“Reconstructing the economy by rediscovering the value of knowledge” an interview with Bernard Stiegler [translation]

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

In this short interview published inLibérationin March 2017, Bernard Stiegler reprises his argument for a contributory income, as is being trialled in the Plaine-Commune experiment. This is more or less the same argument and ideas presented in previous interviews I’ve translated, such as the Humanité interview, in which Stiegler attempts to provide the answer (albeit rather sweeping) to an incredibly gloomy prognosis of unemployment through full automation and peniary for the majority and with it the ever increasing loss of knowledge. Stiegler’ solution is the economic recognition of the value of work that currently is not captured economically. The device to achieve this is the contributory income, which unlike the Universal Basic Income seems to have a vague set of conditions attached.

The main idea here is Stiegler’s interesting distinction between what you get paid for and what you *do* – your employment [emploi] and your work [travail] – which gets to the heart of a whole host of debates (some that are quite long-running) around what we do that is or is not ‘work’ and how/whether or not it gets economically valued. It also builds on longstanding discussion about knowledge and care as a therapeutic relation [with each other, society, technology and so on] by Stiegler [see, for example, the Disbelief and Discredit series]. I think this may be useful for some of the critical attention to the gig economy and the ways in which people are responding to the current bout of automation anxiety/ ‘rise of the robots’ hand-wringing.

What is interesting to me about this interview is how little it moves on from Stiegler’s past articulations of this argument. There’s some sweeping generalisations about the extent and impact of automation based on questionable and contested sources (which I think does a disservice to Stiegler’s intellectual project). It is curious that the contributory income is still talked about in such vague terms. It is supposedly an active experiment in Plaine-Commune, so surely there’s a little more detail that could be elaborated? It would be interesting to see some more detailed discussion about this [sorry if I’ve missed it somewhere!].

The principle basis of the contributory income seems to be a fairly institutional (and as far as I can tell – peculiarly French) state programme for supporting workers in the creative industries. As in previous written work and interviews, Stiegler uses the idea of the “intermittents” or “intermittents du spectacle” to signify the idea of work that is subsidised through some form of state administered allowance, such as unemployment benefit. In France people working in the performing arts are entitled to claim for social security benefits designed for people without regular employment [as per the definition provided by Larousse online.]

So, here’s a fairly quick translation of the interview. As usual clarifications or queries about terms are in [square brackets]. I welcome comments or corrections!

Bernard Stiegler: “Reconstructing the economy by rediscovering the value of knowledge”

The philosopher Bernard Stiegler determines a difference between employment, which today is largely proletarianised, and work, which transforms the world through knowledge, and thus cultivates wealth.

Philosopher, Director of the Institute of Research and Innovation (IRI) of the Georges-Pompidou centre and founder of the Ars Industrialis association, Bernard Stiegler has for several years concerned himself with the effects of automation and robotisation. He has notably published The Automatic Society 1: The Future of Work (Fayard 2015) and In Disruption: How not to go mad?(Les liens qui libèrent, 2016). Today he is deeply engaged with a project which beings together nine towns in the Plaine-Commune territory, in Seine-Saint-Denis, to develop and experiment with a “contributive income” which would fund activities that go unrecognised but are useful to the community.

Amazon intends to gain a foothold in the groceries sector with cashier-less convenience stores, like in Seattle. Is automation destined to destroy jobs?

For 47% of jobs in the US, the response from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is potentially “yes”. The remaining 53% cannot be automated because they are professional roles. They are not proletarianised: they are valued for their knowledge, which gives a capacity for initiative. What makes a profession is what is not reducible to computation, or rather reducible to the processing of data by algorithms. Not all jobs can therefore be automated. But this does not mean they are entirely removed from the processes of automation: everyone will be integrated into automatisms.

For you “employment” and “work” are not the same thing…

For two hundred and fifty years the model of industrial employment has been proletarianised employment, which has continued to grow. At first it was only manual workers, today it has largely exceeded the tertiary sector and affects nearly every task. More and more functions of supervision and even analysis have been proletarianised, for example by ‘big data’, doctors have been proletarianised – which means they are performing less and less of their profession. Proletarianised employment is sublimated by closed and immovable system. Work, on the contrary, transforms the world. So there is employment that does not produce work in this sense, rather the reverse: there is work outside of employment.

