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Immaterial Labour and Post-Fordism by Carlo Scarfone

Lean production (just-in-time production) follows directly market demands. The increase of productivity drives under Fordism the increase of quantity of commodities produced and their devaluation (price decrease). Productivity in lean production is driven by its capacity to adapt to the need of consumption of the market.

Lean production is characterised by the production of a great quantity of different commodities and by the overcoming the tendency of capital to overproduction. The exigency to organise production around market needs, renders the role of communication of the industry with the market essential.

"One could say that with lean production, communication and information fluxes enter directly the process of production". (Marazzi 1994). Communication allows for the most flexible structuration of the productive process (1) as the lubrifying agent of the relation between points of distribution and sales and points of production.

From the point of view of production, communication and information exchange coordinates the operations of different working positions, which become situated on a horizontal plane making the need for a centralised management superfluous. The productive chain is not silent anymore, and technologies might be regarded as 'linguistic machines' (Marazzi 1994). Marketing becomes crucial both for the investigation of consumers trends and the creation of needs.

While in Fordist production the labour force parcellisation and specialisation were fundamental, under Postfordism the labour force is extremely flexible and the worker primarily requires communicative skills.

Instrumental action is confined to economic rationality, to action within the technical and mechanical spheres of the market. It is subordinated to economic calculation and excludes value-judgements, that are instead part of the discursive mediation, of language, and the intellect.

Fordism there was a neat separation between the economic (entrepreneur) and the political, administrative and institutional system (political subject). This separation was visible within the single factory, as the separation between the executive labour of the worker in the chain of production and the work of planning of methods and timetables, of white collars, which was a difference represented in the remuneration, life-styles, economic and social possibilities, class-relations. Communication in the industrial phase of capitalism was posed outside of the productive process. The economic structure and the discursive superstructure could still be identified separately. Communication, to say it in Hegel's terms, was a collective reflection made by subjects who were engaged in different activities, and it constituted the system within which society built social, judicial and institutional relations.

At the same time, in a separate location and at a different time, the socio-political system, based on the communicative action of individual economic subjects, acted upon each subject fixing rules, behaviours, roles, laws, norms, collective aims etc.

In Postfordism the coincidence of production and communication becomes the driving force of economic development, simultaneously causing a short-circuit in the institutional transition from individual to collective interests. Representation in the form of a party of class, rank, social group, becomes increasingly complex. Each individual tends to represent himself. "The entrepreneur, by virtue of being such, becomes politician, subject of government, writing off the separation, typical of representative democracy, between the economic and the political sphere". (Marazzi 1994) His being at once the subject of instrumental action and of communicative action makes him trustworthy, invests him of the aura of a political subject, of the virtues of the Machiavellian Prince.

At the same time the instrumental use of communication reveals another problematic transition. Instrumental action works according to the means-ends logic. Once the end is individuated there is only one best way to obtain it in the best possible time and in the most profitable way.

Communicative action functions in a radically different way, through pluridirectional processes. In our relation with the external world language allows the construction of multiple world-views, theoretically equivalent to the multiplicity of the subjects expressing them.

Consequently, once the end is individuated, the means to attain it can be modified continuously during the process, to the extent that the result can radically differ from the one that was initially planned. From the age of meta-narratives andomni-comprehensive languages in the explanation of reality we have moved to an age of totalised and globalised lack of certitude. This is because our uncertainties not only give rise to multiple possible solutions, but are also less socialisable and communicable to one another.

Living in this state of uncertainty also means confronting the world of labour without the guaranties that used to regulate it and stabilise it until some years ago. In a situation of general transformation, where flexibility and precariousness become the fundamental characteristics of productive activity, those who have the privilege to work, in a stable and continuous manner, have to be completely available in the face of the variations of the internal state, moods and fluctuations of their employers.

It is along with these characteristics of Postfordist production, in the compression of purchasing power, in the unpredictability, the real time adaptations, that the spaces of universal rights and judicial guarantees are closed.

