[iDC] Urgent Aphorisms (remix)

Ned Rossiter ned at nedrossiter.org
Fri Oct 23 11:28:48 UTC 2009

below is an excerpt from a longer text written with Geert Lovink.   
these sort of ideas/issues/practices/conditions will serve as points  
of departure for what I'll present at the playground/labour/factory  
meeting next month.  (Some of you may have seen the full text sent to  
nettime, with all it's formatting problems. Hopefully that doesn't  
happen here. Clean versions of the full text is available via links  



‘Urgent Aphorisms: Notes on Organized Networks for the Connected  
Multitudes' (selection)

By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter (The OrgMen)

The ‘participation economy’ of Web 2.0 is underscored by a great  
tension between the ‘free labour’ (Tiziana Terranova) of cooperation  
that defines social networks and its appropriation by firms and  
companies. How is the ‘wealth of networks’ (Yochai Benkler) to be  
protected from exploitation? Unions, in their industrial form,  
functioned to protect workers against exploitation and represent  
their right to fair and decent working conditions. But what happens  
when leisure activity becomes a form of profit generation for  
companies? Popular social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace,  
Bebo, del.icio.us and the data trails we leave with Google function  
as informational gold mines for the owners of these sites.  
Advertising space and, more importantly, the sale of aggregated data  
are the staples of the participation economy. No longer can the union  
appeal to the subjugated, oppressed experience of workers when users  
voluntarily submit information and make no demands for a share of  
profits. Although we are starting to see some changes on this front,  
as users become increasingly aware of their productive capacities and  
can quickly abandon a social networking site in the same manner in  
which they initially swarmed toward it. Companies, then, are  
vulnerable to the roaming tastes of the networked masses whose  
cooperative labour determines their wealth. This cooperative labour  
constitutes a form of power that has the potential to be mobilized in  
political ways, yet so rarely is. Perhaps that will change before too  
long. Certainly, the production of this type of political  
subjectivity is preferable to the pretty revolting culture of  
‘shareholder democracy’ that has come to define political expression  
for the neoliberal citizen.


The precarity debate was, correctly, about the material conditions of  
labour and life. Mistakenly, the precarity discourse remained fixated  
on the rear-view mirror of Fordist production and the welfare state.  
But there is more than this. Judith Butler wished to extend the term  
to include emotional states and affective relations. Yet somehow  
precarity doesn’t satisfactorily capture the intensity – and dullness  
– of the contemporary soul. What comes closer is the image of the  
nervous, electric body in the late nineteenth and early twentieth  
century as diagnosed in sociological accounts of urban  
transformation. Think Georg Simmel, Gabriel Tarde, Walter Benjamin.  
The image of digital disembodiment was perhaps a 1990s attempt to  
update the electric body, but nowadays such a notion just looks sadly  
comical and misplaced, which brings us back to the materiality of  
communication vis-à-vis Kittler. Today we have not so much digital  
disembodiment but the violence of code that penetrates the brain and  
the body. It is the normality of difference, sending out constant  
semiotic vibrations that numbs us. What the precarity meme doesn’t  
catch is the cool frenzy. There is an aesthetics of uncertainty at  
work. An impulse to Just Do It! Extreme Sports. Risk Societies.  
Financial Derivatives. Creative Classes. Porn Stars. Game Cultures.  
Today, it seems impossible to escape the network paradigm that is  
always economically productive, even if it never returns the user a  
buck. The non-remunerated body remains a body in labour. And it’s  
increasingly exhausted. The brain encounters the limits of the day  
and everything that is left uncompleted. The endless task of chores  
ticked off slide over from one day to the next. One becomes tired by  
looking at the ‘to-do’ list, which reproduces like a nasty virus.  
Bring on the remix.


The shift from Fordist modes of assembly production to post-Fordist  
modes of flexibilization cannot be accounted for by reference alone  
to capital’s demands for enhanced efficiency through restructuring  
and rescaling. The 1970s in Italy saw the rise of operaismo  
(autonomist workerism) who refused the erosion of life by the demands  
of wage labour. Importantly, their unique ‘refusal of labour’  
demonstrates, in theory, a clear capacity of workers to change the  
practices of capital, for better and worse. The Italian collective  
strike is a one-off concept workshop, blending the radical with the  
general. It is in this power of transformation that ‘the common’ is  
created (unlike so many other struggles and forms of dissent in  
Europe). The ongoing challenge remains how to organize that  
potentiality in ways that produce subjectivities that can open a  
better life – in Italy, and beyond.


