Dallas Smythe and ‘the consciousness industry’, or why ‘attention’ isn’t ‘labour’

Facial tracking system, showing gaze direction, emotion scores and demographic profiling

‘I’ll consume my consumers, [with] no sense of humour’ — Grace Jones, Corporate Cannibal

I keep failing to write up a talk I did over 18 months ago in Bristol for the Politics and Economics of Attention seminar convened by Jessica Pykett. My main argument is that the ways that a thing called ‘the attention economy’ gets figured by a lot of folks, including Christian Marazzi, and Bernard Stiegler to an extent, is that ‘attention’ is ‘work’ and therefore it can be factored through the marxian labour theory of value. Indeed, Jonathan Beller flips this and suggests that, rather, work is a form of attention and therefore it should be the ‘attention  theory of value’.

There’s another version of this story, which is also based in marxian theory. This is perhaps best articulated (in my limited reading) by Dallas Smythe regarding advertising and the broadcast media but can also be accessed from a rather different angle via David Harvey’s work on wine. In this version of the economisation of attention, attention is not ‘work’, instead attention is a commodity. The advertiser rents an  audience from the broadcaster, which is more-or-less demographically specific due to profiling. Smythe refers to this as a kind of ‘consciousness industry’ (presumably in a similar vein to the ‘culture industry’). This is more precisely the case with online advertising where, through all sorts of techniques, the profiling can appear to be a lot more specific. As Smythe has it in a 1977 paper for the Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory:

What do advertisers buy with their advertising expenditures? … they are not paying for advertising for nothing… I suggest that hat they buy are the services of audiences with predictable specifications who will pay attention in predictable numbers … at particular times to a particular means of communication… As collectives these audiences are commodities. … Such markets establish prices in the familiar mode of monopoly capitalism.

A sub-industry sector of the consciousness industry checks to determine [that the audience pays attention]. … The behaviour of the members of the audience product under the impact of the advertising … content is the object of market research by a large number of independent market research agencies as well as by… the advertising corporation and in media enterprises.

The most important resource employed in producing the audience commodity are [sic.] the individuals and families in the nations which permit advertising.

So, while it may be useful for some to consider that the ways in which we are addressed as an audience and the kinds of ways we ‘pay attention’ can be figured as ‘labour’ that has a value and therefore exploits apparent leisure time as, instead, a continuation of work by other means, this does not perhaps tell the whole story. The advertising businesses are, certainly, using all sorts of ways to profile us and in some senses individualise a potential target for an advert but this is in order to serve up aggregates of profiles to advertisers as a commodity from which they extract rent. I should note Smythe does not see it that way but instead analyses the whole system of monopoly capitalism in which advertising is operating and in which there is, what he expertly articulates as:

…the contradictions produced within the audience commodity [which] should be understood more clearly … as between audience members serving a producers’ goods in the marketing of mass produced consumer goods and their work in producing and reproducing labour power.

Maybe I should write this up… it’s quite an interesting argument and as I said in my talk some time ago I think it highlights the issues with contradiction in the ‘attention commodity’ between it’s apparent uniqueness and a reproducibility as a ‘type’. There are a few avenues of critique open as a result. One, is to think the categorisation techniques as a pharmakon, perhaps to interrogate the processes of calculation/categorisation as rethink-able, another might be to look at ‘derivative’ nature of the categorisations, and how this produces a form of financialisation ( for e.g. following Louise Amoore) and another still might be to explore alternative valuations – whereby people take an active role in ‘selling’ themselves into this commodity market (for e.g. following Sarah Gold).

Growing criticism of Stiegler

I’ve begun to see some interesting criticism of Bernard Stiegler’s more recent activities, both in terms of books and thePlaine Commune project, which I confess resonate with some misgivings I have had for a little while [e.g. Chatonsky, Moatti, SilberzahnVial]. No doubt there are responses to these criticisms and so I’m not going to attempt to reiterate them wholesale or vouch for them – not least because I haven’t read the more recent work. Let me be clear in this – I think critical reflection on an argument or project is not only healthy but a necessary part of the humanities and science. I am neither seeking to ‘write off’ Stiegler’s work nor dogmatically defend it.

