Radical media, politics and culture.

Jack Bratich, "Fragments on Machinic Intellectuals"

"Fragments on Machinic Intellectuals"

Jack Bratich

[From the recently released book Constituent Imagination: Militant
Investigations // Collective Theorization,
edited by Stevphen
Shukaitis and David Graeber with Erika Biddle, here.]

There is a common complaint leveled at intellectuals
today, lobbed from both Left and Right, which says intellectuals are
holed up in the ivory tower. They are accused of being either elitist
or reformist liberals, out-of-touch Marxists or armchair activists.
In each case intellectuals are assumed to be isolated from everyday
life. Over recent decades this charge has been thrown by the Left
against that all-purpose brand: theory. Charges of obscurantism,
jargonism, and armchair strategizing were leveled at
"posties" (postmodernists, poststructuralists, postcolonialists), yet
this specter of irrelevance obscures a larger trend taking place in
the U.S. academy: the growing corporatization of the university.[i]

According to Maribel Casas-Cortes and Sebastian Cobarrubias, in this
volume, the ivory tower itself has a mythic function, —erasing the
university's immersion in historical processes. The increasing
dependence of universities on corporate and federal funding has
created a set of interlocking institutions that, if anything, makes
intellectual work extremely relevant to and integrated with pragmatic
interests. Put simply, we are in an era of embedded intellectuals.[ii]
What can we make of this new condition?
I address this question by evaluating recent tendencies
in the academy, especially in the field of communications studies.
Using the theoretical lens of autonomist Marxism, I examine
intellectual labor, or the working of the general intellect, as a
means to think through these conditions and offer some conceptual
devices for understanding new potentials for radical subjectivity.
Given the prominence accorded by autonomists to communication, media
and information technologies in the new landscape of labor, I will
highlight the academic disciplines where these processes are being
studied and developed. Given the significance of communications both
as growing academic field and infrastructure for the General
Intellect (GI), as well as my own immersion in it, I concentrate on
that circuit.

Embedded Intellectuals

Let's begin with a recent public face of the embedded
figure: the now almost forgotten practice of embedded journalism.
Brainchild of Victoria Clarke, then Assistant Secretary of Defense
for Public Affairs, embedded journalism involves integrating
reporters into the very machinery of the military (living with
troops, going out with them on missions, wearing military gear)
during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While a few journalists wrung their
hands in disapproval, mainstream media welcomed this innovation in
wartime reporting. This new propaganda involved the state merging
with private sector consultants (the Rendon group, Burston-
Marstellar, the Bell Pottinger group) and professional journalism to
form a nexus that Guy Debord once called "networks of influence,
persuasion and control."[iii]

As a mix of publicity and secrecy, this form of
journalism recalls another, older definition of embedded. It has a
very specific meaning in subliminal psychology research. Embedded
refers to the hidden symbols, voices, or messages buried in a text.
The word "SEX" in the Ritz cracker or the skull in the ice cubes of a
Smirnoff print ad were embedded, according to Wilson Bryan Key
(author of those 1970s mass market paperbacks on subliminal seduction
in advertising). Even today, if you take a Neuro-Linguistic
Programming course or order a subliminal message CD you too can learn
to drop embedded commands into your speech patterns. But this Tony
Robbins spectacle of war journalism originally got it backwards:
rather than have the signifier disappear into the background (à la
the hidden penis in the Camel cigarette pack), the embedded
journalists took center stage, making their military handlers vanish
and exert hidden influence. Only now, as the very practice of
embedded journalism has become normalized, do we see it disappearing
as object of scrutiny.

Another definition of embedded comes from electrical
engineering and computer architecture, where embedded systems refer
to special-purpose microprocessors that reside in other devices (like
wristwatches, antilock brakes, microwaves and cell phones). These are
the applications that are producing smart appliances, e.g.,
refrigerators that will tell you when your milk is spoiled or when
you are running low on beer.

Combining these notions of embedded we can think of
journalism as being embedded into an integrated circuit, where it
becomes a component of a strategic assemblage of vision machines,
programmed info-flows and material PSYOPS. One does not have to be in
a desert to be embedded: it can just as easily occur in the White
House briefing room or at one's own news desk. Modifying
Baudrillard's assessment of Disney and Watergate, we can say that
embedded journalism arose to make us think that the rest of
mainstream journalism is not embedded.

From smart appliances to smart bombs to smart news, and
the ultimate dream here is to have embedded audiences who appear to
speak freely, without a background of handlers. These would be smart
audiences, capable of interacting continuously via cybernetic
feedback loops and integrating smoothly in a war/media machine.

But why limit such a rich concept like embeddedness to
journalism? As an image of institutions interlocking via their
knowledge-producers, embeddedness can easily translate to the
academic world. We could say that journalists themselves are embedded
intellectuals, and by extension embedded intellectuals exist in many
fields and disciplines.

