Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

Arts of the Political is the new release penned by cultural geographers Nigel Thrift and Ash Amin, and which explores various manifestations of left wing politics and political movements in order to consider why movements based around equity and community have seemingly achieved so little over the past thirty odd years in the face of neoliberalism. Indeed, this question is particularly pertinent given the financial crisis of 2008, and the inability of the left in places such as the UK (where both Thrift and Amin teach at Warwick and Cambridge respectively) to form a movement seemingly capable of enacting widespread positive changes, or even mounting a serious campaign to challenge the Conservative narrative of enforced austerity as a means for enacting further cuts to public services – a policy David Cameron has recently felt sufficiently emboldened to openly state is a reflection of ideology rather than a situation enforced by economic circumstances.

One might argue that the sweeping cuts made by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition are a prime exemplar of what Naomi Klein has termed the shock doctrine – the neoconservative leveraging of moments of critical instability to enact sweeping changes which increase inequality and benefit elites through privatisations which would likely be too unpopular to pass outside of these specific moments. The question then, is why has the right been so successful at exploiting these opportunities whilst the left has not.

For Thrift and Amin, the answer is primarily that the left has historically been successful when it has been able to articulate new visions, new desires and new organisations which expand the terrain of what is understood to be politics itself, and by doing so energises mass movements through articulating the possibility for a better collective future.

 Movements campaigning for the rights ofwomen, the working class, and other neglected and downtrodden subjects managed to turn engrained orthodoxies on their head in the quarter-century before the First World War by building mass support and accompanying socio-political reform. Although these movements applied particular principles and practices, the record shows that their acts of redefinition went far beyond what was originally intended. These movements freed up new imaginations, invented new political tools, pointed to elements of existence that had been neglected or concealed, and created a constituency that, once constructed, longed for another world. In other words, these movements produced a new sense of the political and of political potential. 1he emerging Left both opened the doors of perception and provided the tools with which to do something about these new perceptions. This is what was common, in our view, in the disparate examples we consider, from the American Progressive Movement and British feminism to German Marxism and Swedish social democracy. In their own way, each of these movements disclosed new desires.

The thesis that drives this book is that progressive movements should pay more attention to such world-making capacity, understood as the ability not just to produce a program in the future but also to open up new notions of what the future might consist of. The most important political movements, in our estimation, are those that are able to invent a world of possibility and hope that then results in multiple intertventions in the economic, social, and cultural, as well as the political sphere. They free thought and practice and make it clear what values are being adhered to, often in quite unexpected ways. p9

Thrift and Amin contend that three areas (or arts) of the political which it is crucial for the left to pay close attention towards are invention, the process of bringing forth tangible futures which hold the promise of a better life; organisation, the practices which are used to bind and articulate these movements; and the mobilisation of affect, considering the ways that political decision making goes beyond rational information processing:

In particular, we consider the whole phenomenon of what Walter Lippmann (1961) called the manufacture of consent: how it is being bent to the needs of the Right and how it could be mobilized more effectively by the Left. At the same time, we attend to how the consideration of affect brings space into the frame. A whole array of spatial technologies has become available that operate on, and with, feeling to produce new forms of activism, which literally map out politics and give actors the resources to kick up more and across more places.3 In other words, the practical mechanics of space must be part of the politics of the Left. p15

Thrift and Amin begin by exploring a range of historical examples whereby left wing politics was able to achieve the kind of redefinition of the political they seek, considering the German Socialism of the SPD before world war 1, Swedish Social Democracy, the British Suffragette movement, and progressive capitalists in the US circa 1900. Thrift and Amin contend that:

In all cases, progress depended on prizing open newpolitical ground and filling it with real hope and desire. Appeal and effectiveness-at a time heavily laden with the weight of tradition, vested power, restricted social force, and new capitalist imperative-had to come from an ability to imagine and build community around the yet to come or the yet to be revealed. This meant inventing new historical subjects, new technologies oforganization and resistance, newvisions of the good life and social possibility, new definitions ofhuman subjectivity and fulfillment, and new spaces of the political (such as “direct action,” “voting,” “public involvement,” “class struggle,” “welfare reform,” “government for the people,” “women’s rights”). A possible world had to be fashioned to render the old unacceptable and the new more desirable and possible. The Left today seems to have less desire or ability to stand outside the given to disclose and make way for a new world.

In seeking to formulate areas where there is the potential for opening up analogous new political spaces, Thrift and Amin incorporate theoretical material from Bruno Latour regarding the status of democracy and agency with regards to nonhumans, arguing that the traditional binaries between sovereign human subjects and inert and passive nonhuman objects is an area which can productively challenged by a revitalised left wing politics.

bow. We want to take up Bruno Latour’s (1999) call for a new parliament and constitution that can accommodate the myriad beings that populate the world, a call that entails acts of definition and redefinition of “actor” so that many humans and nonhumans can jostle for position, gradually expanding the scope and meaning of”collective”
politics. p41

This leads T&A to consider the human as a distributed being, whose processes of cognition stretch far beyond the boundaries of the skin, coming close to Deleuze and Guattari’s positions around ecological machinic flows of matter. Arguing from a position which begins to sound fairly close to some of Bernard Stiegler’s work, they contend that:

Human being is fundamentally prosthetic, what is often called “tool-being.” We are surrounded by a cloud ofall manner of objects that provide us with the wherewithal to think. Much ofwhat we regard as cognition is actually the result ofthe tools we have evolved that allow us to describe, record, and store experience. Take just the example of the craft of memory. 1his has extended its domain mightily since the time paintings were made on the walls of caves, and as a result, a whole new means of thought has come into being…

Memory is a compositional art depending on the cultivation of images for the mind to work with. This state of affairs has continued but has been boosted by modern media technology and its ability to produce communal rhetorics that would have been impossible before and that are inevitably heavily political, especially in their ability to keep inventing new variants of themselves that can be adapted to new situations. p50/51

This sense of distributed being and agency is used to reinforce the Latourian argument surrounding the agency of objects, and thus their importance in a new an enlarged sense of politics and democracy. Using Gilbert Simondon’s notion of transduction T&A explore:

The way in which tools and other symbiotes can produce environments that are lively in their own right, that prompt new actants to come into existence. To illustrate this point, we need to look no further than the types of digital technology that have become a perpetual overlay to so many practices and the way in which they are changing political practices. Here we find a domain that has gained a grip only over the past ten years but is now being used as part of an attempt to mass-produce “ontological strangeness” (Rodowick 2007) based on semiautomatic responses designed into everyday life through a combination of information technology based tools and the practices associated with them (from implants and molecular interventions to software-based perception and action). In particular, these automatisms are concerned with the design and prototyping of new kinds of space that can produce different affective vibrations. p64

T&A bring this discussion back in to realm of the more conventionally political by using distributed agency and co-evolutionary strategies as a way of opening up though surrounding ecological crises and how a coherent left political response to climate change requires precisely the type of expanded politics which they characterise as world making:

