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Re: <nettime> Re: What's the meaning of "non-commercial"?
Keith Hart on Mon, 17 Jan 2005 10:05:15 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Re: What's the meaning of "non-commercial"?

Some societies treat transactions involving money payment as
fundamentally distinctive and the rest do not. Money and markets are
usually present in the latter, but they have not been significantly
transformed by capitalism. A flood of rural-urban migrants into
industrial employment established wage labour as the norm in nineteenth
century Europe and America. This entailed separating spheres in which
paid and unpaid work predominated. The first was ideally objective and
impersonal, specialized and calculated; the second was subjective and
personal, diffuse, based on long-term interdependence. Inevitably, the
one was associated with the payment of money in a public place or
business, the other with home and housework

For some time now we have earned money outside the home and we spend it
there in our spare time, so that production and consumption are linked
in an endless cycle. It is hard to keep the personal and the impersonal
apart, especially at times of crisis; yet capitalism=92s moral economy
demands nothing less of us every day. Human work is not an object
separable from the person performing it, so people must be taught to
submit to the impersonal disciplines of the workplace. The war to impose
this submission has never been completely won. So, just as money is
intrinsic to the home economy, personality remains intrinsic to the
workplace, which means that the cultural effort required to keep the two
spheres separate, if only at the conceptual level, is huge.

There are several reasons why this dualism is breaking down. The
breadwinner/housewife model has been undermined by women's re-entry into
the labour marke;, the erosion of 'jobs for life' and even of full-time
employment opportunities; the rise of the digital economy and of work
from home; the expansion of capitalism in areas of the world where its
impact is more recent; the proliferation of money instruments and of
digitalised barter systems, obscuring the notion of what money is in the
first place and so on.

It is therefore anachronistic to seek to separate out the sphere of
commerce or the market from the rest, whether this is recognised in law
or not. The opposition of commercial and non-commercial systems, usually
with a pejorative attitude being taken to the former, goes back to
Aristotle and the medieval scholastics and was taken up more recently by
various agrarian, anti-capitalist and social democratic interests,
culminating in the failed attempt to establish communist societies
without money and markets being central to them. Many intellectuals,
seeing their social influence diminished yearly by encroachments of the
market, no doubt are keen to embrace notions like the gift economy as a
means of resistance to this process. In this respect, most contemporary
anthropologists notwithstanding, Marcel Mauss sought to show the
fundamental unity of gifts and market contracts, sharing as they do the
common logic of reciprocity.

Patrice is right that an attempt to demarcate a separate sphere of
business occupied by corporations would stand a somewhat better chance.
But that would entail reversing the legal trend since the 1880s to
collapse the distinction between real and artificial persons which gives
modern corproations their current privileged position in law. That might
be a worthwhile political campaign and it has already begun in a small
way. But the GPL is more or less irrelevant to it.

Keith Hart

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