On Autonomist Marxism and the affective economy

I’m speaking on 29th November at an ESRC seminar series on Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights. The seminar is on Affective Digital Economy: Intimacy, Identity and Networked Realities.

Whilst Josie Fraser will be speaking about our Digital Literacy Leicester Framework Project, I will briefly develop a critique rooted in political economy. My own thinking in this area is derived from a reflection on the autonomist Marxist position that relates the affective domain and network governance to core concepts of the social factory, immaterial labour and cognitive capital, the general intellect and mass intellectuality, and the cybernetic hypothesis. I am interested in how these concepts enable a critical reading of socio-economic developments in information and communication technology. This is particularly important in enabling a critique of the place of education and technology inside the circuits and cycles of globalised capitalism, which is too easily defined as frictionless and networked in the face of the hegemonic realities of hierarchical, transnational forces of production. So my take is that we might use these categories of affective labour etc. to critique how technology-rich educational settings are co-opted for work, in order that possibilities for pushing back against the subsumption of life for capitalist work might be developed.

The seminar offers a space to discuss this theoretical framework/the development of alternatives in the context of the following two questions:

*  Who are the major actors currently shaping this economy and how?
*  What are the major dangers and risks in affective digital economy?

This is especially so in the context of the intention of the ESRC seminar series that: “At this moment of potentially profound changes in policy and practice, it is crucial to bring together actors with contrasting interests and perspectives to help inform and stimulate further debate and research.”

NOTE: the Occupied Times provides quite a nice description of how our consumption of technologies, and our disengagement or anaesthetised view of them as empowering, is totally disconnected from the material realities of their production. So our circuit in space-time of the consumption of technologies and the affective production of digital artefacts, fails to connect or recognise the everyday realities of the appropriation of lives and livelihoods that exists either in the mines that produce the raw materials (Tin, Coltan etc.) that go into our consumer technologies or the factories that build them. The clean outer shells of our hardware and software tools distance us from the immiseration of other human beings and forms a layer of false consciousness. Beneath the cloud and inside the tablet lies a proletarianised hell, reinforced with every click.

For the citizen and end-user, the experience of technology throughout post-WWII decades has been one of increasing degrees of separation between the internal blood and guts of the machine – from hardware to code – and the soft, alluring outer shell of the commodity form. All the traces of isolation and alienation that stem from this formula place an increasing number of steps between the immediate sensory encounter and the reality of the machine.

To catch a glimpse of the world removed at the heart of this machine, consider this century’s resources warfare in Congo. With the tech sector operating on the back of corporate appetite, the pressure to produce is carried from the drawing boards of Silicon valleys to the point of production’s material origin. In Congo, where demand for hi-tech device resources such as Tantalum has escalated in recent years beyond the capacity to supply, this pressure has only served to fuel the wider conflict over the control and appropriation of these resources. This situation is estimated to have claimed the lives of more than 5 million people, making it the world’s deadliest conflict since the second world war.

Here we can trace commodified communications technology born from the arse-end of violence to the mouth of your receiver. From ass to mouth – the food chain of 21st century technology production crosses gulfs, from violence to exploitation, until reaching civility; a history revealed only through the will to examine the world beneath the shimmering electronic propaganda of the new Samsung or Apple device.

We find ourselves removed from the very tools we use, encountering an unarticulated domain between production and use. The space-time contours of everyday social life are dramatically revised. This is especially true in our use of technology and how we mediate our relationships with the ‘real world’, as it becomes harder and harder to define and separate our technological identities from the idea that we also exist ‘in real life’. Our agency, as political beings, flows in between these spaces; interacting and composing itself from the vast caches of information that circulate on the network while at the same time being coerced by the near-universal grammar of our state of technology.

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