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Code and Labour

April 16, 2014 Leave a comment

The new issue of Cultural Studies Review follows up from the 2012 Code-conference that was held in Melbourne, at Swinburne University. The event  was marvelous, thanks to the organizers. And now, Esther Milne and Anthony McCosker have edited a lovely special issues Coding Labour. With a line-up including Anna Munster, Ned Rossiter, Mark Cote,Rowan Wilken and many more – as well as for instance Meaghan Morris in the same issue – one can expect much.

My own article is about the slightly heretic crossbreeding of German media theory and cognitive capitalism. It briefly discusses the notion of cultural techniques as a way to elaborate cognitive capitalism in the context of practices and techniques of software, code and labour. Hence it ends up in a curious short example from the 1970s, the management and organisational arrangement of metaprogramming, as a way to discuss how we might approach techniques of “creative” work in software culture.

You can find the text here and below a short abstract.

This article addresses cultural techniques of cognitive capitalism. The author argues that to understand the full implications of the notion of cognitive capitalism we need to address the media and cultural techniques which conditions its range and applications. The article offers an expanded understanding of the labour of code and programming through a case study of ‘metaprogramming’, a software related organisation practice that offered a way to think of software creativity and programming in organisations. The ideas from the 1970s that are discussed offer a different way to approach creativity and collaborative and post-Fordist capitalism. The author brings together different theoretical perspectives, including German media theory and Yann Moulier Boutang’s thesis about cognitive capitalism. The wider argument is that we should pay more attention to the media archaeological conditions of practices of labour and value appropriation of contemporary technological capitalism as well as the cultural techniques which include ‘ontological and aesthetic operations’ that produce cultural, material situations.

 

 

Architecture’s Underbelly

December 28, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the low points of architecture in 2013 was architect Zaha Hadid’s football stadium in Qatar. Designed for the forthcoming games of 2022, the main part of the discussion has been about whether it resembles a vagina or not.

Al-Wakrah stadium

Besides reducing architectural discourse to a pretend shock about female genitalia, the case is emblematic of how design is detached from the actual world conditions. Instead of engaging in any way with the reports about abusive working conditions in the construction sites of such stadiums for Qatar 2022, we are left debating the building’s pinky Freudian connotations. Despite the pseudo-feminist debate it raised, a rather sad moment for design. It actually just flags detachment of both architectural popular discourse and architects such as Hadid from a connection with things that might have some material meaning or a meaningful impact for those whose lives this has a direct lived relation.

The underbelly of star designers are: “long working hours, hazardous working conditions, the workers being unpaid for months, had their passports confiscated, forced to live in overcrowded labour camps, denied the right to form unions, and without access to free drinking water in extreme heat”.

But the creative industries backed discourse of stars and creativity demands this underbelly of grey abusive low-paid and globally displaced hard work that is sustaining the fluffy public discourse about design.

Cultural Techniques-special issue

December 17, 2013 2 comments

Our book-length special issue on Cultural Techniques (Kulturtechniken) is out. Co-edited by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, Ilinca Iurascu and myself, the special edition in Theory, Culture & Society is a significant introduction to the term that stems from German academic discussions in cultural and media studies. One could say it offers a significant variation on themes familiar from postwar German humanities’ focus on media, technologies and epistemo-ontological questions of culture in a post-representational and post-textual mode.

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 18.55.16

By way of some significant translations as well as new articles the issue pitches a way to understand cultural reality through its techniques. The usual definition is from Thomas Macho:

“Cultural techniques – such as writing, reading, painting, counting,
making music – are always older than the concepts that are generated
from them. People wrote long before they conceptualized writing
or alphabets; millennia passed before pictures and statues gave
rise to the concept of the image; and until today, people sing or
make music without knowing anything about tones or musical notation
systems. Counting, too, is older than the notion of numbers. To
be sure, most cultures counted or performed certain mathematical
operations; but they did not necessarily derive from this a concept
of number.” (Macho, 2003: 179)

But as the issue demonstrates, there is more in this mix. The multiplicity of positions and inplications is well articulated in Winthrop-Young’s Introduction to the issue. He articulates how not only in Macho, but in different ways in Cornelia Vismann’s and Bernhard Siegert’s work the constitutive role of cultural techniques functions. In fact, could say that this is the German media theory version of the hominization-thesis: how we become humans; how agency is constituted by cultural techniques which allow us to occupy subject positions. Space, enclosures and passages between them is one way to understand the idea:

“Thus the difference between human beings and animals is one that
could not be thought without the mediation of a cultural technique.
In this not only tools and weapons . . . play an essential role; so, too,
does the invention of the door, whose first form was presumably the
gate [Gatter] . . . The door appears much more as a medium of coevolutionary
domestication of animals and human beings.” (Siegert, 2012: 8)

Key here is the way in which cultural techniques process distinctions with material and aesthetic means. In Winthrop-Young’s lucid words, “Procedural chains and connecting techniques give rise to notions and objects that are then endowed with essentialized identities.Underneath our ontological distinctions (if not even our own evolution) are constitutive, media-dependent ontic operations that need to be teased out by means of techno-material deconstruction.” The implications for a range of recent years of theory-debates are intriguing; it refers to the fact how we need to address practices of theory and techniques of theory as part of the work of concepts and philosophy of contemporary culture. Besides it also shows some early ideas that resonate with a post-textual approach to cultural analysis (for instance in Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp’s article).

I was asked to produce a short video abstract of my own contribution. In addition, find below the table of contents.

Special Issue: Cultural Techniques
Edited by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, Ilinca Iurascu and
Jussi Parikka

Articles
Cultural Techniques: Preliminary Remarks by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young
Culture, Technology, Cultural Techniques – Moving Beyond Text by Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp
Second-Order Animals: Cultural Techniques of Identity and Identification by Thomas Macho
Cultural Techniques: Or the End of the Intellectual Postwar Era in German Media Theory by Bernhard Siegert
After Kittler: On the Cultural Techniques of Recent German Media Theory by Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan
Cultural Techniques and Sovereignty by Cornelia Vismann
The Power of Small Gestures: On the Cultural Technique of Service by Markus Krajewski
Zootechnologies: Swarming as a Cultural Technique by Sebastian Vehlken
From Media History to Zeitkritik by Wolfgang Ernst
Afterword: Cultural Techniques and Media Studies by Jussi Parikka

Review Article
Files, Lists, and the Material History of the Law by Liam Cole Young

Corporate University Life UK

August 26, 2013 1 comment

Times Higher Education has published a very good piece on the corporate university, UK. This does not refer to any particular university (despite this being a personal narrative of one person, opting to quit because “universities are killing off integrity, honesty and mutual support”) but the corporatization of the UK system.

What the piece does so well is showing the transversal links between macroeconomic policies and the microsociological everyday life at universities. The economic free market principles (which actually are not just about free markets, but to me about more meticulous wealth accumulation and political credit accumulation) are also felt in the various affective responses and moods that characterise university life.

Corporate capitalism works through a modulation of affects, and it does not feel particularly good. Read the piece to get one excellent insight to UK academia.

The Air of Data: An Alternative Steampunk

February 21, 2013 11 comments

There are no clouds, just data centres. But suddenly they tickled the science-fictional nerve again when Google released its “inside view” to their factories of data: it has colours! The rather glitzy pictures showed this seeming transparency and the spatial sense of data management. Besides space, it’s about the elements. Air, water plays a crucial role.

Screen shot 2013-02-21 at 18.01.02

In a great phrase in Andrew Blum’s book Tubes, a Facebook data centre manager (Ken Pratchett) sums it up: “This has nothing to do with clouds. It has everything to do with being cold.” Cool, cold data is not just a linguistic or visual metaphor, despite that elegant modernism that still lives inside the architectures of data places: Mondrian as data. Instead, it has to do with climate control. Ecology. Air. Coolness is not a media theoretical attitude in this context but a media management issue that ties the earth to the escape velocity of data.

Data needs air. “Cool outside air is let into the building through adjustable louvers near the roof; deionized water is sprayed into it; and fans push the conditioned air down onto the data center floor” , explains Blum. Coolness of cyberpunk transforms into coolness of building’s climate control. Fans surround the terabytes of data. Pratchett continues about the building: “The air hits this concrete floor and roils left and right. This whole building is like the Mississippi River. There’s a huge amount of air coming in, but moving really slowly.”
It’s important to notice the persistence of issues of ecology from air to the soil as well as non-cognitive work: that we still talk of factories and rather physical processes having to do with our hardware and how we manage and work with data in its material level.

Blum: “The cloud is a building. It works like a factory. Bits come in, they get massaged and put together in the right way and sent out.”

A different sort of steam punk for the 21st century.

Images from Google, http://www.google.co.uk/about/datacenters/

New Materialism and Non-Humanisation – an interview

January 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Michael Dieter interviewed me for the Speculative Realities ebook (part of an earlier art exhibition that picked up on speculative realism as an inspiration for art methodologies). We talked about the posthuman, non-humanisation and labour, artistic practices — and a couple of words on my new project that itself speculates on the possibilities of crossbreeding German media theory with Italian (inspired) political theory. In the interview, I also emphasize that one needs to be quite aware about the ways in which people do tend to lump together different traditions of contemporary “realism” and “materialism” — as well as ignoring so much of the earlier work. Is for instance feminism being written out of the current debates in theory?

