Is the University a Factory?

” For others still, student life is taken up with both part-time work and a succession of unpaid internships in cultural institutions, fashion houses, PR firms, media organisations and so on, in the hope that this ‘experience’ will translate into paid work on graduation. While we may lament the shift from university as a protected time in life where experiments in thought, knowledge and other ways of living can take place, to a period of study that is utterly instrumentalised for the job that comes after and makes good the debt, the reality in many universities today is that even this sequencing of life phases no longer holds true. For many arts and humanities graduates, the time of university and of work completely coincide. Often, the minimum wage service sector job held during the student period simply becomes more full-time upon graduation, or the student internship leads to yet more internships and service work on graduation. Perhaps proposing the university as factory in this context could do more to bring in an analysis of the working and studying patterns of these students of the new debt regime, where the worlds of learning and labour (both paid and unpaid) are intertwined like never before.”

Is the University a Factory?

Governmental Precarization

by Isabell Lorey

The precarious represents both the condition and the effect of domination and security in historically different ways. In the broadest sense, it can be described as insecurity and vulnerability, as uncertainty and endangerment. The counterpart of the precarious is usually protection, political and social immunization against everything recognized as endangerment.[1] Currently, however, the precarious and the immune are no longer only in a relation of opposites in postfordist societies, but rather more and more also in a relation of overlapping, tending, in fact, to become indistinguishable. The foundation for this development is that precarization in neoliberalism is no longer perceived as a phenomenon of “exception”, but is instead in the midst of a process of normalization, which enables governing through insecurity. To unfold these theses, I would like to distinguish three dimensions of the precarious: precariousness, precarity, and governmental precarization.

Precariousness designates – and here I concur with Judith Butler’s ideas – an ontological dimension of life and bodies. Precariousness does not denote an anthropological constant, no trans-historical state of being human, but rather a condition proper to both human and non-human living beings. Most of all, however, precariousness is not something individual and nothing that exists “in itself” in a philosophical sense; it is always relational and therefore a socio-ontological “being-with” in the tradition of Nancy,[2] with other precarious lives. Precariousness denotes the dimension of an existential common of living beings; it involves an ineluctable endangerment of bodies that cannot be prevented, not only because they are mortal, but also specifically because they are social. Precariousness as precarious “being with” is a condition of every life, which is evident in historically and geographically very different variations.

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The Romantic Ethic of Capitalism and the High Value of Art

by Hans Abbing

There exists a relationship between low incomes of artists and the high symbolic value of art. At first the low incomes in the arts seem to contradict this high value: in spite of the high value of art the majority of artists are poor. But maybe it should be: because the symbolic value of art is high, artists are poor. If this is true, it implies that, if the symbolic value would go down, artists would become less poor.
I am talking of symbolic value. Nevertheless financial value both follows from it and contributes to it. This financial value can be very high. For instance, governments and foundations spend huge amounts on prestigious new museums and concert halls — think of the Louvre museum in Abu Dabi and the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg. Also much public and private support is predominantly a sign of the high value of art. But the typical artist is poor.

(…) But, as noted, in people’s romantic imagery poverty in the arts is not necessarily a bad thing. Moreover, it is a good thing for those who benefit from the high respect for art. This applies to the art world elite. But also many poor artists believe that they benefit from the high respect. And if they do, there must be at least some benefit. The latter probably applies most to poor artists in the early stages of their career. But this type of benefit does not diminish suffering; sometimes it is the contrary.