What is needed instead is a leftist politics that stresses interconnection as opposed to the “local,” however that is understood. What is needed is “not so much a sense of place as a sense ofplanet” (Heise 2008, ss) that is often (and sometimes rather suspectly) called “eco-cosmopolitanism.” Thus, to begin with, the experience of place needs to be re-engineered so that its interlocking ecological dimensions again become clear. This work of reconnection is already being done on many levels and forms a vital element in the contemporary repertoire of leftist politics: slow food, fair trade, consumer boycotts, and so on. Each of these activities connects different places, and it is this work of connection that is probably their most important outcome. Environmental justice then needs to be brought into the equation. The privileges of encounters with certain ecologies, as well as the risks associated with some branches of industry and agribusiness, are clearly unevenly distributed, and it may well be that certain environmentally unsound practices have been perpetuated because their effects go unnoticed by the middle class. Again, environmental justice movements have to refigure spaces, both practically and symbolically, so that interconnection becomes translucent. Finally, we need new ways to sense and envisage global crowds that are dynamic. The attempts to produce people’s mapping and geographic information systems, to engage in various forms of mash-up, and to initiate new forms of search are all part and parcel of a growing tendency to produce new lands of concerned and concernful “Where are we?” Politics starts from this question. p75

This is followed by a a chapter which claims to look at contemporary leftist politics, surveying the landscape through the apertures of anti-capitalism, reformist capitalism, post-capitalism and human recognition. What is striking about the majority of these contemporary left wing political movements is that they aren’t actually political movements.  Anti-Capitalism is not approached through Occupy or Climate Camp, it is Zizek, and Badiou alongside Hardt and Negri – which conflates two very different theoretical perspectives on anti-capitalism – and is summarily dismissed as hopelessly over-optimistic and unable to visualise a future. Reformism is not Syriza/The Five Star Movment/Bolvarian Socialism, it is Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens’s reflexive modernity and third way. By post-capitalism T&A mean ‘A third leftist stance on the contemporary world can be described as “poststructuralist,” in that it draws on feminist, postcolonial, antiracist,and ecological thinking, much of which heavily influenced by poststructuralist ideas’ p91. Conceptually that would seem to fit Hardt and Negri quite well, but here T&A refer instead to GIbson-Graham’s work on small scale, local, co-operative ethical and sustainable, which could have been productively mapped onto the actions of groups and initiatives such as transition towns, permaculture groups, feminist networks, Greenpeace and other NGOs and the broad range of groups and movements who actually practice some of these ideas, but instead is again explored as a mere theoretical argument rather than political praxis. Human recognition is used to refer to a liberal left based around ethics derived from Wendy Brown’s writings – again rather than exploring groups who actually employ this mode of left politics, probably best embodied by online liberal campaign groups such as Avaaz or 38 Degrees. Finally T&A return to Latour and the notion of Dingpolitik and the role of bringing objects into democracy, a position which has been criticised within academia for being politically conservative as Latour’s works tend to entirely ignore issues surrounding inequalities and exploitation, content instead to simply map actor networks, in contrast with more politically engaged posthuman scholarship from the likes of Felix Guattari or Manuel DeLanda. Perhaps there could have been an interesting dialogue here between T&A’s Latourian positions and the actions and ideologies of animal rights groups or deep ecologists, but again for T&A the left today does not consist of movements of people actually campaigning, occupying, protesting and organising, it simply appears to be a disparate collection of academics.

Put simply, this was what was most frustrating about Arts of the Political, rather than engaging with the broad and varied range of social and ecological activisms which currently exist, the left is reduced to academic thought, whilst the authours proclaim themselves to be engaged in materialist analysis. Perhaps it is simply indicative of the fact that the book’s authors are ageing men living and working in universities who are so totally detached from the actual practices of the left wing groups they claim to represent that they are barely able to acknowledge their existence. Indeed, Thrift has seen protests and occupations from students at Warwick surrounding his astronomical pay increases as Vice Chancellor of the University of Warwick over the past couple of years (from 2011 to 2013 Thrift’s salary has increased from £238,000 to £316,000 at a time when tuition fees have tripled for his institution’s students). That as a background perhaps helps explain why the actually existing left is almost entirely absent from T&A’s exploration of left wing politics.

In the following chapters where T&A discuss organisation, there is a mixture of some interesting thoughts surrounding ecology, using Stengers, Deleuze and Guattari, to consider the notion of ‘addressing the political as an ecology of spatial practices’ p133 alongside a consideration of the organisation of the EU as a potentially fruitful model for the left, as it involves multiple parties across different scales having to cooperate. Such a politics of pragmatic cooperation could of course be understood as a mainstay of anticapitalist politics since the 1990s – the alter-globalisation movement and its manifestations within the world social forum, the peoples global assembly and Indymedia all sought to embody a politics of the multiple, as theorised by Hardt and Negri, and similar claims could be made regarding the anti-war movement, climate change activism and Occupy. But in keeping with their refusal to actually engage with left wing movements, we instead get a lionisation of the EU at a time where elements of the actually existing left are campaigning against the EU’s proposed free trade deal with the US which would effectively allow corporations to sue governments using secret panels to bypass parliaments.

This is a shame, as some of theoretical material around affect, space and that relating to the need to build positive visions of a left wing future articulated by T&A are in places very strong. The central argument that the left needs to find a way to escape what Mark Fisher has called Capitalist Realism, the notion that neoliberalism is the only possible game in town (with the alternative being an eco-apocalypse), is undoubtedly correct, and the politicisation of affect and the reorientation of politics towards an ecology of ethical practices are both concepts worth pursuing. However, they require consideration in relation to the actual practices of political movements, rather than simply as abstract theoretical constructs.


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2005 MIT Press

Sterling is best known for his work as an author of fictional works within the cyberpunk sci-fi genre, but Shaping Things is a book which largely examines technology, design and sustainability. Sterling is interested in interrogating the types of technological futures we are likely to encounter (a theme which of is of course also central to his fictional works), allied with considering how technological evolution, and the design practices which evolve alongside technologies can provide a future for a civilisation which

‘Can’t go on in their present form. The status quo uses energy and materials which are finite and toxic. They wreck the climate, poison the population and resource wars. They have no future.’ P7
Sterling contends that these problematic technologies can be replaced and their deleterious impacts overcome through the implementation of a technoculture based on SPIMES:

‘Manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly rich and extensive that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. SPIMES begin and end as data… SPIMES are sustainable, enhanceable, uniquely identifiable and made of substances that can and will be folded back into the production stream of the future.’ P11

Sterling argues that dominant technocultures do not abolish previous technical ensembles, but compost them – perhaps composite may have been a more obvious descriptor, but Sterling’s authorial style is full of entertaining linguistic obscurantisms. Consequently a SPIME based technoculture will not replace the artifacts, machines, products and gizmos that we have today, but will alter the forms or flavours these devices take. As an example, Sterling explores a bottle of wine, and the way in which its barcode and link to a website denote that this bottle of wine is from the gizmo era: it’s still a bottle of wine, but one which contains particular informational affordances based on the dominant technoculture from which it emanates.

This leads onto a discussion of what I would consider to be issues around economies of attention, which Sterling describes as cognitive load in a gizmo society. His conclusions around the slogan ‘everyone can’t be a designer’ and the notion of representative design as an analogue of representative government (and frankly, that means not very representative anything) are politically naïve and really not thoroughly though through.

