Radical media, politics and culture.

biopolics, labor, (again) and periodization

here is a chunk of a text that a friend and I are translating, a short article called "On the feminization of labor":

"if biopolitical capitalist production bases itself above all on a strategic coordination of the multiplicity of networks and of social relations directed at maximizing profit and assure capitalist domination, then resistances no longer appear as marginal phenomena but rather as active elemetns in the center of a society that opens itself in networks. But there is a second motive for not giving credence to the idea of a "total" capital: if the function of capital is to penetrate, traverse, coordinate, and to direct the social toward the extraction of surplus value and toward accumulation, then, capital can not be the source of riches and of power. From the very moment in which is functions in this way, that is to say, from the very moment in which capitalist production becomes biopolitical, it implicitly recognizes that neither wealth nor power emanate from it. Beginning from here, there opens the possibility of thinking a biopolitics "from below" and this brings us anew to affective and relational labor: in contrast to what happenend with other forms of labor, in all work with a strong affective, relational, and communicative component, neither cooperation nor the capacity for the production of life-worlds and of social relations is imposed or organized from the exterior, but rather they are completely immanent to the labor itself and to the context in which it inserts itself. That is to say, it is not a matter of a force activated and made coherent by capital, but rather that its potential for cooperation permits it to valorize itelf. It does not need capital nor capital's capacity to orchestrate production. Thus, affective labor, despite constituting today a necessary foundation for capitalist accumulation, can translate itself into the creation of subjectivities, communities, and forms of life beyond capital. It can convert itself into production, not of surplus value, but rather of autonomous circuits of valorization and, perhaps, of liberation. Here, the most recent struggles and forms of self-organization protagonized by women - from the nurses' committees (France, 1995) and Women in Black (Belgrade) to the movements of women against the patenting of seeds (India) - can give us a clue."

Do others think this perspective seems to be roughly in line with that of Hardt and Negri? I do.

It seems to me that this periodizing perspective, announcing the new epoch as Angela has noted, is premised less on the present - despite trumpeting changes in the present - than it is on a certain picture of that past. This view produces a picture of that past in contrast with the present.

This picture strikes me as highly questionable, at best. First, the labor of reproduction has always been relational and affective, and has always been bound up with the circuits of accumulation since the beginning of capital. Second, read uncharitably, this perspective implies a shift from a 'total' capital to a newly non-'total' capital.

I think one of the central issues here is the understanding of the central subject or figure of labor relative to a given class composition -- the mass worker, for instance, was a 'hegemonic' figure. The hegemony of the mass worker inside the class, according to the perspective above, seems to be an automatic process, a necessary and accomplished result, rather than itself being a fraught and contested process.

Basically, I can't understand how the traits ascribed to labor now, and spoken of as new traits, could possibly be new. To my mind these are possibilities that reach far back, certainly they've existed since the beginning of capital.

I saw Hardt speak at the society for european philosophy conference in London a year or two ago. He remarked on the idea that resistance is prior to power, and sketched three senses of this: 1. Deleuzian, ontological - only resistance/labor has the power to create 2. Trontian, socio-political, in history (my term, not his) - resistance/labor creates the actual forms that capital adopts as it is forced to change by blockages in accumulation (the capitalization of resistance that Angela has commented on) 3. E.P. Thompson and subaltern studies, historical research - researching and narrating histories to uncover and lay out the agency of folks who were/are typically thought of as without agency

It strikes me that the perspective laid out in the chunk of translation here, which I think is basically Hardt/Negri's perspective, is in contract with at least the third point above. The 'labor becomes biopolitical' perspective implies a history of non-agency prior to postfordism/real subsumption, with agency arising as a possibility of labor nowadays. It's as if at a certain point in history resistance _became_ prior to power. Like I tried to say above, I think the traits ascribed to labor today in the 'biopolitical labor' stuff only make sense as revisions of marxian categories, changing the understanding of what labor is throughout the history of capital.

I wonder if perhaps some of this is related to the Deleuzian periodization of control societies vs disciplinary societies? Not solely due to that, of course, but perhaps a resonance between that Deleuzian idea and a pre-existing tendency toward periodization (and a corresponding vanguardism, however heterodox, which seeks a vanguard figure to achieve and exert intra-class hegemony in a fashion adequate to the new hisorical moment)?

More for the need to read list - Gramsci on conjunctures and hegemony, as something to contrast with. Also, I need to dig out the remarks by the Situaciones group on both conjunctural thinking and hegemony as a mode of thinking and acting politically, both of which, I think, in the view of Situaciones imply belief in a certain social automaticity.