This is the third chapter of Adam Arvidsson's book on the Ethical Economy.
First chapter: Introduction to the Ethical Economy
Second chapter: Ethics and General Intellect
Since its English translation in 1969, and for most of the following decade, Luis Althusser’s essay on ’Ideology and ideological state apparatuses’ had a great impact on critical social science. As television, mass consumerism and the culture industry reached maturity, and as the energy of the social movements of the previous decade fizzled away into embourgoisement, it became clear that, at least in the ‘affluent’ west, capital primarily ruled through ideological, rather than repressive means, through consensus rather than coercion (cf. Jameson, 1991). To the Althusserians (or the Althusser-inspired) scholars of the 1970s’ ruling through ideology’ essentially entailed three things. One, the ISA established and reinforced stable and coherent subjects, that had derived their loyalty and support form having been made to internalize a distinct set of values, beliefs and habits, conforming to ‘the ruling ideology’. It is important to underline the stability and coherence that marked the subject of ideology in Althusser’s analysis. There was a ruling ideology in the form of a coherent narrative, and, as it left its imprint on its subject matter, on social life, it created stable subjectivities that persisted in time. One remained a worker, woman, father or consumer, and this enduring status was enforced when one watched a movie (Mulvey,…), television (Hall..) or an advertisement (Anderson,..). These stable and enduring subject positions were also logically coherent. Each subjectivity contained a set of values, norms and motivations that lent themselves to rational reconstruction. As a worker one acted in a particular way because one abided to particular norms, which in turn found support in a set of values. Critiques like … have been right to point out that Althusser here offers little more than a leftist, and perhaps slightly conspirational version of Parsonian structural functionalism. Two, ideology was a rational apparatus of governance, it rested in the last instance on argument. Conversely, the ideological state apparatus rested ultimately on its ability to inculcate a stable and enduring way of arguing in its subjects. Three, the ideological state apparatus was a state apparatus: its purpose was to reproduce labour power within a territorially limited society under the exclusive command of a particular state. One could thus speak of nationally distinct ideological state apparatuses, operating with different kinds of ideology, like the British middle class outlook inscribed as preferred reading in BBC programming (..) or for that matter the whole complex of apparatuses aiming towards the reproduction of ‘Soviet Man’.
ISA’s are still alive and well, but in this paper I will suggest that today it also makes sense to think of capitalist power in terms of what I call Affective Imperial Apparatuses. Affective Imperial Apparatuses (or AIAs) are still apparatuses: that is they consist in complex networks of material and immaterial dispositions that aim at producing a particular outcome. But they differ form ISAs in two important respects. One, they work primarily by affect, rather than ideology. Althussers ISAs also made good use of affect , as in ….., but for him, the affective dispositions were mere means towards and ideological end. Being made to kneel down was a may of reinforcing belief in a Christian ideology, it was not primarily aimed at producing particular bodily intensity or experience. Conversely, an affective apparatus can make use of a discursive argument (or perhaps, fragment)-Just Do It! - but then as a means to achieve a bodily intensity, rather than as a way of arguing for a coherent worldview. Affect is about bodily intensities, before it is about rational discourse. These are transitory, rather than enduring. Affective apparatuses are not geared towards producing enduring subjectivities, but momentary experiences, or intensities. Contrary to what Althusser said about ideology, affect is not eternal, it is passing, its time is the present. This means that AIAs do not produce stable subjectivities, but rather a generlaized precarity, and what Andrea Fumagalli (2006) has called a ‘patterened instability’. Second, imperial affective apparatuses are not state apparatuses. They are a manifestation of capital investing the social directly, without the mediation of a nation state. Consequently AIAs reach beyond and across, particular national territories. (There might be a German ideology, but the experience of driving a BMW is universal.) The fact that AIAs are a manifestation of capital investing the social directly also means that they are not exclusively geared towards the reproduction of labour power, but also towards the actual mobilization of labour power into patterns and activities that effectively generate value. AIAs are not just means of reproduction, they are means of production: the patterend instability that they generate becomes a source of valuable immaterial labour. AIAs thus pertain to a kind of capitalism in which the distinction between base and superstructure has effectively collapsed.
