Saturday, May 20, 2017

Logistics and behaviours

In the history of consumerism, the Keynesian response to the 1929 Crash built on the foundation of the nuclear family which became responsible for consuming the over-production caused ultimately by the falling rate of profit. Under the pressure of organising consumption, the this artifically limited kinship structure began to falter with the accelerating rise of divorce in the 1960s. In the wake of the family as core organisational structure (though like the extended family before it, it continues as substrate to the newer forms), the new core institution of consumerism became the individual, much as described in Wendy Brown's work on neoliberalism. Thirty or more years after the triumph of neoliberalism (Thatcherism, Reaganomics) the individual, like the nuclear family before it, is in crisis (see for example Bifo's work on mental illness as a symptom of capitalist crisis). Today a new institutional core to consumerism arises. It is no surprise to computer science or digital commerce analysts that the individual is now a residual concept like the nuclear and extended variants of the family. In consumption and production, the new key phenomenon is comprised of discrete behaviours, of the kind gathered and orchestrated in Facebook's Edge Rank.

Under these circumstances we are dealing less with a dissolved self and more with a ditributed self, spread out through prosthetic media and connected to technological and physical environments. Such a distributed self throws itself open to the characteristic organisation of distribution: logistics, specifically the contemporary form of logistics as biopolitical management.

The movement towards behaviours begins in the industrial revolution's shattering of work with the division of labour. This not only, per Marx, de-differentiates the specific forms of work; it shatters the worker, who from now on is only acquired as the performance of small tasks – proto-behaviours. The expansion from the phenomenological range of the factory-based division of labour in the C19th to the New International Division of Labour (NIDL) by the late 20th is in itself a fundamentally logistical operation, just as logistics is fundamentally premised on labour and its division. This division proceeds through partwork to cognitive labour and the database economy

As labour moves from the productive to service and thence to cognitive; as mode of production moves from productive to service to financialisation; so social organisation of consumption passes through three invented categories: nuclear family, individual, behaviour. Now not only production but produsage moves from self to the fragmented division of affective/cognitive work, now disassociated from the residual comunitarianism of family which, bereft of its extension to kinship groups, persists as the last exploitable element of social solidarity (as in “I save for, work for, vote for my family”)

The mode of rebellion moves in parallel: to liberate the family from the bonds of kin; the individual from bonds of family; and now the behaviour from the bonds of coherent self. The war against the Cartesian ego is won and lost – the schiz is not a liberatory project anymore. It has become (like the individual before it) the unit of oppression and exploitation. As nomad, rhizome and smooth space moved from celebratory utopianisms to journalistic accounts of corporate organisational paradigms in the 1980s, the schiz is no longer a much needed liberation from Cartesian ego and becomes a journalistic account of the psychological outcome of the intensified division of labour into cognitive labour. Schiz today marks the triumph of hyper-inidividualist affective prosumerism over the old identitarian politics. Identity today, viewed from the data base economy, is a behaviour – while its significance to its performer is immense, to its audience it is purely data, because its audience is no longer (only) human but EdgeRank.

The extraction of profit and rent is no longer grounded on user-generated content as intellectual property, but as logistical aggregation of behaviours. The internet of things, which includes the thingly status of behaviours in disciplined consumption, parallels the move from productive/cognitive via service/affective to finance/logistical sectors. My debt is also a promise to consume – in an orderly fashion. Communicative capital is thereby reduced from the compulsory labour of UGC (Dean) to the universal exchange of derivatives in the form of bundled (future) affective and cognitive labour plus future consumption. It is absolutely clear in this that the demands of the falling rate of profit far supersede any remnant of use-value, such as the production of social solidarity as a value of communicative action.

From this position on the move from tasks to behaviours embracing the work of both production and consumption, the next stage is to trace the logistical. NIDL (but even factory discipline) depends on the logistical management of materials and workers's reproduction of labour.

The moment of the orchestration of transoceanic maritime transport – with the construction of the Suez Canal as its most extravagant expression – and the linkage of rail and telegraph on transcontinental scales, is precisely the same moment that the world ceases to be a Westphalian contractual and conflictual – and therefore event-based and thus historical, temporal – diversity of localities and regions and begins to become both a system and a planet. It is the moment when nature appears as a definitive other to the factory-industrial-urban complex. This is why the parallel history of nature is so important – the specifics of exclusion, externalisation and environmentalisation in each phase: because that granular production of nature's otherness is what will have to provide the allies for any future solidarity with post-individual human behaviour. The fragmentation of work and the institution of the logistical inaugurate the contemporary at the heart of the modern, and form one process with the environmentalisation of nature

Logistics is the electronic mode of panpsychism (task to be articulated in a piece I'm currently writing)

This thesis requires two further stages:
1 - a more detailed media history of logistics, from double-entry to adding machine and thence to digital – or perhaps more explicitly distribution (telegraph- radio – net) and storage (unique, copiable, generated) media
2 - to discover what is the appropriate mode of politics for a post-individual, behavioural cloud.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Blogging at Winterthur

My current duties make blogging an intermittent process but I am doing a series of posts for fotomuseum Winterthur, where recent, brilliant series of posts have ben written by Jody Dean and Nick Mirzoeff. You can find us at

upcoming a discussion of how the individual image gets lost in the processed whirl of the Mass Image, and reflections on what data visualisation means for photography