The big question for tomorrow is that of the link between automatisms, work outside of employment, and the new types of employment that enable the valroisation of work. The aim of contributive income is precisely to enable the reorganisation of the wealth produced by work in all its forms and cultivate, using the time freed up by automation, the forms of knowledge that the economy will increasingly demand in the anthropocene, this era in which the human has become a major geological factor. It is a case of surpassing the limits through an economy founded on the deproletarianisation of employment.

Optimistic discussions would like automation to free individuals, by eliminating arduous, alienating jobs. But today, it is mostly perceived as a threat…

It is a threat as long as we do not put in place the macroeconomic evolution required by deproletarianisation. The macroeconomy in which we have lived since the conservative revolution is a surreptitious, hypocritical and contradictory transformation of the Keynesian macroeconomics established in 1933. Contradictory because employment remains the central function of redistribution, whereas its reduction, and that of wages, drives the system as a whole towards insolvency.

Employment can no longer be the model for the redistribution of value. And this can no longer be limited to the relationship between use value and exchange value. Use value has become a value of usury, that is to say a disposable value that “trashes” the world – goods become waste, as do people, societies and cultures. The old American Way of Life no longer works: which is why Trump was elected… However if employment is destroyed it is necessary to redistribute not only purchasing power but also purchasing knowledge by reorganising all alternative employment and work.

In what way?

We must rebuild the economy by restoring value to knowledge. Proletarianised employment will disappear with full automation. We must create new kinds of employment, what we call irregular employment [emplois intermittents]. They will constitute intermittent periods in which instances of work that are not instances of employment are economically valued. The work itself will be remunerated by a contributory income allocated under conditions of intermittent employment, as is already the case in the creative industries.

In Intermittents et précaires [something like ~ Intermittent and precarious workers] Antonella Corsani and Maurizio Lazzarato that irregular workers in the creative industries [intermittents du spectacle] work mostly when they are not employed: employment is foremost a moment of implementing the knowledge that they cultivate outside of employment. We must encourage the winning back of knowledge, in every area [of work]. This implies on the one hand to evolve the relationship between individuals and education systems as well as professional associations lifelong learning and so on.

And, on the other hand, to precisely distinguish between information and knowledge. Automated systems have transformed knowledge into information. But this is only dead knowledge. To overcome the anthropocene we must resuscitate knowledge by inteligently practising information – through alternative periods of work and employment. Only in this way can we re-stabilise the economy, where the problems induced by climate change, for example, are only just beginning, and where vital constraint [contrainte vitale] is going to be exercised more and more as a criterion of value. It is a long term objective… But today, what should we do? Nobody can pull a rabbit out of their hat to solve the problem. We must therefore experiment. This is what we are doing with the Plaine-Commune project in Seine-Saint-Denis, which in particular aims to gradually introduce a contributory income according to the model of irregular work [l’intermittence]. With the support of the Fondation de France, we are working with residents in partnership with the Établissement public territorial [something like a unitary authority area?], Orange, Dassault Systèmes and the Maison des sciences de l’homme Paris-Nord [a local Higher Education Institution]–and through them the universities Paris 8 and Paris 13– in dialogue with small and medium enterprises, associations, cooperatives and mutual associations [les acteurs de l’économie sociale et solidaire], artists, cultural institutions. It’s a ten-year project.

Funded PhD places in geography at Exeter

University of Exeter

As part of the ESRC-funded South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP), Geography at Exeter has access to funding for PhD research and we’re keen to receive applications.

There are lots of opportunities for researching with some fantastic researchers, in a lively department with plenty of support – not only from the department and the university but also from the SWDTP.

We have a number of research groups and quite a few internationally renowned colleagues who cover a wide spread of research in geography. Check out some of the people currently doing their research in the SWDTP too.

You could even work with me 🙂 I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone looking to take further their research ideas broadly around technology, so please feel free to contact me.

If you’re a colleague at another institution and would like to put students in touch with us – please do! I’m happy to help with that – just drop me an email.

If you’re interested please do visit our PGR studentships information page or get in touch!

CFP: RGS-IBG 2018 – New geographies of automation?

Still from the video for All is Love by Bjork

New Geographies of Automation?
Please send submissions (titles, abstracts (250 words) and author details) to me by 31st January 2018.

This session invites papers that respond to the variously promoted or forewarned explosion of automation and the apparent transformations of culture, economy, labour and workplace we are told will ensue. Papers are sought from any and all branches of geography to investigate what contemporary geographies of automation may or should look like, how we are/could/should be doing them and to perhaps question the grandiose rhetoric of alarmism/boosterism of current debates.