The Academy

As mentioned before, there is an increasing tendency for
‘network university' scholars to be embedded in a whole host of
institutions, policies, and organizations.[iv] Among these different
kinds of academic embeds are the following:

1) Funding. Namely, outside grants to study policy issues and
corporate strategies.

2) Winging door relations between university faculty and outside
institutions (e.g., corporations, government agencies, public
relations firms). Examples include partnership agreements in which
corporations fund research budgets in exchange for exclusive access
to raw data (and often the right to delay publication, or to review
and change manuscripts before publication).

3) Semi-autonomous mechanisms that establish and maintain these
links. Examples include lablets leadership training institutes,
entire degree granting units, and industry-university cooperative
research centers, even whole industrial parks.

4) Media relations units (linking scholars to media outlets). A
double function: It works as PR for the particular university and
contributes to a wider circulation of knowledge that shapes public

University faculty are increasingly going out and interlocking with
other institutions. With all of these recent developments,
intellectuals are less and less housed solely in the academy. More
importantly, intellectual work is not necessarily even being
primarily produced in the academy.

Scholars who still wish to link themselves to
progressive struggles are finding themselves in a bind. For many,
interlocking the institutions of knowledge-power signals a corruption
of thought, as it undermines the essential autonomy of research. And
there is much to be concerned about here. Links between academia and
other institutions are not open connections. These pathways are
highly circumscribed, routed tightly to a range of legitimate (and
legitimizing) discourses.

More than that, these interlocks influence the standard
for scholarly work. In other words, instrumental thought and research
is gaining currency. The criteria for what counts as legitimate
research is now closely tied to the utility of the results. The
fundability of research is becoming a standard of judgment
(explicitly acknowledged or not), and career advancement (and
security) is dependent on the ability of the researcher to obtain
external funding.

Take the case of professional associations (e.g., the
Modern Language Association, the American Sociological Association,
the American History Association): While professional associations
have historically functioned as gatekeepers within their respective
fields, now they gate-keep between the field and state/corporate
institutions. Publishing in association-affiliated journals enhances
professional status, especially in contrast to the proliferation of
non-association journals (where more experimental and critical work
can take place). The invocation of standards in the field has the
potential to further marginalize innovative and critical work. It is
not that cutting-edge work can't appear in the association-sponsored
journals; it often does. But more and more the assumption is that the
only innovative work that matters appears in the official organs.
This fetishizes the field's own filters, which is by definition a
conservative maneuver.

The subtle interlocks above are part of how academic
intellectuals are embedded in other institutions. There are much more
explicit, long-standing ties worth mentioning. Obviously, large
grants are given to the hard sciences by state agencies for weapon
development. During the Cold War, scholars were funded, published,
and promoted by U.S. clandestine services in order to foster a
dominant consensus in fields like political science, sociology, and
history.[v] Anthropology has publicly confronted its legacy of
studying the Other as a kind of knowledge-gathering to make
colonialism and neocolonialism persist. Communication studies has
recently begun to outpace these disciplines in terms of funding and
administrative expansion. With this in mind, I want to explore the
current state of the field, as it crystallizes the new evolution in
embedded intellectuals.

Communication Scholars as Embedded Intellectuals

In the Fall of 2005 the National Communication
Association (NCA) announced that the keynote speaker for their annual
convention would be Judee Burgoon, and her talk titled "Truth,
Deception, and Virtual Worlds." Burgoon, it was noted, "has received
funding in excess of $6 million from several federal agencies,
including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland
Security, and intelligence agencies to study human deception,
nonverbal communication and detection technologies."[vi] In a time of
Terror/War, NCA had selected someone who was actively engaged in
research explicitly funded by, and supporting, the state's war
machine.[vii] The major disciplinary association was making public
its declaration that the new research agenda is a solidly statist one.

The history of communication studies is bound up with state and
corporate interests. It is no accident that communication studies
originated in public universities.[ix] Ronald Greene and Darren Hicks
have convincingly argued that the field of rhetoric and public
speaking was a part of the domestic "civilizing" mission.[x]
Fashioning well-spoken and articulate citizens, especially in the
early 20th-century rural Midwest and South, was a governing strategy
whereby subjects would be trained to become functioning members of
the emergent mass society.

