Home > Uncategorized > David Camfield “The Multitude and the Kangaroo”

David Camfield “The Multitude and the Kangaroo”

Camfield, David 2007. The Multitude and the Kangaroo: A Critique of Hardt and Negri’s Theory of Immaterial Labour. Historical Materialism 15: 21-52.

[…]Maurizio Lazzarato defines the concept as ‘the labor that produces the informational and cultural content of the commodity’. (22)

However, when Hardt and Negri describe biopolitical labour as ‘labor that creates not only material goods but also relationships and ultimately social life itself’,13 a conceptual slippage occurs. Tis definition expands the concept to encompass labour that produces material as well as immaterial products. (24)

Te rise of immaterial labour has profound consequences. One is the breaking down of the division of time between work and non-work or leisure. This split was clear-cut in the age of the factory, but, under the hegemony of immaterial labour, ‘an idea or an image comes to you not only in the office but also in the shower or in your dreams’. (26)

Co-operative and communicative qualities are ‘internal to labor and thus external to capital’. For this reason, immaterial labour has a great potential for self-management. In fact, its social cooperation outside of capital ‘seems to provide the potential for a kind of spontaneous and elementary communism’. (27)

As immaterial labour defines social production, even the unemployed poor become participants in biopolitical production.42 Empire needs the biopolitical production of the entire population of the world: ‘no group is “disposable”’. Biopolitical production is obviously not confined to a working day with a clear beginning and end. Tus it cannot be measured, and it produces more value than capital can ever capture. Here is another way in which immaterial labour is subversive with respect to capital. Social life is a productive machine, but society is not seen as the social factory of autonomist Marxism. This is because, even though ‘the real subsumption of society under capital’ has taken place, capital is unable to fully harness biopolitical productivity to value production, although it tries. (28)

As Read notes, Hardt and Negri relate their concept of biopolitical production to a historical shift in capitalism and to an ontological shift, ‘a reconsideration of production not simply as the production of things but as the production of relations and subjects, as the constitution of the world’. (30)

It is also worth pointing out that the idea that labour produces social relations and human subjects as well as goods and services is neither novel nor the special contribution of poststructuralism in the vein of Deleuze, Guattari, Hardt and Negri. Marx’s concepts of labour and production are far removed from the narrow notions of many Marxists and non-Marxists: humans ‘have history because they must produce their life’. […]‘Marx’s basic position’, as Raymond Williams puts it, is that “fundamentally, in this human historical process, we produce ourselves and our societies, and it is within these developing and variable forms that ‘material production’, then itself variable, both in mode and scope, is itself carried on.” (32)

Dyer-Witheford, who, as we shall see, attempts to save the concept by revising it, raises a pertinent warning: “analysis that puts under one roof multimedia designers, primary-school teachers . . . and strippers . . . may reveal valuable commonalities, but can also cover up chasmic differences, fault lines of segmentation, veritable continental rifts that present the most formidable barrier for the organization of counterpower.” (34)

Hardt and Negri’s claim amounts to a contention that the real subsumption of labour to capital is retreating, making capital parasitically exploitative of autonomous production. They do not attempt to reconcile this with their contention that the real subsumption of society as a whole to capital has taken place. One reason for their failure to address this contradiction is their ‘neglect [of] the forms in and through which labour exists in capitalism’. Hardt and Negri see immaterial labour as increasingly outside-and-against capital, rather than in-and-against it. (35)

For Marx, industry referred to commodity production organised around a ‘machine system’ operated by ‘associated labour’ and geared to the extraction of relative surplus-value.92 In this sense, industry need not be limited to the production of material commodities; it is also applicable to the production of commodified services, from health care to fast food to finance. The provision of services in contemporary capitalism is often industrial in the sense that workers are organised through a detail division of labour in a labour process to which not just machines but technological systems are central. (39)

But is information technology causing work to ‘become intelligent’? Many jobs that involve computer use involve either what the above-mentioned Australian study calls ‘knowledge handling and service provision’ or merely the routinised and repetitive input of information. (43)

My claim is not that Hardt and Negri ignore commodification altogether; Multitude discusses the private ownership of immaterial products in such cases as the online music file-sharing site Napster, ‘bio-property’ (life-forms), and the privatisation of public transport and utilities. However, even though the message that ‘Our World is Not For Sale!’ has been expressed in many different languages by movements of protest and resistance from Bolivia to France to India, and has had great popular resonance because it connects with people’s experiences, global commodification is not a central theme in their thought. Perhaps this is because acknowledgment of its importance is theoretically incompatible with Hardt and Negri’s commitment to the belief that immaterial labour and its products are increasingly autonomous of capital? (44)

Rather than theorising wagelabour as a tendentially world-historical social form of labour and exploring the diverse unfree and ‘free’ concrete arrangements in which it always exists, Hardt and Negri erroneously posit the hegemony of a self-configuring sociotechnical figure of labour in each historical era of capitalism. (48)

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