Automation has been the recent focus of hyperbolic commentary in print and online. We are warned by some of the ‘rise of the robots’ (Ford 2015) sweeping away whole sectors of employment or by others exhorted to strive towards ‘fully automated luxury communism’ (Srnicek & Williams 2015). Beyond the hyperbole it is possible to trace longer lineages of geographies of automation. Studies of the industrialisation of agriculture (Goodman & Watts 1997); Fordist/post-Fordist systems of production (Harvey 1989); shifts to globalisation (Dicken 1986) and (some) post-industrial societies (Clement & Myles 1994) stand testament to the range of work that has addressed the theme of automation in geography. Indeed, in the last decade geographers have begun to draw out specific geographical contributions to debates surrounding ‘digital’ automation. From a closer attention to labour and workplaces (Bissell & Del Casino 2017) to the interrogation of automation in governance and surveillance across a range of scales (Amoore 2013, Kitchin & Dodge 2011) – the processes and experiences of automation have (again) become a significant concern for geographical research.

The invitation of this session is for papers that consider contemporary discussions, movements and propositions of automation from a geographical perspective (in the broadest sense).

Examples of topics might include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • AI, machine learning and cognitive work
  • Automation and bias
  • Autonomy, agency and law-making
  • Automated governance
  • Boosterism and tales of automation
  • The economics of automation
  • Material cultures of robots
  • Mobilities and materialities of ‘driver-less’ vehicles
  • Robotics and the everyday
  • Techno-bodily relations of automation
  • Working with robots

Cartoon about automation by Drew Sheneman

Reblog> (video): Gillian Rose – Tweeting the Smart City

Smart City visualisation

Via The Programmable City.

Seminar 2 (video): Gillian Rose – Tweeting the Smart City

We are delighted to share the video of our second seminar in our 2017/18 series, entitled Tweeting the Smart City: The Affective Enactments of the Smart City on Social Media given by Professor Gillian Rose from Oxford University on the 26th October 2017 and co-hosted with the Geography Department at Maynooth University.Abstract
Digital technologies of various kinds are now the means through which many cities are made visible and their spatialities negotiated. From casual snaps shared on Instagram to elaborate photo-realistic visualisations, digital technologies for making, distributing and viewing cities are more and more pervasive. This talk will explore some of the implications of that digital mediation of urban spaces. What forms of urban life are being made visible in these digitally mediated cities, and how? Through what configurations of temporality, spatiality and embodiment? And how should that picturing be theorised? Drawing on recent work on the visualisation of so-called ‘smart cities’ on social media, the lecture will suggest the scale and pervasiveness of digital imagery now means that notions of ‘representation’ have to be rethought. Cities and their inhabitants are increasingly mediated through a febrile cloud of streaming image files; as well as representing cities, this cloud also operationalises particular, affective ways of being urban. The lecture will explore some of the implications of this shift for both theory and method as well as critique.

The unapologetic ‘rockstar of regeneration’

A bike café

Thinking back to Jason Luger’s engaging blogpost about ‘the comeuppance’  of Florida’s evolution of his “creative class” thesis, this interview in the grauniad with Florida is sort of interesting to read… ‘Everything is gentrification now’: but Richard Florida isn’t sorry.

“I’m not sorry,” he barks, sitting in a hotel lobby in Mayfair, wearing a leather jacket and black T-shirt. “I will not apologise. I do not regret anything.”


Reblog> Author-Meets-More-or-Less-Friendlies: The Priority of Injustice at AAG 2018

The Priority of Injustice – Clive Barnett

Via Clive. This will be worth going to if you’re going to the AAG in 2018…

Author-Meets-More-or-Less-Friendlies: The Priority of Injustice at AAG 2018

I’m delighted to announce that the very wonderful Michael Samers has arranged an Author Meets Critics session on The Priority of Injustice, my new book (did I mention that?) at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in New Orleans in April. It’s a great panel, with Joshua Barkan (U. of Georgia), Jennifer Fluri (U. of Colorado, Boulder), Leila Harris (UBC), and Kirsi Kallio (University of Tampere) all commenting on the book. The session is sponsored by AAG’s Political Geography Specialty Group and Ethics, Justice, and Human Rights Specialty Group. There’s a nice symmetry about the prospect of discussing the book in New Orleans – the last time the conference was there, in 2003, I presented a paper on theories of radical democracy that was my first post-Culture and Democracy effort at articulating the limits of broadly post-structuralist approaches to that topic, an effort that led eventually to the shape of The Priority of Injustice (yes, I’m a slow thinker).