In the case of mass communications the relation to the
state is more explicit. Christopher Simpson's Science of Coercion
details this history, noting that the field of mass communications
essentially arose in the aftermath of World War I.[xi] Wartime use
and study of propaganda needed further development. The upsurge of
Mass Communications university departments in the interwar period
became the home for this research, with plenty of federal funding.
Armand Mattelart adds to this critical historical analysis by placing
communications in the context of cold war social science.[xii] The
mission of mass communications was to manage the multitudes,
developing informational weapons to use against official enemies as
well as discipline the U.S. populace. Communications was developed
through counterinsurgency analysis, whereby war planners understood
the importance of studying guerrilla innovations in information
warfare. As late as 1973, the explicit naming of PSYOPS in relation
to communication was in effect, evidenced by the collection "Art and
Science of Psychological Operations." This U.S. Army pamphlet
contains analysis by Pentagon PSYOPS specialists, advertising
professors, filmmakers, etc.[xiii]

This history can be summed up in the social science
distinction between administrative research and critical research.
The difference refers to a split between Paul Lazarsfeld and Theodor
Adorno in the 1930s. As Lazarsfeld defined it, administrative
research is "carried through in the service of some kind of
administrative agency of public or private character."[xiv] Whether
or not explicitly commissioned by a specific agency the research is
instrumentalized within the established parameters of already
existing institutions. Critical research sought to question the very
foundation and power relations that infused those institutions,
connecting them to larger political and economic contexts. This
tradition is associated with the Frankfurt School.

Administrative research seeks to make Western
institutions run more smoothly while critical research challenges the
very legitimacy of those institutions. Even today, communication
studies finds itself embedded in this legacy.

This history is important to remember as the field of
communication studies is propelled into a conspicuous future. While
some disciplines are waning, even disappearing, others are increasing
their dominion. The placement of communications PhDs into tenure-
track jobs is high compared to other fields within the social
sciences and the humanities.

This growth is a double-edged sword. On the one hand,
for those in the academy there are new opportunities for a secure
future. I encourage grad students that I know in traditional
disciplines (e.g., sociology, history, even English) to add media or
new information technologies to their projects as a way of expanding
their chances of getting an academic position. On the other hand, the
quality of the future of the discipline is not heartening. The hard
science model is gaining dominance in determining the field's
standards. One need only look at the simultaneous growth of
telecommunications with the diminution of humanities-oriented

If you ask subscribers to this model why, they'll say
it's because it produces the most methodologically rigorous research.
But they forget their own legacy in the administrative vs. critical
debate. Their scholarship is valued because it produces easily
digestible and usable results as administrative research. In other
words, the growth of communication studies research is tied to
fundable research. Grad students, for example, are not always funded
internally by a university; many are expected to get funding by
latching onto a faculty member's external grant money. "Growth,"
then, moves through particularly constrained avenues.

Embedded intellectuals seem to be holding sway in the
field of communications. What does this mean for critical and
politically inflected communications studies? Should we think of
academics as embedded in universities? Is being employed somewhere
the same as being embedded? It is certainly the case that the
professionalization of research has occurred, and in the U.S. that
means being housed in the academy, or, when non-academic, being
embedded in think-tanks or public policy institutions.

So what is a potential counterpractice to the embedded
intellectual? The independent thinker? This is too individualistic,
and would of course confirm the criticisms against the ivory tower
intellectual. But the embedded intellectual does not need to be
greeted with dystopic surrender. These new conditions create both new
intolerables and new potentials: antidotes "can be tracked down only
in what for the moment appears to be poison."[xv]

I want to argue here that the embedded intellectual is a
figure not to be denounced, but reappropriated. At first this may
seem regressive. But while what most intellectuals are embedded in
needs challenging, the very fact of being integrated into social
circuits and knowledge-producing networks is a figure that can
undergo elaboration and ultimately transmutation.

General Intellect and Commmunication

The General Intellect (GI) is extracted from a single
reference in Marx's "Fragment on Machines" within the Grundrisse.
[xvi] Essentially, it refers to the "general productive forces of the
social brain."[xvii] For Marx, the GI was primarily concretized in
machines and technology. It was a scientific, objective capacity. The
technological fix here resulted in automation, as well as a
socialized network of linkages (transportation and communication).
The tradition of autonomist Marxism stressed the subjective side of
the GI; namely that it involved above all the capacity of living labor.

GI ultimately addressed not just the classic point of
production: it involves educational and cultural components.[xviii]
Analyses moved from strictly economic spheres to the production and
reproduction of the social and the increasing merger of the two.
Labor was increasingly becoming intellectualized in terms of: 1) the
contents produced (information, symbols, affect); 2) the
technologization of industrial forms and most importantly 3) the
collaborative informational networks implemented to produce new and
old commodities. This last component is most relevant here, as it
begins to retool the traditional notion of the intellectual.

Intellectual work is therefore not a specialized
erudition: it refers to the most generic aptitudes of the mind. As
Paolo Virno puts it, the General Intellect is less about the products
of thought than the faculty of thought. It is this faculty that
begins to connect diverse sectors through diffuse language.[xix]
Thought ceases to be an invisible, private activity and becomes
something exterior, "public," as it breaks into the productive

The General Intellect has communication as one of its
key characteristics.[xxi] Immaterial labor, for instance, refers to
work composed of the manipulation of symbols and knowledge-
production, and information transmissions. New information
technologies have been indispensable to new configurations of
capital. But to this more objective, mechanical side of
communications in the GI we need to emphasize the subjective
(affective) component.