Media, ideology and affect
An ideological state apparatus is made up by two functions, that of the intellectual and that of the bureaucrat. The intellectual makes up the ideology to be implemented and the bureaucrat implements it. Both are reading machines, they are functions that have developed in relation to the production and consumption of texts. The intellectual achieves his or her status by virtue of having read more books than the common person, and the ideology he develops follows the logic of the literary mind. It is potentially subject to critique based on rational argument. Ultimately it is based on values. These are stable contra-factual expectations, that owe their stability precisely to the illusion of referentiality (or, the ‘metaphysics of presence’ to use Derrida’s term) that comes with the reading of texts. Bureaucracy too is a text-based machine: Max Weber was very clear on this point in his seminal definition of ‘bureaucracy’: the bureau consists of printed documents (‘the files’), the people paid to write and read them (the scribes), and the technologies they use. Similarly Kittler has stressed how the mature development of bureaucracy (to Weber: the modern capitalist corporation), was made possible by a combination of three technologies for the production, circulation and storage of text: the typewriter, the filing cabinet and the telegraph. Finally the kinds of ISA’s that Althusser talks about (mainly the value based bureaucracies of the modern welfare state) developed historically as a solution to the problem of incorporating living labour as it articulated itself by means of print media. The bureaucratic welfare state emerged as a response to the challenge of first a bourgeois public sphere, and then a labour movement that, as E.P. Thompson has famously shown, had come into being, and moved, by means of practices of reading, writing and talking about texts. (And long before the state ISAs the Christian Church bureaucracy developed as a response to the challenge of a religious movement based essentially on reading practices, cf. Debray..).
So ISA’s apart form being an intrinsic part of a particular historical form of Fordist state capitalism, are also intimately linked to a particular technology of immaterial production, of the production of social life: print.
Conversely AIAs, in their present form have developed with electronic media. The paradigmatic example of an AIA is the brand. Unlike an ideology, a brand in its present form does not present an argument that is subject to rational reconstruction, but a possible affective intensity. Brands, unlike ideologies, are not incompatible. (One can simultaneously wear a Che Guevara T-shirt and a Rolex watch, but one can not simultaneously by a communist and a capitalist free marketer.) I write ‘the brand in its present form’ because, in the post-war years, brands have developed from referential symbols (the ‘Maker’s Mark’ standing for a product of a producer) to machines for organizing flows of affect. Brands are machines in the concrete sense of that term. Through products (material or immaterial) they connect to bodies in ways that make possible concrete experiences that actualize their value. (According to Kevin Roberts, CEO of the Saatchi & Saatchi ‘ideas company’, Procter & Gamble is a brand that, through its products, ’touches the lives of people around the world, two million times a day’.) Brands are organized flows of affect tht incolve one or several body parts (the foot that wears the shoe, the hand that shifts gears, the mouth that tastes etc.). It is in this ‘touching the lives’ of people that brands realize their values, in the present, as immanent intensities. As I have written elsewhere, this development of the brand, from a symbol to a machine, has occurred as a response to the mass intellectuality made possible by electronic media reaching maturity in the post-war years (Arvidsson, 2006). Just as the state apparatus had to become ideological, had to invent values to confront the rationality of a reading public (first bourgeois, then proletarian), marketing had to become experiential to confront the new demands for emotional intensities and ‘involvement’ on the part of a new global consumer culture held together by television, advertising, records and eventually networked PCs. This way, AIAs, apart from pertaining to a particular historic kind of informational capitalism, are also intrinsically linked to its main means of immaterial production, networked information and communication technologies; or, which is the same thing, electronic media in their mature state.
The connection of electronic media to affect, and conversely of print to rationality, has a long history within social and media theory. Marshall McLuhan famously branded television as a ‘cool’ (or sometimes ‘cold’) medium as opposed to the ‘hot’ media of radio and cinema. Unlike the ‘acting without reacting’ fostered by print in ‘literate’ (and one might ad Western, bourgeois) ‘man’, television invited emotional participation in the lives of others, deep affective identification and an engagement that went beyond the distant rationality of the newspaper reader. Today we see this invitation to effective participation further developed in the emotional pornography of Reality TV. Electronic media have not only been identified as participatory, but also as fragmented (and fragmenting). This is particularly true of ‘neotelevision’ (Eco..), the commercial television that arrived in Europe in the 1980s and that was emancipated form the essentially ‘literary’ format of public service (where programs were modelled on the lecture or the theatre performance). The fragmented nature of commercial television has been famously described by Raymond Williams, gazing from his Florida hotel room in ….