Reblog> New paper: A smart place to work? Big data systems, labour, control, and modern retail stores

Gilbreth motion studies light painting

From the Programmable City team, looks interesting:

New paper: A smart place to work? Big data systems, labour, control, and modern retail stores

The modern retail store is a complex coded assemblage and data-intensive environment, its operations and management mediated by a number of interlinked big data systems. This paper draws on an ethnography of a superstore in Ireland to examine how these systems modulate the functioning of the store and working practices of employees. It was found that retail work involves a continual movement between a governance regime of control reliant on big data systems which seek to regulate and harnesses formal labour and automation into enterprise planning, and a disciplinary regime that deals with the symbolic, interactive labour that workers perform and acts as a reserve mode of governmentality if control fails. This continual movement is caused by new systems of control being open to vertical and horizontal fissures. While retail functions as a coded assemblage of control, systems are too brittle to sustain the code/space and governmentality desired.

Access the PDF here

Reblog > The Priority of Injustice

The Priority of Injustice – Clive Barnett

My colleague Prof. Clive Barnett’s excellent new book is out. He introduces it in a recent blogpost:

The Priority of Injustice

So, finally, the book that I have been writing, on and off, for the last four years, The Priority of Injustice, has been published – or at least, it’s real, since the formal publication date is next month (so I reserve the right to blog further about it as and when). It arrived earlier this week – a rather hectic week, which has oddly meant I have been too busy to experience the strange sense of anti-climax that often accompanies the arrival of the finished form of something that you have been making for so long.

This is, in one sense, my Exeter book – the first thing I did in my very first week here, four years ago, was write the proposal and send it off to prospective publishers, It’s also, though, my Swindon book, a book which attempts to articulate an approach to theorising in an ordinary spirit which has been published just a few weeks after moving away from that very ordinary town where I have lived while writing it.

It’s a beautiful object, with a great cover image, by Helen Burgess (I bought one of her pictures once, in one of those open-house art trail events that you get in places like Bishopston in Bristol, so that’s why I knew of her work; it turns out she is part of a geography-friendly network of artists). And I am honoured and humbled to have the book published in University Georgia Press’s very excellent Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation series.

I’m now faced with the challenge of promoting the book. I’m quite fond of the Coetzee-esque principle that books should have to make their own way in the world without the help of the author; on the other hand, I have some sense of responsibility towards the argument made in the book, a responsibility to help project it into the world. I’ve already realised that it’s not the sort of book that lends itself to an easy press release – ‘THEORY COULD BE THEORISED DIFFERENTLY’, SAYS THEORY-BOY doesn’t really work as a headline, does it?.

Read the full blogpost.

Gender, Place & Culture annual award for new & emerging scholars

People in a large conference hall

This is a good initiative from Gender, Place & Culture and I am sure it will help those awarded. I hope we can all encourage eligible candidates to apply!

Annual Award for New and Emerging Scholars

Application closing date: 26 January 2018

The editorial team of Gender, Place and Culture is pleased to announce an annual award valued at a maximum of US$1,500 for new and emerging scholars. The award is targeted at emerging researchers in feminist geographies who are trying to establish research careers and create research momentum. The purpose is to support the research programme of promising feminist geographers and to give an impetus to their careers. The applicant should be involved in independent research and not be merely part of a larger group’s research project. Priority for this award will be given to current graduate students or faculty members within three years of receiving their PhD who are situated in partially or poorly funded positions, who work in departments where little or no money is available for conference participation and who have no recourse to grants from funding agencies such as the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK and the National Science Foundation in the USA or equivalent (if you currently hold one of these grants or have just completed one you will not be considered eligible for this award).

This award is intended to be used for attendance at an international conference of your choice, at which you will present a paper on a topic relating to feminist geography. The successful applicant is expected to use the award within one year of its receipt.

Applicants are asked to submit the following:

  • an abstract of the conference paper (250-300 words) and conference information including, if possible, confirmation of acceptance of your paper;
  • an academic CV;
  • a paragraph outlining how your research contributes to feminist geography;
  • a proposed budget (for accommodation, travel, conference fees, per diem, etc.);
  • and a cover letter including your contact details (mailing address, email, and telephone number).

Please send your applications to the Managing Editor, Pamela Moss, by 26 January 2018. A decision on the award will be made within 4 to 6 weeks of this deadline. Within one month of attending the conference the successful applicant is expected to submit receipts as well as a one page report.