« Boffo, Marco (2013) Interrogating the knowledge‐based economy: from ...»
Mirowski, Sent, 2008; Mirowski, 2011; Orsi, Coriat, 2006; Coriat, Weinstein, 2012). This literature convincingly demonstrates that the changes in the legal domain enabling the recent quantitative and qualitative evolution of patents and IPRs have been certainly one of the intermediate causes of the commercialisation of knowledge but, however influential, not the primary cause (Mirowski, 2011). Thus, given its attachment to the historically-grounded analysis of specific socio-economic institutions, dynamics and processes, this literature moves beyond, and represents a sound prophylactic against, the essentialism of the rhetorical and scholarly characterisation of knowledge as a public good. Further, it also moves beyond the (ineffectiveness of the often exclusively) moral outcry of those opposing the privatisation and commercialisation of knowledge on the basis of the latter’s characterisation as a public good, by demonstrating the worst material consequences of the commercialisation of scientific research.
This body of literature represents, in my opinion, the best contemporary writing on the interaction between the economy and the issues related to the use, production, reproduction and accumulation of knowledge within contemporary capitalism. However, given the theoretical concerns animating this thesis, it also opens the way to two future possible areas of research. First, the historical and institutional analysis pioneered by this literature with respect to the study of the knowledge, science and technology base can be extended, at the empirical level, to specific country experiences hitherto not analysed in this frame. In doing so, though, the analysis could be significantly strengthened and enriched theoretically by being complemented with a perspective rooted in a sound commitment to Marxian value theory;
this would make it possible to frame and embed the dialectic between the contextual and the systemic within a deep theoretical understanding of the interaction of socio-economic categories, dynamics, processes and structures, yet maintaining the analysis open to accommodating appropriately the institutional, the contingent and the contextual. Second, the body of literature addressed in this paragraph clearly emphasises how patents and IPRs, contrary to their standard treatment within mainstream economics as an incentive to innovative investment and activity (discussed in the first chapter of this thesis, but see also Foray, 2006), are best understood as an anti-competitive device. However, from the point of view of Marxist economic analysis, this invites the development of an understanding of intellectual property in terms of value theory which, at the logical level, draws inspiration from Marx’s analysis of ground-rent, while at the same time being mindful of the specific role played by intellectual property within contemporary capitalism and, therefore, of its historicallyspecific conditions of existence and nature (similarly Jeon, 2010 with respect to the use of the category of rent within the cognitive capitalism debate).
At a deeper level of the sociology of knowledge, two further issues must be emphasised to explain the conceptual instability of the KBE. First, at a theoretical level, is the very inability to give strong foundations to the concept itself. Indeed, this acts as a powerful force pushing the analysis in the wrong directions and beyond what is justifiable, generalising the particular (by magnifying select aspects of reality into descriptions of contemporary capitalism as a whole) and undermining sound theoretical conceptualisation. For mainstream economics, this inability is due to the absence of a sound understanding of knowledge, the economy, and their interaction. Further, this is reinforced by that, instead of engaging with these deficiencies as such (as implicitly advocated by Boulding, 1966, for example, in his warning to the discipline of the origins and consequences of its neglect of the relation between knowledge and the economy), mainstream economics attempts to compensate for them in arbitrary ways, not least in accordance with the idiosyncrasies of those who engage in the debate. By contrast, for the post-workerist school this inability follows from the abandonment of the method, theories and concepts of Marxist economics, which would otherwise allow a proper understanding of the shifting but unavoidable presence in the capitalist economy of a relation between knowledge and the economy. Indeed, it is by relinquishing these methods, theories and concepts that post-workerism is able to (mis)construe the old (i.e. the generic interaction between knowledge and the economy) as the new (i.e. cognitive capitalism), and to (mis)read the latter as having brought about unprecedented levels of autonomy of labour from capital and the promise of “the common” (Hardt, Negri, 2009) as a communism almost at one’s fingertips (as opposed to the increasing subsumption of the production, reproduction and accumulation of knowledge within capitalist social relations of production, together with the consequences of this discussed and highlighted in the previous paragraph).