Michael’s first question…

Michael Dieter (MD): Is there a ‘materialist’, ‘realist’ or ‘nonhuman’ turn in contemporary
thought? If so, how would you position your work in relation to these trends and what is
at stake with such terms?

- and read the rest here! (Three different e-formats available).

Depletion Design

December 5, 2012 1 comment

Depletion Design

A collection that looks really exciting: Depletion Design: A Glossary of Network Ecologies, edited by Carolin Wiedemann & Soenke Zehle. I was happy to be involved with a tiny text on dust and new materialism. A lot of my recent writing and interests have had to do with depletion, exhaustion, and things dead or discarded – as with zombie media. More things (texts) grim and grey forthcoming.

You can download the book here. Below a blurb about its contents.

“We, or so we are told, are running out of time, of time to develop alternatives to a new politics of emergency, as constant crisis has exhausted the means of a politics of representation too slow for the state of exception, too ignorant of the distribution of political agency, too focused on the governability of financial architectures. But new forms of individual and collective agency already emerge, as we learn to live, love, work within the horizon of depletion, to ask what it means to sustain ourselves, each other, again. Of these and other knowledges so created, there can no longer be an encyclopedia; a glossary, perhaps.”

Contributors: Marie-Luise Angerer (Cyborg), Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi (Exhaustion, Soul Work), David M. Berry (On Terminality), Zach Blas (Queer Darkness), Drew S. Burk (Grey Ecology), Gabriella Coleman (Anonymous), Heidi Rae Cooley (Ecologies of Practice), Sebastian Deter- ding (Playful Technologies, Persuasive Design), Jennifer Gabrys (Natural History, Salvage), Johannes Grenzfurthner & Frank A. Schneider (Hackerspace), Eric Kluitenberg (Sustainable Immobility), Boyan Manchev (Disorganisation, Persistence), Lev Manovich (Software), Sonia Matos (Wicked Problems), Timothy Morton (Ecology without Nature), Jason W. Moore (Cri- sis), Anna Munster (Digital Embodiment), Brett Neilson (Fracking), Sebastian Olma (Biopoli- tics, Creative Industries, Vitalism), Luciana Parisi (Algorithmic Architecture), Jussi Parikka (Dust Matter), Judith Revel (Common), Ned Rossiter (Dirt Research), Sean Smith (Informa- tion Bomb), Hito Steyerl (Spam of the Earth).

#code2k12

November 27, 2012 1 comment

I am not the most qualified person to analyse the political economy and at times slightly exaggerated role of conferences; I do not really too often go to the big ones where the whole system of recruitment and other sort of social/affective work of academia happens. I am sure there are loads of management books on such topics and their importance. Not that I have anything against being social – just being a Finn you have to limit it a bit, not to get exhausted with the overwhelming number of people that would amount to the total number of a small Finnish village easily. However, at times events really strike a chord – like Code at the Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne: a fantastic combination of academic quality and lovely people.

I am a firm believer in that the more interesting academic benefit of such events is not hearing someone speak, but that you are able to meet and talk outside the sessions; whether casual chattering or on the topic of the presentation. This is hardly a surprise. But it is not only the meet & greet networking silly management culture that we are persuaded to pursue, but actually having some affective pleasure from finding out that academics are not completely subsumed into corporate climb-the-ladder assholism.

Of course, talks can be really good in triggering ideas. What I mean by that is at least my own prespective that I have often trouble in immediately summarizing someone’s talk in its entirety, and instead I get nuggets, something that triggers an idea. In this sense as well, Code was a success.

The event was not focused down solely on software culture or critical code studies despite the frequent references to Chun, Galloway and Kittler – and some other usual suspects. I perceived something of an expanded notion of code in the sense that through the theme, a lot of presentations pointed to a broader context of materialities in which code takes place; logistics, management, intermedial relations, aesthetic, and non-computer placed coding of social actions/events like with the Human Fax Machine-experiment. Talks ranged from reddit to Ring(u), cars to Erica T. Carter, commandline to Google, and signal to Simondon. Code had already introduced its own approach to the idea even with a conference reading list!