Within the employ of a corporation, communication has a
crucial place. Workers are given a certain amount of creative
autonomy and self-direction in their operations, as long as they are
directing their freedom toward the corporation's goals:
"Participation schemes, wherein workers decide how to accomplish the
businesses mission, but, crucially, not what the mission is."[xxii]
Communication within the workplace (and across workplaces) thus
becomes key to the socialized labor of GI. With a heavy concentration
of capital into marketing, communication also becomes increasingly
crucial for the management of social relationships with the consumer
as well as within commodity production. Interaction, cooperation,
communication: these are the material subjective processes composing
networks of production and reproduction today. Communication and
information transmission are constitutive of the General Intellect.


Given this description of the General Intellect, what is
the place/role for the academy? As mentioned above, the intellect
does not belong to the realm of the private or the individual. With
the traditional intellectual, the ivory tower operated as this
attempt at seclusion and segregation. Now, in order to remain viable
as an institution, the academy cannot serve as the repository of
private intellects.

Perhaps no institution is more indicative of the changes
in intellectual labor than the university. According to Negri and
Lazzarato, "no site could be more vital to capital's harnessing of
collective intelligence than academia."[xxiii] As industry becomes
more intellectualized, intellectual sites become more industrialized.
[xxiv] A brief look, then, of how academia operates in the General
Intellect is in order:

1) Knowledge. The most apparent thing that the academy produces is
knowledge. Increasingly knowledge is produced in collaboration with
state and corporate institutions. The research is then simultaneously
used by those institutions in a varying range of proprietary claims,
as well as published in academic journals to maintain its scholarly
legitimacy (if not hegemony). In addition, the preferred forms of
knowledge (quantitative, instrumental research) are geared towards
use by these state and corporate interests. The recent controversies
concerning the conversion of academic research into intellectual
property is a key flashpoint here. For Dyer-Witheford, the virtual
university is a key development in intellectual labor.[xxv]As a labor-
cutting measure, universities have increasingly looked into and
developed online courses, even e-degrees. Students don't have to live
on campus, or even leave their homes to get a degree.[xxvi] Pretty
soon we may be seeing ghost campuses, monuments to an era of
spatially socialized education. Among its many results, the virtual
university produces a commodification of teaching itself: even non-
research-based intellectual activity becomes intellectual property of
the university, or of the course-management software companies.

2) Students. Perhaps the main product of universities is a student
population trained for the future labor pool. The academy has become
a provider of the skills needed for a new generation of General
Intellect. The ability to negotiate the fusion of work and leisure
has been a part of the university for some time now. More attention
has recently been paid to time management and study skills (or as my
university called their recent massive overhaul of undergraduate
curriculum, "Life and Learning"). These enterprises recognize the
need to ensure students are able to juggle various obligations and
desires. In addition, educational tools like collaborative projects,
using new technologies (online communication, symbolic manipulation),
social interaction (with each other in discussions, or with a
supervisor), critical-thinking skills, life-long learning, creative
problem solving, and independent work are all means of training
future immaterial laborers. Even study abroad programs (now seemingly
taken over by business schools) are ways of preparing the future
global labor force in international social relations.

3) Academics. Finally, there is the question of how academic
intellectuals are produced. In addition to communication scholars
collaborating with state and private industry, even critical and
cultural studies scholars have been encouraged to go out. This
typically entails entering the media sphere, either as a public
intellectual à la the 1960s New York ‘men of letters,' or updated to
TV news and popular culture appearances as ‘experts.' Beyond this
intellectual work outside of the university, academic characteristics
of the General Intellect include: being mobile and flexible (moving
around to different positions, being able to teach a wide range of
necessary courses) and time-managing work vs. leisure. Pedagogical re-
skilling, self-governance, technological upgrading and collaborative
work all comprise academic labor that puts them in common with other
academic intellectual laborers.

Perhaps the most pernicious effect of the
corporatization of academic subjects is the way its workers, along
with many sectors of the labor force, have been precaritized.
Precarity refers to the conditions of labor in post-Fordism; namely,
as part-time or flex-time work, as being without job security or
benefits, or as being easily replaced. Essentially, precarious labor
is at the whim of capital. Within the academy, precariousness
accurately describes most of the teaching force at universities. The
increasing reliance on graduate student TAs (already a transient
population) has put the burden on students to carry the bulk of
teaching chores, while their attempts to unionize are blocked by
employers. In addition, the swelling pool of adjunct teachers (hired
on a course-by-course basis for low wages and given no benefits),
often staffed by recently minted PhDs, has added to the multi-tier
system of academic labor. Even the more secure faculty, the ones on
tenure track, are often so filled with fear at the prospect of not
getting tenure that they live in a continual state of anxiety and

With all of these developments, it should be clear that
what was once the ivory tower now becomes fully integrated into
networks of production and reproduction. Given that the General
Intellect is so dependent on communication (or as Jodi Dean calls it,
"communicative capitalism"[xxvii]) it seems appropriate to return to
communication studies here. The many strains of communication studies
are relevant here, especially linguistic, technological,
organizational and media. Currently the field is delirious with its
own relevance and service to the state/corporate sector. Research on
techno-competencies, life-long learning, mobile communications,
public relations, and other topics prevail. Even the study of
rhetoric plays a role in this field. Ronald W. Greene has powerfully
argued that rhetorical studies, rather than continue to act as moral
and political exemplar, would benefit from recognizing rhetorical
agency as a component of living labor crucial to capitalism.[xxviii]
Essentially, communication studies as a research area is making a
denser and more self-reflexive web of connections.

