I recently came across an edited interview with Bernard Stiegler published on the website of Philosophie Magazine(17/12/18) [a] in which Stiegler ties together a very brief reading of the ‘yellow vests’ phenomena with the experiments he has been leading in the creation of an ‘economy of contribution’ – a more-or-less as a ethico-political-economic response to the ‘Anthropocene’. It is important to note here that for Stiegler not only means the current global cultural/environmental/social crisis embodied in a new ‘epoch’ but also significantly means the apparently rapid changes in employment/work largely due to technology. I have translated conversations with Stiegler about this topic before and these might be helpful in fleshing out the argument translated below, especially:
Here, in a similar vein to the discussion of previous periods of civil unrest in France (see in particular the books: The Decadence of Industrial Democracy,Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individualsand The Lost Spirit of Capitalism) Stiegler diagnoses a form of immiseration that comes from a loss of capacities that needs to be addressed through a form of therapeutic response. The ‘yellow vests’ movements are a symptom of a broader cultural-environmental-social ‘entropy’ that is ‘The Anthropocene’ needs to be addressed through a re-imagined industrial policy – to engage in what he terms a form of ‘negentropy’. having said all of this, what is important perhaps about this brief interview is that it locates pragmatic action by talking through what Stiegler and colleagues are doing in the Plaine Commune experiments (for more information follow the links above).
As I have previously observed, I still find it curious that underlying the apparent radicalism of re-thinking industrial strategy, acting together towards (political) therapeutic ends, is a strange sort of unflinching (dare-I-say even conservative) faith in the state and institutions. In particular, the model for the central strategy of ‘contributory income’ is the intermittent entertainment policy of the French government for subsidising freelance and somewhat precarious forms of work in the ‘creative industries’. I’m not criticising this, I think it merits greater discussion – not least because it is being trialed in Seine-Saint-Denis – but there’s something curious about this rather measured scheme being central to the strategy, given the almost apocalyptic and incredibly urgent tone of books like The Neganthropocene and Age of Disruption.
ADD. 24/01/19. I think I probably missed a final step to the thought expressed in the paragraph above: while the scheme for a ‘contributory income’ (based upon the intermittent scheme) currently underway in Plaine Commune is perhaps limited, and while the idea of such an income is, in-itself not especially ‘revolutionary’, perhaps I/we should see this as the beginning of a reorientation – the instigation of a different/new therapeutic ‘tendency’, in Steigler’s terminology – away from a competitive individualised economic rationale towards a collective means of flourishing together, whilst also acknowledging that we need to take some form of collective responsibility. In that vein, as others have pointed out, Stiegler’s ‘activist’ thought/activities take on a particular ethical/moral stance (in this way I have some sympathy with Alexander Galloway calling Stiegler a ‘moral philosopher’).
As usual I have included in square brackets original French, where I’m unsure of the translation, or clarifications. I have also maintained, in the Conversation piece, all of the original francophone hyperlinks unless there is a clear anglophone alternative.
For this thinker of technics, the “yellow vests” movement
highlights the desperate need for a new policy that would value work rather
than employment. Among his proposals is the widening of the government scheme
for irregular workers in the creative sector to everyone.
was struck by the rapid evolution of the “yellow vests” movement, by
the way it was presented and in which it was perceived. In the beginning, occupations
of roundabouts [and crossroads] were reminiscent of the Tea Party phenomenon in
the United States, which paved the way for Donald Trump’s election, and of Sarah
Palin’s astonishing statement: “I like the smell of exhaust emissions!”However, despite the
presence of the “ultra-right” which is of course very dangerous, the
rise of this movement has evolved positively – and very unexpectedly. Compared
with the “protest” scene, well-known in France for decades, the “yellow
vests” are obviously a very singular and very interesting event, beyond
its extreme ambiguities. Amongst the demands made by these leaderless demonstrators,
the proposal to create a deliberative assembly for ecological transition is
particularly illustrative of what fundamentally new emerging from this movement. This
is confirmed by the encouraging sign, which must be interpreted without being
under any illusions: the protest and climate march at a junction, in Bordeaux,
on the 8th of December.
When we listen to the “yellow
vests”, we hear the voices of people who are a bit lost, often living in
unbearable conditions but with the virtue of expressing and highlighting our contemporary
society’s limits and immense contradictions. In the face of this, the Macron
government seems unable to take the measure of the problems being raised. I
fear that the measures announced by the President on the 11th of December
resolve nothing and fix in place the movement for the longer term, precisely because
it expresses – at least symptomatically – the collective awareness of
the contemporary crisis. The political horizon throughout Europe is
not at all pleasant: the extreme right will probably draw the electoral benefits
of this anger, while failing to answer the questions legitimately posed by “yellow
vests” movement. This highlights the lack of a sense of history by
President Macron and his ministers, and equally underlines the vanity of those
who pretend to embody the left, who are just as incapable of making even the simplest
statement at the height of what is the first great social crisis characterised
by the Anthropocene.
For me, a “man of the
left”, the important question is what would be a leftist comprehensive industrial
policy to take up the challenges of the Anthropocene and automation – which is
to say, also addressing “Artificial Intelligence”. To confront
this question is to attempt to overcome what is not thought in Marxian
criticism, namely: entropy. All of the complex systems, both
biologically and socially, are doomed to differential loss – of energy,
biodiversity, interpretation of information – that leads to entropic chaos. The
concept of negentropy, taken from the works of Erwin Schrödinger,
refers to the ability of the living to postpone the loss of energy by differentiating
organically, creating islands and niches locally installing a “différance”
(as Derrida said) through which the future [l’avenir] is a bifurcation in an entropic
becoming [devenir entropique] in which everything is indifferent.