‘We interact differently in a world with representative design. In particular, with enough informational power, the “invisible hand of the market” becomes visible. The hand of the market was called “invisible” because Adam Smith had very few ways to measure it. Adam Smith lacked Metrics.’ P23

Such a perspective on the market and the information society would have drawn critique as a neoliberal fantasy in 2005 when Shaping Things was published. Coming after the global economic crash in 2008 and the current stagnation/double dip recession/Eurozone crisis the notion that information technology has given financial services industries the ability to predict and control the future is simply farcical, and demonstrates the ideology of neoliberal cyberutopianism which permeates Stirling’s text.

Where Sterling is somewhat more interesting is his thoughts around sustainability and temporality. Arguing that there is no way back to a (utopian) pre-industrial era in which humans lived in harmony with nature, Sterling contends that only through intelligent design practices can a pathway to a sustainable society be found. He contends that rapid prototyping will play a big role in this, casting the process as ‘the exhaustion of the phase space of the problem – it isn’t reasoned, thrifty or rational but it has the brutal efficiency of a chess-playing computer.’ (P48) By exploring different possible solutions, and retaining the data which allows other designers to note which avenues provide dead-ends, Stirling argues that rapid prototyping will allow a kind of distributed, swarm-like intelligence to permeate design practices, creating a synchronic society in which innovation occurs increasingly rapidly. This feeds into a general theme exploring relations between technology and temporality, with Sterling arguing that:

Genuinely radical changes in the human perception of time are not caused by philosophy, but instrumentation. The most radical changes in our temporal outlook come from technological devices, tools of temporal perception: clocks, telescopes, radio-carbon daters, spectrometers. P51

This leads Sterling to reflect that:

We’re in trouble as a culture because we lack firm ideas of where we are in time an what we might do to ensure ourselves a future. We’re also in trouble for technical and practical reasons: because we design build and use dysfunctional hardware… To understand hardware, we need to understand hardware’s engagement with TIME. P54/55

When explicating what he envisions as the origins of SPLIME’s in contemporary culture, Sterling points to RFID tags and the potential to create and Internet of Things based on this type of technology, or more likely future iterations of device which evolve from things like RFID tags or the other sensor/actuator relationships which have become far more common in the half dozen years since the book was released with the explosion of smartphones, tablets and other portable, always-on technologies which come with a range of built in sensors. Sterling also explores some of the potential for 3D printers to revolutionise fabrication processes. These subjects aren’t covered in much depth, but credit must go to Sterling to picking these technologies out as potential game changers very early on in their development.

While peer production, commons and open-source to get a mention, it is only that: a fleeting mention in between other ideas, and one which fails to explore the potentials for redistributing wealth throughout societies based upon these models, but then social equity, and the effects of technological ensembles upon equality is a black hole in Sterling’s book, one which can largely be attributed to the neoliberal economic ideology it propounds. He does argue that:

‘It’s no use starting from the top by ideologically re-educating the Consumer to become some kind of rigid hairshirt Green. This means returning to the benighted status of farmers with artifacts.’ P131

As someone involved in education, I find Sterling’s claims that the process of trying to get people to think about the social and ecological implications of their actions leads to ignorance to be misguided at best. When combined with his notion of representative design and the magical powers of markets when combined with information technology I would consider them to be politically dangerous, suggesting that we forgo education and serious thought and instead simply sit back and allow an enlightened design elite and the market to simply lead us to a sustainable future.

Sterling’s insight into the potentials of emerging technologies is worthy of high praise, and some of his thoughts around time, technology and society is intriguing if somewhat underexplored, and these currently within his work are why he’s become a popular figure talking about discourses of futurity and postdigitality. The limitations of his cyberutopian neoliberalism however are clearly evidenced in Shaping Things. While his rhetoric around sustainability is interesting, his arguments about heritage and our descendants are undermined by his lack of concern for social justice – either now or in the speculative futures he presents.

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Franco Berardi was a key member of the Italian Autonomist movement, alongside the likes of other authors such as Antonio Negri, Christian Marazzi, Mario Tronti and Paulo Virno, and was a close associate of Felix Guattari, the French philosopher. Berardi’s work has only recent been translated from Italian into English, and Soul at Work was published in 2009 as part of the semiotext(e) foreign agents series.

The central themes of the Soul at Work are that the human faculties which in previous eras would have been considered to be constitutive of the soul, our capacities for language, creativity, emotion, empathy and affect, have now become central to the economy of digital capitalism (Berardi’s term is Semiocapitalism)

Putting the soul to work: this is the new form of alienation. Our desiring energy is trapped in the trick of self-enterprise, our libidinal investments are regulated according to economic rules, our attention is captures in the precariousness of virtual networks: every fragment of mental activity must be transformed into capital. (p24)

This is contrasted with the situation under industrial capitalism, wherein the labour of the working class was largely confined to an eight-hour day in a factory, where for a portion of the day their bodies functioned as cogs rented to maintain the production of gigantic machines. While their bodies laboured their minds or souls were still perceived as free. But as economic production became increasingly based up intellectual rather than physical labour, Berardi argues that a fundamental change has occurred, which requires a reconceptualization of the political field.

Once digital technologies made possible the connection of individual fragments of cognitive labor possible, the parceled intellectual labor was subjected to the value production cycle. The ideological and political forms of the left wing, legacy of the 20th Century, have become inefficient in theis new context. (p29)

After tracing a pathway through some of the Workerist ideas of the 1960’s, and particularly the role of alienation labor within this context, Berardi moves  on to analysis of how the

decisive transformation of the 1980’s was the systematic computerization of the working process. Thanks to digitalization, every concrete event can not only be symbolised, but also simulated, replaced by information. Consequently it becomes possible to progressively reduce the entire production process to the elaboration and exchange of information. (p95)

And how this change to the system of production and consumption accumulates as an ever-increasing torrent of information which he argues is conducive to conditions of mass panic (in the sense that the word stems from the etymological root pan – or everything) and depression.

If in modern society the vastly prevalent pathology was repression induced neurosis, today the most widely spread pathologies assume a psychotic, panic driven character. The hyper-stimulation of attention reduces the capacity for critical sequential interpretation, but also the time available for the emotional elaboration of the other, of his or her body and voice, tries to be understood without ever succeeding. (p183)

Searching for ways to approach these changes in social context, Berardi draws on Deleuze and Guattari’s work in arguing  that

Ethical conciousness cannot be founded on the binomial of Reason and Will – as during the modern period. The roots of rationalism have been forever erased, and rationalism cannot be the major direction of the planetary humanism we must conceive.

Today the ethical question is posed as a question of the soul, that is to say of the sensibility animating the body, making it capable of opening sympathetically towards the other…A new conceptualization of humanism must be founded on an aesthetic paradigm, since it has to take root in sensibility. The collapse of modern ethics needs to be interpreted as a generalized cognitive disturbance, as the paralysis of empathy in the social psychosphere. (p133).

It is interesting to contrast and compare Berardi’s vision of a revised humanism here with the various schemas of posthumanism proposed by the likes of Katherine Hayles, Donna Harraway and Robert Pepperell. The logic of basing ethics on feeling and connectivity with other(s) certainly has resonance between these authors despite their respective stances on whether humanism is a project in need of reconceptualization or a patriarchal, bourgeois, historical phenomenon which has led to the epistemological errors and artificial separation of nature and culture, humans and other living creatures and body and soul – many of the problems which Berardi examines.