Workfare, flexicurity or ‘commonfare’ – all of these options are  
variations on the theme of state intervention that is able to supply  
a relative security to the otherwise uncertainty of labour and life.  
Such calls are misguided. They presuppose that somehow the state  
resides outside of market fluctuations and the precarity of capital.  
The state is coextensive with capital. The 2008 credit crisis has  
shown the state has little command over the uncertainties of finance  
capital. How, then, can the state guarantee stability? Furthermore,  
to whom does the state offer security? Certainly not to undocumented  
migrants. The call for flexicurity is a regressive, nostalgic move  
that holds dangerous implications vis-à-vis the formation of zones of  
exclusion. There is no pleasure principle in being underpaid. The  
price of freedom is a high one and it is only a handful of lucky  
outsiders in the Rest of the West who can afford to work for free,  
enjoying unemployment while living off a small income. It is a secret  
lifestyle choice for a diminishing elite of cultural conceptualists  
and their outsourced army of semiotic producers. This is not what the  
dreams of the multitudes aspire to realize. There is much political  
value in targeting not the state but the companies – especially those  
engaged in the Web 2.0 economy – and insisting on a distribution of  
income commensurate with the collective labour that defines the  
participation economy. This may be a more effective strategy for  
broadening the constitutive range of labour organizations.


Practices of collaborative constitution are defined by struggle.  
There is no escape from struggle and the tensions that accompany  
collaborative relations. This is the territory of the political – a  
space of antagonism that in our view is much more complicated than  
the Schmittian friend/enemy distinction. Again, it is the work of  
translation that reveals the multiplicity of tensions. As Naoki Sakai  
and Jon Solomon have written, translation is not about linguistic  
equivalence or co-figuration, but rather about the production of  
singularities through relational encounters. But let’s get more  
concrete here. What is a relational encounter? It occurs through the  
instance of working or being with others. Of sharing, producing,  
creating, listening. Sustaining a range of idioms of experience is a  
struggle in itself – one that is rarely continuous, but rather  
continually remade and reassembled. This in turn is the recombinatory  
space and time of new institutions.


Let’s unpack the idea of new institutions and their relation to  
precarity. If we say that precarity and flexibility is the common  
condition – one that traverses class and geocultural scales – then we  
can ask: what is the situation within which precarity expresses  
itself? The situation (concept + problem) will define the emergence  
of a new institution. Situation, here, consists of virtual/networked,  
material, affective, linguistic and social registers. We are of  
course always in a situation, but how to connect with others? The  
point of connection brings about tensions – the space of the  
political – and the ensemble of relations furnishes expression with  
its contours. Real power lies not in the spectacle of the event, but  
rather subsists within the resonance of experience and the minor  
connections and practices that occur before and after the event. That  
is the time and space of institution formation. The rest is a public  
declaration of existence.


The question of organization persists: Who does it? How is  
organization organized? For Keller Easterling, this is the role of  
the orgmen: ‘Different from the deliberately authored building  
envelope, spatial products substitute spin, logistics, and management  
styles for considerations of location, geometry, or enclosure. The  
architect and salesman of such things as golf resorts or container  
ports is a new orgman. He designs the software for new games of  
spatial production to be played the same way whether in Texas or  
Taiwan. The coordinates of this software are measured not in latitude  
and longitude but in the orgman argot of acronyms and stats – in  
annual days of sunshine, ocean temperatures, flight distances, runway  
noise restrictions, the time needed for a round of golf, time needed  
for a shopping spree, TEUs, layovers, number of passengers,  
bandwidth, time zones, and labor costs. Data streams are the levers  
of spatial manipulation, and the orgman has a frontier enthusiasm for  
this abstract territory. He derives a pioneering sense of creation  
from matching a labor cost, a time zone, and a desire to generate  
distinct forms of urban space, even distinct species of global city’.


The OrgMen of networks, then, share something with the alpha-males  
and sysops (system operators). Both administer behaviours in symbolic  
or technical ways, shaping patterns of relation. Indeed, the software  
architecture used by any network is its own orgman. Organized  
networks would do well to diversify their platforms of communication,  
adopting a range of software options to enable the multiplication of  
expression and distribute as much as possible the delegation of  
network governance. If one platform starts to fall flat – say a  
mailing list – then perhaps the collective blog is going to appeal to  
more. Whenever the collective labour of a network can be galvanized  
around forms of coproduction (making an online journal, organizing an  
event, setting up a file-distribution system, producing a  
documentary, identifying future directions, staging a hack, designing  
slogans) then the life of the network finds that it has a life. Such  
techniques of collaborative constitution keep in check the proto- 
fascistic tendencies of the orgman that lurks within every network.  
The tension between these two registers of network sociality is a  
necessary dynamic. The challenge is to keep the game in play,  
gradually shifting the limits of the network disposition.


full text at: http://nedrossiter.org/?p=136

or Geert's site, http://tinyurl.com/yjb98x8

[Forthcoming in Mark Deuze (ed.) Managing Media Work, Sage]

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