Nevertheless, I think there are two particular, related, points that occur in a number of different criticisms online that it seems to me may hold some water. These are:

(1) Increasingly in recent work, which is being produced at a breakneck speed, there is a quickness with concepts that has drawn criticism. Howells and Moore (2013) in their introduction to the first anglophone secondary text on Stiegler’s work say: “In contrast to the patient, diligent deep-readings we have come to expect since Derrida, the image that emerges of Stiegler is perhaps a thinker who zooms in and out of texts, skimming them to fit what he is looking to find” (p. 9). Howells and Moore, in the end, see this as a strength. Nevertheless, there is a growing ‘jargon’ that loosens and perhaps undermines the analytical purchase within arguments Stiegler attempts to make. This is particularly evident in the kinds of names for the over-arching project that have begun to emerge, for example: “organology“, “neganthropology” and “pharmacosophy“. Furthermore, it has been argued that, especially in relation to the use of the ideas of “disruption” and “entropy”, Stiegler makes all-too-quick analogies and equivalences between different meanings or applications of a given term that waters down or perhaps even undermines its use. So, for example, in terms of the increasing use of philosophical concepts, for which he stands accused of creating ever-more impenetrable jargon, we might look to his recent conjugation of the ideas of automation, anthropocene and entropy/negentropy. In an extensive and rather forthright blogpost by Alexandre Moatti, an example is taken from The Automatic Society 1 (I’ve provided the full quote, whereas Moatti just takes a snippet):

“All noetic bifurcation, that is to say all quasi-causal bifurcation, derives from a cosmic potlatch that indeed destroys very large quantities of differences and orders, but  it does so by projecting a very great difference on another plane, constituting another ‘order of magnitude’ against the disorder of a kosmos in becoming, a kosmos that, without this projection of a yet-to-come from the unknown, would be reduced to a universe without singularity. A neganthropological singularity (which does not submit to any ‘anthropology’) is a negentropic bifurcation in entropic becoming, of which it becomes the quasi-cause, and therein a point of origin – through this improbable singularity that establishes it and from which, intermittently and incrementally, it propagates a process of individuation” [p. 246].

I cannot honestly say that I can confidently interpret or translate the meaning of this passage, perhaps someone will comment below with their version. However, I am confident that the translator (from French), Dan Ross, will have done a thorough job at trying to capture the sense of the passage as best he can. Nevertheless, and even with a knowledge of the various sources the terminology implies (made more or less explicit in the preceding parts of the book) the prose is perhaps problematic. Here’s my take, for what it’s worth:

What I think is being suggested in the quote above is that all life we call ‘human’ is supported by language, writing and other prostheses (‘noetic life’) and that when these social systems shift and are split (bifurcation) they destroy productive forms of  difference – different forms of understanding, different ways of knowing and different ways of living perhaps (‘differences and orders’). In so doing, this projects a bigger hiving off of the potential for life (‘difference on another plane’ and ‘disorder of a kosmos‘) to change in various ways and possibly prevents particular kinds of future (‘yet-to-come’ ~ quite similar to Derrida’s distinction between l’avenir and futur) and an impoverished form of being/life (‘a universe without singularity’). We can only really recognise these points of rupture after the fact, because the ruptures themselves are also the seeds of the moment of realisation. To positively and sustainably act (‘negentropic bifurcation in entropic becoming’) both for a positive projection of possible futures (‘improbable singularity’) and in response to these various kinds of ‘undoing’ of potential we attempt to create new possibilities (‘a process of individuation’).