Television, particularly in its more mature commercial form, truer to the inherent logic of the medium, incorporated the particular mode of interpellation of electronic media in the information age. This is not the ‘Hey You!’ of the ISA, calling you as somebody you already are, as an already formed identity, rather it offers a set of specific possibilities for affective engagement and becoming, promises that activate the erotic, the gastronomic, the empathic, that are momentary, passing and not necessarily internally consistent. A similar mode of interpellation has been stressed many times in relation to the networked personal computer, the central example of contemporary information and communication technology: the interface that fragments the user’s engagement in a multiplicity of tasks (working a spreadsheet, your mail-program interrupting regularly with its characteristic ‘pling’ as browser window remains on your favourite sports page); its forms of sociality- deep involvement with strangers facilitated by the ‘materiality’ (Slater,..) of a highly particular form of affective script (a fellow wine-buff, someone with the same fetish), its worlds of deep immersion, like Everquest or more recently, Second Life. Like the bureaucratic/intellectual reading machine, or ‘discourse network’ (Kittler…) in relation to the ISA, electronic media are the media technology that embodies (and makes possible) the mode of interpellation of the AIA. Power ‘reaches out and touches the lives of people’ not through a constant repetition of a fixed set of stimuli (every workday is the same) but through a multiplicity of intensive points that organize flows of comminication and interaction in highly particular ways. The transcendence of the littrary looses its hegemony over public culture, in favour of the immediacy of the electronic, which dissolves individually into intensities.
Of course there is nothing new with power engaging life affectively, nor is this, in itself particular to the technology of electronic media. Althusser himself stressed how ISAs work through affective engagements with the body, and we need only to think of the specific architecture of churches, the precise ritual prescription of the mass, Huizinga’s famous example of the church bell engaging the medieval village at precise moments of the day, or the religious object, the relic, as a valuable reification of affective energies (very much like the brand today). Indeed, the pre-history of the AIA, and of affective politics as such, lies with the religious, as both Benjamin and before him, Durkheim have stressed. But compared to the contemporary proliferation of AIAs, these were rather isolated examples of technized affect. Most of the affective life of ‘pre-infromational man’ unfolded within the realm of family, neighbours and friends (or enemies) where it was not subject to specific managerial intervention. But as Liu and others have shown, the development and proliferation of ICTs has been paralleled by an a development and intensification of the management of affect, both in terms of the proliferation of managerial techniques like taylorism, human relations and more recently corporate branding, and by the diffusion of a ‘therapeutic cuilture’ (Furedi..) that invests the affective life of family, leisure, and not least, consumption (Arvidsson, 2000). There is a distinct pattern to the development of these technologies. Early approaches like taylorism and human relations sought to neutralize the affective potential of the working body, making it an integrated element to a pre-structured productive system. Contemporary technologies on the other hand activates affect selectively. Contemporary technologies of affect, like corporate culture building, the brand or the immersive game or online environment (…Galloway), provide environments that empower in particular directions. The resulting subjectivity- or at least cultural ideal- is a ‘cool’, that is an affectively well managed subject (or a‘traumatized’, that is affectively ill managed one, but in any case a thoroughly managed one) open to highly specific and focused forms of affective engagement. (As a strategy of cool consumption I cultivate a distinct seventies look that involves not just my clothes but also my driving and drinking habits, my language, and if I am really cool, my sexuality too. After trauma I submit to therapy consisting of yoga and herbal massages.)
