'Filosofía pirata, edición libre', discussion with Perro Tuerto y Pucho (El Rancho Electrónico) y Gabriela Méndez Cota (Universidad Iberoamericana) for the Mexico city radio station Ibero, September 12, 2019.

Open Humanities Press – The Inhumanist Manifesto

Pirate Philosophy, This Is Not A Pipe Podcast

HyperCritical Theory

Übercapitalism and What Can Be Done About It

Recent publications

Masked Media (limited edition paper-only publication for The House That Heals The Soul exhibition, Tetley, Leeds, 2018) 

 The Inhumanist Manifesto: Extended Play (Techne Lab, 2017)

Open Access

Most of Gary's work is freely available to read and download either here in Media Gifts or in Coventry University's online repositories PURE here, and CURVE here 

Radical Open Access

« Open Media seminar series - spring 2013 | Main | Culture machine live »

#MySubjectivation III: Capital as academic subjectivation machine

I ended my last post in this series by asking, what if Stiegler is right, and with the web and digital reproducibility we are now living in an era in which subjects are created with a different form of the awareness of time: a ‘radically new stage of the life of the mind, whereby the whole question of knowledge is raised anew’?  Does this not raise an issue of fundamental importance concerning the extent to which this episteme and the associated changes in the media ecology that are shaping our memories and consciousness can be understood, analysed, rethought and reinflected by subjectivities that, by and large, continue to live, work and think on the basis of knowledge instruments originating in a very different epistemic environment?  

To explore these questions and their implications for radical philosophers and critical thinkers further, let us return to Stiegler’s claim that the task par excellence for philosophy now is the development of a new critique of political economy that is capable of responding to an epistemic environment very different to that known by Marx and Engels.  Stiegler has recently been held up by software theorist Alexander R. Galloway as ‘one of the few people writing today’ who approaches Gilles Deleuze’s idea of the control society seriously, both ‘as a political and philosophical problem’ and as a critique of political economy.  

But in one respect at least the control society is something Stiegler - in common with the majority of theorists who have alerted us to the power of algorithms - does not take anywhere near seriously enough. For if ‘the what invents the who just as much as it is invented by it’ - if, in Galloway’s words, ‘one must today focus special attention on the way control acts on the realm of the “immaterial”: knowledge work, thought, information and software, networks, technical memory, ideology, the mind’, in order to follow Stiegler in shifting ‘from a philosophy of “what is” [being, ontology] to a philosophy of “what does”’ (what affects, what cares, which is a question of practice, ethics, politics)  - then taking Deleuze’s idea seriously as a critique of political economy must surely involve paying careful critical attention to our own modes of production and ways of living, working, acting and thinking as philosophers and theorists. In other words, we need to consider seriously how the economy of control invents us and our own knowledge work, philosophy and minds, as much as we invent it, by virtue of the way it modifies and homogenizes our thought and behaviour through its media technologies.

What is particularly interesting about Deleuze's thesis from this perspective is that it is not just the prison, factory or school of the disciplinary societies that are identified as being handed over to the corporation of the control societies. So is the institution in which many philosophers and theorists actually work and think, namely, the university. To draw on the contemporary UK context, the fundamental transformation in how universities in England are viewed which was proposed by the New Labour government commissioned Browne Report published in 2010, and which has been imposed by the current Conservative/Liberal Democratic coalition (albeit with some modifications designed to generate further competition between institutions, such as the introduction of a free market for students with A level grades of AAB upwards), provides what is only the most recent, high profile evidence of this state of affairs.   It entails a shift from perceiving the university as a public good financed mainly from public funds, to treating it as a ‘lightly regulated market’. Consumer demand, in the form of the choices of individual students (no longer seen as constituting a single body) over where and what to study, here reigns supreme when it comes to determining where the funding goes, and thus what is offered by competing ‘service providers (i.e. universities)’,  which are required to operate as businesses in order ‘to meet business needs’.  