Another related, perhaps more serious, criticism is that Stiegler quickly moves between and analogises things that might be considered to push the bounds of credulity. For example, the strategies of Daech/IS, management consultants and ‘GAFA’ (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) are considered analogous by Stiegler when discussing ‘disruption’ as “a phenomenon of the acceleration of innovation, which is the basis of the strategy [of disruption] developed in Silicon Valley” [Here’s a strong response to that argument, in French]. Of course the idea of ‘disruptive practices’ as a force that can be diagnosed as ‘destroying social equilibrium; in different domains is seductive. Nevertheless, isn’t part of that seduction in an over-generalisation of ‘disruption’ that elides the mixing of people, objects and strategies that are simply too different? Isn’t there a danger that ‘disruption’ becomes yet another ‘neoliberalism’ – a catchall diagnosis of all things bad against which we should (ineffectually) rail? It sometimes seems to me that there is a peculiar, slightly snobby, anti-americanism that undergirds some of this, which if so does Stiegler’s work a disservice.

Taking this further, the analogies and the systemisation of the ‘jargon’-like concepts creates what Alexandre Moatti, in the Zilsel blogpost, calls two families of antonyms:

  • (automation) entropy, anthropisation, the Anthropocene era or the ‘Entropocene’, anthropocenologists
  • (deautomation) negentropy, neganthropy, neganthropisation and the ‘Neganthropocene’ era

There is a bit of a pattern here – to create systems of binaries. In the Disbelief and Discredit series it was Otium and Negotium. In Taking Care it was psycho- vs. noo-: politics, power, techniques and technologies. Perhaps this is what it means to put the pharmakon into practice for Stiegler? I worry that this habit of rendering systems of ideas that can be wielded authoritatively has the potential for a fairly negative implementation by ‘Stieglerian’ scholars – binary systems can be used as dogma. I think we’ve seen in enough of that in the social sciences to be wary here.

I recognise that sometimes ‘difficult’ language is needed to get at difficult ideas. There’s been previous controversy around these sorts of themes in anglophone scholarship in the past, not least in relation to the work of Judith Butler, and it’s possible to read about that elsewhere. I neither want to ‘throw stones’ nor ‘sit on a fence’ here, I admire aspects of Stiegler’s writing and thinking because it does, it seems to me anyway, get at some interesting and thorny issues. Nevertheless, the blizzard of concepts, the increasingly long and hard to follow sentences and I think the quickness of fairly sweeping arguments, especially when they write-off big chunks of other peoples’ work (which is the case in the chapter that passage is from in relation to Levi-Strauss), feels to me like a series of ungenerous moves. There may be all sorts of reasons for this but it feels like a shame to me…

(2) Following from (1), there is a sense in which the increasing use of philosophical jargon, analogies and the fairly rigid system of concepts that is used to interlink many of these themes creates what Moatti calls a kind of closed Stieglerian environment of thought, which is mutually reinforcing but perhaps then limits participation, through the jargon and activities of its thinking: “there is a Stieglerian environment: that of its association Ars Industrialis [and the Institute de Recherche et Innovation at the Centre Pompidou], of the summer academies it organizes in the country residence of Epineuil-le-Fleuriel… but also of certain contemporary authors whom he cites  and who gravitate around him (very often the same group)” [Moatti]. There is a danger that both in the systematisation of the concepts, as discussed above, and in the sort of informal cabal-like behaviour of the associations, groups and schools that there is a closed group.

There have also been concerns expressed about the nature of the support of the programmes and the work being undertaken by Ars Industrialis and IRI and how this feeds into the work itself. In particular, it has been noted that the corporate sponsorship (including Orange and Dassault Systems) of the Plaine Commune experiment [discussed in this interview] in producing a ‘contributory territory’, in the vein of Stiegler’s notion of the ‘economy of contribution‘, and the channeling of funds into some rather plum roles, such as the creation of a relatively well-paid and cooshy “Participatory Research Chair” (see: Faire de Plaine Commune en Seine-St-Denis) based at MSH Paris-Nord, in the territory, yes, but arguably not of it perhaps.

