From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Mon Apr 23 2007 - 03:51:36 EDT
On the question of immaterial labor as theorized by Hardt and Negri... Perhaps Hardt and Negri would consider academics sharing and developing ideas on a list serve to be a general model of the emergent new types of production which are already beyond and outside capital. But there is no emerging paradigm of immaterial labor here. Here is the controversial passage from Hardt and Negri's Empire: : "cooperation is completely immanent to the laboring activity itself. This fact calls into question the old notion (common to classical and Marxian political economics) by which labour power is conceived as "variable capital", that is, a force that is activated and made coherent only by capital, because the cooperative powers of labor power (particularly immaterial labor power) afford labor the possibility of valorising itself. Brains and bodies still need others to produce value, but the others they need are not necessarily provided by capital and its capacities to orchestrate production. Today productivity, wealth, and the creation of social surpluses take the form of cooperative interactivity through linguistic, communicational, and affective networks. In the expression of its own creative energies, immaterial labor thus seems to provide the potential for a kind of spontaneous and elementary communism"p. 294 Valorizing itself? Let's remember Marx's critque of the Gotha Programme. It's a pretty conception to say that workers can valorize themselves which implies of course that they themselves the source of all wealth. That's a pretty conception because it abstracts away from the workers dependence on the privately owned means of production which are necessary for the production of wealth or any kind of valorization. But Negri seems to be arguing that immaterial labour suffers no such dependence on privately owned means of production. The Gotha Program comes into its own in informational, immaterial and affective capitalism. Yet mental workers or 'affective' workers (workers who produce affects) must most often use means of production which they could not possibly own. Also even a petty bourgeois innovator must often depend on and pay for the use of distribution networks which are private property? How can communism in the economic sphere just spontaneously assert itself? Isn't this the metaphysical conclusion they must derive since Hardt and Negri want to escape patient and protracted dialectical contradictions for immediate Deleuzean lines of flight? So...the central concept of immaterial labor baffles me. And for many reasons: as if service workers have to be producing social relations biopolitically rather than commodities as wage laborers because a commodity is by definition durable vendible which services are not???; as if the overtime work of computer programmers somehow negates the law of value; as if capital enjoying gratis scientific ideas of self sacrificing genius is something new. I understand that the rising affective dimension of some job categories is important especially in the alienated emotional labor it implies usually for women (Arlie Hochschild) and in the exclusionary effects it has on black workers who don't have the face the company wants for its prejudiced custormers (Troy Duster). But I don't see how this implies any epochal shift. New forms of alienation and discrimination yes but not the basis for the dissolution of capital. As the passage above underlines, the goal here is to have these special workers understand that the kind of intellectual and emotive work they do is inherently autonomous and social and (and for these reasons) difficult for capital to appropriate and thus already an elementary form of communism. Perhaps nursing fits this model? Nurses have in this region been among the most militant trade unionists, but Negri is not found of this kind of working class organization. Certainly nursing depends on the use of privately owned means of production; it can't be spontaneously communist. In the critique below Carnfield shows that to shake off the charge of an exclusive focus on an aristocracy of scientific labor Hardt and Negri have at times incoherently inflated the idea of immaterial labor, seeing commonalities where the singular immaterial laborers surely would not! As for Hardt and Negri's other major thesis--that US hegemony has become impossible--that I can see. Here their ideas overlap those of Immanuel Wallerstein, Cyrus Bina and Prem Shankar Jha. But that the system is tending toward an equilibrium state of what Hardt and Negri idiosyncratically call Empire I am more skeptical. The US may be structurally unable to make the sacrifices for the Empire to work and the US may demand as a condition of its cooperation concessions which its potential partners are unwilling to make. Yet I do appreciate (though don't agree with) the Copernican turn of understanding capital as the reactive force to the assertions of the autonomy of the multitude and the general challenge to the nationalization of the masses implicit in the category of the multitude. . Rakesh The Multitude and the Kangaroo: A Critique of Hardt and Negri's Theory of Immaterial Labour David Camfield Labour Studies University of Manitoba 2006-11-27 http://www.countdownnet.info/archivio/teoria/515.pdf While Hardt and Negri note that immaterial and material forms of labour are "almost always"15 mixed together, citing the example of health care workers who both clean bedpans and generate affective and intellectual products, their description of immaterial labour as biopolitical labour that is both materially and immaterially productive, creating "ultimately social life itself," in fact dissolves the distinction between immaterial and material labour. This all-encompassing notion contradicts their definition of immaterial labour as labour that produces immaterial products. The rise of immaterial labour has profound consequences. One is the breaking down of the division of time between work and non-work or leisure. This split was clear-cut in the age of the factory, but under the hegemony of immaterial labour "an idea or an image comes to you not only in the office but also in the shower or in your dreams."27 To grasp this change, Hardt and Negri suggest, we would do well to remember that the work/leisure split had no meaning for women traditionally engaged full-time in unpaid domestic labour, and that agricultural labourers may work all the day long. They also give the examples of companies like Microsoft, which attempt to keep their employees in the office for as much time as possible by offering free food and exercise, and the phenomenon of multiple job-holding by low-waged workers in precarious employment.28 As a consequence of the rise of immaterial labour, the authors argue that it is necessary to reconceptualize labour and value. The relationship between them has, they claim, changed since Marx's day. Marx saw social labour as "the source of all wealth" in capitalism and abstract labour, "labor in general, labor without respect to its specific form," as "the source of value in general."47 However, capitalism's law of value, which measures value in units of labour time, no longer holds because of the tendency for the division between work and non-work time to disappear. "This law... cannot be maintained today in the form that Smith, Ricardo, and Marx himself conceived it," even if labour is still "the fundamental source of value in capitalist production." Immaterial labour produces knowledge, communicative capacities, and social relationships, and these fall into the category of "positive externalities." "Such externalities, which are common to all of us, increasingly define economic production as a whole." Positive externalities are outside of capital, which tries to control them but can never succeed completely. Immaterial labour is still exploited by capital, but the nature of exploitation has changed along with the relationship between labour and value. No longer can value and surplus value be conceptualized on the basis of temporal units of labour time. Exploitation becomes "the private appropriation of part or all of the value that has been produced as common."48 Immaterial labour is said to be dissolving the division of time between work and non-work, creating a new commonality, undermining qualitative divisions among working people, producing life outside the sway of capital and making possible the popular unity of singularities that can achieve absolute democracy. If one follows Hardt and Negri, immaterial labour is of world-historic importance. But should we follow them? In a highly abstract sense it is possible to talk of labour producing goods, services, social relations, and human subjectivities. Yet it is essential to be able to distinguish the production of ourselves as human subjects through our relationships with nature and each other in determinate socio-material conditions and particular historical moments from the production by humans of, say, microprocessors. Very different kinds of production processes and products are involved. Labour is at the heart of them all, but at different levels of abstraction and in different social forms. The all-encompassing concept of biopolitically-productive immaterial labour does not allow us to make such distinctions.
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