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Digital Tech/Labor Resources & Reading List for Journalists

I’ve created the list because several people have contacted me over the last few months about writing “digital labor” stories or essays for popular media. Understanding that most people never take a labor history course (nor are they pursuing graduate work in labor, media, communications, history, political science, sociology, etc.), I put this list together as a starting place for interested parties. I was trying to privilege books over articles that might be hard to access, but if there is something here you can’t get and you want to read, just email me.

Enjoy!

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZbVXp-ADMdedmzvMI5U7bXX_P1D9Zdr7ZYX009OXIx8/edit#

The document is editable. If you’d like to add a reference, please do and make sure to leave your name at the of the document under “contributors.”

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From Sharing to Cooperation: Lessons from Mondragón in the “New Economy”

Here is a copy of the talk that I gave at the “First International Conference on the Links between USA and Spain” in April, 2014 at the University of Alcala.  The title of the talk is “From Sharing to Cooperation: Lessons from Mondragón in the ‘New Economy.'”

As you may know, the phrase “the new economy” emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s and it is by no means “new” at this point, but rather points us toward an economy that has decidedly moved from Fordist arrangements of labor and production to what has been referred to as “post-Fordist”, relying on “flexible” or causalized labor and “just in time” production. Within that larger framework of a “new” economy, we have witnessed the rise of what is more specifically called “the sharing economy” and, in this paper, I sketch the terrain of labor, technology, data, and value that this phrase has come to indicate. I do this, however, because I am interested in interrogating the social figure– the private, entrepreneurial individual –that sits at the heart of this emerging economy. I do this because I want to argue that the “sharing economy”, while seemingly rapidly multiplying and spreading across several realms of social life, is an unsustainable and exploitative labor arrangement that privileges the short-term interests of individuals, while simultaneously opening the individual and environments and objects (such as homes) to data extraction and surveillance.

As we will see as I outline this terrain, many seem resigned to this fate of “dataveillance”, while others speak of it as a new, transformative mode (often through the language of disruption and innovation) of social and economic relations that will fundamentally alter how we live. That transformative vision carries with it several social problematics, which I will address. It is, then, within this larger critique that I am making of the sharing economy that I turn to Mondragón to ask about sustainable forms of “sharing.” I turn to Mondragón here to ask the question: How might we move from an extractive “sharing” economy to a form of economy that is truly capable of sustaining communities?

My work here is inspired by a movement, which is taking place in New York called “platform cooperativism.” As Trebor Scholz has written, this movement would bring about “worker–owned cooperatives” that “could design their own apps-based platforms, fostering truly peer-to-peer ways of providing services and things, and speak alternatives to the new platform capitalists.” I will return to Scholz’s notion of platform cooperatives at the end of my talk, but I will also take Mondragón specifically into consideration because I think it offers us a larger vision of what is possible and perhaps helps us to see the social and economic stakes of our current data economy. In this paper I argue we need not only new platforms, but a more fully re-conceptualized sense of what work and labor might be and the social relations such labor might engender.

Let me back up for a minute and sketch out the phrase “sharing economy” so that we have a sense of both what it purports to be and what it relies upon. On the surface, the sharing economy has emerged as a series of platforms that enable individuals to use the Web to provide a variety of services and commodities on a peer-to-peer level. The large players in this economy are currently Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, but there has really been a proliferation of these platforms. Currently, you can find platforms that will allow you to hire an individual to clean your house, conduct domestic repairs, bring you lunch, walk or “borrow” your dog, eat with someone, cook you a meal, find you a parking space, or carpool, baby sit your children and, generally, the business model here is that if something requires “care”, that care can be outsourced, as well as monetized via an informal labor arrangement in which individuals simply accesses a platform to set the terms of demand and supply. This “sharing” economy is often touted as being mutually beneficial to both parties. The person who needs their house cleaned bypasses any middle man and simply hires an individual cleaner for a few hours and the individual cleaner, it is assumed, voluntarily and knowingly enters into this arrangement because this allows them to work “flexibly” and “on their own terms.” Here, managers and bosses are replaced with what seems to be no one, except of course those developing and designing the platform code and analyzing its quite valuable data. The data element here, of course, is designed to remain faceless, as though sharing economy platforms simply emerge out of the good will of well-meaning entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to “connect” people or resources.

This hidden world of code and algorithmic labor is what Frank Pasquale refers to a “black box society” or a society in which the very algorithms that come to shape and inform our lives are obscured from us. This phrase should be immediately resonate with anyone who has recently used the Internet, particularly a service like Amazon. Amazon exists as set of conveniences, acquiring data from our every click, yet we have no access to the code the set those preferences, nor do we have access to the ways in which our data is analyzed, shared, or sold. Perhaps even more troubling, we might not even see this as a problem or believe that we have a right to that information or computational process.

While the sharing economy has often been touted as a new mode of living in which people empower themselves through participating in this new, digitally mediated (seemingly ephemeral) project of crowdsourcing, I would argue that the sharing economy is actually predicated on creating new terrains of rent and that participation here—the very peer-to-peer collaboration and that supposedly leads to greater choice and flexibility—is dependent, first and foremost, on having something to “share” or what we might think of as “something that can be offered up to the digital platform, or something that can be made data-ful.” That something can be a home, a car, pets, time, talents, attention and individuals are often invited to share through the most practical of all invitations—the creation of passive income, or rent. Guy Standing writes, “Rental income enables people to make money simply through the possession of scarce assets. Sometimes assets may be ‘naturally’ scarce: if fertile land is owned by a few landlords, they need not work themselves but can rent it out to others for a high price. This income is rent, not profits from a productive activity, as the landlords do nothing to earn it aside from owning the land.”

And, whether you are renting your home out or you are picking up odd jobs through Uber or TaskRabbit, the social figure of this economy is that of the enterprising, entrepreneurial individual. The rhetoric of the sharing economy has actually been quite good as democratizing this figure— We can all be entrepreneurs of our selves or what Foucault referred to as “homo economicus.” Here, production and consumption tend to collapse into one another as though this could “do away with” the messy world of work labor. However, this social figure, I would argue, should actually be thought of as the PR wing of a very powerful anti-labor lobby, which has much more to do with restructuring the nature of various legislations and regulations (and yet, in a sort of classic neoliberal move, extend the nature of governance.) As you may know, platforms such as Uber and Airbnb have been very vocal in “disrupting” local regulatory systems. In December of 2014, a Spanish judge, following a complaint by the Madrid Taxi Association, ruled that Uber drivers didn’t have official authorization and accused the service of “unfair competition.” On the same day, judges in The Netherlands banned UberPop ride-sharing service, which was launched as a pilot project in Amsterdam, with the Hague-based Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal reporting, “Drivers who transport people for payment without a license are breaking the law.” These companies, however, often argue that they should be exempt from existing regulations because their services are ordered over the Web and therefore not subject to “local” regulation.

