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Crisis of Capitalism, Crisis of Labour

  • Stefano Bellucci (a1) (a2)
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1. Fraser, Nancy, “Behind Marx's Hidden Abode: For an Expanded Conception of Capitalism”, New Left Review, 86 (2014), pp. 5572.

2. The idea of cognitive capitalism was first elaborated at the end of the 1990s by a group of researchers at the Sorbonne led by Bernard Paulré. The end of Fordism and the push towards globalization due to the Internet revolution were the driving forces behind the development of this new type of capitalism. Cognitive capitalism is sometimes referred to as “third capitalism”: after mercantilism and industrial capitalism. Because of its focus on the socio-economic changes caused by the Internet and the new information technologies that have transformed the mode of production and the nature of labour, the theory of cognitive capitalism has assumed great importance among economists and sociologists today. The theory of cognitive capitalism has its origins in French and Italian thinkers, particularly Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London, 1988), Michel Foucault's work on the birth of bio-power, and Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio, Empire (Cambridge, MA, 2000) and Multitude (New York, 2004). Given its recent character, as a concept cognitive capitalism is work in progress, but it makes colossal claims. As noted by Yann Moulier-Boutang in his recent book Cognitive Capitalism (Cambridge, 2011), it posits a “new great transformation”, and “total paradigm shift” over the idea of capitalism. Unlike the putative first (mercantile) and second (industrial) types of capitalism, this third one introduces the idea of a mode of accumulation in which the object of accumulation consists mainly of knowledge, which becomes the basic source of value. This has been made possible by the new information technologies, of which the computer and the Internet are emblematic in the same way in which the coal mine, the steam engine, the loom, and the railway were emblematic of industrial capitalism.

3. All translations from French and Italian are mine.

4. For another recent study on the continuities of “servitude” in the emergence of modern wage labour relations, see Maria Luisa Pesante, Come servi. Figure del lavoro salariato dal diritto naturale all'economia politica [Storia/Studi e ricerche] (Milan, 2013).

5. On the meaning of each of these notions in Fumagalli, see the discussion below.

6. “Dead labour” is embodied in the production process. Owners of the means of production control “living labour”, i.e. actual labour, which would not be able to be carried out without the necessary tools (constant capital). On the recent interest in debates about “living labour” see, for instance, Milena Hoegsberg and Cora Fisher (eds), Living Labor (Berlin, 2013), with contributions by Will Bradley, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Carl Cedarström and Peter Fleming, Annette Kamp, Michala Paludan, Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve, Ole Martin Rønning, and Kathi Weeks. See, too, Riccardo Bellofiore, “A Ghost Turning into a Vampire: The Concept of Capital and Living Labour”, in idem and Roberto Fineschi (eds), Re-Reading Marx: New Perspectives after the Critical Edition (Basingstoke [etc.], 2009), pp. 178–194.

7. A definition of bio-capitalism is given by Fumagalli himself in an essay co-authored with Stefano Lucarelli. “With the shift from Fordism to cognitive biocapitalism, the social relationship embodied by capital from being a relationship between labor force and machineries becomes a relationship between body and mind, brain and heart, unfolding itself within human beings. But, far from being the capital that become human, it is individual's life, with its multiple singularities and differences, to become capital”; Fumagalli, Andrea and Lucarelli, Stefano, “Valorization and Financialization in Cognitive Biocapitalism”, Investment Management and Financial Innovations, 8 (2011), pp. 89100, 89. Elsewhere, Fumagalli has stressed the importance of “the shift [in bio-capitalism] from a production of money by means of commodity (M-C-M’) to a production of money by means of the commodification of bios [M-C(bios)-M’]”, i.e. the human life of the workers-consumers. See Morini, Cristina and Fumagalli, Andrea, “Life Put to Work: Towards a Life Theory of Value”, Ephemera, 10 (2010), pp. 234252, http://www.ephemerajournal.org/sites/default/files/10-3morinifumagalli.pdf (last accessed 9 January 2015).

8. Beckert, Sven, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York, 2014). See, too, the following considerations: idem, “Slavery and Capitalism”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 December 2014, at http://chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/(last accessed 9 January 2015).

9. See the conference call and programme at http://www.ith.or.at/konf_e/50_index_e.htm (last accessed 9 January 2015).

10. Stanziani, Alessandro, Bondage: Labor and Rights in Eurasia from the Sixteenth to the Early Twentieth Centuries (New York [etc.], 2014).

11. See Postone, Moishe, Time, Labor and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx's Critical Theory (Cambridge, 1995).

12. See, for instance, the following review essay on the recent literature: Ehmer, Josef, “Attitudes to Work, Class Structures, and Social Change: A Review of Recent Historical Studies”, International Review of Social History, 59 (2014), pp. 99117.

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International Review of Social History
  • ISSN: 0020-8590
  • EISSN: 1469-512X
  • URL: /core/journals/international-review-of-social-history
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