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To accuse post-workerism of exactly the same neglect of historicity would be both wrong and an exaggeration. Yet, albeit in much more complex ways and despite having their own distinct conception of historicity – manifest in their (flawed) attempts to periodise the historical development of capitalism – Hardt and Negri’s characterisation of contemporary capitalism and its recasting as cognitive capitalism are plagued by a similar faith in the intrinsic properties and “indomitable” character of knowledge, although this time transported to the domain of the labour process. Indeed, Hardt and Negri and the cognitive capitalism debate build an understanding of contemporary capitalism around the primacy (or hegemony) of immaterial labour (Hardt, Negri, 2000, 2004, 2009) and the cognitive dimension of labour (Vercellone, 2007a). These are thought to imply the direct mobilisation of the linguistic and cognitive abilities of workers within the labour process and, therefore, are understood as inherently leading to cooperation, making labour inherently autonomous, and the fruits of labour inherently inalienable and inexpropriable. Yet, at the starting point of this analysis are generic human qualities which become work only when subsumed within a specific labour process.
A further and more concrete opportunity for the polemical illustration of the problems raised by the appropriate consideration of historicity and specificity is easily provided by the way in which the theories discussed in this thesis neglect or address the role of finance within contemporary capitalism, whether or not they draw a relation between the latter and the KBE and, if they do so, how they conceptualise this relation itself. Indeed, as demonstrated, for mainstream economics the KBE and the debates related to it have provided, albeit unwittingly, a useful distraction from, and a rhetorical strategy to imprint a positive spin on, otherwise troubling phenomena such as the deindustrialisation of the West (Mirowski, 2011) and its relation to the rise of finance within and without the latter. If anything, as the first chapter demonstrates, in many ways the mainstream version of the KBE epitomises the failure of mainstream economics to see the current stage of the material organisation of economic activity as one of financialised capitalism, together with what this has entailed for the structure of employment and the content of work (Thompson, 2013), productive activity, and the economy as a whole. In this, mainstream economics has paralleled and mirrored a more general trend pertaining to the rhetoric of the KBE which, despite being more prominent than the shareholder value discourse (corresponding to the maximisation of shareholder value as a principle of corporate governance, see Lazonick, O’Sullivan, 2000), has been much less consequential than the latter in exerting material effects on the economy (Thompson, Harley, 2012). This, in itself, serves as an invitation to broaden the focus of my research to finance in its own right, but also in relation to both the changes that its rise has entailed for the economy as a whole and the consequences of this for the use, production, reproduction and accumulation of knowledge (within and without finance and the economy). In this respect, and on the basis of what has been discussed in this thesis, a useful point of departure for my future research is easily found in the burgeoning field of the social studies of finance. This has recently emerged from the application of the insights of the sociology of scientific knowledge of Callon, Latour and the like to the areas of economics and the economy in general, and finance in particular (Barry, Slater, 2002a, 2002b; MacKenzie et al., 2007). This field is extremely interesting, for it represents an increasingly prominent interdisciplinary attempt to re-embed an understanding of the economic, finance and financial practices, within social praxis and the social as a whole. Thus, it is a welcome departure from the neglect of these very same issues characteristic of orthodox economics. Yet, my suspicion (to be confirmed, or not, through future research) is that such an approach is also flawed and deficient for the peculiar and idiosyncratic understanding of the interaction of the economic, the material, the social, the political, the cultural and the ideal characterising the work of its proponents (Fine, 2003a), and for its neglect of how each of these and their interaction are embedded within, and shaped and constrained by, the logic and functioning of capitalist socio-economic structures, dynamics, processes and relations of production (which, indeed, tend to be purposefully set aside).
By contrast with the mainstream version of the KBE, Hardt and Negri’s post-workerist conceptualisation of contemporary capitalism and its recasting as cognitive capitalism explicitly recognise, understand and theorise the rise of finance as not only coeval, but also integral, to the constitution and workings of cognitive capitalism. As discussed in the second chapter, the post-workerist reading of contemporary capitalism identifies the causes of the rise of finance in the putative breakdown of the Fordist social division of labour (for which it credits the cycle of struggles of the mass worker), and the putatively consequent retreat of capital into forms of valorisation posited as “autonomous” from the direct process of production (following the post-workerist (mis)construal of capital as increasingly unable to exert direct control over the production process because of the new biopolitical character of labour) (Corsani et al., 2001; Vercellone, 2007a; Moulier Boutang, 2008; Hardt, Negri, 2009).