Indeed, we can see the “sharing economy” and its rhetoric of individualism as one wing of a much larger fight against labor, labor law, and labor’s rights to organize. In many ways, the sharing economy is simply a continuation of a much longer, historical assault against organized labor globally and we would be remiss if we did not recognize the global aspirations here. The sharing economy is a social form that is emerging in tandem with what anthropologist Julian Brash refers to as a new form of a capitalist class—that of the transnational capitalist (or the TCC.) This is not simply a professional managerial class that we saw rise in the 1980s and 1990s, but is a global, mobile strata that takes the world, particularly as we see in the work of David Harvey and Saskia Sassen, urban cities, as spaces of necessary investment and capture. And, of course, the flip side of this global aspirational class is the extension of massive income inequality and dispossession lived out through a wide range of social processes including gentrification, but also the casualization of work and the making of microforms of work, work that purposefully will no longer be recognized, formally, as work.

This is the really the goal of Uber, which refuses to see itself as an employer. Rather, it claims it is simply a “tech company.” Those who take up the platform to either seek the services or to rent out their services (and property such as their own car) are required also to take on the risk of the company. In this way, the sharing economy is as much about the degradation of labor as it is about “connecting” individuals to one another.

Indeed, there is much we could talk about here in terms of the future of work, but for the remainder of my time I would like to take up the claim that Dean Baker recently made, which is that “rather than try to squash sharing-economy companies, which would almost certainly not be possible, in any case, a far better strategy for progressives is to take advantage of the innovations they offer and restructure them in ways that ensure that the public and service providers all benefit. This can be done, if we are prepared to try some new tactics.”

Here, is where I would like to shift gears and argue that these lessons can indeed come from Mondragón. While there is again much we can talk about here, I would like to focus on four specific lessons that Mondragón—the world’s largest worker cooperative— offers the discussion of the sharing economy. Those lessons are what am I labeling 1.) A pragmatic ideal 2.) Social investment 3.) Equilibrio or the blending of entrepreneurship and community care 4.) and the role that education together with technology must play in charting a course out of the exploitation of the data economy. Let me simply turn to each of these lessons.

Pragmatic ideal: The first lesson that Mondragón offers is a quite an idealistic one, but something that must be reiterated: The future of labor is not written. As Trebor Scholz has written, “there is no one future of labor” and despite the rambunctious rhetoric of the digital economy and its algorithmic wisdom, which at turns threatens to both put us all out of work, as well as automate fully the very nature of work, it is essential that we realize another way forward is possible—a way that places humans back at the heart of the economy. More and more this simple injunction to the social imaginary feels like a radical act, as though we forget that humans code and create algorithms. They are not gods nor are they pre-determined and that there is no reason (aside from very powerful political interests) that these incredible technologies cannot be put toward new and better ends. In this regard, the history of Mondragón, with its birth in both the exclusion of Fascism and the insights of what seems to be a rather charismatic figure of Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, is actually a testament to the ability of humans to find a path forward for communities within dire conditions.

Social Investment: While mentions of Mondragón often bring objections that the very specific political, economic, cultural and religious conditions of Mondragón’s establishment make it an unreplicable model, these arguments were already discredited in 1975 by the sociologist William Foote Whyte who argued that while we must be close students of history there is much to be learned from the organizational lessons of Mondragón, specifically the ways in which banking, education, and technology were understood as fundamental to the success of the endeavor. In the words of Arizmendiarrieta, “cooperativism without the structural capacity to attract capital and assimilate capital at the level of the requirements of industrial productivity is but a temporary solution” and it is here that I want to argue that Mondragón, in its slow, deliberate process of making what I call a “social choice” to build the underlying institutions which would then support a cooperative social organization offer us one of its strongest lessons. As Roy Morrison has suggested in his social history of Mondragón, the project was nothing less than a deliberate attempt to produce a new social reality through investment and through a restructuring of the financial and technological supports that give rise to an ecology of cooperatives. In a time when venture capital rules the terms of development, such a restructuring of the flows of capital is essential. As I will argue in the conclusion of the paper, that social choice needs to be fully contemplated, specifically when we begin to think about the future of those who code and the role that education can play.

Equilibrio: From Entrepreneurialism to Community: The third lesson that Mondragón offers is the realization that the language of entrepreneurialism need not be solely the purview of the individual, but rather can be modulated to reflect a larger concern with community, the environment, and the future. As Foucault has so articulately shown us, neoliberalism’s insistence that the entrepreneurial self come to stand in for an ethical mode of living has been embraced as a fait accompli, as a sort of bottom line subjectivity for bottom line thinking. Mondragón stands as a testament that participation in the market can be put toward a greater good and that the process of seeking equilibrio can be a collective ethical practice, capable of producing substantive resources for more than a single person.

The role of education: Finally, and perhaps to me the most interesting lesson that Mondragón offers is the role that education, the university, and technology must play in the development of cooperative institutions. The example of Mondragón forces us to consider two interwoven — and deeply political — societal goals of education. These goals are to create an informed citizenry and to develop the skills for a workforce, which as we know is a workforce being put out of work. We have, at least in the United States, been very eager to adopt technology as means of “solving educational” problems, yet we do this with technology and code and data that students (and faculty) rarely see or touch. Mondragón offers the example that students must become producers of both the technologies and the modes of investment that guide the development of these technologies. If there is any hope to build a sustainable future of equitable resource distribution is lies in unveiling the contemporary economic moment to students AND equipping them with the technological skills to rebuild. It also will require providing models such as Mondragón, which can provide a new blueprint for economic organization and social and cultural existence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Disruptive Labor or the Monetization of Mass Amateurization

Below is the text from my talk at the #DigitalSociology mini conference at this year’s Eastern Sociological Society annual conference. We got a relatively inopportune 8:30 am time slot so I thought I’d let more than the 4 people who showed up and my co-panelists bear witness to it. This is a sliver of my dissertation research on the feedback loop between the American sports industry and its fans and the profit this feedback loop has birthed with the help of the Internet.  I should make it clear that Bleacher Report is clearly not the only Internet outlet involved in the kind of practices I outline here, they just happen to be the case study I’ve worked on the most. In addition, part of my argument in this talk is directly related to the previous work I’ve presented at the 2014 Digital Labor conference and at the 2014 Cultural Studies Association conference on disruption theory, a portion of which you read here. Thanks for reading:

Bleacher Report, from its origins as a small San Francisco based start-up to its $200 million acquisition by Turner Sports in 2012 to its current status as the fourth most popular sports website on the Internet, has continued to utilize two interlocking narratives about itself. First, its founders and boosters proclaim it as a “disruptive” force in sports media and media in general because it harnesses the passion of fans to unseat the incumbent, professional class of sports media producers. Second, it has sold itself as a place where aspiring writers and sports media professionals could get a foot in the door, building a resume while getting the exposure the site afforded. Both of these narratives have been actively challenged by major competitors, independent sports journalists, and former writers. Today, I’ll argue that these interlocking narratives served to justify a kind of primitive accumulation of value from exuberance in desperation wherein fans with aspirations toward making their passions their living became the digitized raw material of a content production empire.