Hegemonic communication studies also co-opts critical
work for its own purposes. For example, there is much ado now in
communication studies about dialogue and interaction. These concepts
get defined as being related to freedom, being audience-centered,
even being critical. But this two-way is contained within production
imperatives. As Lazzarato argues, communication is performed within
narrow limits: it is the "relay of codification and decodification,
within the context that has been completely normalized by the
firm."[xxix] Instead of freedom, there is a totalitarian exhortation
to express oneself, to communicate. A subject becomes a simple
relayer of codification and decodification, whose transmitted
messages must be ‘clear and free of ambiguity,' within a
communications context that has been completely normalized by
management.[xxx] Dialogue is cybernetic feedback, as the means to
increase productivity and reduce friction. Value within production is
increased through more information and communication. Communication
studies is poised to be this value-adding discipline.

The gleeful sentiments that fuel this kind of
administrative research are as deluded as the corporations they shill
for. The giddiness with which interaction and dialogic communication
are applied assumes a set of communicators who are all too eager to
be included in the process, to feel like they are made to matter.
This hoodwinked approach depends on a deep, mystified worker loyalty
and docility. The cynicism of workers regarding their firm's PR
babble is lost on these cheerleaders for global capitalism. The
snickering mockery of, and outright hostility towards, corporate
reaching out is a much more honest sentiment. Currently relegated to
popular culture (The Office, for example), these sentiments are where
critical communication studies can begin defining itself in an age of
the General Intellect.

Communicating Otherwise: The Machinic Intellectuals

The refusal of workers to comply with communication
imperatives (even work itself) is a disembedding that produces new
potentials for the General Intellect. According to Virno, the General
Intellect becomes politicized when it detaches from its capitalist
actualization and moves elsewhere: a radical break turning into a
union with a political community.[xxxi] For Virno, this New Alliance
of Intellect/Political Action means civil disobedience and exit. The
GI defects in an autonomous withdrawal based on wealth: the exuberant
and self-valorizing productive capacities of living labor.[xxxii]
What is needed is a circuit that moves as a "dramatic, autonomous,
and affirmative expression of this surplus."[xxxiii] What are the
potentials for intellectuals in interlocking with struggles and
antagonisms, in producing new common bodies that refuse subordination
to capital and seek out autonomous destinies?

What could this mean for academics and communication
scholars? Given the conditions of the General Intellect, the logical
choice would be the General Intellectual. However, this term might
end up being too confusing and vague. In common parlance, ‘general'
has associations with abstraction, transcendence, the ahistorical,
isolation and comprehensiveness. It also carries the connotations of
a representative (think here of the General Will). For these reasons
we need a different figure for the General Intellect.

Academia, as a site that embodies both the GI and its
potential subversion, offers a possibility: not a representative but
one intellectual circuit among many circuits. Circuit should be
explained more here: a circuit provides a path for electrical current
to flow. In telecommunications a circuit is a specific path between
two or more points along which signals can be carried. Many believe
the digital revolution was birthed from the invention of the
integrated circuit, which essentially connects semiconductor devices.
The valuable characteristics of the IC are its dense connections in a
small space (chip), its reliability, fast switching speeds, low power
consumption, mass production capability, and ease of adding
complexity. A circuit can be dedicated or application-specific, but
can also be part of an emergent structure (a circuit of circuits, or
network). For those who find this emphasis on circuitry too
technophilic let's remember that the properties of these circuits and
networks have been found in bios as well, from brains to ant colonies.

This emphasis on circuitry should remind us of the
opening discussion about embedded intellectuals. The academic's role
in providing the factory of immaterial laborers and in developing new
knowledges, skills, and competencies define its specificity in this
general circuitry. Academics now can be reconfigured as embedded, but
no longer within already existing institutions. A circuit, routing a
flow-conduction, can just as easily be in an emergent network that
withdraws from these institutions. To embed with an exodus and with
antagonisms: how is this embedded intellectual possible?

