The Postfordist Lexicon
Introduction to the catalogue
In this way the international character of processes of production and control has been redesigned. The relationship between political sovereignty and the economic sphere is being reformulated alongside the global processes of wealth creation, out of which the wage differentials between nation states are used to build a network of transnational companies. The link between information, communication, knowledge and production is essential to this reconfiguration. The knowledge stored in information networks and the increasingly common linguistic cooperation of men and women in their concrete actions form the connective and constitutive tissue of the ‘social capital’ of Postfordist societies (Bagnasco 1999: 65-85).
The general intellect plays a crucial
role in Postfordist societies. It is comprises a group of knowledges that
are not reducible to a determined machinic action (or to ‘fixed
capital’ in Marxian terms), however complex the function [see General
Intellect]. With contemporary labour processes, thoughts and languages
function in themselves as ‘productive’ machines without needing
to adopt a physical, mechanical or electronic body. Though not exclusively
such thoughts and languages also belong to the experience of individuals
[see Cultural Capital]. The conflictual, complex and contradictory roots
of Postfordist production and of the processes that define the modes of
control, regulation and reproduction of labour power and global subjectivity
[see Strategies] in biopolitical terms [see Biopolitics], can be seen
in the deformity and widening gap between a diffuse collective intelligence
and the ‘social brain’ that has been subsumed in labouring
processes. We will now briefly outline these points.
The total reconfiguration of the international character of the productive processes is not without centres of command. Globalisation is not synonymous with dispersion [see Globalisation]. As Saskia Sassen points out, sovereignty and territoriality are still essential elements of the globalised international system, yet exist in institutional settings that are absolutely different from the territory of the state (Sassen 1991; 2000: 8). Much political discretion continues to pertain to state sovereignty (Bonefeld and Holloway 1991; Jessop 1994: 251-279). However, economic organisations are being appropriated by supranational organisations. This has always been the case and undoubtedly it is not solely due to the influence of international markets on the political sphere of government of singles states. ‘The point is that the activity of these international markets requires determinate economic policies’ (Sassen 1998: 74). Modern politics is made up of economic policies and ever since the 1920s; but its main agents today are no longer institutional subjects because their governmental powers have been strongly compromised.
To illustrate this change it suffices to consider the influence exercised by international rating agencies: what sovereign nation can oppose the macroeconomic effects of periodic evaluations? The issue concerns the influence of the dictates of monetary policy on the parameters of the real economy. This is not to say that we can envisage an entirely globalised economy where single national economies are completely uprooted (Berger and Dore 1998). However, the main function of the old paradigm of state sovereignty can only be sustained by stretching the concept at the price of a proliferation of exceptions to it and ad hoc explanations, mainly caused by the so called ‘international regimes’. Nothing prevent us from ascribing their existence to the will of the states that set them up, ‘but the size and weight of the phenomenology that emerged in the past few decades make it unlikely that such existence can be explained from a perspective of atypical marginality.’ The permanence of the ‘state form’ has to be regarded as a ‘field and subject amongst others of global governance’ [see Sovereignty].
One of the fundamental questions at the macroeconomic level is raised by those who believe, with data at hand, that the world economy was comparatively more ‘global’ in the period of 1870 to 1914 than today, given the greater intensity of movement of capital for direct foreign investments (Andreff 2000). This standpoint demonstrates the sort of impasse reached by analyses that fail to place changes in the modes of production and the nature of labour at the centre of their attention. As noted by Marazzi, these interpretations dismiss the social form that characterises processes of globalisation, that is essentially: a) the role of new financial capital in relation to workers’ savings (pension funds); b) the finances of domestic economies; c) the crisis of the relative autonomy of the monetary regulation of the economic cycle; d) the subordination of the policies of central banks to the dynamics of stock markets; e) the lack of intermediation of banks that results from the progressive reduction of interest rates; f) non-inflationist growth, i.e. the production of a structural surplus of social wealth that can no longer be channelled by traditional adjustments to interest rates for the regulation of economic cycles without causing instability in the global system of finance [see Globalisation].