Bleacher Report was until very recently the most reviled site in the sports media world. Founded in 2006 by four college friends (3 of which are from Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley), it was primarily a crowd-sourced content farm before being bought out by Turner Broadcasting (a division of Time Warner) in August of 2012 for an undisclosed sum around $200 million. Bleacher Report’s primary business model in that era was the kind of slideshow, aggregated content, and #hottake journalism that we’ve come to expect from born digital outlets like the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed. Boasting a monthly unique visitor number above 14 million before the buyout, its explosive growth was met with accusations of SEO gaming and open hostility towards the its content. And with good reason. The rampant misogyny present in such popular slideshows as 20 Most Boobtastic Athletes (which as of a 2012 San Francisco Weekly hit piece on the site tallied 1.4 million views) and the generally low quality of writing in non-slideshow content was worthy of derision.

After the buyout, the tenor of critique began to shift away from quality and onto its institutional structure as their disruptive model had filtered up into the mainstream media, making millions of dollars for its founders while it continued to pay only 1% of its 7000 contributors. The anger at their labor practices stems not just from a lack of payment (payment for writing on the Internet in general is in a deeply degraded state) but because Bleacher Report had positioned (and sometimes still does) itself as a gateway to the world of sports journalism. It maintains a “Writer’s Program” that seeks to be an “An amplified outlet for writers whose unique voices were routinely drowned out by cookie-cutter analysts and celebrity “experts.” The writer’s program is primarily a vetting system for new writers, a way to place you into it’s system of measurement draped in the language of pedagogy. Once “graduated,” each writer has his own profile that keeps a running tally of his or her (mainly his) popularity vis a vis other writers on the site and their total pageview count. As a writer gets further up the chain they can attain “Featured Columnist” status. In an article published on Deadspin entitled “The 200 Ways Bleacher Report Screwed Me Over”, former Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Tom Schreier explained how the Featured Columnists themselves are tiered: “you were a FCI, FCII, FCIII, or FCIV. On a page titled “Writer Rankings,” Bleacher Report wrote that the Featured Columnist I got “Featured placement on B/R Team pages; Eligibility for media interviews and credentials for major events.” At FCII, writers got “a free B/R Featured Columnist hooded sweatshirt.” Level III Featured Columnists got “an interview for a B/R staff job,” and FCIVs received “access to a custom-built, author-specific publishing template for all articles.”” In this gamified system, note that missing entirely from here is any mention of payment. Schreir detailed the manner in which BR’s business model systematically worked to short writers on pay while keeping the carrot of possible full time employment in play until the very end. Comments on the article were predictably harsh, but a comment from a fellow former BR writer posting as “mets31” mirrored Schreier’s experience. Of note was his very clear distillation of the young writer’s lack of expectation for payment and the importance of attention: “I was getting big read counts. I had several articles top the 50,000 mark and a couple over 100,000. I could go tell my friends, “Yeah 100,000 people just read what I wrote today.” That was almost, in my eyes, as good as being paid, and it would assuredly lead to me getting a job.”

It’s no wonder that sites like Bleacher Report either publicly report their writer’s analytics or give them to their writers so as to fully cement the notion that the recognition that a writer receives is in fact “something.” The quantitative nature of this “something” allows for the hope after accumulating enough of this “something” a tipping point will be reached that leads to paying, full time employment. The speculative nature of this labor is akin to what Gina Neff has referred to as venture labor in her ethnography of late 90s Silicon Alley, only in the intervening 10 years of start-up culture, the stakes have changed. Crowdsourced labor, or what Trebor Scholz has evocatively referred to as crowd-milking, combined with the declining prospects for entry level positions in the fields best suited to crowdsourcing (journalism, publishing in general, media production in general), has created a massive surplus army of venture laborers. Bleacher Report built a structure to scoop up this labor. They benefitted from a saturated labor market and squeezed it like a sponge. Young people raised on lowered expectations, both from the medium and the economic reality were utilized in order to run a “lean” start-up. BR’s content production model utilized an ideological atmosphere that normalizes the radical extraction of value from workers in exchange for the opportunity to be recognized as doing work. BR successfully applied this model to sports fandom by further capitalizing on the devaluation of writing about objects of fandom and by selling itself as a platform where fans had a voice to rise above the “cookie cutter takes” of mainstream sports columnists. Scheier notes that he wrote for BR initially since it positioned itself as locally focused in a way that other large sites wouldn’t or couldn’t. Again, the reward here is recognition, not just for you but for the relevance of your team. In addition, BR leveraged a sense of “community” in these fandoms. This community rhetoric folded into the recognition system, allowing writers to build prominence within their own niches. This is a publisher scraping off the top of an excess of desiring subjects whose desire is for recognition, a recognition that works as a credit system (an IOU) for a eventual payment, a desire that makes their labor particularly easy to exploit.

That the featured writer’s in-house recognition does not culminate in payment is illustrative of this situation. There, in a seeming paradox, the taint of having written for Bleacher Report (of having helped build the brand), decreases your ability to be paid for writing at Bleacher Report.   The Bleacher Report stigma must be overcome by both the writers and BR’s management strategically moved towards outside hires and a rebranding made possible by the buyout. However, daily uniques and page views could not maintain their steady growth without a consistent influx of new content. Hence, some kind of work force had to be retained that could cover local teams and produce the slideshow page view juggernauts like the aforementioned 20 most Boobtastic Athletes article. The community centered Newsletter that beat writers like Schreir manually assembled was replaced by Teamstream, a mobile app that aggregates AP, ESPN and major newspaper beat writer content. The Writer’s Program continues to exists, though, as does its rhetoric of uplift and resume building without an increase in paid positions.

BR representatives have made numerous attempts to address the issues of payment and in house promotion. The founders generally argue that Bleacher Report’s model has been adjusted numerous times. Founder and now Bustle.com founder of ill repute Bryan Goldberg theorized one such adjustment: “At launch, it was an open platform. Today, it functions much more as a true media company, while still opening the door to some talented contributors.” Following the internal logic the term “open platform” is elucidating. By using the terminology of “open” and “platform,” Goldberg means to describe a website and CMS that is owned privately and funded by venture capital with the aim to monetize the content (platform) but takes submission from unpaid (and possibly unvetted) content producers (open). Goldberg’s use of “open” is akin to what Evgeny Morozov has identified as the Trojan horse of a neoliberal regime on the internet. By claiming “openness” as a value, the radical accumulation of wealth from the activity of unpaid labor appears as the fostering of opportunity, the “open platform” is the space from which a career can be launched. Beginning as an “open platform” was necessary because the funds were not available to pay writers. The money that they had was spent on things like the platform itself and on putting together an ad sales team. That is, on an infrastructure that allowed for the “openness” of the platform.