A corollary to this is the observation articulated by others, and something for which I think other philosophers have also been guilty, to draw upon a narrow and fairly specific set of studies to support sweeping generalisations. For Stiegler this has been the case in relation attention, with the use of one particular paper by N. Katherine Hayles, selectively drawing upon a particular scientific study; for ‘the anthropocene’, for which he significantly relies on Bonneuil and Fressoz (2016); and for automation, with the use of a particular quote by Bill Gates [1] and a widely cited but also contested speculative study by Frey and Osborne (2013) from the Oxford Martin School. This habit, in particular, I fear rather undermines the cogency of Stiegler’s arguments.

Where does this leave someone interested in these ideas? Or, more specifically, given this is a post on a personal blog through which I have significantly drawn upon Stiegler’s work: where does it leave my own interest? I don’t think I would go as far as some to declare that the recent work by Bernard Stiegler should be disregarded, or, in the extreme case, that Stiegler should no longer be considered worthy of the title ‘philosopher’ [See: Stéphane Vial’s Bernard Stiegler : la fin d’un philosophe]. Nevertheless, I think that, sadly, there probably is cause to be reticent in engaging with Stiegler’s work on ‘the anthropocene’ and ‘automation’ for all of the reasons discussed above. I still think there are plenty of interesting arguments and ideas expressed by Bernard Stiegler, I just think, personally, I will need to take much greater care in working through the provenance of these ideas from now on.

Notes

1. see the Business Insider article ‘Bill Gates: People Don’t Realize How Many Jobs Will Soon Be Replaced By Software Bots‘, quoting from the 2014 conversation with Bill Gates at the American Enterprise Institute: From poverty to prosperity: A conversation with Bill Gates [approx 46-minutes in]. Quote: ‘Capitalism, in general, will over time create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of the skill set. “¦ Twenty years from now labour demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower and i don’t think people have that in their mental model’.

Another new book from Bernard Stiegler – Neganthropocene

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

Open Humanities has a(nother!) new book from Bernard Stiegler, blurb pasted below. This is an edited version of Stiegler’s public lectures in various places over the last three or so years, hence Dan Ross’ byline. Dan has done some fantastic work of corralling the fast-moving blizzard of Stiegler’s concepts and sometimes flitting engagements with a wide range of other thinkers and I am sure that this book surfaces this work.

It would be interesting to see some critical engagement with this, it seems that Stiegler simply isn’t as trendy as Latour and Sloterdijk or the ‘bromethean‘ object-oriented chaps for those ‘doing’ the ‘anthropocene’ for some reason. I’m not advocating his position especially, I have various misgivings if I’m honest (and maybe one day I’ll write them down) but it is funny that there’s a sort of anglophone intellectually snobbery about some people’s work…

Neganthropocene

by Bernard Stiegler
Edited and translated by Daniel Ross

Forthcoming

As we drift past tipping points that put future biota at risk, while a post-truth regime institutes the denial of ‘climate change’ (as fake news), and as Silicon Valley assistants snatch decision and memory, and as gene-editing and a financially-engineered bifurcation advances over the rising hum of extinction events and the innumerable toxins and conceptual opiates that Anthropocene Talk fascinated itself with–in short, as ‘the Anthropocene’ discloses itself as a dead-end trap–Bernard Stiegler here produces the first counter-strike and moves beyond the entropic vortex and the mnemonically stripped Last Man socius feeding the vortex.

In the essays and lectures here titled Neganthropocene, Stiegler opens an entirely new front moving beyond the dead-end “banality” of the Anthropocene. Stiegler stakes out a battleplan to proceed beyond, indeed shrugging off, the fulfillment of nihilism that the era of climate chaos ushers in. Understood as the reinscription of philosophical, economic, anthropological and political concepts within a renewed thought of entropy and negentropy, Stiegler’s ‘Neganthropocene’ pursues encounters with Alfred North Whitehead, Jacques Derrida, Gilbert Simondon, Peter Sloterdijk, Karl Marx, Benjamin Bratton, and others in its address of a wide array of contemporary technics: cinema, automation, neurotechnology, platform capitalism, digital governance and terrorism. This is a work that will need be digested by all critical laborers who have invoked the Anthropocene in bemused, snarky, or pedagogic terms, only to find themselves having gone for the click-bait of the term itself–since even those who do not risk definition in and by the greater entropy.

