following account of the historical development of capitalism: ‘the history of capitalism and its historical merit were characterized by the process of successive abstractions of labor. In the most recent period, Taylorism determined the process of the abstraction of labor-power; Fordism made this abstract subjectivity available to the mechanisms of the collective negotiation of consumption, posing the bases of the State (and its public expenditures) within the productive mechanism; and Keynesianism proposed a progressive schema of proportions between socially necessary labor and surplus value, thus accomplishing the State's enormous task of organizing continuous compromises between antagonistic social subjects. Today, in the field of organized labor, these relationships have been overthrown’, for in ‘the passage from Taylorism to post-Taylorism and from Fordism to post-Fordism, subjectivity and productive cooperation are posed as conditions not results of labor processes’. A similar example is found in Vercellone, 2007a (as abundantly discussed in the second chapter of this thesis).

Despite its persistence in the history of capitalism, see Quinlan, 2012.

contemporary workers with permanent contracts of employment as benefitting from positional rents is inaccurate and unjustified, it also betrays, looming not so distantly, the influence and echo of Schumpeter’s favour for the risk-taking entrepreneur as romantic hero of capitalism and creative destruction and his equal dislike for the bureaucratised engineer (on which see Heilbroner, 1999 [1953]). This should not surprise, given Schumpeter’s participation in, and exchange with, Weimarian sociology (documented in Bologna, 1997b), from which Bologna draws significantly (see section 3.2). Further, Bologna’s preference is also predicated on the grounds of second generation autonomous workers’ incapacity to generate conflict, not due to a subjective reluctance but because of ‘the changed structure of the relations of production’ (Bologna, 2007, p.242).157 However, and regardless of the relatively greater purchase of Bologna’s analysis over that of Hardt and Negri, both accounts privilege a reductio ad unum over-emphasising selected elements of novelty into a “centrifugal” reading of contemporary dynamics drawing attention away from the direct capital-labour relation.





Moving on to Formenti’s denunciation of the convergence of neoliberal and autonomist accounts of the KBE, one feature of Formenti’s account which does not go unnoticed is how much it shares with both objects of his vis polemica. Indeed, despite his harsh critique of the ‘theorist of the end and of the refusal of work’, Formenti himself explicitly acknowledges sharing much of their analysis and reasoning (Formenti, 2011, pp.145-146), with the only point of ‘radical dissent’ being that of the identification of the ‘social subject’ meant to bring about the realisation of the political project elaborated by these two perspectives (provision of a basic income, ‘radical reduction of working time’, and ‘reconstruction of welfare’) (p.146).

However, more subtle and unacknowledged is what Formenti shares with the neoliberal account of the KBE, i.e. the idea that customers ‘become “prosumers” by cocreating goods and services rather than simply consuming the end product’ (Tapscott, Williams, 2008, p.1;

similarly, see ch. 5), thus becoming the driving force of value production in the (networked) KBE. Indeed, while Formenti dismisses the apologetic praise of the amateur underlying mainstream discourse on prosumption as the old ‘ideological trick’ of reducing ‘economic relations’ and the behaviour of ‘social actors to subjective motivations’ to mask ‘the reality’ of exploitation and ‘“unequal exchange” hiding beneath the “reciprocally satisfactory” relations between’ firms and prosumers (Formenti, 2011, p.58), this nonetheless implies that According to Bologna, this would be the main reason having precluded post-operaismo from the serious consideration of second generation autonomous work as a political subject (Bologna, 2007, p.242). However, for Bologna, if the capacity to generate conflict successfully is to be retained as a defining feature of political subjects, only the segment of the working class occupied in the logistic sector would qualify today as a ‘last area of manual work able to respond to the classical’ dictates of operaismo, as it ‘retains still intact the power of interruption of a productive cycle’ within post-Fordism (Bologna, 2007, p.90).

prosupmtion, i.e. the free work of consumers, is understood to be at the heart of exploitative social relations. Thus, it is worthwhile to analyse the concept of prosumption and its growing acceptance within radical and critical scholarship, its validity, and the effects of its uncritical acceptance within Formenti’s analysis. Doing so highlights how much Formenti’s discourse is itself part and parcel of the convergence he sets himself to denounce, and in stark contradiction with his own attempt to defend the validity of Marx’s thought (and, albeit implicitly, Marx’s value theory) for the analysis of contemporary capitalist dynamics.