The “open” platform stage of BR is the first stage of the disruptive technology model, one constantly evolving and slowing only when a stable, paid workforce emerges.. In this first, disruptive phase, Bleacher Report built a “product” that allowed for the publication of “content” without the need for the official employment of the “content producer.” This element of the CMS (the product) is a very common issue in contemporary media organizations as they adjust to the dominant employment policy of precarious freelance contracts. The New York Times, legacy print company of all legacy print companies, has said as much about its new CMS, Scoop, that it rolled out in mid 2014. Bleacher Report’s platform, like a lot CMSs with strong role control and user friendly interfaces that restrict access to only the most basic of functions, can swiftly collect a mass of content that can be pushed out continuously, again and again, without having to have every author in office or have any direct contact with the editorial staff. However, one of the primary indicators of a “disruptive technology” in the literature is a certain lower quality of the technology itself. It offers fewer features or services, and is, at least at first, of far less quality than the product it seeks to disrupt. Often the technology could be described as aiming down market, at a group of consumers who do not offer enough profitability to warrant attention and R&D outlays from the larger incumbent firms in the industry. The lower-quality, down market character that disruption theory’s founding father Clayton Christensen outlines as the necessary marker of the disruptive technology (more on that here) in this instance is less the platform itself (the product) but both the type of content it allows for and the type of writer who produces that content. This is what could be called“disruptive labor” or the marshaling of lower quality workers who can produce a lower quality product that will appeal to a nascent audience. This is the monetization of mass amateurization built upon this formula: enough people who produce out of “hobby” or “passionate interest” would be enticed into by an “open platform” that the open platform itself can be the site of monetization.

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Precarious / Stability

Below are my introductory comments from Barnard’s Scholar & Feminist Conference, which took place in New York City on February 27th and 28th. I was asked to co-facilitate a workshop with Liz Losh on precarity and the labor of teaching. These comments preceded the workshop, which employed Lois Weaver’s concept of the Long Table to facilitate a conservation that we framed as imagining “life support systems” within the University. Undergrads, grad students, faculty members, staff members, and community members at the workshop were invited to speculate, draw, and design these systems. I will be posting some of the images that came out of the workshop in a following post. Many thanks to TL Cowan at The New School for introducing me to the Long Table at Digital Labor 2014.

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By now, we most likely do not have to rehearse the narrative of neoliberalism or its ensuing precarity. We are aware that the shifting structure and nature of work is coming to affect our social imaginaries—what we aspire towards, expect from our lives, imagine is possible, or even, perhaps, how we image what we should be doing with our time. It seems that regularly the media asks us “if school is worth it?” Other stories suggest that perhaps we should all become entrepreneurs of sorts. For those of us who have spent time investing our lives in the very structures of higher education the questions of debt, pay off, and career paths haunt our day to day lives.

“Precarity” is the neologism, which morphed from the word “precariousness.” It is meant to mark this moment of uncertainty and it, as we know, is almost always cast in negative terms. We know we are not supposed to feel good when we hear this word. We know the word is code for anxiety. We know the word is demanding something of us, even though we’re not always sure what those demands might be. They are, as Lauren Berlant (2011) has suggested, demands for “recalibration” to a set of new relations between our lives, the market, and the state. We know we are still figuring out what that means.

Despite the social and psychological demands that Berlant would point us toward, most often precarity is theorized an emerging labor condition. This is what some call the “casualization” of labor or the making “flexible” of labor, which emerged as post-Fordist, postindustrial capital moved to a “new economy” of information, global networks, increasingly flexible work arrangements, and investments in supposedly “immaterial” forms of labor. Additionally, these shifts in the configuration of labor were accompanied by the reduction of state-sponsored social welfare programs and the increasing privatization of risk and insecurity. In this regard, precarity has been understood as a labor relation that illustrates the dissolution of what was once presumed to be a “contract” between employer and employee and that suggests that opportunities for stable, long-term employment and security have disappeared. In the university, such strained labor relations are most visibly seen in the disappearance on secure, full time positions and tenure-track positions and the increased reliance on casual or flexible teaching arrangements—adjunct and contingent labor.

This re-arrangement of labor has been thirty years or more in the making. In fact, we might follow Angela Mitropoulos’s (2005) lead here and see that the stability of tenured positions was the anomaly in the history of the university. Indeed, for Mitropolous, despite becoming a neologism “precarity” is actually nothing new. “Capital is precarious,” as she writes, and normally so. The gains made for some within Fordist arrangements always came at the detriment of others, namely those who were charged to perform unpaid domestic work, those who were denied full entry into “stabilizing” institutions, such as labor unions and education, as well as the labor of the globally exploited. As Mitropolous writes, “the enclosures and looting of what was once contained as the third world and the affective, unpaid labor of women allowed for the consumerist, affective ‘humanization’ and protectionism of what was always a small part of the Fordist working class.” Bearing this anomalous history in mind, I think, is helpful when come to look at our conditions within the University and begin to consider what it is we might be fighting for.

As National Adjunct Walk Out Day occurred yesterday, I was trapped in an endless administrative meeting, but was following along when possible on Twitter and watching as adjuncts and contingent academics posted pictures and made deeply valid claims for dignity, better working condition, fair pay, and a voice in the governance of the university. These are all fights we must participate in and support, but while the day, over all, was quite inspiring, the unfinished work of race and gender equality wove its way through the conversations. Claims that “we are all precarious” are easily met with deeper questions like, “Who is this we?” “What history of the university are we telling?” “What does that history romanticize?” “What does it obscure?” And, perhaps most importantly, how does an obscured vision cloud our perceptions of what’s possible?

I’d like to point each of us of toward a Twitter essay that Nick Mitchell wrote last night, which you can read here. Nick’s Thesis on Adjunctification are an essential reminder that we have arrived at this moment in the University through a racialized and gendered set of what he calls “experiments” with labor. His work, along with that of Rod Ferguson’s work in The Re-Order of Things are essential readings here and I would like to suggest, before our workshop begins, that in the unfolding of precarity we do well to stay with realization precarity is a guiding logic of capitalism. Claims to stability can easily become points of enclosure, especially so when the privatized anxiety of precarity becomes our guide. Perhaps, then, as we move forward we should equally interrogate our visions for stability as we do the underpinnings of our precarious conditions.

Work Cited

Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ferguson, Roderick. 2012. The Re-Order of Things: The University and its Pedagogies of Minority Difference. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Mitchell, Nick. 2015. “Thesis on Adjunctification.” http://www.lowendtheory.org/post/112138864200/theses-on-adjunctification

Mitropolous, Angela. 2005. “Precari-Us.” http://eipcp.net/transversal/0704/mitropoulos/en

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The Data Issue: Weird Solidarities

 

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Many thanks to Mike Pepi & Marvin Jordan for asking me to write for Dis Magazine’s “Data Issue.” My piece “Weird Solidarities” is up today. Be sure to check out the rest of the issue as it goes live. It’s a great collection!