Author Bio

Bernard Stiegler is a French philosopher who is director of the Institut de recherche et d’innovation, and a doctor of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. He has been a program director at the Collège international de philosophie, senior lecturer at Université de Compiègne, deputy director general of the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, director of IRCAM, and director of the Cultural Development Department at the Centre Pompidou. He is also president of Ars Industrialis, an association he founded in 2006, as well as a distinguished professor of the Advanced Studies Institute of Nanjing, and visiting professor of the Academy of the Arts of Hangzhou, as well as a member of the French government’s Conseil national du numérique. Stiegler has published more than thirty books, all of which situate the question of technology as the repressed centre of philosophy, and in particular insofar as it constitutes an artificial, exteriorised memory that undergoes numerous transformations in the course of human existence.

Daniel Ross has translated eight books by Bernard Stiegler, including the forthcoming In the Disruption: How Not to Go Mad?(Polity Press). With David Barison, he is the co-director of the award-winning documentary about Martin Heidegger, The Ister, which premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival and was the recipient of the Prix du Groupement National des Cinémas de Recherche (GNCR) and the Prix de l’AQCC at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, Montreal (2004). He is the author of Violent Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and numerous articles and chapters on the work of Bernard Stiegler.

About an Organology of Dreams – After An Organisation of Dreams, Bernard Stiegler & Ken McMullen

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

Over on Backdoor Broadcasting you can revisit a session that was part of the Film Philosophy conference in 2012, with a film piece by McMullen “An Organisation of Dreams”.

Stiegler responds to the film with a talk listed as: About an Organology of Dreams – After An Organisation of Dreams, here’s the blurb:

Beginning with well-known proposition that the cinema serves as the perfect enactment of Plato’s cave, I would like to examine in this paper the question of transcendental cinema, returning to the problems that I raised in Le temps du cinéma, but also reopening the possibility of a transcendental stupidity – or transcendental negativity, to put it otherwise.  By turning to Freud and the notion of the dream, I will explore my hypothesis by looking briefly at a work which is itself rather brief, and which suggests an archeology of cinema that begins thirty thousand years ago, in the Chauvet Cave.

Some resonances here with Keynote Stiegler delivered at the same conference, translated by Daniel Ross: The Organology of Dreams and Arche-Cinema. The first footnote of which reads:

This keynote address was delivered on September 12, 2012, at Queen Mary, University of London, for the “Film-Philosophy Conference”, and began with the following opening remarks: “I would like to begin by thanking John Mullarkey for inviting me here, allowing me to continue a discussion with Ken McMullen that began a long time ago, with Ghost Dance (UK 1983), and passed through Jacques Derrida, and which was then pursued in various directions, in particular with An Organization of Dreams (UK 2009). I would also like to point out that Dan Ross, who was kind enough to translate my lecture into English, is also the director, along with David Barison, of The Ister (Australia 2004), another film in which I was fortunate enough to participate at the very moment I was writing Le temps du cinéma. I here thank Ken, Dan and John, and hope that perhaps some day there will be an opportunity for the three of us to have a discussion.”