Beradi goes to to present an interesting analysis of Baudrillard’s work around simulation, and contrasts this with the desire-based radical analyses of Deleuze and Guattari. Berardi argues that

The semiotic acceleration and the proliferation of simulacra within the mediatized experience of society produce an effect of exhaustion in the collective libidinal energy, opening the way to a panic-depressive cycle… Baudrillard sees simulation as the infinite replication of a virus that absorbs energy to the point of exhaustion. A sort of semiotic inflation explodes in the circuits of our collective sensibility, producing effects of mutation that run a pathological course: too many signs, too fast and too chaotic. The sensible body is subjected to an acceleration that destroys every possibility of conscious decodification and sensible perception. (158/159)

The problem, according to Beradi, is that the explosion of information leads to a paralysis and subsequent depression as the pace and scale of information flows expands far beyond what the human brain is capable of processing. The field of desire, which for Deleuze and Guattari possesses liberating potential, collapses in on itself and is confined to desiring the ever-increasing number of consumer fetishes that permeate upgrade culture. This leads to a contemporary scenario Beradi describes as the poisoning of the soul, as desire no longer reaches out for connectivity with the other, but instead is restricted to focusing on the self and personal accumulation. Looking for potential ways out of this situation, Beradi contends that

Perhaps the answer is that it is necessary to slow down, finally giving up on economistic fanaticism and collectively rethink the true meaning of the word “wealth.” Wealth does not mean a person who owns a lot, but refers to someone who has enough time to enjoy what nature and human collaboration place within everyone’s reach. If the great majority of people could understand this basic notion, if they could be liberated from the competitive illusion that is impoverishing everyone’s life, the very foundations of capitalism, would start to crumble. (p169)

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Communication Power is the latest book from Manuel Castells, the Spanish sociologist most famous for his trilogy of books on the Information Age, which give a theoretical overview and empirical evidence for the transition from an Industrial society to an Informational one, which Castells describes as ‘the rise of the network society.’

communication Power seeks to build on Castells previous theories pertaining to the Network Society, in formulating a theory of power relevant to the information age, and elucidating the ways in which power relates to media, both in terms of traditional mass media forms and also the exploding forms of user generated Internet based media, which Castells terms mass-self communication.

Castells argues that increasingly in the contemporary world power is not exercised by overly coercive behaviour, or the thinly veiled threat of such direct violence as it has been in previous times, but that power is a relation which exists between subjects, and is largely resultant of the capacity of actors to affect the minds of others. To this end Castells applies research from the fields of cognitive science and neuroscience to argue that people’s minds are affected not by rational and logical discourse as the tenets of post-enlightenment critical thought have traditionally argued, but that a huge amount of our decision making capacity is framed by our affective and emotional responses to information. Castells identifies mass media, the large, interdependent media corporations who own the majority of newspapers, television stations and radio stations as the primary device by which communications flows have been constructed to large audiences throughout the latter half of the 20th century. One of the features of contemporary society identified as having the potential (some of which is now being realized) to change the status of the relationship between media and power is that of the mass-self communication afforded by the Internet’s architecture of a distributed network of peers who are able to communicate between one another in a way which significantly differs from the top down hierarchical structure of the mass media. As with Castells’ Information Age trilogy, Communication Power covers a vast amount of ground, both theoretically and empirically over the course of its 433 pages, and so doing justice to the breadth of material he draws upon to support these central arguments in a short review is no easy task.

The book is structured into five main sections, with a brief opening which gives readers an insight into Castells’ own personal history while introducing the main areas of inquiry taken up in the text and a conclusion which draws together the various strands and hypotheses developed throughout the main body.

The first section, entitled Power in the Network society is largely a brief recapitulation of Castells’ earlier work on the network society, looking at some of the cultural, social, economic, legal and technological changes which have created what Castells argues forcefully to be a qualitatively different kind of society to the industrial paradigm which was dominant for much of the 20th century. Castells contends that describing the contemporary globalised world as a network society is apt as within contemporary contexts

Networks became the most efficient organisational form as a result of three major features of networks which benefited from the new technological environment: flexibility, scalability and survivability. Flexibility is the ability to reconfigure according to changing environments and retain their goals while changing their components, sometimes bypassing blocking points of communication channels to find new connections. Scalability is the ability to expand or shrink in size with little disruption. Survivability is the ability of networks, because they have no single centre and can operate in a wide range of configurations, to withstand attacks on their nodes and codes because the codes of the network are contained in multiple nodes that can reproduce the instructions and find a new way to perform. (p23)

Furthermore, Castells goes on to argue that the new contexts provided by the network society have fundamentally reorganised the spaces and relationships between which power operates

The terrain where power relationships operate has changed in two major ways: it is primarily constructed around the articulation between the global and local; and it is primarily organised around networks not single units. Because networks are multiple, power relationships are specific to each network, but there is a fundamental form of exercising power that is common to all networks: exclusion from the network. (p50)

Having defined the network society as the cultural context in which his investigation of communication and power will take place, the second section, entitled Communication in the Digital Age proceeds to conduct an analysis of both what communication is, and how it largely operates within the network society. Addressing the former point, Castells argues that

Communication is the sharing of meaning through the exchange of information. The process 0f communication is defined by the technology of communication, the characteristics of the senders and receivers of information, their cultural codes of reference and protocols of communication, and the scope of the communication process. Meaning can only be understood in the context of the social relationships in which meaning and information are processed. (p54)

He then proceeds upon a detailed exploration of the complex interlinking of ownership, partnership and other interconnections which exist between the major players in the global media business, providing evidence for the argument that ‘because the media are predominantly a business, the same major trends that have transformed the business world – globalisation, digitisation, networking and deregulation – have radically altered media operations.’ (p71) Indeed using this data Castells argues that the globalisation of media businesses has concentrated ownership while at the same time meaning that ‘media conglomerates are now able to deliver a diversity of products over one platform as well as one product over a diversity of platforms.’ (p74).

This section also provides detailed accounts of crucial roles of advertising in financing media conglomerates, and of legislative policy decisions in creating the social and economic spaces in which media corporations operate.

There is no technological necessity or demand-driven determination in the evolution of communication. While the revolution in information and communication technologies is a fundamental component of the ongoing transformation, its actual consequences in the communication realm depend on policy decisions that result from the debates and conflicts conducted by  business, social and political interest groups seeking to establish the regulatory regime within which corporations and individuals operate. (p99)

Castells goes on to examine the ways in which regulation of the Internet and other communications based commons are constantly under threat under the present climate from enclosure and expropriation by commercial interests which seek to open up communal resources to the logic of the market and profit. The section concludes with a reformation of Umberto Eco’s model of communication, with Castells providing an updated schema for  the information age, in which the creative audience are able to feed back into the process of production utilising methods of mass-self communication which supplement the codes and messages of the mass media, potentially transforming the networks of meaning.

The third section, Networks of Mind and Power begins by arguing that ‘Communication happens by activating minds to share meaning.’ (p137) Castells stresses that the mind is not reducible to the brain however, stating that ‘The mind is a process, not an organ. It is a material process that takes place in the brain in interaction with the body proper.’ (p138) Where I would diverge from Castells’ position here is that his version of the mind is something which is immanent only within the individual human being, as opposed to the conception of distributed cognition proposed by theorists such as Gregory Bateson or Edward Hutchins whereby the process of mind is not restricted to the individual human, but is a process which includes environmental factors (with social factors included in this sense of organism and environment), without which the human mind cannot meaningfully function. However having defined mind as a process at the outset of the chapter, Castells later argues that ‘power is constructed, as all reality, in the neural networks of our brain.’ (p145) which presents a distinctly unecological, reductionist position whereby one organ is isolated from the material networks which support it, both functionally (the other bodily systems which materially sustain the brain) and operationally (the sensory systems both within and outside the body without which the brain cannot operate).