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Creditonormativity

This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I thought I would offer a preliminary definition of a word that I made up after reading Randy Martin’s Financialization of Everyday Life. The word came up again today, after a Twitter exchange with Audrey Watters, Bon Stewart, and Tressie McMillan Cottom about Pearson’s abysmal delivery of the GED, which requires individuals to pay for sample tests with a credit card.

Creditonormativity: Asserts that participation in the credit system of finance is the norm and is therefore the only and expected financial orientation. This orientation is then used to legitimate participation in a range of otherwise exclusionary social exchanges and relations. A creditonormative society is compulsory and involves the alignment of body, mind, and wallet with the biopolitical governance of financialization.

“You don’t have a credit card?”
“You have to have a credit card.”
“How are you going to rent a car?”
“How are you going to get a cell phone?”
“How are you going to rent an apartment?”
“How are you ever going to buy a house?”
“How are you going to buy a plane ticket?”
“Pay as you go credit cards? No, that’s not what I meant.”
“Your debit card has been declined. Don’t you have another card?”
“Cash. No, we don’t accept cash.”
“How are you going to live without a credit card?”

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Data and Magick: Aleatory Technologies

Below is the talk I gave at the Data and Magick “Unconference”, which I truly hope becomes a full conference next year. As Kate Crawford so aptly put it:

I gave a super (super, super) short history of Tarot, which is here in slide form:

and then I presented a piece of my dissertation, which you can read here:

Tarot itself is a hybrid object whose history lies in game playing and which crosses between the worlds of magical, occult, and pagan practice, as well as psychotherapy and self-help. While many individuals claim the cards are “special,” no one person has a fixed interpretation or the final word on how the cards work or, rather, what could be “at work in the cards”—in fact, this speculation is at the heart of the plethora of books, articles, and workshops that are developed—as well as, I would argue, the pleasure—around this particular topic. Therefore, rather than a doctrine that must be believed in, Tarot is best thought of as speculative, experiential practice through which one opens oneself up to the dynamism of matter and energy. Given that the school I studied with placed emphasis on the associations between Tarot and Kabbalah as forged by ceremonial magicians in the nineteenth century, students at the Tarot School are introduced to Tarot through a general framework of Kabbalistic metaphysics, which explore a multiverse of energies, elements, and entities. Tarot, however, “works” even without a fully developed esoteric, magical, or metaphysical body of literature to draw from.

Not that long ago, it wasn’t easy to find a deck of Tarot cards, and it was unlikely that if you found them you would think of using them to become a “professional” Tarot card reader. Many of the older members of this study recall being given a deck of cards as if it were an act of “the Tarot choosing you” and being initiated into a something that felt like a secret and existed under the radar of mainstream society. Today, you might not have to be so chosen but rather can walk into almost any bookstore and encounter a wealth of cards and books; even more immediately, you can type “Tarot” into Google and receive “about 41,800,000 results.” But what are you looking at when you encounter a Tarot deck? I suggest you are looking at a historical and evolving assemblage that affectively lures individuals to its use, which, in doing so, has become an extremely successful, if not particularly strong, social actor who has managed to persist for over five centuries, reorienting itself to the culture of its times but also continually offering the possibility of enchantment through its own obscured history.

But more immediately, when you encounter Tarot you are essentially looking at a deck of cards, a pile of card stock, often professionally printed with various images, cut into a rectangle. As a physical object, all cards are a standardized device that are two sided, portable, small, and impermanent. And, importantly, they can be flipped. In this regard, you are looking at a very old and very simple machine or mechanism for engaging change and chance that works via the elegant gesture of the card flip. Regardless of their design or imagery, their internal structure or hierarchy, or the philosophies espoused by the deck, humans have found this type of object captivating since their evolution from Korean divinatory arrows in the sixth century (Schwartz, 41). Writing for Card Player magazine, the poker historian James McManus (2009) imagines the story went something like this:

One possibility is that it gradually dawned on one of the shamans that the random fall of sacred arrows—arrows unguided, the Koreans believed, by human will—could be achieved more efficiently by mixing up pieces of silk marked with the same insignia the arrows bore, then turning over the silks one by one. This would save him the steps of going outside, launching arrows skyward, and scurrying around to read and interpret which one had landed where, at what divine angle, and so forth. One frigid January morning, our shivering but imaginative soothsayer must have returned to the hearth of his cozy shelter, set down his quiver and bow, shuffled some previously marked pieces of silk, and dealt them out on a table. “Stay inside, fool,” he might have interpreted them to advise.

Although this story is facetious, historians and anthropologists agree that playing cards emerged in a synthesis of play and divinatory pursuit (as well as boredom and obsession), as cards worked as simple source for the controlled production of randomness. Such a machine, whether it was composed of silk, wood, or (eventually) paper could provide potentially valuable, divinable patterns from which to detect the hidden meaning of the fates, or they could be elaborated into a game of “chance,” where the uncertainty of a card flip could be engaged through play and rule making. This synthesis of divinatory capacity and play, neatly present in the gesture of the card flip, sits at the heart of the love story between humans and cards, which have allowed humans to ask big questions in, literally, a way they can handle and manipulate: Does fate exist? If so, how might we know it? What of chance? Does luck exist? If so, can it be cultivated? Is there a structure or knowable pattern underlying what appears to be randomness?

As Jackson Lears has so attentively traced in his work Something for Nothing: Luck in America (2003), these questions course through and helped define a particularly American sensibility that seeks both to engage and control chance. For Lears, chance has never quite been tamed and so continually resurfaces in the market, in cultural sensibilities about the value of risk, in entrepreneurial language, and in the ethic of success. “Despite fresh evidence that hardworking people can easily lose everything to corporate confidence mean, the insistence that ‘you make your own luck’—that you are personally responsible for your own economic fate—remains a keystone of our public life,” writes Lears (2003, 20).

As Steven Conor (2011) writes in work Paraphernalia: The Curious Live of Magical Objects, “cards are the visible sign of communication between an unordered and ordered world, a world of mingled and overlapping hybrids, a world sorted into categories” (52). Conor writes that is the very materiality of the card—its “flatness” and its “stiffness”—that in part lend the card a liveliness. Flatness (to have only width and breadth but not height) is, according to Conor, “is one of the strangest and the most exotic of conditions” (53) and a geometric conundrum. Yet flatness inheres in paper—as well as the page, the canvas, and the screen, to name a few. Such flatness of an ideal surface can be a site projection, but, as Conor suggests, such surfaces also act as tables or places to lay out, organize, and reorganize things (or concepts). Tables help order and reconnect. As such, a card, through its flatness, is also a table or a tabulator. Conor does not mention this, but flatness is also, physically, an enabler of movement and mobility. Cards can be shuffled, reshuffled, packed, and carried. This simple fact most likely accounts for both their popularity and their perseverance throughout history. The stiffness of cards, suggests Conor, operates as a “special kind of ambivalence” (55). Stiffness suggests “deceptiveness,” as in “to stiff someone,” yet “there is a kind of uprightness, a quasi animate erectness in the card, that, in standing up for itself seems to distain and redeem the flimsy ductility of paper. In the card rigor mortis can suddenly spring into vigor mortis” (56). Conor further writes:

Playing cards are also magical partly because they are meaningless in themselves; their power comes only from the signs they carry, and the meaning of those signs in relation to other signs. The meaning of the card is in part its arbitrariness, its flatness, its lack of intrinsic life or meaning, the fact that no card means anything on its own. Its flatness signifies this dry semioticity. Its life comes from the contingency and adjacency, from what occurs when it is laid next to another card.