The crux of the matter lies in monetary sovereignty understood both as the ability to control the monetary base and as the power of the international institutions of Bretton Woods to control the increasing and fast growing financialisation (Dorn 1998). Since the end of the 1970s capital account liberalisation has played a pivotal role in Postfordist strategy because – as Conrad Herold observes – the liberalisation of money flows does not give rise to the same problems of coordination that were inherent to the liberalisation of markets. Capital mobility also keeps national governments in check. Thus, in the 1980s and 1990s, we have seen a global shift of tax burdens from capital to the workers and the consequent temptation of national governments to resort to fiscal deficit has been constantly threatened by speculative attacks against their currencies [see Transnational monetary agencies]. This has contributed to processes of privatisation and expropriation of sovereignty for the benefit of global creditors. As a consequence, the crisis of the relative autonomy of monetary regulation of the economic cycle with respect to the stock markets, and the processes of turning collective savings into shares (more averted by state shares and obligations), has confirmed the ‘omnivorous character of Postfordist processes of production of wealth’ and determined the overcoming of the Keynesian separation between savings and investments (Marazzi 1998).
Rather than the banal and unfounded idea
of a neo-liberal ‘overcoming’ of state borders, this shows
that what is really at stake is the gradual melting down of the normative
modern idea of the state, defined by Schmitt as a territorial and sovereign
identity [see Space and territory; Legitimation]. The crisis of this identity
manifests itself in the processes that lead to a so-called ethical empire,
a new global civitas. The classical idea of imperialism, where ‘the
territorial borders of the nation determine the centre of a power that
exercises domination on external foreign territories’ is set aside.
In its place we find an empire that exercises a decentred and deterritorialising
sovereignty and gradually incorporates the entire ‘global rein’
within its open and expanding frontiers. This order is de facto willing
to suspend history and maintain the present state of things for eternity
(Hardt and Negri 2000). Nothing lies outside this new ‘ethical order’,
neither can this order be reduced to the unquestioned leadership of the
United States. As Dal Lago writes, empire needs to keep containing the
conflicts that the unstable structure of the world system gives rise to.
In no way does this determine the conditions for the subversion of the
imperial galaxy, yet it ‘activates internal dynamics that are less
and less unpredictable. Empire is powerful yet inherently fragile, as
shown by the limited rationality it employs to manage the conflicts that
it provokes due to its very nature’ [see War]. In this context,
many authors read the apology for local identities as the result of the
greater political fragmentation. Bauman observes that there is no contradiction
between the new extraterritoriality of capitals and commodities and the
new proliferation of ‘quasi-states’, sovereign but precarious
and weak. Parallel to the emergence of a planetary scale of the economy,
there is an imposition of processes of localisation that differentiate
distinctively the living conditions of entire populations or large internal
segments of them. These complementary processes entail extraterritoriality
and cosmopolitanism for the included, and forced residence, limits to
migration and zero tolerance for the excluded (Wacquant 2000). However,
it would be inappropriate to oversimplify matters in this way. Of equal
importance is the consideration of how a fundamentally negative power,
which represses and expels undesirable elements from social areas, can
exist alongside a ‘positive and ‘inclusive’ intervention
that aims to reshape and normalise anomalies: not the actual exclusion
of the few (or many), but the possibility of anyone being excluded’
could become the real structural element of the global system [see Exclusion/inclusion].
Between mature Fordism and Postfordism
The 1970s are a well known turning point.
The soaring price of primary materials, the oil crisis and the monetary
storm linked to the fixed rate of the dollar would all define the new
framework for the restructuring of the global market (Bologna 1974). The
crisis of governments with Keynesian policies was met in different nations
by a process of simultaneous concentration and decentralisation that aimed
to disarticulate the class composition of the large factory, to reduce
the cost of labour and the role of social welfare and public spending
in general. In other words, the change in the process of accumulation
expressed the processes of maturation and diffusion of the experience
of the mass multinational worker (Aglietta 1976, Gambino 1997).
