Tag Archives: Capitalism

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Lepore and Bosquet

Of course when I responded to Robert last night and mentioned how there weren’t any other posts up, I didn’t realize that I was responsible for provoking this week! So sorry for the delay.

I already summed up some of my thinking about the Bosquet and Lepore readings on Robert’s thread, so rather than repeat myself, I thought I’d cut right to the chase with some questions.

Lepore:

  • Lepore traces the history of theories of change, from divine providence to historicism, progress, evolution, growth, innovation, and now disruption — “a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation, and shaky evidence.” One historical theory of change that Lepore leaves out is Marx’s, which in some ways borrowed from Darwin’s evolution, but as we know from our reading and David Harvey’s lectures, relied on a dialectic of many other components. How might we use Marx’s ideas about how societies change to help us understand disruption’s popularity, or to help Lepore debunk it?

Bosquet:

I’m making lots of Marx connections today. Bosquet focuses on changing labor relations in the academy, writing: “Late capitalism doesn’t just happen to the university, the university makes late capitalism happen. The flexible faculty are just one dimension of an informationalized higher ed — the transformation of the university into an efficient and thoroughly accountable environment through which streaming education can be made available in the way that information is delivered: just in time, on demand, in spasms synchronized to the work rhythm of student labor on the shop floor” (44). 

  • Bosquet’s notion of disruption is far different then Christensen’s — he’s writing about grassroots actions that adjuncts and graduate students might take to raise consciousness about and organize for better working conditions, higher salaries, and tenure. What role might stronger unions and this form of disruption play as universities seek to address “the crisis of higher ed” through tech innovations, as described in the other readings?
  • We extended Marx’ analogies about the machine, the tool, and the power source to computers a few weeks ago in class. How might Marxist ideas about the role of the machine and technology come in to play in thinking about the mechanization of university teaching and learning? To what extent does the analogy hold? Where might it break down?

Time, Work Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism

As I type this up on Sunday morning, I realize the irony of my tardiness in regards to this piece.

Thompson begins by giving us examples of how time had historically been measured by perspective and a more personal context, such as the amount of time it takes rice to cook compared to the length of an Ave Maria. While reading through these first couple of sections to this, I seemed to hone in on one particular example Thompson gave from just over the hump of Middle English into New English, “pissing while.” Thompson calls it a, “somewhat arbitrary measurement,” but believe it or not this has been studied recently and the conclusion determined that all mammals take about 21 seconds to do their thing. Not making this up. So with that context, in my eyes “a pissing while” is approximately 21 seconds long.

But of course, with this, as with some other examples Thompson has given, there are variables that may alter the range of any unit of measurement, whether it’s the direction that the wind blows, or the amount of physical labor that an individual might actually be able to perform. This eventually evolves into the notion that time is money.

In this piece, Thompson explains how attitudes towards time have changed as our economies have shifted through and beyond the industrial revolution.

So how has time, or the way that time is viewed within our modern societies and economies shifted? Is the 40-hour work week still the norm? Should we shift to another format? Do experiments like those being carried out in Sweden demonstrate that it is time to reevaluated our work week or what constitutes enough time to complete our the tasks of our labor? Does it matter? If so how does it matter to you?

Citation:

Thompson, E.P., (Dec., 1967), Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism, Past and Present

 

The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction

In this essay Benjamin describes the changes in the definition and function of art, along with its mode of production and reception that were brought along with the development of reproduction technologies, including photography. He also argues for a politicized art as a reply to the “aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by Fascism” that he quite sinisterly describes in the Epilogue.

Art in the past served a cult value, which is based on its uniqueness given by rituals. Aura is a term used to describe this function; this authority that is given by a work’s presence in time and space is abolished by technical reproduction, although backward movement still exists. As cult value no longer is valid, art can serve exhibition value; in place of rituals that were previously the social function of art, are now politics.

Film, the art form of which the existence is based on mechanical reproduction, has revolutionary potential; its actor’s non-linear performance and indirect encounter with the audience creates a somewhat objective perspective, that of a critic. While acknowledging the possibility of counterrevolutionary movement such as the cult of movie stars as set up by the movie-making capitalists, Benjamin further elaborates on film’s revolutionary potential as an optic tool that extends our perception and a medium that can easily engage the mass, allowing distraction instead of contemplation.