While it is true that cards “speak” through the symbols or signs that they carry, we can also look to what cards can “do” or what can be “done with” cards, and we can see that a card is not entirely meaningless outside of a semiotic context. Cards, most basically, can be flipped. They can also be used, as Ian Hacking (1988) has shown, as agents of randomization, and simple playing cards were not only employed in the history of the search for telepathy, but cards as an “organizational system” (Hayles 2005, Chun 2005) played an important role in the history of computing, making possible serial functions and memory.

The card flip, however, is not only an evocative gesture that individuals have found compelling; it is also an extremely successful social actor. Through this simple gesture (as well as the throwing of dice or the invocation of those objects that have an aleatory capacity), we see not only the link between divination and games of chance but the development of the study of probability, as gambling games flourished throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and efforts were made to develop a mathematical theory of odds.

By 1560, Girolamo Cardano, a self-confessed chess and dice addict, had begun his work Liber de Ludo Alea, a written investigation into the nature of luck and the mathematical principles associated with random events. By the mid-seventeenth century, the general outline of probability theory was known, linking card play with a form of productivity and giving the often-condemned act of gambling a chance to enter into a scientific discourse. This linking of aleatory objects with statistics and probability demarcated the once blurry line between divination and games, with the latter being fully indoctrinated into Western European philosophical discourse as well as into the support of the state via sponsored lotteries (games, gambling, risk and chance now seem to form the very structure of global finance, oddly rejoining the open-endedness of divinatory practice via speculative finance). As Ian Hacking, quoting Walter Benjamin, writes, “The proscription of gambling could have its deepest roots in the fact that a natural gift of humanity, one which, directed toward the highest objects, elevates the human being beyond himself, only drags him down when applied to one of the meanest objects: money. The gift in question is presence of mind. Its highest manifestation is the reading that in each case is divinatory.” The entanglement of play, gambling, and divination is at the heart of the basic pleasure associated with cards, and proscriptions against the use of cards only helped them spread within a culture of widespread game playing and fascination with the link between mathematical and philosophical insight. The card flip, therefore is not only at the heart of the Tarot love story, but it is at the heart of the assemblage of Tarot—a assemblage of game playing, magical innovation, con artistry and illusion, and, eventually, therapeutic capacity.

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#DL14 The Politics of Digital Culture

Trebor Scholz has storified tweets and images from the Digital Labor conference. You can see the storify here: https://storify.com/treborsch/dl14

Or download this very lovely PDF booklet, also made my Trebor: DL14_storified

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CFP: Marx, Engels and the Critique of Academic Labor

We’ve received and accepted some excellent responses to this CfP but we’re hoping for more. Consequently, the deadline for abstracts has been extended until the 1st March. All other dates remain the same.

If you’re thinking of submitting an abstract please note that we’re specifically looking for “…papers that acknowledge the foundational work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for labor theory and engage closely and critically with the critique of political economy.”

Where we’ve had to decline a submission it’s because the author has not made clear how they intend to engage with Marx and Engels’ work at the level that we’re seeking for this special issue. If in doubt, feel free to get in touch. Thank you.

 

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I will be co-editing an upcoming special edition of Workplace with the very excellent Joss Winn. We currently have a call out for theoretical critiques, case studies, historical analyses, auto-ethnographies, essays, and narratives from all academic disciplines, which address the following:

Articles in Workplace have repeatedly called for increased collective organisation in opposition to a disturbing trajectory: individual autonomy is decreasing, contractual conditions are worsening, individual mental health issues are rising, and academic work is being intensified. Despite our theoretical advances and concerted practical efforts to resist these conditions, the gains of the 20th century labor movement are diminishing and the history of the university appears to be on a determinate course. To date, this course is often spoken of in the language of “crisis.”

While crisis may indeed point us toward the contemporary social experience of work and study within the university, we suggest that there is one response to the transformation of the university that has yet to be adequately explored: A thoroughgoing and reflexive critique of academic labor and its ensuing forms of value. By this, we mean a negative critique of academic labor and its role in the political economy of capitalism; one which focuses on understanding the basic character of ‘labor’ in capitalism as a historically specific social form. Beyond the framework of crisis, what productive, definite social relations are actively resituating the university and its labor within the demands, proliferations, and contradictions of capital?

We aim to produce a negative critique of academic labor that not only makes transparent these social relations, but repositions academic labor within a new conversation of possibility. We are calling for papers that acknowledge the foundational work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels for labor theory and engage closely and critically with the critique of political economy. Marx regarded his discovery of the dual character of labor in capitalism (i.e. concrete and abstract) as one of his most important achievements and “the pivot on which a clear comprehension of political economy turns.” With this in mind, we seek contributions that employ Marx’s and Engels’ critical categories of labor, value, the commodity, capital, etc. in reflexive ways which illuminate the role and character of academic labor today and how its existing form might be, according to Marx, abolished, transcended and overcome (aufheben).

Please see the full CFP here and happy writing!

http://blogs.ubc.ca/workplace/files/2014/11/CFP-Marx-Engels-Academic-Labor.pdf

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Good Wives: Algorithmic Architectures as Metabolization

Below is the text of the talk I gave at Digital Labor: Sweatshops, Picket Lines, and Barricade, which was held in New York last week (November 14th-16th) The title of the talk is “Good Wives: Algorithmic Architectures as Metabolization.”

This talk has a few different starting points, which include a forum I held last March on Angela Mitropoulos’ work Contract and Contagion that explored the expansions and reconfigurations of capital, time, and work through the language of Oikonomics or the “properly productive household”, as well as the work that I was doing with Patricia Clough, Josh Scannell, and Benjamin Haber on a paper called “The Datalogical Turn”, which explores how the coupling of large scale databases and adaptive algorithms “are calling forth a new onto-logic of sociality or the social itself” as well as, I confess, no small share of binge-watching the TV show the Good Wife. So, please bear with me as I take you through my thinking here. What I am trying to do in my work of late is a form of feminist thinking that can take quite seriously not only the onto-sociality of data and the ways in which bodily practices are made to extend far and wide beyond the body, but a form of thinking that can also understand the paradox of our times: How and why has digital abundance been ushered in on the heels of massive income inequality and political dispossession? In some ways, the last part of that sentence (why inequality and political dispossession) is actually easier to account for than understanding the role that such “abundance” has played in the reconfiguration or transfers of wealth and power.