This opening up of affect to intervention, channelling and empowerment is the direct result of the techhnization of the life-wrold, the proliferation of technologies and disciplines that intervene directly on life, without passing through discourse, so to say. We have seen a proliferation of these affective apparatuses in the post-War years. Often they result from a capitalist channelling of the affective energies that were liberated from the grip of the Fordist ISA in the cultural revolution of the Sixties and Seventies: rock music and the music industry, sexual liberation and the pornographic industry, recreational drugs and the pharmaceutical industry, cultural politics and brand management, universal love and reality television. Unlike the ISAs and their attempts to create whole subjects, these AIAs appeal to particular configuration of senses or body parts, which are mobilized in the generation of particular experiences. They are productive circuits that involve particular body parts: the hand that holds the joy stick and the eye that follows the character on the screen, the mouth that tastes, the sexual organ that responds to images etc. AIAs thus partition the subject into a multiplicity of circuits in which flwos of affect are organized in particular ways. Rather than individuals we have mash-ups of meat and technology on which particular circuits of information and desire can be grated. The object of intervention of the AIA is not the society of individuals, but the ‘bionet’ of such mash-ups that now make up the living labour of humanity. (In biotech this tendency is pushed even further, there the object of intervention is increasingly becoming a life that is conceived at the cellular level.)
This is particularly evident in new technologies of surveillance like data mining, cool hunting and profiling. These are technologies of pattern regocnition, unlike the individual files kept by the bureaucratic police of the ISAs they are not geared to knowing everything about a select few, but to identify patterns of flows that involve everybody, they are not interested in history but in the present, and the immediate future. They are technologies that identify and attach themselves to particular patterns. At the other end they are coupled to technologies of pattern maintenance: dispositions that are inscribed directly into the immanent environment of action and that naturally guide the freedom of actors to evolve in a particular direction: the affective complex of the brand, the structured play-field of corporate culture, the immanent rules of the dating site, virtual game or other online environment, the pre-structured experience of the branded city or gentrified neighbourhood. Affective imperial apparatuses thus rule more by what Galloway has called protocol that intervenes from below, so to say, rather than by means of discipline, orders and intervention form above. ISAs used disicplinary power consisting of the surveillance of individuals and intervention on they behaviour form above, through rewards or punishments. AIA rely on pattern identification, and pattern maintenance by means of intervention from below: the construction of a pre-structured environment, of a particular protocol. In relation to these technologies of power/knowledge, the individual becomes less an object of inquiry and analysis, and more of a ‘virtual common object’ to which a number of diverse bjects of inquiry can be attached: the inquiry into web surfing habits, into consumer choices, into political/religious preferences. This is the reason for the popularity of highly simplistic anthropologies like ‘rational choice’ , ‘post-materialism’ or more recently, ‘evolutionary psychology’. These anthropologies have spread with contemporary technologies of pattern recoginition/maintanance. They do not offer any in-depth understanding of the individual psyche (unlike psycho-analysis, the paradigmatic anthropology of the ISA), but rather offer away of bracketing away the rest of the mind and body as detailed knowledge is generated about the surface points at which the individual body connects to the affective apparatuses.
The result of this proliferation of sub-individual affective patterns is the loss of coherence to subjectivity and the experience of life as generalized existential precarity or as a continuous ‘patterned instability’. In this situation, the generation of trust, community or a more or less stable ethical order, a common, becomes something valuable in itself, hence the present interest in ‘social capital’ on the part of economics. This then is the key value generating activity of what is known as ‘immaterial labour’:
The productive excess of life, that element which remains after the fragmenting intervention of the patterned instability of a diverse range of AIAs , naturally tends towards the reconstruction of the coherence of existence in the form of a common, an ethically relevant stable order. This, as Luhmann recognized long ago requires the input of personal authenticity, of being recognizeable to the other as another human being (and not just as the exponent of something else). This continuous putting to work of personal authenticity in the production of a common constitutes the key productive activity of immaterial labour. It can either by channelled into the provision of alternatives which are at the same time political and economic, or it can be channelled into the value networks of the AIAs and appropriated as a valuable ‘ethical surplus’. The recognition, appropriation,governance and particular empowerment of this ongoing ethical productivity of the multitude is the key task of AIAs. This is their productive role.
First chapter: Introduction to the Ethical Economy
Second chapter: Ethics and General Intellect