The situation was equally complex from the standpoint of the subjectivity of living labour and the so-called ‘fifth generation of workers’ (Bologna 1980), who had grown up in large cities between 1968 and 1977. The brain of the Fordist organisation of production lay in the ‘large factory’ which followed the dictates of Taylor’s scientific management. The factory was located at the outskirts of the city, and the latter was the actual centre of the labour market that produced an ‘articulate, atomised and deskilled labour force in a process of mechanisation and socialisation of labour’ (Alquati 1975, Coriat 1979). The long course of the constitutionalisation of labour and the edification of a welfare state [see Welfare] were extraneous to it and appeared to be ‘peculiar characters of the current constitutional form of the more developed capitalist states in the post war period’ [see Constitution and public sphere; Juridical paradigms].
When between 1978 and 1979 the so-called
‘new employees’ walked into Mirafiori (a FIAT factory), their
experiences were radically different from those of the previous generation
of workers, who were ‘individually deskilled, neo-immigrants and
new to city living, yet socialised en masse in this highly mechanised
“factory”’ (Alquati 1975). They would rise up against
both the wage ‘structure’, its ‘form’ and the
necessity to work for the whole duration of one’s life itself, to
receive an income rather than a salary [see Citizenship income]. The subjectivity
expressed by this new labour force certainly failed to undermine the factory
regime overall. If anything, it made it more viable and eased the restructuring
moves towards flexibility. This is due to the rigidity of the offer of
labour caused by the rising levels and spread of education. Whilst it
had been previously possible to interpret the productive behaviour of
the labour force as an articulation of the technical composition of class,
now this was made impossible by the growing penetration of the ‘social’
into the productive sphere, which limited its normative power over the
behaviour of the workers (Berra and Revelli 1979). 1977 had entered the
factory [see Exodus].
The Fordist mode of production was certainly
not a universal model and its realisation varied and diversified in different
nations according to their institutional assets, the macrodynamics of
credits and the impact of external shocks (Boyer 1999). Nonetheless it
is possible to identify common features. They range from the hypothesis
of an unlimited growth of mass production and of the ability of the market
to absorb via a constant recourse to economies of scale; from Taylor’s
scientific management to the anti-cyclical policies of Keynes; and from
the positing of an unskilled working class as autonomous political subject
recognised in its political alterity, to the process of its radicalisation
that was known as the turbulent environment. In Italy this had a particular
character and informed the Italian reflection on the transition to Postfordism.
Many recognise it as paradigmatic and find the roots of Postfordist theory
in the development of the Italian economy (Kumar 2000).
a) an increased flexibility in the localisation
and delocalisation of the processes of production;
This series of simultaneous changes interacted with important movements of the retraction of productive activities away from established industrial estates, and saw the emergence of new large regions incorporating the more dynamic economic areas and capable of exploiting the many advantages of the productive network as a whole [see Global city; Logistics]. The impact on the processes of production of commodities and services was great, but it did not bring about the disappearance of important and still central areas of ‘mature Fordism’ (Rullani and Romano 1998). Let us be clear on this issue: Toyotism was not the negation and overcoming of Taylorism, nor did the processes of global finance, or the Italian model of industrial estates, determine, as such, the transition to a Postfordist mode of production. This transition was the outcome of a whole set of dynamics that are complex and questioned the dominant ‘social form’ where the relation between the economy and politics was determined; where labour, income, consumption and production, - alongside the family, the school, the factory, gender relations and information - were macro sociological and macro political categories before being macro economic ones [see Consumption]. What became of mass society?