So, let me back up her for a minute… Already in 1992, Deleuze wrote that a disciplinary society had give way to a control society. Writing, “we are in a generalized crisis in relation to all the environments of enclosure—prison, hospital, factory, school, family” and that “everyone knows that these institutions are finished, whatever the length of their expiration periods. It’s only a matter of administering their last rites and of keeping people employed until the installation of the new forces knocking at the door. These are the societies of control, which are in the process of replacing the disciplinary societies.” For Deleuze, whereas the disciplinary man was a “discontinuous producer of energy, the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network.” For such a human, Deleuze wrote, “surfing” has “replaced older sports.”

We know, despite Marx’s theorization of “dead labor”, that digital, networked infrastructures have been active, even “vital”, agents of this shift from discipline to control or the shift from a capitalism of production and property to a capitalism of dispersion, a capitalism fit for circulation, relay, response, and feedback. As Deleuze writes, this is a capitalism fit for a “higher order” of production. I want to intentionally play on the words “higher word”, with their invocations of a religiosity, faith, and hierarchy, because much of our theoretical work of late has been specifically developed to help us understand the ways in which such a “higher order” has been very successful in affectively reconfiguring and reformatting bodies and environments for its own purposes. We talk often of the modulation, pre-emption, extraction, and subsumption of elements once thought to be “immaterial” or spiritual, if you will, the some-“things” that lacked a full instantiation in the material world. I do understand that I am twisting Deleuze’s words here a bit (what he meant in the Postscript was a form of production that we now think as flexible production, production on demand, or JIT production), but my thinking here is that very notion of a higher order, a form of production considered progress in itself, has been very good at making us pray toward the light and at replacing the audial sensations of the church bell/factory clock with the blinding temporality of the speed of light itself. This blinding speed of light is related to what Marx called “circulation time,” or the annihilation of space through time, and it is this black hole of capital, this higher order of production and the ways in which we have theorized its metaphysics, which I want to argue, have become the Via Negativa to a Capital that transcends thought. What I mean here is that this form of theorizing has really left us with a capital beyond reproach, a capital reinstated in and through the effects of what it is not—it is not a wage, it is not found in commodities, it is not ultimately a substance humans have access or rights to…

In such a rapture of the higher order of the light, there has been a tendency to look away from concepts such as “foundations” or “limits” or quaint theories of units such as the “household”, but in Angela Mitropoulos’ work Contract and Contagion we find those concepts as the heart of her reading of the collapse of the time of work into that of life. For Mitropoulos, it is through the performativity and probalistic terms of “the contract” (and not simply the contract of liberal sociality, but a contract as a terms of agreement to the “right” genealogical transfer of wealth) that we should visualize the flights of capital. This broadened notion of the contract is a necessary term for fully grasping what is being brought into being on the heels of “the datalogical turn.”

For Mitropoulos, it is the contract, which she links to the oath, the promise, the covenant, the bargain, and even faith in general, that “transforms contingency into necessity.” Contracts’ “ensuing contractualism” has been “amplified as an ontological precept.” Here, contract is fundamentally a precept that transforms life into a game (and I don’t mean simply game-ifyed, but obviously we could talk about what gameification means for our sense of what is implied in contractual relations. Liberal contracts have tended to evoke their authority from the notion of autonomous and rational subjects—this is not exactly the same subject being invoked when you’re prompted to like every picture of a cat on the internet or have your attention directed to tiny little numbers in the corner of screen to see who faved your post, although those Facebook numbers are micro-contracts. One’s you haven’t signed up for exactly.) For Mitropoulos, it is not just that contracts transform life into contingency; it is that they transform life into a game that must be played out of necessity. Taking up Pascal’s wager Mitropoulos writes,

the materiality of contractualism is that of a performativity installed by its presumption of the inexorable necessity of contingency; a presumption established by what I refer to here as the Pascalian premise that one must ‘play the game’ necessarily, that this is the only game available. This invalidates all idealist explanations of contract, including those which echo contractualism’s voluntarism in their understanding of (revolutionary) subjectivity. Performativity is the temporality of contract, and the temporal continuity of capitalism is uncertain.

In other words, one has no choice but to gamble. God either exists or God does not exist. Both may be possible/virtual, but only one will be real/actual and it is via the wager that one must, out of necessity, come to understand God with and through contingency. It is through such wagering that the contract—as a form of measurable risk—comes into being. Measurable risk—measure and risk as entangled in speculation— became, we might say, the Via Affirmativa of early and industrializing capital.

This transmutation of contingency into measure sits not only at the heart the contract, but is as Mitropoulos writes, “crucial to the legitimatized forms of subjectivity and relation that have accompanied the rise and expansion of capitalism across the world.” Yet, in addition to the historical project of situating an authorial, egalitarian, liberal, willful, and autonomous subject as a universal subject, contract is also interested in something that looks much more like geometric, matrixial, spatializing, and impersonal. Contract does not solely care about “subject formation”, but also the development of positions that compose a matrix— so that the matrix is made to be an engine of production and circulation. It is interested in the creation of an infrastructure of contracts, or points of contact that reconfigure a “divine” order in the face of contingency.

The production of such a divine order is what Mitropolous will link back to Oikonomia or the economics of the household, whereby bodies are parsed both spatially and socially into those who may enter into contract and those who may not. While contract becomes increasingly a narrow domain of human relations, Oikonomia is the intentional distribution and classification of bodies—humans, animal, mineral— to ensure the “proper” (i.e. moral, economic, and political) functioning of the household, which functions like molar node within the larger matrix. Given that contingency has been installed as the game that must be played, contract then comes to enforces a chain of being predicated on forms of naturalized servitude and obligation to the game. These are forms of naturalized servitude that are simultaneously built into the architecture of the household, as well as made invisible. As Anne Boyer has written in regard to the Greek household it, probably looked like this:

In the front of the household were the women’s rooms—the gynaikonitis. Behind these were the common areas and the living quarters for the men—the andronitis. It was there one could find the libraries. The men’s area, along with the household, was also wherever was outside of the household—that is, the free man’s area was the oikos and the polis and was the world. The oikos was always at least a double space, and doubly perceived, just as what is outside of it was always a singular territory on which slaves and women trespassed. The singular nature of the outside was enforced by violence or the threat of it. The free men’s home was the women’s factory; also—for women and slaves—their factory was a home on its knees.

This is not simply a division of labor, but as Boyer writes, “God made of women an indoor body, and made of men an outdoor one. And this scheme—what becomes, in future iterations, public and private, of production and reproduction, of waged work and unpaid servitude—is the order agreed upon to attend to the risk posed by those who make the oikos.”