Coined by the futurologist Alvin Toffler (1980), the categories of prosumer and prosumption – portmanteaux combining the words producer/consumer and production/consumption – allude to the blurring of the distance and separation between the activities of production and consumption and the valorisation of the free work of consumers, processes which are understood to be at the heart of contemporary capitalism. Despite having lain dormant since Toffler’s coinage, these categories have recently resurfaced across a series of converging contemporary debates. Firstly, as surveyed by Formenti (2011), they have been taken up in the managerial discourses of business gurus.158 Secondly, they have risen to prominence in critical media studies, where they have proven appealing to provide material grounding to the theorisation of class, exploitation and value production on the internet.159 Here, they have allowed the networked computer (‘a universal machine that is simultaneously a means of production, circulation, and consumption’) and the attendant rise of user-generated content to be read as enabling ‘the emergence of the figure of the prosumer’ which, on the one hand, is seen as promising ‘a new model of cooperative production and socialization of the means of production, but, on the other hand, is antagonistically subsumed under the rule of capital’ (Fuchs, 2009, p.397). Furthermore, this endeavour has allowed drawing parallels and reviving continuity with earlier debates in the discipline (the “blindspot” debate and the debate on the “audience commodity”) and the contribution of its forefather, Dallas Smythe.160 The latter saw ‘the shortcoming of the Western Marxist tradition’ in its construal of ‘the role of the mass media primarily in terms of its ability to reproduce’ capitalist ideology, therefore maintaining that their ‘actual economic function... constituted a blind spot for Western Marxists’ (Caraway, 2012, p.695). To rectify this perceived negligence, Smythe posited that ‘mass See also Van Dijck, Nieborg, 2009 for a review of this literature.

See, for example, Fuchs, 2010a. See also Fuchs, Dyer-Witheford, 2013 for an account of how the concept of prosumption is thought to be part and parcel of a broader revival of interest in Marxian thought and concepts within the burgeoning field of internet studies, not least with respect to the issue of the forms assumed by ‘the extraction of surplus value... in cyberspace’ (p.78). For an account of the recent emergence of internet studies as a field in its own right, see Ess, Dutton, 2013.

See Smythe, 1977, 2001. For positive discussions of Smythe’s influence on contemporary critical media studies, see: Manzerolle, 2010; Napoli, 2010; and Fuchs, 2012. But see also Lebowitz, 2009, ch. 12 for critical assessment.

communications within monopoly capitalism have a commodity-form and that a materialist (i.e., Marxist) analysis required’ recognition ‘that the audience itself was the commodity in mass-produced, advertiser-supported communications. The audience, produced by the mediacapitalists and sold as a commodity to the advertisers, worked for the advertising capitalist (by learning to buy particular brands) – and, as such, produced surplus value... Thus, the worker was exploited not only in the direct production process but also at home during “free time”, while watching’, and, therefore, subject to ‘a double exploitation’ (Lebowitz, 2009, p.218).

Thirdly, the categories of prosumer and prosumption have been recently taken up in the sociology of consumption in the wake of the debates on the experience economy and the rise of immaterial production, allowing for the reconceptualisation of capitalism as prosumer capitalism. With this concept understood as a significant improvement on previous strands of social analysis – perceived as excessively “biased” towards production (as in the theories of Weber and Marx) or consumption (as in the theories of Galbraith or Baudrillard) (see Ritzer, Jurgenson, 2010 and Ritzer et al., 2012) – the emergence of prosumer capitalism as a historical process would, in this account, bring about ‘a new form of capitalism’ characterised by four fundamental radically new features: greater difficulty of capitalist control of prosumers (as opposed to ‘producers or consumers’) and ‘greater likelihood of resistance on the part of’ the latter; a form of exploitation that ‘is less clear-cut’; the potential emergence of ‘a distinct economic system... where services are free and prosumers are not paid for their work’; and the rise of ‘abundance’ as central to the system (as opposed to scarcity), leading to ‘a focus on effectiveness’ (as opposed to efficiency) (Ritzer, Jurgenson, 2010, p.31).161 Unsurprisingly, given the greater autonomy from capital they attribute to the social productive process and social practices, both the debates on prosumption within critical media studies and the sociology of consumption recognise a kindred perspective in the work of post-workerist autonomist Marxists and the debate on immaterial labour and production.162 However, despite its reception and rising popularity within critical scholarship, the concept of prosumption remains highly dubious. Firstly, it is highly ambiguous with respect to exploitation, labour and value. On the one hand, prosumption is seen as a form of superexploitation, with ‘capitalist systems’ understood as ‘able to extract value from the unpaid The rise of abundance would depend on the fact that prosumer capitalism, where user-generated content on the internet serves as model, ‘is based on a system where content is abundant and created by those not on the payroll’ (Ritzer, Jurgenson, 2010, p.30).



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