The effort of language
The changes involved can be seen from different angles. However, we are convinced that the essential ‘indicator’ remains labour, and specifically its increasing characterisation as an informal process – taking geopolitical diversity in due account– that alongside the nucleus of relatively stable occupations (which is no longer necessarily privileged) prefigures a mass precarisation and an all increasing intermittence between employment and unemployment, with the extension of large ‘modules’ of autonomous labour to non traditional sectors that have strong connections with local and global networks and are linked to new professions and the emerging demand for labour in enterprises of the network economy, characterised by a variety of labouring figures [see Autonomous labour] (Bologna and Fumagalli 1997).
These developments have already been identified
(Harvey 1990) but it is important to recognise the distinctive trait which
commonly underlies the majority of the labouring processes. Because of
the powerful development of the information technology society, the increasingly
diffuse and distinctive communicative nature of these processes is due
to the fact that the ‘linguistic effort’ is predominant in
all sectors of production – whether material or immaterial –
and that this does not imply any disenchanted ‘conviviality’.
In societies where information prevails, differences are not removed;
rather they are amplified. The informational mode of development –
as defined by Manuel Castells (1989) – is specifically characterised
by the fact that the accumulation of knowledge induces new knowledge as
the primary source of productivity and social change because of its impact
on the productive, cultural and administrative processes. Broadly speaking,
it is evident that every mode of production always entailed the accumulation
of experiences as well as generic and determinate knowledge. However,
production today is the ‘production of knowledge by means of knowledge’,
determined by continuous productive interactions allowed by information
systems in general as much as by the particular communicative and informational
nodes that pertain to the productive and social processes in their entirety.
The core of the technologies exploited by these processes is made of the
elaboration of information that is composed of products and primary materials.
Therefore the embodiment of these technologies in commodities and services
and decision and procedures, is the outcome of the application of their
informational output and not their output itself. As such, the role of
machinery comes after the synergies made possible by its usage.
The dexterity of abstract labour is not merely characterised by technology. Rather than being the ‘surveillant’ of a ‘linguistic machine’, abstract labour manifests its ability to govern the symbolic sphere (regularly put to profit) in so far as it communicates and acts relationally through the informal circulation of knowledge and the use of multiple linguistic codes. The latter are neither confined to informational codes nor specific to a single ‘linguistic machine’. ‘The term communication is more like a constellation that includes concepts such as information, knowledge, language and IT’ [see Communication]. In the Postfordist mode of production communication is immediately productive: it initiates a ‘talking’ chain of production and a labour of communication that constitutes interaction rather than being one side of it. Contrary to the ideological claim of Postmodernism, the coincidence of labour and linguistic interaction does not attenuate the antinomies of the dominant mode of production; it radicalises them.
As Virno notes, in the Fordist factory
the activity of labour is mute and production is a silent chain where
any interactive correlation between simultaneous processes is expunged.
Living labour follows a natural causality and uses its power.
‘The crisis of the Fordist era is intertwined with that of the male subject as its main empirical point of reference’ [see Family]. One of the main features of Postfordist labour is the lack of rigid goal oriented form of labour and the presence of increasingly feminised models of production (Beck 2000c: 96) where the immaterial aspect of the commodity, i.e. factors related to knowledge, language, care, and service, prevails [see Volunteering]. The act of ‘care giving’ and the merging of labour and life are exemplary forms of Postfordist living labour: ‘a labour that reproduces a public relational context in the private sphere’, a labour of communication where ‘what used to be regarded as unproductive and was relegated to the private realm has now become public and immediately productive’ [see Feelings and care].
Toyotism adopts operational models based on relations that used to be specific to the culture industry because the labour force cannot be ‘passive’ and conflictual: its subjectivity has to be motivated towards ‘self valorisation’ (Revelli 1993, 1995) [see Toyotism]. The Postfordist enterprise is lean, modular, networked, virtual and transnational: knowledges that are a personal asset must be transformed into ‘intellectual capital’. Social knowledge is the indispensable ‘raw material’ of the labouring process. The enterprise turns the socialisation of knowledge into the innovation of organisation and products [see Enterprise; Cooperation]. This is particularly the case for cutting edge sectors [see Biotechnologies] where ‘the inclusion of the entire linguistic-communicative sphere in production is such that the new balances of power are defined around the issues of intellectual property’ [see Copyright].