“Notes on the Exploitation of Artists” presented at The Labour of the Multitude? The Political Economy Of Social Creativity organized by the Free/Slow University of Warsaw, 2011

The Struggle over Reproduction

by Silvia Federici in “Feminism, Finance and the Future of Occupy”

Finance capitalism is not different in nature from capitalism in general. The idea that there is something more wholesome about production-based capitalism is an illusion we must abandon. It ignores the fact that finance capitalism is also based on production and unequal and exploitative class relations, although in a more circuitous way. A feminist critique of financial capitalism, then, cannot be substantially different from a critique of capitalism in every other form. Nevertheless, looking at finance capitalism from the viewpoint of women, we can gain an insight into some of the ways in which our everyday reproduction and the relation between women and capital have changed. (…)

We are told that the crisis “threatens women’s meager gains” and will lead to a further expansion of women’s unpaid and ‘informal’ labor. How many times have we heard these laments, often from women (self-described feminists included) who are totally complicit with the institutional system that is responsible for the policies that have caused the crisis in the first place, over which now they shed crocodile tears?

Clearly employers and the state once again expect women to absorb the cost of the new austerity programs that are being introduced and to compensate both for the cuts in social services and for the increased costs of food, fuel and housing with extra labour, both in the home and outside the home. This is what British Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ program is about: downloading the costs of reproduction from society and government onto women – never mind demanding a greater share from corporations and capital, despite the fact that they depend on that reproduction. The financial crisis is an excuse to extend these policies. (…)

I am referring here not only to the fact that there is still evidence of sexism within social movements, but that, in the best of cases, women today can achieve some economic independence only at the cost of “becoming like men,” that is, at the cost of accepting work regimes that make no space for other relations: children, friends, families, and political activism. I have also heard, over and over, young women complaining of the balancing act they must perform in a workplace that expects them to be both ‘feminine’ and competent at the same time. Add to this that many of the achievements of the feminist movement today are in jeopardy.

Virtuosos of freedom

by Isabell Lorey

(…) What this then means for the increasingly impossible demarcations between public and private as well as between production and reproduction, I would like to develop in the following discussion, by taking the example of specific cultural producers, i.e. those on whom precarious living and working conditions are not only imposed, but who actively desire them and above all understand them as a free and autonomous decision.[20]

The virtuosos I refer to in what follows are by no means restricted to the artistic field. They can include academics or media representatives, for example. They are engaged in extremely diverse, unequally paid project activities and fee-paying jobs, and consider themselves entirely critical of society. Sometimes they don’t want a steady job at all; sometimes they know it’s something they can only dream about. Yet those cultural producers to whom I refer here start from the assumption that they have chosen their living and working conditions themselves, precisely to ensure that they develop the essence of their being to the maximum in a relatively free and autonomous manner. In the case of such virtuosos, I refer to self-precarization.

The interpellation to self-precarization belongs to an elementary governing technique of modern societies and is not an entirely new neo-liberal or post-Fordist phenomenon. Already, with the demand to orient oneself towards the normal as part of the modern trend, everyone had to develop a relationship with the self, to control one’s own body, one’s own life by regulating and thus controlling oneself. Inseparable from this self-conduct are ideas of actuality. Thus, for example, we still believe that the effect of power relations is the very essence of ourselves, our truth, our own actual core. This normalizing self-regulation is based on an imagined coherence, unity and wholeness, which can be traced back to the construction of a male, white, bourgeois subject.  Coherence, once again, is one of the prerequisites for the modern, sovereign subject. These imagined, inner, natural ‘truths’, these constructions of actuality still foster ideas of being able or having to shape one’s life freely and autonomously, and according to one’s own decisions. These types of power relations are therefore not easy to discern since they often appear as a free decision of one’s own, as a personal insight and then trigger the desire to ask: “Who am I?” or “How can I fulfil myself?”.  The concept of “personal responsibility”, so commonly used in the course of neo-liberal restructuring, only operates above this old liberal technique of self-regulation.