Given the circumstances detailed above, I propose
thinking of the embedded intellectual as a machinic intellectual
(MI). This would dispel the romantic and overly humanistic notion of
Gramsci's organic intellectual. It would also acknowledge the role of
technology in the General Intellect. Unlike the passive connotations
of embedded, machinic has an active and productive sense. The
Machinic Intellectual also does not represent: it is not an external
synthesizing mechanism determining the true interests of a people.
Rather it is more of an immanent translator, an exchanger as Foucault
puts it, and attractor.[xxxiv] Keeping with the circuitry concept, we
could also add: conductor, amplifier, resistor, insulator,
capacitator, incapacitator, integrator, modulator, even circuit
breaker. Finally, drawing from Guattari and Deleuze, machinic has an
affective component that addresses the role of desire and
transversals. Collectives are produced "not through representation
but through affective contamination."[xxxv]

According to Negri and Lazzarato there are new
conditions for relations between dissenting academics and
oppositional social movements.[xxxvi] Academics get paid to think,
analyze, teach, research and write. The various disciplines each have
their particular abilities and skills to offer: historians can give
needed background on events, political philosophers can locate the
nuanced arguments for various political projects, sociologists come
equipped with detailed knowledge of social processes. Given the
conditions of mobility and interconnectivity academics are also in
good position to form what Nicholas Dyer-Witheford calls "networks of
counterresearch and pools of shared experience."[xxxvii] One possible
means is to think of academics as conceptual technicians. At least
for the theoretically inclined machinic intellectuals, tinkering with
concepts can open up new relations and imaginings.

Having the time and resource access to fine-tune and
develop concepts puts MIs in a position of communicating
transversals. As David Graeber puts it, academics provide conceptual
tools, "not as prescriptions, but as contributions, possibilities—as
gifts."[xxxviii] For Guattari this means "intellectuals and artists
have nothing to teach anyone
they produce toolkits composed of
concepts, percepts and affects, which diverse publics will use at
their convenience."[xxxix]

Once again, given media and communication's special role
in the GI, the work of academics in this field should also be
highlighted. The annual Union for Democratic Communications
conference attempts to aggregate Leftist communication studies folks.
More recently the Media Reform conferences sponsored by Free Press
have brought together academics, activists, and media producers to
collaboratively work on the major obstacles facing media justice.
Supporting the radical components within professional conferences is
an obvious strategy. Beyond the academy, there are also conferences
like Allied Media, and various one-off grassroots and Indymedia-
oriented gatherings that communications scholars can attend.

Faculty can conduct research on various streams of
alternative communication culture and Indymedia, ranging from the
topics chosen to the theoretical frameworks employed in
communications studies (see Ronald Greene, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Mark
Cote, Alison Hearn, Ron Day, Enda Brophy, Stephen Kline and Greig de
Peuter).[xl] Even critical communication studies is often fixated on
the operations of dominant communications from corporate media
consolidation to mainstream journalism's ideological machinations.
While it is important to have evidence of how hegemony works, it is
easy to fall victim to the seductive lore about how powerful these
molar institutions are. Why not disembed from this symbolic
dependency and re-embed with molecular communications and micro-
media? A circuit of exit would involve breaking from the central
concepts and assumptions about what counts as critical work.

Within the classroom, teachers can obviously make the GI and its
potential a part of the curriculum. This might include giving
assignments that deal with these issues, even using these research
results in the service of local or wider communications struggles.
The porosity of the classroom (and the university overall) can be
used to bring in guest speakers and lecturers.

Finally media scholars can go out in a number of ways. While
conservative elements of communication studies encourage faculty to
perform outreach outside the university, this is often defined as
service to the state.

Communication scholars can be the media by writing for
independent papers or producing alternative cultural products. More
importantly, communication MIs can lend whatever skills and resources
they have to media activism groups. As Jonathan Sterne argues,
leftist scholars should perform academic pro bono work like other
professions.[xli] This would mean listening to the needs of
activists, and offering services to concrete struggles. With these
initial steps which are already occurring, we can see forming a
"network of researchers engaged in the participatory study of
emergent forms of struggle."[xlii]

Attending a variety of conferences and speaking to
graduate students, one finds that the next generation of media
scholars is tuning in to new political and social potentials (and not
always relying on theory). Post-Seattle, a new crop of communications
PhD students have emerged, with research projects involving
independent and micro-media, virtual and cellular resistance,
contestational robotics, network-centric activism, technologized
collectives, and other experiments in the contemporary activist
laboratory. These are not naïve technophiles seeking a cover shot on
Wired magazine, they are apprentices in resistance-metallurgy:
testing amalgams, doing trial runs on compounds, probing new
syntheses, and assaying the results and potentials. To ignore (or
worse yet, to misrecognize) these emergent networks of scholars-
activists in favor of command centers, agenda-setting leaders, and
recognizable institutions is akin to boarding up the exit door.

And these new scholarly projects are not the only
theoretical experimenters. This rich tapestry of activist research
includes the drift-work of the 3 Cups-Counter Cartographies
Collective at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (see Cosas-
Cortes and Cobarrubias in this volume), and the research militancy
projects of Colectivo Situaciones, Precarias a la Deriva, and Bureau
d'Etudes/Universite Tangente. Maybe these innovators are in contact
with some good theory translators, but maybe they just aren't relying
so much on intermediaries. The future of critical media studies seems
to be populated with machinic intellectuals who are already
collaborating with nonacademic machinic intellectuals. Together, they
are producing new circuits of exit.