The consequences of handing the university over to the corporation are far from restricted to a transformation in how the university is viewed as an institution, or even to the production of the student as consumer. This process is also having a profound impact on us as academics and scholars (i.e. on that part of what some radical philosophers call the cognitiarian class which actually includes these philosophers themselves). Thanks to the Research Assessment Exercise and its successor, the Research Excellence Framework, many university professors in the UK are now given lighter teaching loads and even sabbaticals to allow them to concentrate on their research and achieve the higher ratings that will lead to increases in research profile and the generation of income for their institutions from government, businesses and external funding agencies. Individuals successful in doing so are then rewarded with even more funding and sabbaticals, which only increases the gap between these professors and those who are asked to carry a greater share of the teaching and administrative load. One result is the development of a transfer market - and even a transfer season as the deadline for the next REF approaches - whereby research stars are enticed to switch institutions by the offer of increased salaries, resources, support and status.  At the same time, the emergence of more corporate forms of leadership, with many university managers now being drawn from the world of business rather than the ranks of academe, has resulted in a loss of power and influence on the part of professors over the running of their institutions, for all they may be in demand for their research and publications. A lot of institutions in the UK now require commercial (rather than purely intellectual) leadership from their professoriate, in line with the neoliberal philosophy that society’s future success and prosperity rests on the corporate sector’s ability to commercially apply and exploit the knowledge and innovation developed in universities. ‘They want professors to be knowledge entrepreneurs leveraging income from their intellect through research grants, consultancy fees and patents.’  As one professor has remarked, even sabbaticals are now:

marked by ever more intensive labour. Colleagues must set out a rigorous work schedule, haruspicate discoveries and augur results before the research is done, guarantee high-prestige publication and promise mythic levels of impact. There will be no rest: no time for exploratory play, for the happenstance stirring of an imagination in a lab or library or while naively cultivating our garden, as Voltaire once fondly recommended.

(Thomas Docherty, ‘Year of Living Dangerously’, Times Higher Education, 2 August 2012, p. 29)

Professors and others in leadership roles are not the only ones affected, however. Most academics today belong to a ‘self-disciplining, self-managed form of labour force’; one that ‘works harder, longer, and often for less [or even no] pay precisely because of its attachment to some degree of personal fulfilment in forms of work engaged in’.  Of course this is in part a result of their having to take on greater and intensified teaching and administrative loads, due to severe reductions in government spending on universities combined with an expansion in student numbers, along with the above-mentioned privileging of research ‘stars’. The increase in the number of fixed-term, part-time, hourly-paid, temporary and other forms of contingent positions (instructors, teaching assistants, post-docs, unpaid ‘honorary’ research assistants) as we enter a precarious labour regime is another  significant aspect of the changing Higher Education environment. The result is a process of casualisation and proletarianisation Stiegler has described in a broader context as a loosing of knowledge, of savor, of existence, of ‘what takes work beyond mere employment’, and as thus leading to a short-circuiting of individuation.  

Yet academics are also working longer and harder as a consequence of the increasing pressure to be constantly connected and prepared for the real-time interaction that is enabled by laptops, tablets, smart phones, apps, email, SMS, Dropbox and Google Docs. Mobile media and the cloud mean scholars can now be found at work, checking their inbox, texting, chatting, blogging, tweeting, taking part in online classes, discussions and forums, not just in their office or even while on campus, but also at home, when walking in the city, travelling by train or waiting at an airport in a completely different time zone from that of their institution. The pressure created by various forms of monitoring and measurement (such as the National Student Survey in the UK) for academics to show they are always on and available by virtue of their prompt responses to contact from colleagues and students only exacerbates this culture of ‘voluntary’ self-surveillance and self-discipline. So does the increasing use of electronic diaries open to scrutiny, together with swipe card readers that provide university management with data on where staff are at any given time. As a result, it is becoming harder and harder for academics to escape from (the time of) work.

It is interesting in respect of this discussion of time that some have seen the occupied spaces of the Occupy movement as creating:

their own form of time: timeless time, a transhistorical form of time, by combining two different types of experience. On the one hand, in the occupied settlements, they live day by day, not knowing when eviction will come, organizing their living as if this could be the alternative society of their dreams, limitless in their time horizon, and free of the chronological constraints of their previous, disciplined daily lives. On the other hand, in their debates and in their projects they refer to an unlimited horizon of possibilities of new forms of life and community emerging from the practice of the movement. They live in the moment in terms of their experience, and they project their time in the future of history-making in terms of their anticipation. In between these two temporal practices, they refuse the subservient clock time imposed by the chronometers of their existence. Since human time only exists in human practice, this dual time is no less real than the measured time of the assembly line worker or the around the clock time of the financial executive. It is an emerging, alternative time, made of a hybrid between the now and the long now.

(Manuel Castells, Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age, Cambridge: Polity, 2012, p. 223)


('#MySubjectivation' I is below here and II here)

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