In the symbiotic link between labour and knowledge production, its distribution and socialisation is decisive, not in the traditional sense of the apprenticeship for a profession and the perfecting of its techniques and strategies, but in the sense of a continuous ‘readiness’ to change one’s competences and recycle one’s generic attitudes in a continuous shifting between employment, unemployment and training. Training is often purchased by the Postfordist labour force in the form of cultural consumption and the enterprise cashes it in as a productive investment: the private appropriation of social cooperation. This is particularly evident with the labour force of the ‘widened knowledge cycle’ (the new ‘digital’ professions) where ‘adopting the mind-set of life long learning is no longer an option but a survival need’ [see Digital rights]. Training is neither just the transmission of knowledge, nor merely preparation geared to a specific activity; ‘it aims to lead individuals towards a certain form of life, and this includes a coherent set of cognitionive abilities, behaviours, tastes, values, relations, inclinations and habits’ [see Training]. The intrinsic and structural duplicity of information and communication cannot be underestimated. As Scelsi notes, the communicative sphere is constantly threatened by its implications in ‘the changing standards of information: a process of digitalisation of every human activity that is imprinted with the syntactic marks of private property’ [see Communication]. Flexibility, continuous training, the spread of precariousness and uncertainty characterise a mobile social model (Bauman 1999) of a global risk society that is highly political (Beck 2000c:70) and at the antipodes of a ‘Postmodern constellation’.
Technologies of the self
The use of the term mobile in sociological characterisations is quite ambiguous, especially when referring a political context. In general the term denotes a non-static society, but in Postfordist production it assumes an entirely new significance. Common experience is characterised by the ability to provide a meaning to mobility and to make sense of the space where the perception of time occurs (Bauman 1999) [see Time and experience]. Sennett notes that in flexible modes of production the main implicit articulation of power is the discontinuous reinvention of institutions that allows no continuity between past and present. In an ‘open networked system’ the lack of continuity is made productive by the possibility of exploiting the lack of coherence of a fragmented system that needs to face mobility, uncertainty and risk on a daily basis and on a mass scale. This need calls for what Foucault defined as a ‘technology of the self’ because a system characterised by flexibility and precariousness causes a structure of the self that is in a constant state of ‘recovery’ from and catching up with events. As Amendt notes, flexibility and mobility have their correlatives in the psyche. Risk society predisposes subjects to ‘run higher risks in order to separate labour time from leisure time as well as to be able to psychologically survive this constant accelleration’, often with the aid of substances [see Drugs].
Modernity was characterised by a mode of experience and so is Postmodernity (Berman 1985). The unlimited expansion of the realm of images and the increasing virtualisation of experience [see Spectacle] entails a ‘generational shift from identity politics to experience based politics, from direct perception to immediate fruition, perfectly in line with the experiential economy of consumerism’ [see Noise; Consumption]. Postmodern experience should not be understood as disenchantment with the myth of the Western grand narratives of the twentieth century, as a major part of the European canon claims; rather it should be understood as the cultural logic of contemporary capitalism. As Jameson notes, Postmodern experience is specific to the dislocation of several elements of the reproduction of the self from production to circulation (Jameson 1989), which are: the lack of depth in theory and the cult of the image spread by the effective cross-breeding of different media [see Media]; the weakening of historicity, of public history and of private temporality [see Revisionismo]; and a new kind of affective tonality of ‘intensity’.