Besides having the pleasure of listening to the fantastic keynotes by Anna Munster and Christian McCrea, for instance the plenary panel of Melissa Gregg, Ned Rossiter, Soenke Zehle and Mark Coté was the best one can hope for. Brilliant speakers all of whose I work admire a lot, and the topics were nicely resonating. For instance Gregg’s take on the Getting Things Done (GTD) software was something that illuminates what I tried to just briefly address in my own keynote on Cultural Techniques of Cognitive Capitalism (more on that later in a separate blog post): the entanglement of media, management, affect and modes of production in contemporary digital culture. Such practices, techniques and technologies frame the will for more time and freedom, as well as creativity, which ground notions such as cognitive capitalism, and in Gregg’s case she was able to show the deep layers of such ideas of “work smarter, not harder”. Exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue have not disappeared from the gendered worlds of management of office and post-office work. Such affect management and self control are excellent ways of articulating the curious emphasis on the cognitive and affective in relation to modes of production: they hover somewhere between of the tiring and energizing, of repetitive and creative. In this context, see also the Zooming Secretary game that Gregg started with — filing cabinets, telephones and coffee boosts; affective attunement.

It was also pleasure to hear Coté talk of his book project on Data Motility which is one of those great moments when we get someone with a fantastic knowledge of Italian political theory and current media theory talking about a topic of Digital Humanities. DH at times “forgets” the existence of media theory, as well as the longer history of humanities-technology partnering, but at the same time of course we need to be ready to update our theoretical perspectives in relation to new modes of quantities, qualities, and abstractions.

Coté ‘s book promises to be really exciting, offering an insight to data having a self-generated sense of movement as well as being the object of value creation: big social data is the sociality of the data for instance collected on social media, which highlights its polyvalence and social and economic valorisation. According to Coté big social data can be seen constituting a certain mode of humanness that humanities should tackle with. This sort of conditioning is the sort you get from the directions of Leroi-Gourhan and others. But it also points to the direction of debt, an interesting idea Coté suggests: what if we understand our relation with the data collected as one of debt, as analysed by for instance Lazzarato. Big social data in social media contexts is one of endless payments and demands of creating the social through actions, in order to justify our existence.

Both Rossiter and Zehle talked of logistics; Rossiter towards the worlds of media and management, transposition of labour to code & algorithms (which probably would resonate with some insights from Fuller & Goffey’s recent Evil Media) and Zehle in relation to gestures. Indeed, listening the two talks in the same panel made the audience aware of the multiscalar worlds of logistics – from human social affect and gestures, to the abstracted worlds of simulations and games in which management and logistics can be rehearsed.

Even if I mention only some of the papers here, throughout the conference I felt more inspired than in most of the events I visit. As said, this extends to the time outside the actual talks; people are engaged in several interesting projects, which made me actually, and without irony, feel rather ok about being an academic. And in that context, it was less painful to visit the other side of the world, Melbourne, and do two long haul flights within 10 days. I myself talked about some new things I am engaged in – a sort of a project pitch for something that might turn out to be a bigger project event – and gave a “master class” on Media Archaeology & Cultural Techniques.

CODE

November 15, 2012 5 comments

Folks at Swinburne University, Melbourne have organised quite the event — CODE – A Media, Games & Art Conference. This means my first trip to Australia ever, with that slightly surreal feeling plane trip ahead of me. It is at such moments  that you better trust media technological arrangements; the radio and computer controlled cockpit media; and the entertainment media lull in the economy class (see John Johnston’s intro to the Kittler-essay collection Literature, Media, Information Systems).

My talk will be something new I wrote, on “Cultural Techniques of Cognitive Capitalism”. The idea is to do a crosswiring between two traditions; the German media studies type of undertanding of media technologies coupled with the more Italian style political theory of Post-Fordist cultures. The previous has not been so good on the political front, the latter not always been specific enough when talking of media cultures/technologies. Who knows, this talk might form a part of a bigger project that I have been drafting as well.

Pushing the Limits of the Affective Workspace: Revolts, Absorption, and Ecologies of Waste

February 27, 2012 1 comment

University of East London
Centre for Cultural Studies Research
Presents

Pushing the Limits of the Affective Workspace: Revolts, Absorption, and Ecologies of Waste

A symposium with Jussi Parikka, Stevphen Shukaitis and Tony D. Sampson
Chair: Jeremy Gilbert, CCSR

Wednesday March 21st 2012
2:00pm-5:00pm
UEL Docklands Campus
Room EB.G.10
(ground floor, main building, turn left upon entering the main square after leaving Cyprus DLR
Cyprus DLR is literally situated at the campus)
Free, All welcome. No need to book.