Despite these shaky foundations, this chapter goes on to provide some innovative analysis on the role of emotion and cognition in politics, examining the ways in which emotional states effect and condition our responses to information which precludes the kind of rational critical thinking which most Enlightenment thought presupposes. Instead Castells shows how belief and emotional framing are key to comprehending the ways in which people make political decisions. Mobilising this theoretical framework,  Castells argues that one of the key ways in which media operate is through the creation of frames or images which produce emotional resonances with viewers, which are achieved in several ways.

‘The framing of the public mind is largely performed through processes that take place in the media. Communications research has identified three major processes involved in the relationship between media and people in the sending and receiving of news through which citizens perceive their selves in relation to the world: agenda setting, priming and framing.’ (p157) Of these, agenda setting allows the terms and boundaries of acceptable debate to be delineated, and framing is the way in which providing coverage which emphasises certain features of events promotes particular interpretations, evaluations or solutions. Castells argues here that ‘The critical issue is that frames are not external to the mind. Only those frames that are able to connect the message to pre-existing frames in the mind become activators of conduct… Frames are effective by finding resonance and increasing the magnitude of their repetition.’ (p158)

To provide a concrete example of these hypotheses regarding framing Castells selects information, news and misperceptions regarding the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The case study utilises a wide variety of polls and sources to convincingly argue that ‘It appears that information per se does not alter attitudes unless there is an extraordinary level of cognitive dissonance. This is because people select information according to their cognitive frames.’ (p169) This conclusion presents interesting connotations for the majority of traditional media activist methodologies which have been rooted in the Enlightenment values of truth and accuracy, which according to Castells are not effective conductors for altering people’s beliefs unless they also present emotionally potent affective frames – which many media activists have traditionally condemned as mass media techniques of emotional manipulation.

Section four , Programming Communication Networks: Media Politics, Scandal Politics and the Crisis of Democracy is an empirically led investigation into the ways in which media corporations affect the various social networks which comprise contemporary society. Castells rebuke’s the notion of the media as a conduit for rational argument and debate, contending that

The notion of a deliberative democracy based on in depth exposes and civilised exchanges about substantive issues in the mass media is at odds with the broader cultural trends of our time (Graber 2001). Indeed, it is the mark of a small segment of elite media that caters primarily to decision-makers and to a minority of the highly educated strata of the population. This does not mean that people in general do not care about substantive issues. It means that for these issues (for example, the economy, the war, the housing crisis) to be perceived by a broad audience, they have to be presented in the language of infotainment. (p201)

Along similar lines, Castells analyses the media performance and efficacy of policy think tanks from both the right and left, coming to the conclusion that ‘while liberal and independent think tanks are mainly engaged in policy analysis, following their belief in rational politics, the conservative think tanks are primarily orientated toward shaping minds by the means of media politics.’ (p210) Again the conclusion that rational discourse is not an effective method for garnering support over a range of issues flies in the face of Enlightenment rationality, the traditional logic which left wing groups have engaged in when trying to influence public sphere debates. The conclusion that affecting framing is actually a more efficient strategy is one which should have wide-ranging ramifications for the way that media activists engage in promoting campaigns and issues.

Castells goes on to examine some of the complex ways in which contemporary political campaigns use computerised databases to engage in sophisticated political marketing by combining techniques from polling and social data analysis to specifically target key demographics which can see their candidates/party elected. Also covered are ways in which politicians can their spin doctors can frame and subsequently re-frame issues in the news by aligning them with affects and emotions which mobilise supporters in spite of the rational evidence which often provides an altogether different perspective on affairs.

Castells then provides case studies looking at the relationships between mass media and politics in Spain, Russia and China, illustrating each case study with a broad array of meticulously sourced information. He concludes that ‘State power, in its most traditional manifestation, that is manipulation and control, is pervasive in the media and the Internet throughout the world.’ (p285) This manipulation Castells argues is partly to blame for what he describes as the crisis of democracy, whereby according to empirical studies conducted across the world, as ‘the majority of the citizens in the world do not trust their governments or their parliaments, and an even larger group of citizens despise politicians and political parties, and think that their government does not represent the will of the people. This includes advanced democracies, as numerous surveys show that public trust in government has substantially decreased over the past three decades.’ (p286) Castells that scandal politics, whereby the wrongdoings of politicians and political parties are documented in sensationalist fashion  is partially to blame for the escalation of this crisis of democracy. He concludes this section however by making the argument that

The most important crisis of democracy under the condition of media politics is the confinement of democracy to the institutional realm in society in which meaning is produced in the sphere of media. Democracy can only be reconstructed in the specific conditions of the network society if civil society, in its diversity, can break through the corporate, bureaucratic, and technological barriers of societal image making. Interestingly enough the same pervasive multimodal communications environment that encloses the political mind in the media networks may provide a medium for the diverse expression of alternative messages in the age of mass-self communication (p298)

The final section of the book, entitled Reprogramming Communication Networks: Social Movements, Insurgent Politics, and the New Public Space is an exploration of some of these alternative movements which seek to reprogram communications networks in order to build a different kind of society to that of neoliberal globalisation… and the Obama campaign for the Democrat presidential nomination. Castells introduces this section by making the argument that

The process of social change requires the reprogramming of communications networks in terms of their cultural codes and in terms of their of the implicit social and political values and interests that they convey… The public mind is captured in programmed communications networks, limiting the impact of autonomous expressions outside the networks. But in a world marked by the rise of mass-self communication, social movements and insurgent politics have the chance to enter the public space from multiple sources. By using both horizontal communication networks and mainstream media to convey their images and messages, they increase the chances of enacting social and political change – even if they start from a subordinate position in institutional power. (p302)

The first case study Castells draws upon in this section  looks at the Green movement, with particular reference to global warming. While it is always going to be an impossible task to condense the actions, achievements and failures of a diverse global movement over the course of 35 pages, the way in which Castells presents this study has numerous major flaws. Firstly the teleology he presents in fifty years  of scientific research simply does not exists in reality – studies and papers which presented alternative possibilities, and in fact the vast body of work done in the area before the late 1980’s called for more research due to the huge degree of uncertainty over key areas. Castells ignores all this research to instead present readers with a reductionist history whereby ‘Formal recognition of the gravity of the problem, and the international community’s call to act on it came half a century after scientists had alerted the public to the matter.’ (p304)  Castells in fact continues to make grandiose (and entirely untrue) claims such as that ‘Global warming posed a direct threat to the Earth’ (p309), which in no way reflect the claims of climate science (which does very much stress the dangers to wide sections of humanity alongside those to thousands of diverse forms of life threatened by ACC, however this is quite different from claiming that the planet itself is at threat). Where Castells does present some pertinent analysis is his examination of how the Internet has changed the way that many environmental groups coordinate and campaign,

The versatility of digital communication networks has allowed environmental activists to evolve from their previous focus on attracting attention from mainstream media to using different media channels depending on their messages and the interlocutors they aim to engage. From its original emphasis on reaching a mass audience, the movement has shifted to stimulate mass citizen participation by making use of the interactive capacity offered by the Internet (p327)