The point here is that MI does not belong to the
academy, but academics are a type of MI. The academic MI is an
interface, embedded as a specific intellectual in its professional
and disciplinarian skirmishes which themselves are now embedded in a
larger circuit. These larger circuits are mostly state and corporate
systems, but could also be lines of flight and circuits of exit. The
academics, recognizing their positions as embedded intellectuals must
ask which will to enhance and which to diminish: as machinic
intellectuals, which circuits will they assist in immanentizing? When
these circuits of escape and exuberant production coalesce new
historical subjects are not far behind. This subject's destiny is
generated elsewhere but the future of academy is bound to it.

The machinic intellectual as described here is
admittedly optimistic, even too smooth. There are obviously bumps and
short-circuits at work that hamper radical possibilities. Some
involve external blockages, including reactionary counter-dissent on
campuses that have taken the form of a crackdown on Left professors.
Internally the precariousness of academic labor detailed earlier can
prevent transversals as can the standardization of knowledge around
instrumental research. Finally, there are still ivory tower-like
effects where the machinic intellectual becomes more absorbed by the
rewards and punishments of the academy proper, ultimately withdrawing
into its sectoral demands. In other words, machinic intellectuals
don't always work smoothly, but this is no reason to eliminate their
potential, or worse yet, to retreat to the comfortable numbness of
the tried and true paths. As an open source conceptual figure, the
machinic intellectual needs collaborative retooling. As an
experiment, the concept may even fail, but this would simply mean
devising new ones!

In a world of symbolic and affective labor, machinic
intellectuals become less a model than an experimental prototype.
Regardless of their origins, machinic intellectuals produce relations
and at the same time are seized by them. A kind of strange attractor,
you might say—not visible as center or causal force, but nonetheless
effective in gathering and distributing other forces. If this is
still too self-important we can abandon our own strangeness as
attractors and become one of the forces drawn to a strange attractor
we cannot even name yet.


[i] See Henry Giroux, Impure Acts: The Practical Politics of Cultural
Studies (New York: Routledge, 2000); Jennifer Washburn, University,
Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education (New York: Basic
Books, 2005); Henry Giroux and Kostas Myrsiades, eds., Beyond the
Corporate University: Culture and Pedagogy in the New Millennium
(Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001); Stanley Aronowitz, The
Knowledge Factory (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000)), Michael Gibbons,
Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott,
Martin Trow., The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of
Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (London: Sage, 1994);
Robert Ovetz, "Turning Resistance into Rebellion: Student Movements
and the Entrepreneurialization of the Universities," Capital and
Class 58 (1996): 113-152. Alan Liu, The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work
and the Culture of Information, (Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 2004).

[ii] The term is taken from "Empire's embedded intellectuals," a
speech given by Prof. Hatem Bazian of UC Berkeley in early 2005. He
refers mainly to explicit academic supporters of U.S. imperialism
(like Samuel Huntington, Bernard Lewis, and Alan Dershowitz. As I
retool it, it involves the very condition of being in the academic
institution nowadays, regardless of one's direct ideological support.
For a report on Bazian's speech, see http://amperspective.com/html/

[iii] Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, (London:
Verso, 1998).

[iv] John Pruett and Nick Schwellenbach, "The Rise of the Network
Universities: Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy." Available
at http://www.utwatch.org. Paper presented at the Education,
Participation, and Globalization Prague 2004 Conference. The most
succinct summary of the effects of this can be found in Jennifer
Washburn's article "University Inc.: 10 Things you Should Know about
Corporate Corruption on Campus." Available at http://

[v] See Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and
the World of Arts and Letters (New York: New Press, 1999);
Christopher Simpson, Science of coercion: Communication research and
psychological warfare 1945-1960 (New York: Oxford University Press,
1994); Christopher Simpson, ed., Universities and Empire: Money and
Politics in the Social Sciences During the Cold War (New York: The
New Press, 1998; Robin W. Winks, Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the
Secret War, 1939-1961 (New York: William Morrow, 1987).

[vi] NCA is the major professional organization for U.S. academic
communication researchers, with convention attendance of
approximately 5,000. Its choice of speaker (for many conferences)
indicates an exemplar in the field. From the NCA website: http://

[vii] In addition, in my own School of Communication, Library, and
Information Studies, Homeland Security Initiative money was regularly
available, and faculty members were encouraged to apply for it. A
former colleague of mine received millions of dollars to develop
digital deception detection technology. Also, the original poster on
the cultstud listserv revealed that his department received large
grants to monitor the effects of military recruitment games on
players. A whole study is hopefully in the works right now that
traces these funding sources and their impact on the communications

[viii] The nonchalance of announcing this part of her research agenda
caused a brief but intense controversy on the premiere listserv for
international cultural studies. Message posted by Dr. Jeremy S.
Packer, from the Dept. of Communications at Penn State University.
([cultstud-l] NCA and "Homeland security?" June 7, 2005). Within the
NCA, Critical/Cultural Studies is among the most popular divisions,
with the fastest growing membership of any division in the association.

