Armin Medosch on Tue, 1 Dec 2009 18:24:43 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Brave New World of Work


This text (below) is a first draft, trying to identify key topics for an
inquiry into the new organisation of labour. It starts with a historic
analysis and then explores the notion of Post-Fordism. Specific sections
are devoted to cognitive capitalism, the creative industries,
informational capitalism and the split between manual and mental labour.
It ends with a modest proposal for an alternative path of development. 

The motivation guiding this text is to provide some foundational ideas
for a working group on labour, online and IRL in Vienna. To be honest, i
am unsure if it makes sense to publish such an unfinished piece. the
chance however, to get some feedback, critique and comments outweighs
the anxiety about putting something out at such an early stage.


The human species cannot exist without work. Even if automation is
driven to absurd limits, there will always be a rest of socially
necessary labour. Labour is essentially the work of self-creation of the
human species. And insofar this is true, there is no fixed or permanent
understanding of labour and the social relationships which it is part of
and which it creates. Therefore a reassessment of labour in the 21st
century is urgently necessary. 

We are interested in an inquiry inte the new organisation of labour not
because we are obsessed with work. We also do not privilege in our
analysis the wage-labour relationship. The question of labour of course
implies forms of non-labour or what Marx called 'reproduction'; it
implies idleness, affective labour, the labour of love, learning,
experimentation and many other forms of labour which are not captured
100% by the notion of 'productive' labour in wage-labour relationships. 

Our interest in labour is stimulated by the sense of crisis that reaches
much deeper than the recent banking crisis and the ongoing market
volatility. We think that we are going through a phase of transition
during which either the tracks can be laid for a future development of
human civilisation that is more beneficial in its relationship with the
biosphere, including our own physical and mental resources; or we are
bound to suffer from further rapid cycles of accumulation of capital and
collapses, of speeded up developments and of break-downs, which will
cause poverty, hunger and devastation on a global scale, but
inadvertently hitting the poor much worse than those living in the
comfort zone of the relatively wealthy countries. 

We propose to undertake an inquiry which looks at the reality of living
labour today. Putting labour into a central position is a methodological
decision designed to counter the tendency of the reification of
theories, a one-sided process of abstraction which creates false

This inquiry is informed by an underlying concept of periodisation or
techno-economic paradigm change. While building on work previously done
in this area, we think that existing models need to be enriched and
improved to account for more than 'technological progress' linked to the
rise and the fall of the profit rate. This work is urgent and necessary,
but we cannot wait till it delivers 'final' results. 

Our starting points include big chunky concepts such as Fordism and
Post-Fordism and the transition from one to the other. By using such
concepts one could be too easily tempted to fit history nicely into
categorical boxes and according periodisations. It is again the
methodological decision to look at labour as a 'secret history' which
helps us to avoid such over-simplifications.

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