Castells also analyses the role of celebrities in some high profile Green events (Al Gore, Leonardo Di Caprio etc) before concluding the case study in a most unsatisfactory way, writing that

After decades of effort by the environmental movement to alert the public to the dangers of climate change by reprogramming the communication networks to convey its message, the world has finally awakened to the threat of self-inflicted destruction that global warming represents, and it seems to be moving, albeit in an uncertain, slow pace, toward adopting policies to reverse the process of our collective demise. (p337)

Firstly this conclusion echoes the inaccurate claims Castells makes earlier regarding the total destruction, or collective demise which ACC threatens. More importantly though, it makes entirely unsupported claims that the actions which created this cataclysmic scenario are now being reversed. Quite which policies Castells is alluding to when he makes this ridiculous claim is unclear – perhaps he means cap-and-trade or offsetting, or maybe he thinks that the US’s proposed reduction of 3% of it’s CO2 emissions will magically reverse atmospheric concentrations. Given the tremendous disparity between the scientific and activist communities’ calls for action however, the miniscule steps thus far, allied with the thoroughgoing failure of the COP15 talks to create a binding international framework for emissions reductions make Castells claims here appear to be ill-conceived and entirely inaccurate .

The second case study in this section, focusing on the alternative globalization movement, and particularly on Indymedia is an improvement, examining why

The movement from the beginning was adamant about producing its own messages, and distributing them via alternative media, either community media or the Internet. The networks of information and communication organised around Indymedia are the most meaningful expression of this counter-programming capacity. Such capacity, while rooted in the creativity and commitment of the activists, is inseparable from the revolution in digital technologies. Hackers and political activists came together in the networks of alternative media. (p344)

However Castells then goes on to characterise the movement as utopian anarchism, which he claims is useful as it opens up new horizons of possibility. The danger with this characterisation is that is ignores the problems which activist groups have had in gaining access to mainstream corporate media networks, due to the various economic mechanisms which see corporate media function as businesses, not a fourth estate devoted to critique of policy and events, and equally ignores the successes of building an international media movement – which in some countries is a major source of political news – based on a completely different set of political and economic principles to the mainstream. By ignoring these crucial issues, Castells only gives a partial and in some ways blinkered perspective on Indymedia.

The other case studies, looking at the ways that mobile telecommunications were key to bringing down the Aznar government in Spain in 2004, and examining the strategy of the successful Obama campaign for the Democratic primary are somewhat stronger, as they operate closer on more politically conventional ground, analysing events and mass media coverage alongside political developments at the party and state level, as opposed to covering the actions of social movements ands activists.

The concluding sections, which draw together themes from across these case studies draws some interesting conclusions, that

Acting on the cultural codes that frame minds, social movements create the possibility of producing another world, in contrast with the reproduction of norms and disciplines embedded in society’s institutions. By bringing new information, new practices, and new actors into the political system, political insurgents challenge the inevitability of politics as usual and regenerate the roots of our fledgling democracy In both instances they alter existing power relationships and introduce new sources of decision-making about who gets what and what is the meaning of what we get.

Enacting change in the network society proceeds by reprogramming the communication networks that constitute the symbolic environment for image manipulation and information processing in our minds, the ultimate determinant of individual and collective practices. Creating new content and new forms in the networks that connect minds and their communicative environment is tantamount to rewiring our minds. (p412)

Interestingly, given that during the case studies he fails to adequately explore the relationships between corporate media+IP vs alternative media+commons, Castells also concludes that

The technologies of freedom are not free. Governments, parties, corporations, interest groups, churches, gangsters and power apparatuses of every possible origin and kind have made it their priority to harness the potential of mass-self communication in the service of their specific interest… As the potential of the industrial revolution was brought to the service of capitalism by enclosing land-commons, thus forcing the peasants to become workers and allowing landowners to become capitalist, the commons of the communication revolution are being expropriated to expand for-profit entertainment and commodify personal freedom. (p414)

Indeed, Castells goes as far as to conclude that

The most important practical conclusion of the analysis presented in this book is that the autonomous construction of meaning can only proceed by preserving the commons of communication networks made possible by the Internet, a free creation of freedom lovers. This will not be an easy task – because the power-holders in the network society must enclose free communication in commercialized and policed networks, in order to close the public mind by programming the connection between communication and power

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Christian Marazzi is one of the group of Italian Post-Fordist theorists along with Antonio Negri, Paolo Virno and France Beradi. Capital and Language first published in Italian in 2002 is the first of Marazzi’s works to be published in English.

The starting point of the economic analysis presented by Marazzi in this text is that

Begining in the second half of the 1980’s, the prevailing analyses of the crisis of Fordism and the transition to post-Fordism were based in socio-economics, with particular attention to modifications in the nature of work and the production of goods, starting in the second half of the 1990’s the explosion of the securities market on a global scale forced everyone to update their analyses by paying more attention to the financial dimension of the paradigmatic shift. p13

The key here according to Marazzi is that whereas previously savings had been concentrated in household economies – property and goods – in the New Economy the collective savings and pension schemes of regular people became bound to the success of the global financial market, whose continuing growth their own financial future was tied to. As such, whereas within the old economy the workers saw Capital as an exterior enemy which they could organise and resist, within the New Economy the masses identify success of the financial markets with their own personal economic success.

With their savings invested in securities, workers are no longer separated from capital as they are, by virtue of its legal definition, in the salary relationship. As shareholders they are tied to the ups and downs of the markets and so they are co-interested in the “good operation” of capital in general. p37

The central thesis Marazzi presents in Capital and Language then, is that

In the Post-Fordist economy the distinction between the real economy, in which material and immaterial goods are produced and sold, and the monetary-financial economy, where the speculative dimension dominates investor decisions, must be totally reconceived… In the New Economy language and communication are structurally and contemporaneously present throughout both the sphere of the production and distribution of goods and the sphere of finance, and it is for this very reason that changes in the world of work and modification in the financial markets must be seen as two sides of the same coin. p14

Marazzi goes on to examine some of the effects of public opinion (through the lens of behavioural psychology) and confidence upon markets, and comes to the conclusion that “The theoretical analysis of financial market operations reveals the centrality of communication, of language, as a creative force.” (p27) As such, the creative and productive work done by language and communication demarcate them as no longer constituting a societal superstructure, distinct and separate from the productive sphere of material production. Key to this is the performative abilities of language, the capacity not merely to utilise language to describe actions or events, but the capacity to actively perform tasks through linguistic utterances.

Another area which Marazzi theorises, which has particular pertinence to media studies, is that of the attention economy. Quoting Davenport and Beck (2001), Marazzi states that

“In the New Economy, ‘What is scarce is human attention, the width of the telecommunications band is not a problem, the problem is the width of the human band.’ The technological revolution has certainly enlarged access to information enormously, but the limitless growth in the supply of information conflicts with a limited human demand, which is all the more limited the more work time reduce the attention time we are able to dedicate to ourselves and the people with whom we work and live.

