Book of the Week: Adam Arvidsson on Ethics and the General Intellect, 4

We continue the prepublication of Adam Arvidsson’s second chapter of the Ethical Economy.

In this fourth excerpt, he discusses the concept of Mass Intelltectuality:

“Mass Intellectuality

This ideal of total control, of tying the message to the medium, or agency to structure, to use sociological terms remained an ideal (perhaps best expressed in the sociology of Talcott Parsons), it was never (?) a reality. (Indeed as Paul du Gay has argued, the space for deviance, for drinking on the job, taking time off, or insulting management, was probably much greater in the bureaucratic organization than today. ) One could argue that the history of capitalist managerial techniques has been driven, to some extent by the ongoing autonomous deployment of General Intellect in the construction of forms of opposition and alternatives. The turning-point arrives in the 1970s when capitalist discipline began to encourage rather than seek to repress autonomous uses of general intellect. The story behind that shift is well known. It can be reduced to three main factors. One, the geopolitical collapse of the Fordism. Two, the extreme socialization of General Intellect achieved (primarily) by the expansion of the culture and consumer industries in the post-war years and the subsequent mass appropriation of this resource into autonomous or deviant practices (what Paolo Virno has called ‘mass intellectuality’) and, three, the maturation of information and communication technologies as a new means of production.

This discovery unfolded chiefly in three different areas.

One, during the 1960s it was discovered that the innovation of new processes of consumption (an essential component to the accelerated turnover needed by Fordist mass production) was best left to consumers themselves. With the new tool of ethical productivity at their disposal- the socialized General Intellect of consumer and media culture- they embarked in a continuous production of new forms of life. Some with strong connotations of resistance, as in youth and counter culture, others embodying weaker and more individualized attempts at escape (as in the (in)famous ‘hedonism of the new middle class’). This ‘conquest of cool’ constituted arguably the first systematic attempt to incorporate the mass intellectuality enabled by the far reaching Fordist re-organization of the social, and to put it to directly productive ends.

Two, the development of post-burecratic or toyotist managerial techniques in factories and knowledge intensive organization in the 1970s can be understood as an appropriation of the self-organizing capacities developed as part of worker resistance in the previous decades. This appropriation was now made possible by means of the greater control capacities enabled by new information and communication technologies.

Three, the present boom in user-led productivity known as Web 2.0. This has been made possible by the deep penetration of networked computers with high speed internet access (on the right side of the digital divide) and the subsequent ability to ‘socialize’ the immaterial productivity that rests in the minute details of everyday interaction.

In all these three cases, the abandonment of media-centric, disciplinary managerial approaches were all premised on a recognition that, as already Daniel Bell had argued in this The Coming of a Post-Industrial Society, the true source of productive wealth was not so much machinery (or media) as in the interaction processes made possible by machinery (or media); that the future development of the productive forces rested in the autonomous appropriation of General Intellect on the part of living labour: in mass intellectuality.

Given the unpredictability of these processes, and the fact that their productive autonomy made command in the classical sense impossible, productive cooperation now emerged as an ethical space, a space where productive performance was contingent on the inter-subjective construction of a common social world, however within capital this time. This way, to manage the ethics of interaction became a key to control and appropriate the productivity of the social.”

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