Stiegler on holiday…

Eddie Murphy in the pool in Beverly Hills Cop 2

The usual round of posts by academics on social media about writing during the summer 'holiday' (made more frenzied by Andrew Adonis' remarks)  has made me think of Stiegler's 2012 interview in Philosophie magazine, in which he says:

To deprogram oneself necessitates keeping to very specific schedules, which are what Foucault, once again, described as techniques of the self, echoing Seneca. Holidays are a moment to practice such programmes. Myself, I use relaxation as a form of deprogramming. When I go on holiday, I work early and write all morning. Then, I swim, a lot, until that state when physical exertion stimulates a rush—because the brain produces a lot of endorphins. Swimming thus becomes a journey within oneself, during the course of which I run back through my memory of everything I wrote several hours earlier. Then I lie in the sun, drained, and I let my mind empty, since this is how unlikely thoughts can arise: something un-programmed emerges from all of this. Then I return to writing: I note all that has arisen — first in the water, then in the sun — all through rereading and annotating what I wrote in the morning.

Under the sun, I sense that this mass of hydrogen that has been combusting for several billion years is a cosmic programme that intervenes in my physiological programmes — muscles, brain, various organs — and which, in this intervention, produces a difference, a change of programme which allows me to write another kind of programme: a book in which I comment generally on other books.

Books, when they are good, are thus deprogramming programmes, unlikely programmes, like poems, in which there must be, wrote Paul Claudel, “a number that prevents counting”.

[My translation]

If only…

 

Past event > Technology’s Limits: Automation, Invention, Labour, and the Exhausted Environment

This looks like it was a fascinating event…

Workshop hosted by the Digital Life Research Program 

An abstract artwork of a light background with brown and red rectangles of various sizes.

Artwork by Stephen Scrivener Opens in a new window

Event Details

Date: Friday March 10, 2017
Time: 10am – 4.30pm
Venue: EB.G.21, Parramatta South campus

Among its many political preoccupations, 2016 was marked by an obsessive concern with the new powers of the machine to erase human labour and employment. Science fiction dystopias – among them, the French Trepalium and the Brazilian 3% – saddled older anxieties about a world without work to a more novel recognition of resource depletion and scarcity. Academic publishing houses, conference organisers, funding agencies and the press have responded with a deluge of content covering algorithms, automation and the Anthropocene. Meanwhile, a less conspicuous narrative about the decline of innovation has resurfaced with claims that the rate of fundamental new technology inventions is slowing and jeopardising long term global productivity returns. What happens when technology hits its limits? Velocity and volume excite machinic economies, but do little to confront some of the core problems and challenges facing planetary labour and life today.

This workshop brings together leading Australian scholars of technology and society with contemporary German and French reflections on the prevailing discourses of technology’s limits. Since the 1990s, Bernard Stiegler has been a leading philosopher and critic of technology, and in his recent book Automatic Society he directly tackles problems of automation and algorithms for the distribution of financial and social resources to populations increasingly bereft of economic capital and political agency. Building upon Frankfurt School critical theory and Kittlerian media theory, contemporary German critique intersects with similar questions by combining investigations of epistemology, history and the technical. The Australian take on these European developments is simultaneously appreciative and critical, though often oriented toward more regional conditions that arise in part due to different economic, cultural and political relations with Asia.

The morning session of the workshop will introduce current theoretical European work on technology. Daniel Ross will develop a critical introduction to Bernard Stiegler, whose recent work in Automatic Society and In the Disruption continues to mount a wide-ranging and provocative critique of technology. Armin Beverungen will then offer an overview of his research on algorithmic management and high-frequency trading, with Ned Rossiter introducing logistical media as technologies of automation and labour control. In the afternoon, Gay Hawkins will outline her theoretical interest in nonhuman and technical objects and their irreducible role in making humans and ecologies. A key empirical example will be the history of plastic and the emergence of its technical agency and capacity to reconfigure life. Nicholas Carah will follow with a discussion of his latest work on algorithms, brand management and media engineering. The workshop will close with an audience-driven panel session and discussion. These interventions will be held in conjunction with a close reading of the key texts below.

Register

Attendance numbers will be limited so please register in advance. No registration fee required.

