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The first time I read through chapter five in Eileen’s class I became very, very frightened.  I suppose my initial terror was directly tied to my now slowly deteriorating allegiance to Marxist modes of material production and the realities capitalist enterprise in the West’s progressively post-industrial age.  The more and more I read about the changing nature of work in the 21st century – especially with respect to Zuboff’s In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (it’s on the reading list ASAP!) – I am left in a bit of a crisis of conscience.  It’s not that I was just longing for a socialist/communist state on the order of China, the USSR, or Vietnam; in fact, I think that their “socialism” and “communism” was really just a state-administered, extremely monopolistic brand of capitalism.  What I’m realizing more and more is that capitalism on the order that Spinuzzi describes in chapter five is a lot different from any proprietary or managerial capitalism that preceded it.  So in this new capitalism – often described as “support econonmy” or “distributed” – is there any more room for self-actualization and liberation from the modes of production that have long exploited labor or does it’s distributed nature  simply increase the deleterious effects and leave consumers ever-questing toward more “authentic” consumption habits?  Well, first I’ll try a bit of recap. . .

Before Spinuzzi demonstrates how networks are “enacted”, he describes the transfigurations that have occurred in the time period between the waning of the industrial age and the development (or negotiation) of what Castells has called “informational capitalism.”  This new brand of capitalism is different from the modular form that Marx envisioned in that the “deskilling” that occurs when tasks are “broken down into easily learnable and repeatable components” is challenged.  No more assembly lines and workers who can’t see the final products.  Rather, in information capitalism the complete net work is interpenetrated, deeply rhizomatic: “it has multiple, multidirectional information flows” (137).  Because of this characteristic, some folks claim that capitalism will move toward a more distributed form.  Distributed capitalism will come to look a lot like shareholders in companies – distributed, desires for “unique support” from vendors, and trustworthy relations among consumers (think Amazon.com’s comment function).  This process of co-configuration – whereby producer and consumers configure one another at all times reciprocally – will disrupt supply chains and create “advocates” or “professional relationship workers” who “assemble temporary ‘federations’ of suppliers for each transaction or service.  In effect, the layer between producer and consumer will have an individualized shim.  While these new ways to describe capitalist paradigms in the information age could be positive, they also have a negative side.

In the move toward this new distributed capitalism, Spinuzzi notes how some negative social practices could come into being.  Working through Deleuze, we get a new picture of social interaction that moves society from a Foucauldian pantopticonicism rooted in systems of discipline from above toward a distributed,  control-based horizontal & vertical social competition between all workers in the capitalist agora.  In this new field of work, laborers who are able to participate in the information economy are in a constant state of competition that renders job security,  benefits, and retirement static for only the most successful or sought-after workers.  It seems natural that champions of neoliberal economic systems like Milton Friedman and his fellow Chicago School economists would eat this hyper-competitive, cream-rises-to-the-top labor model up . . . and as long as Friedmanites continue to occupy influential positions at the IMF, World Bank, and other organizations, this new model will likely be championed as the future of economic Development.

While I’m not naive enough to believe that unions and collective resistance have near the power that they once levied against big-business capitalism, I see distributed capitalism one of the last steps in the progressive deterioration of collective resistance in labor systems.  Once Haraway’s “homework economy” blurs the boundaries between life and work (lifestreaming) and the quest for individual consumptive experiences dissolves mass production (which itself is pretty debatable if you’re a believer in the herd mentality), the consumer is left in a ecstatic state vis-a-vis the instant and constantly individual gratification of extreme commodity fetishism.  All the while the worker – now left without affiliation and only existing in the network as a fluid, constantly re/de skilling cog – moves on to new “opportunities.”

I know I’m being a bit melodramatic here, but I do think that the changes in the way that consumption and production are occurring could have damaging consequences.  I do feel like some capitalist entities are looking to offset the inherent contradictions of capitalism (capitalism can’t produce labor and non-renewable natural resources for example) through partnerships between capital entities and philanthropic organizations – this is a crude, but promising example. ..  anyone know of anymore?  That being said, the future of my work looks a lot different from the sort of things my folks did for a living.

I wonder though, am I as scared as Socrates of the quill & tablet or Zola of the factory?  A little help here!  🙂

2 Responses to “CCR760 – A World Without Bosses? : Distributed Capitalism & Net Work”

  1. Luce

    Bro, you are gonna make your head explode if you keep tackling these huge-ass questions. You’re making me anxious just reading these tensions and such!

    I’m always amazed at how much you read things through a Marxist lens; you haunted Steve’s class last night because we were discussing Capital 1 and the 18th Brumaire.

    The main question I have is how you see the desire between individual and company/product as different from fetishizing products, which was already happening?

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