Further, post-workerism posits financial mechanisms of accumulation as the central mechanism of accumulation within cognitive capitalism, and understands this as causing the blurring of the differences between rent and profit (if not the “becoming” rent by profit itself, Vercellone, 2007b), and the preponderance of rent as the primary form of value in contemporary capitalism (Hardt, Negri, 2009; Formenti, 2011). However, this account of the rise of finance is highly problematic. This is not exclusively because of its (at best) impressionistic reading of class struggle and its outcomes, nor exclusively because of its equally impressionistic mobilisation of the categories of profit and, or as, rent (where the latter is used as a general catch-all category, encompassing different specific types of revenues originating from activities as diverse as control over landed property and intellectual property, Hardt, Negri, 2009, to pretty much anything else, once it is seen through the lenses of prosumption, Formenti, 2011, see the third chapter of this thesis). Indeed, what is strikingly peculiar of this reading of the rise of finance is how it is predicated with very little (if any) reference to the social, political and economic dynamics of, and appropriate analytical categories for, finance itself. Consequently, this account ultimately betrays a functionalist, if not teleological, reading of the rise of finance and its workings, where the latter are understood and theorised exclusively in relation to the putative exigencies and functioning of cognitive capitalism. My suspicion is that this is one further example and outcome of the conflation of the historical and the abstract/logical which plagues the post-workerist understanding of the historical development of capitalism (which has been demonstrated throughout the thesis, not least in the third chapter with respect to contemporary forms of post-workerist dissent with both Hardt and Negri’s theories and the hypothesis of cognitive capitalism). This, in itself, opens a new avenue for my future research, whereby the interpretation of post-workerism developed in this thesis can be expanded to encompass the post-workerist writings directly concerned with finance and its role in the current crisis (Marazzi, 1998, 1999, 2008, 2009, 2011a, 2011b; Fumagalli, Mezzadra, 2010).
Given the deficiencies of both the mainstream version of the KBE and the post-workerist account of cognitive capitalism (not least with respect to the issues and concerns raised in the previous two paragraphs), it is worthwhile and dutiful to emphasise how a small body of scholarship (on which this thesis has drawn in the first chapter, even if sometimes only tangentially) has recently begun to develop around the idea that the history of science, together with the historical development of the knowledge, science and technology base of society, can be understood ‘as a sequence of temporally specific “regimes” of economic and social organization, intertwined with changes in the ecology of the sciences themselves’ (Mirowski, 2011, p.91) (see: Mirowski, Van Horn, 2005; Mirowski, Sent, 2008; Mirowski, 2008, 2011; Coriat, 2002a, 2002b; Coriat, Orsi, 2002; Coriat et al., 2003; Coriat, Weinstein, 2012;
Orsi, 2002; Orsi, Moatti, 2001; Orsi, Coriat, 2005, 2006; the connection along these lines between the work of Coriat and his associates and that of Mirowski and his associates is established by Mirowski himself, see Mirowski, 2011). This literature is important because, by developing the idea of regimes of science organisation, its authors have sketched a portrait of the socio-economic institutions, structures, dynamics and processes underpinning the production and reproduction of the contemporary knowledge, science and technology base. In doing so, and in more (Mirowski, 2011) or less (Coriat, Weinstein, 2012) explicitly rejecting the concept of KBE, these authors have focused primarily on tracing the contours and evolution of the contemporary knowledge, science and technology base with specific emphasis on the U.S.
in the twentieth century. Indeed, it is there that we find, at the end of the 1970s, the roots of the changes, tendencies and processes which have brought about, and shaped the political economy of, what this literature identifies as the current global regime of commercialised science (Mirowski, 2011; Coriat, Weinstein, 2012). However, this is not meant to cast the specific case of the U.S. as a generalising narrative valid for all times and places since, for example, the need for more (non-U.S.) country- and region-specific accounts in the same vein, attentive to the dynamic interaction of the contextual and the systemic, is clearly expressed in Mirowski, 2011, and the similarities and differences between Europe and the U.S. (together with the tendencies of homogenisation to, and harmonisation with, the U.S. experience emerging at the European level) are clearly delineated (see: Orsi, 2002; Orsi, Moatti, 2001;
Coriat, 2002a; Coriat, Orsi, 2002; Orsi, Coriat, 2005, 2006; Mirowski, 2011).
More to the point, though, the greatest merit of this literature lies in having provided an historical account of the institutional socio-economic conditions allowing scientific activity and the production of basic knowledge to become fungible and, therefore, incorporable within market relations as an object of market transactions (Mirowski, 2011; Coriat, Weinstein, 2012).
Further, this account does not limit itself to highlighting, as the cause of the latter phenomena and processes, the legal changes enabling the quantitative and qualitative evolution in the domain of patents and IPRs (as is instead typical of the rhetoric and scholarship of those decrying the commercialisation of knowledge and science on the grounds of their characterisation as public goods). On the contrary, this account highlights how changes (both legislative and jurisprudential) in the legal domain in the U.S. have interacted with equally important material changes and processes within and across other institutional areas underpinning the functioning of the economy. The most relevant ones include: the transformations in the internal organisation of, and external links between, firms and corporations; the historical evolution of the status of labour within the latter (not least with respect to the ownership over the products of on-the-job inventive activity); the historical evolution of competition/anti-trust policy; and the emerging complementarities between these changes and those (not least regulatory) affecting financial markets in the U.S., ultimately coalescing to allow the launch (and quotation on financial markets) of firms whose activity is primarily concerned with basic scientific research (Mirowski, Van Horn, 2005;