[ix] While plenty of private schools have communications programs
now, it was originally the provenance of major public universities.
Even today the top programs are in the Big 10, while the Ivy Leagues
are grumblingly beginning to even acknowledge communications as a
scholarly pursuit.

[x] R.W. Greene and D. Hicks (2005). "Lost Convictions: Debating Both
Sides and the Ethical Self-Fashioning of Liberal Citizens," Cultural
Studies 19.1(January)): 100-126.

[xi] Simpson, Science of coercion.

[xii] Armand Mattelart, Mapping World Communication: War Progress
Culture, Trans. Susan Emanuel and James Cohen. (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

[xiii] This U.S. Army pamphlet (a two-volume, 1100-page hardbound
set) contains analysis by Pentagon PSYOPS specialists, advertisers,
political scientists and sociologists, theater professors and
filmmakers. Art and Science of Psychological Operations. United
States Army Pamphlet, 1973.

[xiv] Paul Lazarsfeld, "Remarks on Administrative and Critical
Communications Research." Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9,
(1941): 2-16.

[xv] Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, (Los Angeles, CA:
Semiotext(e), 2004), 84.

[xvi] Critics have argued that the attempt to found entirely new
historical analyses and materialist theories out of such a marginal
moment is making mountains out of molehills. However, this
"overproduction" is itself an autonomist performance, I would argue.
The ability to elaborate and create new horizons with limited
resources is an interpretive vis viva, demonstrating the abundant
wealth that results from collaborative capacities.

[xvii] Cited in Nicholas Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and
struggles in high technology capitalism, (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1999): 220.

[xviii] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 222.

[xix] Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, 108.

[xx] Ibid, 64.

[xxi] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 227.

[xxii] Chris Carlsson, "The Shape of Truth to Come." In James Brook &
Iain Boal, eds., Resisting the Virtual Life, (San Francisco: City
Lights, 1995), 242; cited in Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 228.

[xxiii] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 233.

[xxiv] This is not to say GI is universal, even within the
university. Contrary to the typical notion that academic work is a
disembodied endeavor, the bodies of academics matter (as one of my
professors astutely observed, every academic gets a signature
ailment). Universities also do not run without the symbolic and
manual labor of its staff (from administrative assistants to
maintenance operations).

[xxv] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 233-5.

[xxvi] Interestingly, the annual Renewing the Anarchist Tradition
conference takes place at such a ghost campus in Vermont. Having
shifted much of their curriculum online, the campus was deserted
except for a skeletal service staff. If these ghost campuses become
home to swarms of radical conferences, then maybe this effect of GI
isn't so bad!

[xxvii] Jodi Dean, "The networked empire: Communicative capitalism
and the hope for politics," In Paul Passavant and Jodi Dean, eds.,
Empire's new Clothes: Reading Hardt and Negri (New York: Routledge,
2004): 265-88.

[xxviii] Ronald Walter Greene, "Rhetoric and Capitalism: Rhetorical
Agency as Communicative Labor," Philosophy and Rhetoric 37, no. 3,
(2004): 188-206.

[xxix] Maurizio Lazzarato, "General Intellect: Towards an Inquiry
into Immaterial Labour," Immaterial Labour: Mass Intellectuality, New
Constitution, Post Fordism, and All That. (London: Red Notes, 1994):
1-14; cited in Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 224.

[xxx] Maurizio Lazzarato, "Immaterial Labor," In Paolo Virno &
Michael Hardt, eds., Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics.
(Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota Press): 135.

[xxxi] Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, 68.

[xxxii] Ibid, 70.

[xxxiii] Ibid, 71.

[xxxiv] Michel Foucault, "Truth and Power," 127. in Power/Knowledge.
C. Gordon Ed., (New York: Pantheon, 1980): 109-133.

[xxxv] Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana
University Press, 1995): 92.

[xxxvi] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 234.

[xxxvii] Ibid, 227.

[xxxviii] David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology
(Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004.).

[xxxix] Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis, 129.

[xl] And this is just limited to the North American context. For a
more global autonomist perspective on communications and media, see
the work of Bifo, Tiziana Terranova. Network Culture: Politics and
the Information Age (London: Pluto Books, 2004), Brian Holmes, and
many of the researchers associated with Nettime (including the recent
special issue of Fibreculture called "Multitudes, Creative
Organisation and the Precarious Condition of New Media Labour" at

[xli] Sterne, Jonathan. "Academic Pro Bono" Cultural Studies
Critical Methodologies, Vol. 4, No. 2, 219-222 (2004).

[xlii] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 233.