RSVP by 7 March on Eventbrite Opens in a new window

Speakers

  • Armin Beverungen
    Junior Director at the Digital Cultures Research Lab (DCRL) at Leuphana Universität Lüneburg & Visiting Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University
  • Nicholas Carah
    Author of Brand Machines, Sensory Media and Calculative Culture (2016)
  • Gay Hawkins
    Author of Plastic Water: The Social and Material Life of Bottled Water (2015)
  • Liam Magee
    Author of Interwoven Cities (2016)
  • Nicole Pepperell
    Author of Dissembling Capital (forthcoming, 2017)
  • Daniel Ross
    Translator of Bernard Stiegler’s Automatic Society (2016) and numerous other works
  • Ned Rossiter
    Author of Software, Infrastructure, Labor: A Media Theory of Logistical Nightmares (2016).

Co-chairs: Liam Magee and Ned Rossiter, co-convenors of the Institute for Culture and Society’s Digital Life research program.

Recommended Readings

Frank Pasquale (2017), Duped by the Automated Public Sphere Opens in a new window
Lee Rainer and Janna Anderson [Pew Research Center] (2017), Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age Opens in a new window
Bernard Stiegler (2012), Die Aufklärung in the Age of Philosophical Engineering (opens in a new window)
Bernard Stiegler (2015), Escaping the Anthropocene Opens in a new window
Bernard Stiegler (2015), On Automatic Society Opens in a new window
Sonia Sodha [The Guardian] (2017), Is Finland’s basic universal income a solution to automation, fewer jobs and lower wages? Opens in a new window

Related Readings

Bruce Braun (2014), A New Urban Dispositif? Governing Life in an Age of Climate Change Opens in a new window
Nick Dyer-Witheford (2013), Contemporary Schools of Thought and the Problem of Labour Algorithms (opens in a new window)
Victor Galaz (2015), A Manifesto for Algorithms in the Environment Opens in a new window
Victor Galaz et al. (2017), The Biosphere Code Opens in a new window
Orit Halpern (2015), Cloudy Architectures Opens in a new window
Erich Hörl (2014), Prostheses of Desire: On Bernard Stiegler’s New Critique of Projection Opens in a new window
Yuk Hui (2015), Algorithmic Catastrophe: The Revenge of Contingency (opens in a new window)
International Labour Organisation (2016), ASEAN in Transformation Opens in a new window
Lilly Irani (2015), The Cultural Work of Microwork Opens in a new window
MIT Technology Review (2012), The Future of Work Opens in a new window
Cathy O’Neill (2016), How Algorithms Rule Our Working Lives Opens in a new window
Elaine Ou (2017), Working for an Algorithm Might Be an Improvement (opens in a new window)
The Guardian (2016), Robot Factories Could Threaten Jobs of Millions of Garment Workers Opens in a new window
Tommaso Venturini, Pablo Jensen, Bruno Latour (2015), Fill in the Gap. A New Alliance for Social and Natural Sciences Opens in a new window

Agenda

  • 10:00 –10:10: Liam Magee, Ned Rossiter: Welcome and Introduction
  • 10:10–11:10: Daniel Ross
  • 11:10–11:30: Q&A
  • 11:30–11:45: Coffee
  • 11:45–1:00: Armin Beverungen, Ned Rossiter
  • 1:00–2:00: Lunch
  • 2:00–3:15: Gay Hawkins, Nicholas Carah
  • 3:15–4:15: Panel discussion responding to automation: Dan / Gay / Nicholas / Armin / Nicole – Liam & Ned to chair
  • 4:15–4:30: Closing thoughts, future actions

Amateur philosophy – boundary 2 theme issue on Stiegler

Only just seen this. Issue 1 of volume 44 (2017) of boundary 2 is entitled Amateur Philosophy and concerns the work of Bernard Stiegler.

Within the issue are published the three lectures Stiegler gave in California in 2011 (one of which was published in Lana Turner). alongside this are pieces by a stellar cast of contemporary theorists, including: Claire Colebrook, Mark Hansen, Daniel Ross and Gerald Moore. Both of the two translators who have translated the majority of Stiegler’s work into English have pieces: Stephen Barker and Daniel Ross.