We are in a situation of information glut, of an excess, an overload of information. The Sunday edition of the New York Times contains more information than all of the written material available to readers in the 15th Century. Back then the problem was not finding the time to read, but finding enough reading material to fill up the time. Information was a sellers’ market and books were thought to be more precious than peasants.'(p64/65)

Marazzi contends that while the growth of networked telecommunications technologies has exploded at an exponential rate since the 1980’s, meaning that for hundreds of millions of people across the world today that access to information is no longer a problem, and the traditional models based on scarcity of information are now null and void, ‘the fact is that on the demand side for goods and services, attention (and its allocation) has taken the place of the physical raw materials of the industrial economy. It is a scarce and extremely perishable good… A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.’ (p66) Furthermore, Marazzi argues that many of the changes to the structure of work which have taken place in the New Economy actively contribute to this attention poverty, as the eight-hour working day is extended through for example ICT technologies which enable workers to be on call 24 hours a day, and as the Fordist notion of a stable job for life is undermined, forcing workers to devote attention time to looking for work instead of concentrating on consuming informational goods and services. This leads Marazzi to contend that

The disproportion between the supply of information and the demand for attention is a capitalistic contradiction, an internal contradiction of the value form, of its being simultaneously commodity and money, a commodity increasingly accompanied by information and money-income, distributed in such as not to increase effective demand. The financialisation of the 1990’s generated additional incomes but, beyond distributing them unequally, it created them by destroying occupational stability and salary regularity, thus helping to exacerbate the attention deficit of worker consumers by forcing them to devote more attention to the search for work than to the consumption of intangible goods and service. p141

As the current economic form of financial capitalism contributes to a poverty of attention, Marazzi contends that it is crucial to experiment with social formations which instead reduce this attention shortage, giving producer/consumers more time to both create and digest information, thereby both creating value in terms of a cultural commons, but also enhancing the general intellect. Such a notion can be understood to resemble the argument made by Hardt and Negri in Empire and Commonwealth and recently pledged on a national level in the UK by the Green Party for a universal citizen’s income.

In conclusion then, Capital and Language presents an interesting and innovative approach to understanding the main changes which society has undergone since the 1980’s from a socio-economic perspective which foregrounds the importance of language in the contemporary form of capitalism. In particular it provides thought-provoking analyses on the changes to 20th century notions of base and superstructure, on the genesis and contradictions of the attention economy, and how the financialisation of savings and pensions involves workers in the wider capitalist system to a far greater extent than previous manifestations of capitalism.

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Commonwealth is the third in the series of socio-political analyses from Hardt and Negri which began with Empire (2000) and continued with Multitude (2004). To briefly summarise the series so far; Empire provided an overview of the changes to the structures of power and economic forces from the 1980’s onwards which Hardt and Negri characterise as moving from a nation state dominated imperial system to a globalised networked imperialist power and Multitude subsequently elucidated the emerging forms of networked resistance to the newfound global hegemonic forces of Empire.

Commonwealth seeks to further build upon the work laid out in the first two books through a deeper and more sustained engagement with some of the key concepts originally presented in the first two books, while dealing with some of the most pertinent criticisms leveled at the theoretical frameworks of Empire and the Multitude by other leading left-wing academics and theorists (a point which I will return to later).

Consequently while the book can be read as a stand-alone piece, it certainly helps to have read the prequels which give a thorough contextualisation of where Hardt and Negri are coming from, and also provide far more detailed analyses of the economic background from which they draw the conclusion that since the early 1980’s there has been the beginning of a paradigm shift away from industrial production and towards a form of information-led production which Hardt and Negri argue requires a revised understanding of both power and contemporary forms of resistance.

While throughout the series Hardt and Negri have referred to this newfound mode of production (amongst other things) as biopolitical production – using a term first developed by Foucault – both the Foucaultian orgins of the term and the differences between Foucault and Hardt & Negri’s usages are proscribed in far greater detail in Commonwealth.

Our reading not only identifies biopolitics with the localised productive powers of life – that is, the production of affects and languages through social cooperation and the interaction of bodies and desires, the invention of new forms of the relation to the self and others, and so forth – but also affirms biopolitics as the creation of new sunjectivities that are presented at once as resistance and de-subjectification. If we remain too closely tied to a philological analysis of Foucault’s texts, we might miss this central point: his analysis of biopower are aimed not merely at an empirical description of how power works for and through subjects but also at the potential for the production of alternative subjectivities, thus designating a distinction between qualitatively different forms of power. p59

Crucial to this reading and Hardt and Negri’s reading of biopolitics then is that as a emerging hegemonic form of power in the globalised world, biopolitical production is constantly producing new subjectivities and affects which escape and exceed the capitalist form of value extraction and thus produces newfound alternatives to global capitalism. While they are at pains to stress that this in itself does nothing to guarantee any kind of crisis for capitalism, or that capitalist contradictions and crises necessarily lead to revolution, they do argue forcefully that this opens up new spaces of conflict and resistance and produces alternative possibilities to the current status quo.

As the book’s title suggest, one of the primary focuses of the book is on common wealth, or the commons, again a concept which Hardt and Negri use in Empire and Multitude, but which is explored in far more depth in Commonwealth. Hardt and Negri employ a Deleuzian ontology which combines two traditionally distinct usages of the common, firstly the demarcation of a non-human commons in terms of the ‘natural world’ which is posited as an outside set of resources ripe for expropriation, and also the socially constructed commons, such as language, social bonds, affects, thoughts, and ideas

Wheras the tradition notion poses the common as a natural world outside of society, the biopolitical conception of the common permeates equally all spheres of life referring not only to the earth, the air, the elements, or even plane and animal life but also to the constitutive elements of human society, such as common languages, habits, gestures, affects, codes, and so forth. Whereas for traditional thinkers such as Locke and Rousseau, the formation of society and progress of history inevitably destroy the common, fencing it off as private property, the biopolitical conception emphasises not only preserving the common but also struggling over the conditions of producing it, as well as selecting among its qualities, promoting its beneficial forms, and fleeing its detrimental corrupt forms. We might call this an ecology of the common – an ecology focused equally on nature and society, on humans and the nonhuman world in a dynamic of interdependence, care and mutual transformation. p171

One important way in which Hardt and Negri extend their conception of commonwealth is the caveat that not all common forms of wealth are liberatory and positive. Indeed they contend that many of the ways in which the commons is currently experienced is through what they deem corrupted forms in which commonwealth is partially constrained and thus creates not a resource for all, but a means of exclusion and expropriation which striates the social field and creates hierarchies. Chief among these corrupted forms of the common identified by Hardt and Negri are the nation state, the corporation and the family.

