Multitudes 15 on the Role of the Corporation Under Cognitive Capitalism

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* Article: Créer des mondes. Capitalisme contemporain et guerres « esthétiques ». Par Maurizio Lazzarato. Multitudes, 2004/1 (no 15), pages 229 à 237



From the reading notes by Michel Bauwens, 2006:

The company and the factory are now separated. What a 'brand'-based corporation does is not to produce the commodity, but the world in which those objects exist. It does not create the subject, but the world in which that subject exist.

So what it needs are the services to create such a world: research, marketing, conception and design. To achieve this it needs to work on desires and beliefs. It has to make the consumer want to enter this world, which is narrated by advertising and which is an invitation: on average 40% of corporate budgets are dedicated to it. For the consumer, to buy a product, to consume it, is to enter a universe.

Advertising wants to sollicit new modes of feeling, which consumers will eventually 'embody' in their material life. Lazzarato says that this virtualisation of capitalism cannot be understood by Marxist or economic theory.

Anne Querrien in a review of the Boltanski book (Nouvel Esprit du Capitalisme), notes that companies now function as projects, i.e. "La cité par le projet", i.e. via short term mobilizations. But this means that workers now may have many intermediary periods in which they don't know how to reproduce themselves, just like the 'intermittents' in the artistic sectors. She critiques Boltanski and co-authors for blaming the 1968 artist critique, for the subsequent changes in management practice.

Box: The history of creativity

Summarizing the history of conceptualizing creativity:

   - from divine to human attribute (XVIth cy)
   - but belonging to exceptional individuals (19th cy, romanticism)
   - generalized to create industries
   - part of the emancipatory program of the sixties, as part of new subcultural lifestyles
   - becoming an obligation for survival in the neoliberal economy, i.e. looses emancipatory connotations.

Yann Moulier-Boutang outlines 4 theses on the role of art in capitalism:

   - 1) art as utopian truth of Man (Marx, Manuscripts)
   - 2) art as critique of capitalism (Adorno)
   - 3) art as subverting capitalism (Daniel Bell)
   - 4) art as a model for the new creative practices required by capitalism (Boltanski)

He distinguishes biopower and biopolitics (Negri), from bioproduction (i.e. 'production of worlds, as described by Lazzarato).


(From the same author, in english, from the same author, but different source)

Maurizio Lazzarato:

"Twenty years of restructuring of the big factories has led to a strange paradox. In effect, what has been set up is the variants of the post-Fordist model both on the defeat of the Fordist worker and on the recognition of the centrality of living labour, everincreasingly intellectualised within production. In the big restructured undertaking, the work of the worker is a work which increasingly implies, at various levels, the ability to choose between different alternatives, and thus a responsibility in regard to given decisions taken. The concept of “interface”, used by sociologists in the field of communications, gives full account of this activity of the worker. Interface between different functions, between different work-teams, between levels of the hierarchy, etc… As the new management prescribes, today it is “the soul of the worker which must come down into the factory”. It’s his personality, his subjectivity which must be organised and commanded. Quality and quantity of labour are organised around its immateriality. This transformation of workingclass labour into labour of control, of management of information, into a decision-making capacity which requirtes the investment of subjectivity, touches workers in varying ways, according to their function within the factory heirarchy, but is nonetheless present as an irreversible process. Work can, thus, be defined as the ability to activate and manage productive cooperation. The workers must become “active subjects” in the coordination of the different functions of production, instead of being subjected to it as simple command. Collective learning becomes the heart of productivity, because it is not a matter of composing differently, or organising competences which are already codified, but of looking for new ones.

However, the problem of subjectivity and of its collective form, of its constitution and its development, has immediately become a problem of a clash between social classes within the organisation of labour.

We would stress that we are not describing a Utopian place of recomposition, but the terrain and the very conditions of the clash between social classes.

The capitalist must command subjectivity as such, without any mediation; the prescription of tasks has been transformed into a prescription for subjectivities, according to a felicitous definition of the team of researchers who have analysed “the caprices of the flow”.* “You are subjects” is thus the new command which rings out within Western societies. Participative management is a technology of power, a technology of constitution and of control of the “relationship of subjectivation”. If subjectivity cannot be limited to tasks of execution, it is necessary for its competences of management, communication and creativity to be compatible with the conditions of “production for production”. “You are subjects” is thus a slogan which, far from cancelling the antagonism between hierarchy and cooperation, between autonomy and command, reposes it at a higher level, because it mobilises and confronts itself with the individual personality itself, of the worker. First and foremost we are dealing with an authoritarian discourse: one must express oneself, one must speak, one must communicate, one must cooperate. The “tone” is exactly the same as that of those who were in executive command within Taylorist organisation; what has changed is the content. Second, if it is no longer possible to individualise rigidly tasks and competences (labour as it is imposed by the scientific organisation of labour), but if, on the contrary, it is necessary to open them to cooperation and collective coordination, the “subjects must be subjects of communication”, active participants within a work team. The relationship of communication (both vertical and horizontal) is thus completely predetermined within content and also in form; it is subordinated to the “circulation of information” and can only be one of its aspects. The subject is a simple relay of codification and decodification, whose transmitted message must be “clear and without ambiguity”, within a context of communication that has been completely normalised by the firm.* The necessity of commanding, and the violence which is co-natural to it, here take on a normative communicative form.

The management watchword “you are to be subjects of communication” risks becoming even more totalitarian than the rigid division between conception and execution, because the capitalist would seek to involve the very subjectivity and will of the worker within the production of value. He would want command to arise from the subject himself, and from the communcative process: the worker self-controls himself and self-responsibilises himself within his team without an intervention by the foreman, whose role would be redefined as a role of an animator.* In reality, entrepreneurs are tired of the puzzle presented by the necessity to recognise autonomy and freedom of labour as only possible forms of productive cooperation and the necessity (a life and death necessity for the capitalist) of not “redistributing” the power which the new quality of labour and its organisation imply. The new management only takes into consideration the subjectivity of the worker with a view to codifying it according to the modalities and finalities of production. What this phase of transformation still succeeds in hiding is that the individual and collective interests of the workers and those of the company are not one and the same."


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