The boundaries of capitalist workspaces are continuously stretched to new limits. Work is pushed into the home, the obsolescent and the unconscious. Focusing on affective labour, new materialism and neuromarketing, this seminar looks initially beyond the media screens of the digital industries to the wasteful ecologies of obsolescent technology. It then explores resistance to contemporary capitalism extending to, for example, the refusal of caring labour. Last, it repositions the attentive subject of cognitive capitalism in a neurological space of absorbent and mostly unconscious consumption.

Media Matters as Ecology
Jussi Parikka, Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton).

This talk investigates “new materialism” through the context of media ecology – but ecology understood literally and through electronic waste, and the various temporalities and materialities of obsolescence. It argues, following Sean Cubitt’s and German media theory lead, for such a focus to technical media that accounts not only what’s on the screen, but what enables “media” as content to exist. German media theory has been successful to track this back to the engineering and scientific roots of modern entertainment media, but this talk focuses on electronic waste, and its relation to information technology work, but from a slightly alternative perspective. As such, the talk also touches discussions of “affective labour” as well as non-representational approaches to contemporary media culture.

Jussi Parikka is Reader in Media & Design at Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton). His books include Digital Contagions (2007), Insect Media (2010) and the forthcoming What is Media Archaeology? (2012). He has co-edited The Spam Book (with Tony D. Sampson, 2009) and Media Archaeology (with Erkki Huhtamo, 2011).

Learning from Affective Revolts: Social Reproduction & Political Subjectiviation
Stevphen Shukaitis, University of Essex / Autonomedia

Despite the importance that autonomist feminism has played in the development of autonomist politics and struggles it is commonly relegated to little more than a glorious footnotes of figures emerging out of operaisti thought (such as Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno). Organizing around gender, affective labor, and issues of reproduction posed numerous important questions to forms of class struggle that focused exclusively on the figure of the waged industrial worker. Revolts of housewives, students, the unwaged, and farm workers led to a rethinking of notions of labor, the boundaries of workplace, and effective strategies for class struggles: they enacted a critical transformation in the social imaginary of labor organizing and struggle. By drawing on the history and of these struggles (such as the various Wages for Housework Campaigns and current organizing such as Precarias a la Deriva) and ideas of those involved (such as Silvia Federici, Leopoldina Fortunati, Mariarosa Dallacosta, and Alisa Del Re) this paper will explore some lessons that can be learned from these a(e)ffective insurgency.  Taking seriously the questions posed by these struggles are extremely important because as Alisa Del Re argues, attempting to refuse and reduce forms of imposed labor and exploitation without addressing the realms of social reproduction and housework amounts to building a notion of utopia upon the continued exploitation of female labor. Furthermore the often cramped positions that organizing forms of affective labor and social reproduction (housewives, sex workers, etc) occupies becomes all the more important as these processes are further integrated into the composition of contemporary capitalism. How does one refuse caring labor? Strategies for organizing around affective labor, what Precarias a la Deriva have called a “very careful strike,” are important to learn from to find ways “not a high productivity of domestic labor but a higher subversiveness in the struggle.” (Dallacosta/James)

Stevphen Shukaitis is a lecturer at the University of Essex and a member of the Autonomedia editorial collective. He is the author of Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Day (2009, Autonomedia) and editor (with Erika Biddle and David Graeber) of Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations // Collective Theorization (AK Press, 2007). His research focuses on the emergence of collective imagination in social movements and the changing compositions of cultural and artistic labor.

Following the Glint in the Eye of the Consumer
Tony D. Sampson, University of East London

New developments in marketing techniques not only aim to sidestep the self-reporting of consumer experiences, but also look beyond the explicit cognitive realm of visual representation to exploit instead the implicit, unconscious affective systems of consumption. Like this, the neuromarketer measures the streams of affect the consumer somatically absorbs in the atmosphere. As the enthusiastic CEO of one US based neuromarketing company puts it, these techniques help the marketer to go beyond conscious consumer engagement with a product and actively seek out what unconsciously attracts them. “Absorption is the ideal,” he claims. This is because it “signifies that the consumer’s brain has not only registered your marketing message or your creative content, but that the other centers of the brain that are involved with emotions and memory have been activated as well.” Along these lines, persuasion and absorption seemingly involves priming the sensory experiences of consumption so as to achieve a number of design goals intended to influence purchase intent.

Tony D. Sampson is a London-based academic and writer. He lectures on new media at UEL where he also leads the new media degree programmes. He is the co-editor (with Jussi Parikka) of The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture (Cresskill, Hampton Press, 2009) and the author of Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press) to be published later this year. His current research focuses on the latest applications of noncognitive psychology in studies of human computer interaction.

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