McKenzie Wark on Mon, 3 Jun 2002 06:59:42 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> on material and 'immaterial' labour

While i don't agree with everything Kermit writes in his post
on Empire, i do agree that the concept of 'immaterial labour'
is misconceived. *All* labour is simulataneously material and
immaterial. All labour is about the transformation of both
matter and information.

Even within the terms of an analysis of immaterial labour, one
has to ask, for whom does labour appear to become immaterial?
Only for those of us in what Paul Gilroy so aptly called the
'overdeveloped' world. In a place like China, the 21st century
is very much an *industrial* era. Take a look at Shenzen and
you lose count of the smokestacks.

There is a privileging of the experience of the overdeveloped
world in H+N, and indeed in Negri. But it is no longer necessarily
the case that what happens in the overdeveloped world has some
determining role for the rest of us.

But one thing that does seem to me to be worth pointing out is
that IP becomes a new source of power for a new class, what i
call the vectoralist class. A class whose power is based on
the control of copyrights and patents, not on the control of
the productive assets of agriculture or manufacturing. There has
been a hollowing out of the corporations of the overdeveloped
world. They have passed from a capitalist to a vectoralist
formation. They control the means of designing and branding
things, but subcontract manufacturing out elsewhere.

An example might be the American corporation ADM, which was once
about the production of agriculture, then about the secondary
processing of food products, but is now about patenting plant
varieties and branding foodstuffs. Its history spans the history
of commodification through land, capital, information.

But there is nothing 'immaterial' about this. Its a misunderstanding
of materiality to think that information belongs to the real of
the ideal. Its a weirdly imperial move, reserving the immaterial
(aka the ideal) for the overdeveloped world.

If what happens in the overdeveloped world still matters, it is
that a new mode of commodified life has been born there. The
monopolisation of information affects the life chances of everyone
everywhere. The emerging regime of global IP is heavily biased
towards the needs of the overdeveloped world. One forgets that
when the US was a 'developing' country, it freely stole patents
and copyrights from Europe.

The immaterial comes to exist precisely *because* it becomes a form
of property. This crucial insight is to my reading missing from
H+N. By treating it as an ontological category, H+N dehistoricise
the relations of power by which the 'immaterial' comes into being.
Which is why i prefer this other way of conceptualising it, which
puts IP as a class instrument at the centre of the analysis.

Many thanks ot Kermit for inciting me to think this through further,


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