Benjamin Geer on Thu, 5 Oct 2006 22:03:51 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Invisible States: Europe in the Age of Capital Failure

2006/10/4, Brian Holmes <>:

> it is necessary to add a fourth 'fictitious
> commodity' to Polanyi's list of three (land, labor and money).
> This fourth fictitious commodity is knowledge

I think that's a good argument, and it's nice to see someone
developing Karl Polanyi's ideas a bit further.

> The impossibility
> of completely functionalizing this subtle interweave of practices
> and motivations is obvious,

I have a question about this.

Consider what could be called secondary knowledge production: the work
of translators, librarians who classify, reviewers and critics who
summarise, textbook authors who synthesise and simplify, journalists
who read or listen to large amounts of information and pick out the
relevant bits for their audience, and of course all the more or less
informal activities that can play similar roles, like posting messages
on this mailing list.

In all the Western organisations I've been involved in, there's been
some official support for this kind of work: an official bulletin to
let people know what's going on in other parts of the organisation,
general assemblies where people present their work in progress, and so
on.  But I found that people around me considered these official
channels untrustworthy: in a large corporation, for example, people
wouldn't tell the truth about their projects in official meetings for
fear of scaring the managers and losing their jobs or their funding,
and official bulletins were mainly written by ill-informed marketing
people.  So people relied on word of mouth to find out what was really
going on.

Here in my temporary Middle Eastern home, the same things seems to
occur on the level of the entire country: because the official press
is censored, rumours are one of the main ways people find out about
crucial events.  For example, during the recent bird flu scare, many
people were convinced that the government was hiding something, and
all sorts of rumours flew ("a friend of a friend of works as a doctor
in a hospital, and he said...").

Rumours are perhaps the cheapest and least formally structured way
that the people circulate knowledge.  The "independent" press here has
more resources behind it, and is more formally structured and more
credible than rumours, but as a journalist at one of the main
independent papers here told me, they don't have the resources to do
the kind of serious journalism that the state-run papers can do.  Yet
beyond a certain point, greater resources and a more formal structure
seem to bring a loss of independence and thus a loss of credibility.
Is this inevitable?  Was Indymedia (sometimes) worth reading for the
same reasons that made it unable to cover the kinds of stories that
the BBC covers?

I think we have to answer this question if we're going to "constitute
social formations that might act in common".  I've met plenty of
educated people here who are surprised when I tell them that only a
few years ago, there were large social movements in the West that
opposed American hegemony, corporate-led globalisation and the US-led
invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, that a million of us marched in
London in 2003, carrying banners saying "No blood for oil."  At best,
they heard that there were demonstrations, but thought that the
demonstrators were simply trying to protect their own national
interests rather than acting out of solidarity with the Afghans or the

How could a society (or, say, a social movement or group of social
movements) support secondary knowledge production so that people can
get the information they need, from credible sources, in a form they
can understand, in time to act on it?


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