nettime's_high-level_scriptor on Wed, 5 Jun 2002 08:53:06 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> hAxx0r |<|_/-\55 d!gest!!! [wark, henwood]

"McKenzie Wark" <>
     hacker class, further considderations
Doug Henwood <>
     Re: <nettime> on material and 'immaterial' labour

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From: "McKenzie Wark" <>
Subject: hacker class, further considderations
Date: Tue, 04 Jun 2002 04:51:00 -0400

Further Considerations on the Hacker Class
{response to nettime contributors)

McKenzie Wark <>

Anyone proposing a new theory of class is always going to
have to spend more time resisting misinterpretations than
actually advancing the theory, so, here goes.

The hacker class produces what is realized in the form of
intellectual property, but does not own the means for
realizing its value. As Diane McCarty says, "maybe we are
all hackers and we don't know it." Yes indeed. And as Pit
Schulz points out, the 'immaterial labor' of the user is also a
point at which value is created. While I find the notion of
'immaterial' is based on a false distinction, Pit is otherwise
quite right. The hacker class may indeed include many kinds
of people who produce many kinds of value, but who don't
know it.

It won't, however, include those who turn creativity into
property and property into commodification. Bill Gates is a
vectoralist. So too was Ken Lay, interestingly enough, when
you think about Enron's failed attempt to monopolize the
market for the simulation of the oil market.

These two classes confront each other, and have for some
time, which why it is remarkable that, as Pit points out H+N
have very little to say about class and property in Empire,
when class and property is where the action is, and has
been for years. They clearly see the need to supplement
their work in this area.

The hacker class has no given cultural identity. It conforms
to no representation. It has been the historic failing of class
theories to try to think of class in terms of an identity and
to make it conform to a representation. Politics is always just
as divisive, and culture just as diverse, within a class as
between classes. Artists, scientists, engineers are all hackers
in the specific sense in which I use the term -- they create
what may become a form of property.

The notion of the 'organic intellectual' is, as Pit points out, a
very useful precedent for thinking about the hacker class.
But the hacker class has absolutely nothing to do with
theories of 'symbolic analysts'. I agree with Kermit Snelson
about the limits to that concept, but perhaps for different
reasons. All theories of the 'new middle class', 'symbolic
analysists', the 'intelligentsia' and so on have to supplement
class analysis with new terms. My approach to class theory
adds no new level of analysis at all. It goes back to the heart
of classical class theory -- property -- and takes the
formation of intellectual property seriously as *property*.

Far from being a 'philosophical vulgarity', the philosophical
simplicity, or rather, the abstraction, of this approach to
class is precisely what it has to recommend it. It is not based
on the separation of information from manufacturing, or of
a service sector from a secondary sector, or material from
immaterial labor. These are all poorly constructed concepts,
in my view. They describe appearances but they don't map
abstraction at work in the world. The class struggle
between hackers and vectoralists is just as 'material' as any
other level of the class struggle.

I agree with Russell Carter that it would be most useful to
"investigate the ecology of these hacker processes",
although we may agree on little else. But it is important to
remember that property turns creativity toward
commodification. Not only are the fruits of creativity
commodified, but the commodity becomes the fruit of
creativity. One has to decolonize the critical mind in order to
imagine creative production freed from the straightjacket of
value. Beppe Caravita is right to say that Negri is "in reality,
only a poet", but we need poets in order to imagine the
world otherwise.

We don't need another hero, as Lorenzo Taiuti says. But
the rhizomic production of theory outside of the
commodified star system of the academy, in media that
permit an open distribution and circulation of ideas is exactly
what I have always thought nettime is. One has to begin to
write in this space negatively, with a critique of a theory
star, in order to edge it toward a critique of the
commodification of theory that produces stars, and
produces intellectual consumers who need stars -- not least
as the vehicles for their resentments.

But -- why not? -- 'open source' theory. John Hopkins
points us towards the sciences, and indeed the leading pure
scientists have been practicing a version of such for years.
Science is also "building language-based blocks" for the
creation of worlds, and is also in danger of having its
creativity commodified and turned away from the discovery
of the virtuality of nature and toward the commodification
of nature. But if we can forget about the cultural differences
between the arts, sciences and humanities, we might see a
common interest in keeping a margin of free creativity, at
the very least. Or -- why not? -- dream of a world in which
the creativity of all the producing classes -- farmers,
workers, hackers -- is free.

Who really cares what the origins of the word 'hacker' are?
Its a good old fashioned English word. To hack is to cut,
perhaps a bit crudely -- and isn't that what every truly
creative person does? Make a new cut, perhaps not a clean
one at first, but one on a new vector. Yes, as Diane
suggests, maybe we are all hackers. Or rather, it is the
unrealized potential of human social organisation that we
could all be hackers. I do not entirely agree with R A
Hettinga that "our network evolution follows our social
complexity." Not without a struggle, it doesn't. A struggle
to overthrow the limits imposed upon our evolution by
those who benefit only from the current stage of it.

One must focus critique on what limits our collective

See also, A Hacker Manifesto

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Date: Tue, 4 Jun 2002 11:58:28 -0400
From: Doug Henwood <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> on material and 'immaterial' labour

McKenzie Wark wrote:

>Things still get made, but they are increasingly made elsewhere.
>I'm surprised that Doug of all people would appear to deny that
>manufacturing in the United States is in trouble. Its one of the
>great achievements of American marxist political economy to show
>1. that this is the case and 2. the reasons why. Most writing on
>the topic focusses on the way corporations have used 'globalisation'
>to drive down the price of labour. I simply add to that something
>that is turing up in the management literature -- the discovery of
>the value and power of IP to the contemporary corporation. You
>can subcontract your component manufacture to the cheapest bidder,
>but it helps to invest heavily in the value of your brands and the
>strength of your patent portfolio.

This is true for sure, but not the whole truth. It's no longer the 
case that U.S. manufacturing is "in trouble." The Rust Belt was a 
fair characterization in the 1970s and early 1980s, but parts of U.S. 
manufacturing are quite strong. The Midwestern industrial states have 
some of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S., and as a UAW 
educator told me a few years ago, the unions' real threat comes less 
from Mexico than from nonunion parts plants in Ohio.

It was, of course, not news to me that, as another poster indicated, 
most U.S. workers are employed in services. But that doesn't mean 
that manufacturing has become economically insignificant. Eighteen 
million workers is not a small number. (And quite a few workers for 
temp firms, who are classified as service workers, are actually 
working in factories.) Many service industries - advertising, 
couriers, management consultants, janitorial services - depend on 
manufacturers to hire them.

Much New Economy discourse serves to disappear the worker, and the 
excessive attention paid to IP obscures the fact that people still 
work on assembly lines, turning screws and stuffing boards. And a lot 
of that happens right here in the U.S. We even have a few garment 
workers in Manhattan, still.


Doug Henwood
Left Business Observer
Village Station - PO Box 953
New York NY 10014-0704 USA
voice  +1-212-741-9852  
fax    +1-212-807-9152
cell   +1-917-865-2813
email  <>
web    <>

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