The biopolitical framework first outlined by Foucault in the context of the microphysics of power and later taken up by Donna Haraway, vigorously asserts its ineluctability: rather than the regressive defence of supposedly original identities against science and technological innovation, what is needed is ‘a full adoption of the dimension of biopolitics through the development of situated standpoints that elude the hypothesis of functionalist objectivism and are able to play out the changing potential of our times on registers that are different from those consolidated by powerful groups’ [see Biopolitics]. The new politics of the body have to do with ‘technology and the power to transform matter and its states’. The body is the locus of experimental technologies and social practices that rather than just ‘discipline’, can turn it into the privileged field for any kind of experimentation [see Body]. The body is also the locus of redefinition for a fluid identity that is in conflict with all processes of normalisation taking place in the dynamic social transformations of ‘identity and consumption’, where identities are reflected in consumption and themselves become objects of consumption [see Transgender; Cyborg].
Risk, flexibility and mobility correspond to the weakening of collective bonds and of the grid of experiences that make up the constitution of subjects [see Identity]. The metamorphosis of the mode of production, from disciplinary Fordism to a Postfordism of flexibility and mobility, made the question of insecurity an essential feature of daily existence (Beck 2000a, 2000b; Giddens 1994, 2000) [see Security and Fear; Panic]. This is well demonstrated by Sennett who underlines the corrosion of human character under contemporary capitalism. This is not caused by a lack of history, quite the opposite: it is the product of the diffusion and generalisation of uncertainties, the general insecurity and the risk that affects individuals and even political institutions. The latter can no longer parasitically feed on a given legitimacy entrusted once and for all within a political national framework [see Legitimacy; Representation].
The situation can be seen as a sort of ‘new barbarism’ in Benjamin’s terms: we can only ‘start again from the beginning’, ‘start afresh’. However, the process Sennett calls the ‘corrosion of character’ also entails a familiarisation with uncertainty invested in the multitude that experiences the expropriation of the greatest power of cooperation, knowledge production and social know-how hitherto achieved [see Multitude; General Intellect]. The putting to work of what is common, i.e. language and the intellect, does not necessarily produce a subject that is completely absorbed by a personalisation of dependency so as to make completely ‘available’ the generic existence of each. The individual, ‘far from being a self-evident and clearly delineated given, appears to be a transitory stage, a singularity, in Deleuzian terms, internal to a field of forces’. The individual is always in relation with the environment with a reserve of pre-individual power [see Singularity]. The individual mind is inherent and immanent to ‘the widest network of communicative channels, messages, information and representations that lie outside of the individual body. The very concept of “individual” must be redefined also from the evolutionist point of view as ‘individual-in-his-environment’ [see Mind and brain]. But this is not enough. A redefinition is only legitimate if completely freed from a prescriptive social structure where gender is linked to models of subordination and domination and can thus conceive of gender itself as ‘a fundamental category in reality and in social, cultural and historical representations’ [see Gender].
The masters with the wisdom and talent to give counsel to those who needed it are now replaced by revised and updated instruction manuals. The Postfordist ‘common’ succeeds Benjamin’s ‘barbarian’; it is caged but possesses a diverse experience of borders, changing ‘access keys’ and the mobility of identity constructs. This ‘common’ can be configured as a sort of ‘barbarian’ that is technologically equipped [see Technique; Cyborg], full of different skills and trying to give a subjective meaning to its mobility through increasingly networked applications of general social knowledge and of the power of the ‘agents’ of science and technology and by rediscovering the central role played by living labour and of mass intellectuality.
The Postfordist lexicon consists of sixty
entries selected, without pretence of completeness, after months of discussions
and research and written by authors renowned for their engagement in the
field. It is organised as a dictionary of ideas in alphabetical order
but is also a hypertext that allows for transversal readings. It is a
tool that tries to pin down a common language and conceptual apparatus.
The very fact fifty people collaborated in this project shows the size
of our debt to the contributors. We would like to thank Raf Valvola Scelsi
in particular for building this dictionary with us since the start. He
really is the third editor.
Aglietta, M. (1976) Régulation
et crises de capitalisme (Paris : Calmann-Levy).
|*Translated by Arianna Bove. Edited for G-O by EE.|