The second issue that is worthy of emphasis is how much the specification of the foundations for the KBE has not only functioned, for the theories and theorists discussed, as a target in itself, but also as a means for the purposes and self-affirmation of those engaging in the debate, be it within the confines of their discipline, across the confines of scholarship and policymaking, or within and beyond the confines of their own way of thinking and community of reference. These tendencies have interacted with, and ultimately reinforced, the conceptual instability of the KBE emanating from the inability to provide the concept with strong foundations. For the mainstream, a key illustrations of this is readily provided by Foray and David’s use of the(ir) mainstream version of the KBE to displace the NSI approach from its foothold in the reflections on science and technology at the OECD in the late 1990s (David, Foray, 1995). A similar example is provided by Stiglitz’s defence of the World Bank and its workings on the grounds of its nature as a Knowledge Bank, fit for filling the gaps in knowledge across the developed and developing worlds (Stiglitz, 1999c). For the marxisant (or, perhaps more appropriately, post-Marxist) approaches discussed in the course of the thesis, the primary example of this tendency is provided by the social philosophers (the producers of knowledge par excellence?) identifying the immaterial labourer (however evanescing its definition and correspondence with an actual constituency) as the central subject of contemporary capitalism and, therefore, key contemporary revolutionary subject (Hardt, Negri, 2000, 2004, 2009). Similar examples are readily provided by the freelance workers identifying freelance work as the typical condition of labour within contemporary capitalism and the appropriate basis for the refoundation of society in more equitable terms (Bologna, 2007; Bologna, Banfi, 2011), if not by the radical critical media theorists (Fuchs, 2009, 2010a, 2010b, 2012; Formenti, 2011; Caraway, 2012) converging with the sociologists of consumption (Ritzer, Jurgenson, 2010; Ritzer et al., 2012; Rey 2012) in identifying the role of new media and consumption practices in bringing about the newest, inescapable and ultimate (though ambiguous) forms of exploitation.
Yet, the critiques expressed and elaborated throughout this thesis, together with the forces determining the conceptual instability of the KBE, suggest that to understand the relations between knowledge and the economy requires a continuing commitment to the appropriate categories of analysis for the study of capitalism, the economy, and (the use, production, reproduction and accumulation of) knowledge. However, they also show that these categories cannot be used deterministically or by reduction to construct a notion of the KBE from which the implications usually attributed to the latter (and debunked in this thesis) can be drawn.
One of the best illustrations of this is provided by the study of the socio-economic dynamics attached to software, networked computers and their attendant processes of informatisation.
Indeed, the tendency is to read these as either more (Benkler, 2006) or less (Gorz, 2003;
Söderberg, 2008) univocally liberational or as harbingers of more pervasive and all-embracing forms of oppression (Formenti, 2011) – if not as simultaneously liberational (for they entail less alienation through user active participation and engagement) and oppressive (for they are socially ubiquitous), once the category of prosumption is embraced (Fuchs, 2009, 2010a, 2010b, 2012; Rey, 2012). However, perhaps the point is that a proper understanding of the socio-economic dynamics attached to software, networked computers and their attendant processes of informatisation cannot be developed by abstracting from the specific socioeconomic relations within which these are embedded (e.g. the labour process as opposed to, or at least as well as, the household) (Huws, 2003). This, in itself, opens a further future area and prospect for research, whereby the overarching and generalising claims made within the literature adhering to the concept of prosumption can be contrasted with, and potentially refuted with ideas and evidence drawn from, the treatment of software, networked computers and their attendant processes of informatisation within the labour process literature.
In conclusion, and however much, if naively taken at face value, the KBE concept seems to provide a “materialist” account of the sources of change within and across socio-economic systems, the recognition of the historically-determined character of the content and conditions of production, reproduction and accumulation of knowledge, together with that of the material organisation of economic activity itself, raise the issue of the appropriate conceptualisation of the dynamic interaction between knowledge and the capitalist economy.
This cannot but be an interdisciplinary endeavour since, at a more abstract level, it entails the determination of the appropriate conditions and methods for the conceptualisation of the dynamic interaction and (co)evolution of the economic, the material, the social, the political, the ideal and the cultural. However, such an endeavour cannot but have at its basis a rigorous approach to the respectful dialogue between and across disciplines, the use of methods, concepts and theories (together with their history, original context of application, trajectory and implications), as well as the rigorous treatment of the objects of its analysis. This thesis has demonstrated, at various junctures and in various ways, how this has been lacking in the debates assessed. The path that I have followed in my investigation of the socio-economic foundations of the KBE has been marked by the nature of the discipline and its reception of the concept in both its mainstream and marxisant versions, as well as by the nature of the tasks that the latter receptions have set for themselves. However, what the thesis has demonstrated, ultimately, is how it is these very tasks which have led, in various ways, to arbitrary breaches with sound methods, theories and concepts, in order to reach conclusions set by the tasks themselves. All of this leads to the provisional conclusion that specifying capitalism in terms of KBE is inappropriate. However, it also opens the prospect of developing an appropriate understanding of the uses, production, reproduction and accumulation of knowledge within a capitalist economy.
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