This seems like a fairly important contribution to anglophone engagements with Stiegler’s work…

Here’s the full table of contents.

You need a subscription to access the papers, let me know if you have any trouble…

Event> Abbinnett & Fuller: The philosophy of Bernard Stiegler – capitalism, technology & politics of spirit

Birmingham’s Contemporary Philosophy of Technology group have an event with Ross Abbinnett and Steve Fuller in conversation. Abbinnett is asserting himself as one of the few anglophone interpreters* of Stiegler’s work, with a monograph due out fairly soon and a punchy article in Theory, Culture & Society interpreting Stiegler’s project in terms of a politics of spirit (in the vein of Ars Industrialis).

I suspect it’ll be a rather muscular affair, so if that’s your thing here’s the info:

* I use ‘interpreter’ purposefully, I don’t think Dr Abbinnett translates Stiegler’s works.

A dream of an algorithm – Agnieszka Zimolag

Photo by: Agnieszka Zimolag
Photo by: Agnieszka Zimolag

A compelling piece on the Institute of Network Cultures‘ “long forms” website by Agnieszka Zimolag entitled “A dream of an algorithm” explores “our” relation to “technology, or (to my mind) technics as the co-constitutional (and originary [not essential]) relation between what we call, in common sense terms, “the human” and”technology”.

Technology is my reflection. Just as if I never see myself unless I look in the mirror, the same goes for technology. Once I plug, once i turn on the devices, I look at my comforting reflection, I can finally become one with my own image. The perception of the self becomes a continuum, a reassurance of my own existence. Zimolag

It’s a beautiful essay and well worth reading/ looking at in full – the images are lovely and there’s some thoughtful prose reflecting upon this relation. I guess where I’d differ from Zimolag is her implied assertion that the technology, what it does/can do somehow comes after ‘the human’; that technology does something to “us” (humans) that alters us. I can see why, in the face of rapid technological change, we might figure things in this way. Nevertheless, I’m inclined to insist that there never was a “human” somehow separate from “technology”. We have an ‘aporetic origin’ in Derrida & Stiegler’s terms, we continually perform the coming to being of “the human”.

As I’ve observed elsewhere, the theory of technogenesis offered by a range of anthropologists and philosophers is the idea that humans and technology co-evolved together, that you do not get one without the other. Humans are irreducibly distinct because of the reflexive transmission of complex cultures made possible by technics and the ‘exteriorization’ of thought. Both Stiegler and Derrida argue that the mental interior is only recognized as such with the advent of the technical exterior: our conscious self-knowledge is only possible with the ability to exteriorize thought as a trace, commonly as language and gesture. Stiegler explains this aporia of origin as a paradox: ‘The paradox is to have to speak of an exteriorization without a preceding interior: the interior is constituted in exteriorisation’ (Stiegler, Technics and Time 1, p. 141).

Technics can be thought of as a technogenetic ‘double-bind’ between being both constitutive and a supplement of ‘the human’. The interior and exterior, and with them the contemporary understanding of the experience of being human and what we understand to be technology, are mutually co-constituted and continue to be so.

In opposing ‘technology’ and ‘the human’, the apparently immaterial ‘algorithm’ and apparently concrete human, we either oppose technically mediated experience to other forms of experience or we oppose our technical life to other, apparently ‘natural’, forms of exis- tence. Either way, we risk reasserting old, problematic binaries: human/technology and nature/society.

To bring this back to ‘algorithms’ and their devices, following Zimolag – they are not our ‘others’. these technologies discussed and depicted in Zimolag’s beautiful essay are materially of and with us, they are perhaps not so much the ‘reflection’ she asserts (above) but rather a mirror that we ourselves have crafted through which to look upon ourselves, but, precisely in doing so, the “we” is irrevocably altered to include the mirror. The knowledge born from coming to know our own images, in Zimolag’s metaphor, is irreducibly tied to technics.