Unpaid extra-time, changing working hours, mobbing. `Whilst the unemployed population rises, labour assumes pre-capitalist features, far remote from the workers' statute and trade unions' guarantees attained with the struggles of the 60-70s.

The commodities produced by immaterial labour are not exhausted by the act of consumption but contribute in a determining way to the construction of the cultural environment occupied by the consumer. It is not the object of consumption that develops the need to consume; this process is intrinsic to social communication. "Publicity has become a labour-process". (Lazzarato 1997).

Immaterial labour produces a social relation and extracts an economic value from this reproduction. Following this then it is subjectivity (consumer's and communicator's) that constitutes the raw material on which Postfordist production is based. Immaterial labour then produces at the same time subjectivity and economic value, bringing to light that Marx called real subsumption of labour under capital, i.e. that phase of capitalism when the social is directly transformed into the economic.

According to Lazzarato, in order to fully understand the subsumption of the social into the economic, for the workings of the labour of communication, it is possible to use an aesthetic model, a model of creativity, rather than the classical model of material production.

This aesthetic model is based on three elements: the author, the reproduction and the reception. These elements and moments cannot be related to a single individual. They are the product of a social and collective process and the articulation of a real cycle of production. This cycle is subsumed under the logic of capitalism and hence transformed into a commodity, yet it is still posed as a model of aesthetic production and of the relation between the author and the public. "The author loses his individual dimension and becomes a productive process industrially organised (through division of labour, investment, command); reproduction becomes a mass reproduction organised according to the imperatives of profitability; the public (recipient) becomes consumer/communicator. It is through this process of socialisation and subsumption under the economic of intellectual activity that the ideological product tends to acquire a commodity form."(Lazzarato 1997).

Using communication and interpersonal relations for production causes a shift in the form of requirements for work. Whilst under Fordism the quality of labour was linked to 'the professional formation and training', the curriculum and specialisations, education and specific work experience, under Postfordism the quality of labour is directly proportional to social relations, to the ability to create sociability and build communities. The process of valorisation and the extraction of surplus value, that allows the accumulation of capital, is carried out by means of an exceeding of social relations, of a surplus-community, rather than a surplus of labour. This is due to the externalisation of labour and its pulverisation, to the transformation of the Fordist factory into the Postfordism social factory.

The labour force of immaterial production is dislocated in space. It is placed within the relation of the production of value, however the sphere where this occurs is deterritorialised.

The social fabric is optimally utilised. Social life becomes the fundamental source and creation of value. Social cooperation constitutes the web of relations established in the life of the subjects. Each relation is 'put to work' and, independently of its formal recognition hence retribution, it is in itself productive. Whether one works or not, one never ceases to produce. The separation between labour-time and free-time collapses. The only distinction can be made between waged and unwaged life-time. Between life formally subsumed within the relations of capital, labour-time and wage, and life really subsumed within the relations of capital and productive time, which includes both the time spent working and not.

*This is an extract from a text written in Italian by Carlo Scarfone, here only partially translated. Posted on reddito-lavoro mailing list in 2001. Translated by Arianna Bove.

(1) "Si potrebbe dire che con la produzione snella, la comunicazione, il flusso di informazioni entrano direttamente a far parte del processo produttivo" (Marazzi, 1994) La comunicazione permette di strutturare il processo produttivo nel modo piu flessibile, permettendo di realizzare una sorta di "lubrificazione" dei processi dal punto di distribuzione-vendita, al punto di produzione.


Marazzi C., Il posto dei calzini, Bollati-Boringhieri,Torino, 1999
Lazzarato M., Lavoro Immateriale, Ombre Corte Edizioni, Verona, 1997
(a cura di) S.Bologna, A.Fumagalli, Il lavoratore autonomo di seconda generazione, Feltrinelli, Milano, 1997
DeriveApprodi N.18, Primavera 1999
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