H&N go on to contend that whereas the common is produced through love, which they trace conceptually back to Spinoza’s writings on love and joy arguing that love is what produces cultural forms of commonwealth ‘Every act of love is an ontological event in that it marks a rupture with existing being and creates new being…To say that love is ontologically constitutive then, simply means that it produces the common.’ (p181) However Hardt and Negri go on to warn that

Just like the common itself, love is deeply ambivalent and susceptible to corruption. In fact what passes for love in ordinary discourse and popular culture is predominantly is corrupt forms. The primary locus of this corruption is the shift in love from the common to the same, that is, from the production of the common to the same or a process of unification. p182

As such the identitarian forms of love such as patriotism, racism and certain religious fundamentalisms which are grounded on a love of the same and seek to impose that sameness or unity upon heterogeneous elements they classify as ‘outside’ of their identity. Thus Hardt and Negri characterise these belief systems and structures not as grounded in hatred, but in a form of love, albeit a corrupted form which seeks to reproduce unity and homogeneity rather than the diverse and heterogeneous positive forms of the common. This they define as evil; not evil as in the traditionally transcendent binary which stands diametrically opposed to the category of good, but as instantiations of particular forms of love and the common gone bad. This theortisation of evil,

Gives us a Spinozan explanation for why at times people fight for their servitude as though it were their salvation, why the poor sometimes support dictators, the working classes vote for right wing parties, and abused spouses and children protect their abusers. Such situations are obviously the result of ignorance, fear and superstition, but calling it false consciousness provides meager tools for transformation. Providing the oppressed with the truth and instructing them in their interests does little to change things. People fighting for their servitude is understood better as the result of love and community gone bad, failed and distorted. The first question when confronting evil then, is, what specific love went bad here? What instance of the common has been corrupted? p194

Whilst this does provide a novel approach for understanding why people fight for their servitude as though it were their salvation, one criticism to be made here is that Hardt and Negri are vague as to what kind of social forms they envision replacing ‘corrupted’ forms such as the family and the state, contending instead that these forms are currently unimaginable and must arise out out of the practical experimentation and experience of the multitude. While there is a logic which reflects their political position in refusing to project a teleology of the multitude, the failure to provide alternatives to contemporary corrupt forms of the common is somewhat unnerving, the lack of propositions for constructive alternatives to current systems makes the focus of Hardt and Negri’s theorising primarily negative, seemingly aimed at combating corrupt forms of the common without really suggesting the kind of positive alternatives they wish to see created. Where I found Commonwelath far stronger, was where Hardt and Neri reiterated some of the concrete proposals they first outlined in Empire with the addition of far more nuanced details in arguing for a living wage for all, the removal of the restriction on human movements imposed by state borders and universal open access to the commons in order to

Develop fully and put into practice the multitude’s abilities to think and cooperate with others. Such an infrastructure must include an open physical layer (including access to wires and wireless communications networks), an open logical layer (for instance, code and protocols) and an open content layer (such as cultural, intellectual and scientific works). p308

The criticism of the lack of concrete progressive forms for the multitude with respects to the family and the state feed into the second major current of criticism of their earlier works which Hardt and Negri seek to contest in Commonwealth. The first strand of critique, as advanced by the likes of Pierre Machery and Ernesto Laclau, is the argument that a plural and polyphonic choir such as Hardt and Negri’s conception of the multitude cannot function as a coherent political actor due to its heterogeneous composition. Whereas in the past the figure of the party, the people, or even the state and the nation have functioned in a way to unify differences and mobilise populations to create social transformation, and certain critics have argues that without a similar point of unification the multitude can act only as a cacophony of contradictory voices which cannot act commonly. Hardt and Negri’s retort to this is that

It is true that the organisation of singularities and decision making is not immediate and spontaneous, but that does not mean that hegemony and unification, the formation of a sovereign and unified power – whether it be a state a party or a people – is the necessary precondition for politics. Spontaneity and hegemony are not the only alternatives. The multitude can develop the power to organise itself through the conflictual and cooperative interactions of singularities in the common. p175

The second main line of critique which Hardt and Negri respond to are the arguments brought forth by Paolo Virno, Etienne Balibar, Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou, that whilst the multitude may be capable of acting as a political actor – albeit one which substantially differs from traditional forms based around unity – there is no guarantee that the consequences of such a political form would be liberatory and progressive. The actual contents of these critiques of the multitude vary widely, from Virno’s realist position which acknowledges that the formal structure of the muiltitude in now way guarantees the contents of its politics, to Zizek and Badiou’s positions which effectively argue that the multitude is merely an oppositional figure to contemporary character, and that this oppositional resistance can never be more than a mere component of that power from whence it derives, and I find myself giving more credence to Virno’s line of thought than Zizek/Badiou’s.This line of critique is dealt with far less effectively, and while Hardt and Negri do outline some very useful protocols for a liberatory or progressive politics of the multitude, and trace a genealogy of progressive political groups and movements, Virno’s critique in particular seems valid when assessing forms of contemporary networked radical Islamist groups, which exhibit many  structural properties similar to the composition of the multitude, however their ideology exhibits extreme forms of what Hardt and Negri descibe as corrupt forms of love and the common.

On the whole then, Commonwealth provides a useful exploration and expansion of a number of key concepts previously presented by Hardt and Negri, while partially addressing some of the most pertinent criticisms directed at their earlier works. As such it certainly provides interesting points for discussion and reflection for people involved in the various social and ecological movements which have grown out of the alternative globalisation movement, and provides some concrete proposals for an alternative to the current global system alongside some detailed analysis of geo-political and economic developments over the last few years. Personally though, I would recommend most readers new to Hardt and Negri’s work to start with their earlier writings, in particular Multitude, which provides a more accessible point of entry to the writings of two of the contemporary left’s most exciting political theorists.

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Six degrees – Our Future on a Hotter Planet, is the title of Mark Lynas’s 2007 book (this review is from the updated 2008 version) which seeks to give a broad overview of what mainstream scientific opinion (ie those which have appeared in reputable peer reviewed journals) suggests the world might look like over the next century with variable amounts of warming from pre0industrial temperatures. As title of the book suggests, Lynas looks as what is likely to happen with 1 degree of warming, 2 degrees and so on.

Overall, the book is well researched and written, condensing a vast amount of scientific literature into 275 pages with clear references to the original material Lynas has cited. The prose is generally very straightforward, and consequently this is a book which anyone can pick up and read, which I’m sure was Lynas’s intention: seeking to present a simple but generally accurate picture of what science says a warming world will probably be like, and some of the reasons why this is likely to be enormously detrimental to most forms of human and non-human life on Earth.

While Lynas does mention the potential positives of a mildly warming world such as increased growing seasons and crop production in Russia, the Ukraine and Canada, these are heavily outweighed by rising probabilities of drought, water shortages (largely from glaciers melting away), floods, mass crop failures, loss of biodiversity and potential social and ecological collapses. Lynas does a good job in this respect of respecting regional differences, but connecting these regions into a broader global picture.

Particularly frightening are the predicted prospects of a world more than two degrees warmer than the pre-industrial global mean, as not only are the effects of such climactic change going to be more severe, but there exists a reasonable chance that once warming reaches this oft-discussed tipping point that natural positive feedback loops kick in which alter the global climate so as to reach the kind of steady-state seen in other global extinction events, a six degree rise in temperature. Lynas does a very good job in explicating how some of these effects may arise, and in spelling out the kind of drastic changes they would entail for the planet’s climate.

While generally I think the book has been well though out and written, there were a few bits of linguistic sloppiness which frustrated me. Describing a world which is six degrees warmer than 150 years ago as ‘the ultimate apocalypse’ merely gives ammunition to those who seek to decry Lynas as a false prophet of global doom. If the apocalypse is the end of the world what exactly the ultimate apocalypse? The sun going supernova? The Galaxy collapsing into a black hole? No… a similar amount of warming to other mass extinction events such as the Permian. Six degrees of warming may well see the extinction of the human species (as Lynas states) but this is very different from it being the ultimate apocalypse, and this kind of exaggerated statement is the only thing that really stops me from saying that this is a book that everyone should read. Which is a shame, because most of it isn’t alarmist nonsense, but a very clear and well written summary of the scientific evidence surrounding our probable future climate.

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