Sean Cubitt on Wed, 11 Jul 2001 05:43:41 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Where's Mumford?

Good to see Mumford's name raised in brian carroll's post.  To the list of
significant works I would add The City in History. Mumford's humanism may
come across a little outmoded, and we were instructed in the 1980s that
large-scale history was not a viable occupation. But then works like de
Landa's and the Anti-Oedipus point in exactly the opposite direction now.
We are in some senses too slavishly involved in dragging old paradigms
into the new situation, where they do not always fit. At te same time, we
ignore several inspirational sources. I raise another spectre or two.

Siegfried Giedion, Mechanisation Takes Command, A Contribution to
Anonymous History, which has two enormous virtues. First, he is a
meticulous historian of such vital processes as breadmaking and bathing,
two chapters that stay with me (I now make all my own bread) as permanent
additions to how it is possible to think such processes as globalsiation
and the commodity form's evolution over the last several centuries.

Harold Innis, who the Canadians are beginning to take up again, who was
McLuhan's teacher; a brilliant and dedicated scholar who sought, after his
experiences in Europe during WW1, to discover a motor of histiory that
might be directed towards some bettering of the awefu lot of humanity. His
understanding of colonialism is intyense, far more radical politically
than McLuhan. At the same time he prefigures some reappropriations of Marx
(notably by Feenberg and GA Cohen) as a technological historian, a reading
that helps make sense of issues like the industrial design addressed by
Innis, and which inspires recent writings like Terry Smnith's art-history
of Ford Motor Co plants and associated spaces, places and practices in
Making the Modern. Jody Berland among others has been doing wornderful
work on Innis.

Pierre Francastel. I reviewed a recent translation at Leonardo Digital
ml Francastel gives powerful arguments against Mumford and Giedion, or
rather raises issues that are unthought in their work and require

Harry Braverman. His Labour and Monopoly Capital was one of the first
accounts of computerisation in the workplace and remains an outstanding
analysis of the proletarianisation of retail and office trades

Jacques Ellul. The Technoliogical Society. Save yourself the bother of
reading Foucault.

And among the more contemporary writers Leo Marx of course, Don Ihde,
Bruce Mazlish for a popular take and Lorenzo Simpson for a technical
philosophical one.

In many ways, all of these can be read as attempts to get beyond Marx
(Karl). Come to think of it, sociology and social history in general is
the history of alternatives to Karl Marx. The history of Marxism is a
history of alternative readings and the ocasional betrayal of Marx. There
is still little to beat a reading of the first volume of Capital, which
millions of workers the world over have undertaken for fun and profit over
the last 150 years.

The little flurry of comments on Hardt and Negri is a useful reminder:
Empire is a contemporary classic.



Sean Cubitt
Screen and Media Studies
The University of Waikato
Private Bag 3105
New Zealand
T (direct) +64 (0)7 856 2889 extension 8604
T/F (department) +64 (0)7 838 4543

Digital Aesthetics
The Dundee Seminars

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