Basically, governmental self-regulation, this sovereignty at the subject level, takes place in an apparent paradox since this modern self-regulation means both subjugation and empowerment. Only in this ambivalent structure of subjectivation that – in all its diversity in the individual – was fundamental both in private as well as in the public sphere, both in the family and in the factory or in politics, only in this paradoxical subjectivation does the governability of the modern subject occur. The freedom to shape one’s own life, however, was an essential constitutive element of this supposed paradox between regulation and empowerment.

continue reading  Virtuosos of freedom

“Αν πάρουμε το παράδειγμα συγκεκριμένων πολιτισμικών παραγωγών, πχ. αυτοί, στους οποίους οι επισφαλείς συνθήκες ζωής και εργασίας όχι μόνο δεν έχουν επιβληθεί, αλλά αυτοί οι ίδιοι τις επιθυμούν ενεργά και πάνω απ΄όλα τις αντιλάμβανονται ως ελεύθερη και αυτόνομη απόφαση. (…) Οι βιρτουόζοι/ες στους οποίους αναφέρομαι με κανένα τρόπο δεν περιορίζονται στο καλλιτεχνικό πεδίο. Συμπεριλαμβάνουν για παράδειγμα επιστήμονες ή εκπροσώπους των μέσων. Ασχολούνται με εξαιρετικά διαφορετικές, άνισα αμοιβώμενες δραστηριότητες με τη μορφή πρότζεκτ και fee-paying jobs και θεωρούν τους εαυτούς τους εξ ολοκλήρου κριτικούς προς την κοινωνία. Πολλές φορές δεν επιθυμούν καθόλου να έχουν μια σταθερή δουλειά, άλλες φορές γνωρίζουν ότι αυτό είναι κάτι για το οποίο μπορούν μόνο να ονειρεύονται. Αυτοί οι πολιτισμικοί παραγωγοί στους οποίους αναφέρομαι αξιώνουν ότι έχουν διαλέξει οι ίδιοι/ες τη ζωή και τις συνθήκες εργασίας τους, ακριβώς για να εξασφαλίσουν ότι έχουν αναπτύξει την ουσία της ζωής τους στο μέγιστο με έναν σχετικά ελεύθερο και αυτόνομο τρόπο. Σε αυτήν την περίπτωση των βιρτουόζων αναφέρομαι στην συνθήκη της αυτό-επισφάλειας. (…)
Ως εκ τούτου δεν είναι εύκολο να διακρίνουμε τις σχέσεις εξουσίας καθώς αυτές εμφανίζονται συχνά ως ελεύθερη ατομική επιλογή, ως προσωπική διορατικότητα, πράγμα που σκανδαλίζει την επιθυμία μας να ρωτήσουμε: „Ποιός/ ποιά είμαι;“ ή „Πώς μπορώ να εκπληρώσω τον εαυτό μου;” Η έννοια της „ατομικής ευθύνης“, που χρησιμοποιείται τόσο συχνά στα πλαίσια μιας νεοφιλευλεύθερης ανακατασκευής, λειτουργεί μόνο μέσα στη λογική της παλιάς φιλευλεύθερης τεχνικής της αυτορύθμισης. Βασικά, η κυβερνητική αυτορύθμιση, αυτή η κυριαρχία στο επίπεδο του υποκειμένου, συνίσταται σε ένα φαινομενικό παράδοξο, μιας και η μοντέρνα αυτορύθμιση σημαίνει εξίσου υποδούλωση και ελευθερία. Μόνο σε αυτήν την αμφίσημη δομή της υποκειμενοποίησης – με όλη την διαφοροποίηση της στο ατομικό επίπεδο – που ήταν θεμελιώδης τόσο στην ιδιωτική όσο και στη δημόσια σφαίρα, τόσο στην οικογένεια όσο και στο εργοστάσιο ή την πολιτική, μόνο στα πλαίσια αυτής της παράδοξης υποκειμενοποίησης επέρχεται η διακυβέρνηση του μοντέρνου υποκειμένου. Ωστόσο η ελευθερία του να σχεδιάζει κανείς τη ζωή του, ήταν ουσιωδώς ένα συστατικό στοιχείο αυτού του υποτιθέμενου παράδοξου μεταξύ υποδούλωσης και ελευθερίας.