  • The grounds on which film can be considered revolutionary is not because it served an active role in the Communist propaganda (as the Epilogue portrays a counter-example, “the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values”), but rather because it provided a new possibility of perceiving the world. Is this frame of analysis valid? If so, what would be the revolutionary medium/technology/place/etc of the current time? What type of reality does the new perception reveal?
  • Chapter X, which mentions the fading distinction between writer and reader before applying that relationship to the film, can be read as a stress on the importance of media literacy, or accessibility. But retrospectively, I have mixed feelings on whether literacy is progress, or an agent of change. What is your take on this, especially relating to your area of interest?

Citation

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

-Achim

Karl Marx–Capital

Robert Synopsis   (I apologize in advance if this oversimplifies Marx’s work; I really tried to condense this)

In the selected sections from Capital, Karl Marx asserts that machines, as the conduit of industrial capitalist expansion, reveal the evolutionary exploitation of men, women and children as they simultaneously nurture capitalistic greed. Marx employs a number of sub-claims to support his stance–among them are the following:

  • The machine does more in less time, which increases the capitalist’s greed and presses workers to meet greater demands in less time (work intensity).
  • Machines simplify tasks, which increases the use of child labor and women’s labor and lowers the overall cost of labor (I could smell the underlying patriarchy & rigid gender roles, but we can save that for another discussion).
  • Machines, though meant to serve humans, have come to determine human production (and replace workers), which incites rebellion against the machines first and lead capitalists second.
  • The capitalist metrics of time, value, labor, and intensity are further complicated with the advancement of technology
  • The machine’s evolution over time under the capitalist framework presents an interesting paradox: humans created the machines that would eventually replace their jobs.
  • Machines, like the capitalist, embody a system of self-preservation–just as the capitalist mitigates the use of time, labor, and value to optimize profit for his/her own preservation, the machines eventually create the machines that will preserve the factory model.

Professor David Harvey explains the underlying analytical framework that Marx employs throughout the entire text, Chapter 15 included. According to Harvey’s analysis, technology does not determine, but rather reveals humans’ complex interactions with nature, labor, reproduction of daily life, social relations, and mental conceptions. Even when we apply Harvey’s framework, we still see technology as an integrated, fetishized tool of the capitalist superstructure. Marx, sharing a similar trajectory with his good friend Darwin, essentially argues that technology is an extension of the very evolution of capitalism. The model goes as follows: handicrafts  stage to manufacturing stage, and manufacturing stage to factory stage. But Harvey cautions against a deterministic conceptualization of machines and capitalism; he contends that Marx’s purpose is to elucidate the ongoing dialectic between the capitalist and the laborer. Machines are merely an element in this ongoing dialectical struggle.

Provocation:

The recurring conversation of the growth and development of machines  and their connection with increased exploitation is a critical one, carrying implications of class, gender, age, & racial oppression. Even in the early factory stages, we see fights for reductions of work hours, followed by a subsequent increase in labor intensity that marked the need for more productivity in less time–the new machine’s efficiency as justificaiton for such. With this reduction in physically complex labor came the employment of women and children. Education yielded to the capitalist superstructure, and entire families were now factory employees who, in the eyes of the capitalist, represented one uniform payout.  Marx, more than once, references the U.S. and Transatlantic slave trades as powerful parallels to this factory power dynamic. While the face of both technology and western society have changed significantly since Marx, the thread of exploitation remains constant. With this in mind, I would like to ask the following:

1) To what extent does current exploitation–within the realm of technological production and use–mirror the conditions expressed in Marx’s work? Explain.

2) How has the face of this particular brand of exploitation changed?

3) Considering previous conversations in class regarding contemporary humans’ current relationships with technology and Marx’s key points, what are some predictions you have about the future relationship between humans and technology?

4) Am I the only one who thought about the Matrix trilogy while reading?

Citations

Harvey, D. (2011, January 16). Reading Marx’s Capital Vol 1 with David Harvey. Lecture presented at Class 08 in The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York.

Marx, K. (1968). XV. In Capital. New York: Dutton.

–Robert Robinson