Technology, Value, and the World System

Technology, Value, and the World System: A Reading Group at the Baltimore Free School

Convened by John Duda and Yousuf Al-Bulushi

Remember immaterial labor?  What ever happened to those cognitive networks of production in common that were going to usher in a new era of digital communism?  The tragic euphoria of dot-com theory is repeating itself today in farcical calls for a universal basic income, as venture capitalists and wide-eyed leftists alike sell us a vision of post-work in which the commodity manages somehow to still function just like it used to before the robots ushered in our collective era of leisure. Is the abolition of capitalism really just a few more apps and “disruptions” away?  Or could it be that the relationship between labor, technology, and the production of value is far more complicated than the latest round of digital bedtime stories would have us believe, especially when we locate this intersection in the context of truly global relations of production and exchange?

 

Over the course of this reading group, we’ll dive deep into these issues from a perspective grounded in critical social theory.  As we explore thematic clusters of shorter articles and excerpts, we’ll also work our way through the majority of Moishe Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Doing so will help provide a theoretical frame of reference to help understand why, as Postone notes, “increased productivity results neither in a corresponding increase in social wealth nor in a corresponding decrease in labour time, but in the constitution of a new base level of productivity.” We believe that a rigorous theoretical approach is necessary in order to illuminate the hidden ground of this counterintuitive historical trajectory, and we think Postone offers a useful starting point to do so. (A little more on Postone.)  This is a reading group, not a class that’s mapped out in advance—so the precise effects of reading this particular theoretical counterpoint in relation to or against the more grounded thematic material is not known in advance—but we’ll figure it out together!  We will make an effort to have texts available either for purchase at a discount at Red Emma’s, or, where possible, in digital form to make this group maximally affordable.

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Session 1

Global crisis

  • Selected essays (Giovanni Arrighi & Beverly Silver, Immanuel Wallerstein, Manuel Castells) from Business as Usual: The Roots of the Global Financial Meltdown (NYU Press, 2011)

  • Samir Amin, introduction from The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 2013) (Monthly Review, 2013)

Postone, Chapter 1, “Rethinking Marx’s Critique of Capitalism”

Session 2

The production of value

  • Samir Amin, Three Essays on Marx’s Value Theory (Monthly Review, 2013)

  • Carlo Vercellone, “The Crisis in the Law of Value,” from Crisis in the Global Economy (Semiotext(e), 2010)

Postone, Chapter 2, “Presuppositions of Traditional Marxism”

Session 3

Technology and digital labor

Postone, Chapter 4, “Abstract Labor”

Session 4

Debt and finance

  • Maurizio Lazzarato, Making of the Indebted Man (Semiotext(e), 2012)

  • Edward LiPuma and Benjamin Lee, “A Social Approach to the Financial Derivatives Markets,” South Atlantic Quarterly (2012) 111(2).

Postone, Chapter 5, “Abstract Time”

Session 5

Machines and value

Postone, Chapter 7, “Toward a Theory of Capital”

Session 6

Race and value

Postone, Chapter 8, “The Dialectic of Labor and Time”

Session 7

Global circuits

 

  • Kojin Karatani, The Structure of World History from Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange (Duke University Press, 2014) (selections)

  • Deborah Cowen, The Deadly Life of Logistics (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) (selections)

Postone, Chapter 9, “The Trajectory of Production”

Session 8

Value and nature

  • Jason Moore, Chapter 2 in Capitalism and the Web of Life (Verso, 2015)

Postone, “Concluding Considerations”

 

Course sessions

    Sunday December 4 2016

    5:00PM - 7:00PM (North Ave classroom)

    Please read the following before the first session. If you need help finding the readings, register the course and we will get in touch!  

    Session 1

    Global crisis

    • Selected essays (Giovanni Arrighi & Beverly Silver, Immanuel Wallerstein, Manuel Castells) from Business as Usual: The Roots of the Global Financial Meltdown (NYU Press, 2011)

    • Samir Amin, introduction from The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 2013) (Monthly Review, 2013)

    Postone, Chapter 1, “Rethinking Marx’s Critique of Capitalism”

     

    Sunday February 26

    5:00PM - 7:00PM (North Ave classroom)
    • For the next meeting (Sunday February 26th from 5pm-7pm) we have made one change to the reading: instead of the Terranova piece we will read an article by George Caffentzis that builds on last meeting's discussion of value: "The Oil Paradox and the Labor Theory of Value." We will also read Chapter 4 in the Postone, "Abstract Labor."
    • Finally, we will read a few chapters from Nick Dyer-Witheford's book Cyber-Proletariat—chapters 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10. This is a very accessible book that should be quite entertaining.

     

    Saturday April 1

    5:00PM - 7:00PM (North Ave classroom)