This is the order that we believe has given way as Fordism morphed into Post-Fordism and as the walls of these architectures have been smoothed by the flows of endlessly circulated, derivative, financialized capital. Yet, what Mitropoulos’ work points us toward is the persistence of the contract. Walls may crumble, but the foundations of contract re-instantiate, if not proliferate, in the wake of capital’s discovery of new terrains. The gynaikonitis with its function to parse and delineate the labor of the household into a hierarchy of care work—from the wifely householding of management to the slave-like labor of “being ready to hand”— does not simply evaporate, but rather finds new instantiations among the flights of capital and new instantiations within its very infrastructure. Following Mitropoulos, we can argue that while certain forms of disciplinary seemingly come to an end, there is no shift to control without a proliferating matrix of contract whose function is to re-impose the very meaning—or rather, the very ontological necessity, of measure. It is through the persistent re-imposition of measure that a logic of the Oikos is never lost, ensuring—despite new configurations of capital—the genealogical transfer of wealth and the fundamentally dispossessing relations of servitude.

Let me shift a gear here ever so slightly and enter Alicia Florrick. Alicia is “The Good Wife”, who many of you know from the TV show of the same name. She is the white fantasy super-hero and upper middle class working mother and ruthless lawyer who has successfully exploded onto the job market after years of raising her children and who is not only capable of leaning in after all those years, but of taking command of her own law firm and running for political office. Alicia is a “good wife” not solely because she has stood beside her philandering politician husband, but because as a white, upper-class mother and lawyer, she is nonetheless responsible for the utmost of feminized and invisible labor—that of (re)producing the very conditions of sociality. Her “womanly” or “wife-ish” goodness is predicated on her ability to transform what are essentially, in the show, a series of shitty experiences and shitty conditions, into conditions of possibility and potential. Alicia works endlessly, tirelessly (Does she ever sleep?) to find new avenues of possibility and configurations of the law in order to create a very specific form of “liberal” order and organization, believing as she does in the “power of rules” (in distinction to her religious daughter, a necessary trope used to highlight the fundamentally “moral” underpinning of secular order.)

While the show is incredibly popular, no doubt because viewers desire to identify with Alicia’s capacity for labor and domination, to me the show is less about a real or even possible human figure than it is about a “good wife” and the social function that such a wife plays. In Oikonomic logic, a good wife is essential to the maintenance of contract because she is what metabolizes the worlds of inner and outer, simultaneously managing the inner domestic world of care within while parsing or keeping distinct its contagion from the outer world of contract. That Alicia is white, heternormative, upper middle class, as well as upwardly mobile and legally powerful is essential to aligning her with the power of contract, yet her work is fundamentally that of parsing contagions to the system. Prison bodies and prison as a site of the “general population” haunt the show as though we are meant to forget that Alicia’s labor and its value are predicated on the existence of space beyond contract—a space of being removed from visibility. The figure of the good wife therefore not only operates as a shared boundary, but reproduces the distinctions between contractable relations and invisible, obligated labor or what I will call metabolization. Our increasing digitized, datafied, networked, and surveilled world is fully populated by such good wives. We call them interfaces. But they should also be seen as a proliferation of contracts, which are rewriting the nature of who and what may participate.

I would like to argue that good wives—or interfaces—and their necessary shadow world of obligated labor are useful frameworks for understanding the paradox I mentioned when I first began: how and why has digital abundance been ushered on the heels of massive income inequality and political dispossession? In the logic of the Oikos, the good wife of the interface stands in both contradistinction and harmony with the metabolizing labor of the system she manages, which is comprised of those specifically removed from “the labor” relation— domestic workers, care workers, prisoner laborers—those who must be “present” yet without recognition. The interface stands in both contradistinction and harmony with the algorithm that is made to be present and made to adapt. I want to argue that the “marriage” of the proliferation of interfaces and with the ubiquitous, and adaptive computation of digital algorithms is an Oikonomic infrastructure. It is a proliferation of contracts meant to insure that the “contagion” of the algorithm, which I explore in a moment, remain “black boxed” or removed from visibility, while nonetheless ensuring that such contagious invisible work shore up the power of contract and its ability to redirect capital along genealogical lines. While Piketty doesn’t uses the language of the Oikos, we might read the arrival of his work as a confirmation that we are in a moment re-establishing such a “household logic”—an expansion of capital that comes with quite a new foundation of the transfer of wealth.

While the good wife or interface is a boundary, which borrowing from Celia Lury, that marks a frame for the simultaneous capture and redeployment of data, it is the digital algorithm that undergirds or makes possible the interfaces’ ontological authority to “measure.” However, algorithms, if we follow Luciana Parisi are not simple executing a string of code, not simply providing the interface with a “measure” of an existing world. Rather, algorithms are, as Luciana Parisi writes in her work on contagious architecture, performing entities that are “not simply representations of data, but are occasions of experience insofar as they prehend information in their own way.” Here Parisi is ascribing to the algorithm a Whiteheadian ontology of process, which sees the algorithm as its own spatio-temporal entity capable of grasping, including, or excluding data. Prehension implies not so much a choice, but a relation of allure by which all entities (not only algorithms) call one another into being, or come into being as events or what Whitehead calls “occasions of experience.” For Parisi, via Whitehead, the algorithm is no longer simply a tool to accomplish a task, but an “actuality, defined by an automated prehension of data in the computational processing of probability.”

Much like the good wife of the Greek household, who must manage and organize—but is nonetheless dependent on— the contagious (and therefore made to be invisible) domestic labor of servants and slave, the good wife of the interface manages and organizes the prehensive capacities of the algorithm, which are then misrecognized as simply “doing their job” or executing their code in a divine order of being. However, if we follow Parisi, prehension does not simply imply the direct “reproduction of that which is prehended”, rather prehension should be understood itself be understood as a “contagion.” Writing, “infinite amounts of data irreversibly enter and determine the function of algorithmic procedures. It follows that contagion describes the immanence of randomness in programming.” This contagion, for Parisi, means that “algorithmic prehensions are quantifications of infinite qualities that produce new qualities.” Rather than simply “doing their job”, as it were, algorithms are fundamentally generative. They are, for Parisi, producing not only new digital spaces, but also programmed architectural forms and urban infrastructures that “expose us to new mode of living, but new modes of thinking.” Algorithms are metabolizing a world of infinite and incomputable data that is then mistaken by the interfaces as a “measure” of that world—a measure that can not only stand in for contract, but can give rise to a proliferation of micro contracts that populate the circulations of sociality.

Control then, if we can return to that idea, has come not simply about as an undulation or a demise of discipline, but through an architecture of metabolization and measure that has never disavowed the function of contract. It is, in fact, an architecture quite successful at re-writing the very terms of contract arrangements. Algorithmic architectures may no longer seek to maintain the walls of the household, but they are nonetheless in the rapid production of an Oikos all the same.

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