The fundamental point here is that,
while entropy is observed at the macroscopic level, negentropy only occurs
locally through energy conversion in all its forms – including libidinal energy.
Freud was, with Bergson, the first to understand this radical change in point
of view required by entropy. The “nationalist retreat” is a
symptomatic expression of the entropic explosion provoked by the globalization [that
is the] Anthropocene. This needs to be addressed by a new economic and
industrial policy that systematically values negentropy.
It is in response to such issues that the Institute of Research and Innovation and Ars Industrialis with Patrick Braouezec (President of the Plaine Commune public territorial establishment) are leading an experiment in Seine-Saint-Denis. In this district of 430,000 we are experimenting with putting in place a local economy of contribution, based upon a new macro-economy at the national level. Above all, this scheme values work rather than employment and aims to generalize the system of intermittent entertainment [added emphasis] : The idea is to be able to guarantee people 70% of their most recent salary in the periods when they do not work, provided that within ten months they begin another freelance [intermittent] job. In the case of freelance [intermittent] performers, they must work for 507 hours, after which they have
“replenished their right” to a contributory income. We are
currently constructing workshops in the areas of child care, quality urban
food, construction and urban trades, the conversion of combustion vehicles into
clean vehicles, and so on. This experiment is supported by the Fondation
de France, Orange, Dassault Systèmes, Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations,
Societe Generale, Afnic Foundation and Emmanuel Faber, General Manager of
Danone. Every one of which are stakeholders in the search for a new conception
of industrial economy fully mobilized in the fight against the Anthropocene and
for the restoration of very-long-term economic solvency, based on investment, not
speculation. It is by taking bold initiatives of this kind that we will truly
respond to the “yellow vests”.
1. There is no direct translation for ‘intermittent entertainment’/ ‘intermittents du spectacle’ – this refers to state-subsidised freelance workers in the entertainments industry, an arrangement backed by long-standing legislation in France to support their native creative sectors.
Dawn Weleski, Conflict Kitchen, Pittsburgh Bernard Stiegler, Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation, Paris Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation
Other participants include: Louise Adkins, Alistair Alexander / Tactical Tech, Lonnie Van Brummelen, David Capener, Katarzyna Depta-Garapich, Ram Krishna Ranjam, Rafal Morusiewicz, Stephanie Misa, Vukasin Nedeljkovic / Asylum Archive, Fiona Woods, Connell Vaughan & Mick O’Hara, Tommie Soro.
Contributory economies are those exchange networks and peer 2 peer (P2P) communities that seek to challenge the dominant value system inherent to the nation-state. This two-day conference addresses these economies through artistic research.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, alternative economies have been increasingly explored through digital platforms, and artistic and activist practices that transgress traditional links between nation and economy.
Digital networks have the potential to challenge traditional concepts of sovereignty and geo-politics. Central to these networks and platforms is a broad understanding of ‘technology’ beyond technical devices to include praxis-oriented processes and applied knowledges, inherent to artistic forms of research. Due to the aesthetic function of the nation, artistic researchers are critically placed to engage with the multiple registers at play within this conference. The guiding concept of the conference ‘Inter-Nation’ comes from the work of anthropologist Marcel Mauss (‘A Different Approach to Nationhood’, 1920), proposed an original understanding of both concepts that opposes traditional definitions of State and Nationalism. More recently, Michel Bauwens argues for inquiry into the idea of the commons in this context. While, Bernard Stiegler has revisited this definition of the ‘Inter-Nation’ as a broader concept in support of contributory economies emerging in digital culture.
Developed at a crucial time on the island of Ireland, when Brexit is set to redefine relations. The conference engages key thematics emerging out of this situation, such as: digital aesthetics and exchange, network cultures and peer communities, the geo-politics of centre and margin.
The conference will be hosted across three locations within the city centre; Wood Quay Venue for main key-note and PhD researcher presentations; Studio 6 at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios for an evening performance event, and Smithfield Market where a screeing event is hosted at Lighthouse Cinema.
I’ve been following up some links concerning the experiment that the philosopher Bernard Stiegler has been instrumental in setting up in the Greater Paris borough of Seine-Saint-Denis as part of a sort of ‘special trade/economic’ area that has government funding called Plaine Commune.
I’ve (roughly) translated two pieces, below, which offer a little more detail on how the territoire contributif model might work and the sorts of things going on in Plaine Commune. First is short piece from Le Parisien talking about what the project is and a bit of the ‘how’ and ‘when’. Second is an interview with Bernard Stiegler by a staff writer for The Conversation – France specifically about Plaine Commune.
As I have written elsewhere, Stiegler has proposed Plaine Commune as a ‘territoire contributif‘ – a sort of region of contribution [a territory or zone delineated as an area in which the economy of contribution might take precedence, along the same lines as ‘free trade zones‘ perhaps, but with a very different ethics/politics]. The principle role in this enterprise is the role of the (academic professorial) ‘Chair of economies of contribution’, who is charged with overseeing the pilot of a kind of basic or citizens’ income (broadly akin to a universal basic income, though see the discussion below) that Stiegler suggest will be implemented through a formal agreement of ‘contribution’ – whereby the income is granted on the premise that the people given it will use it to subside their own personal development, in turn making them greater contributors to society.
Anyone who has been around or studied or even simply read about political projects that are led by well-meaning academics may well be fairly suspicious or cynical about such a scheme. It seems the project has not been without issues either, with (as far as I can tell) some of the governmental funding falling short of expectations and thus cuts to planned activities had to be made (there were PhD studentships planned but these it seems may have been cut).
If we are to be charitable we might applaud Stiegler for attempting to put into place his ideas about contributory – economies, incomes, territories and so on. I am also sympathetic to the issues of funding and so on that they’re having to wrangle with – doing this kind of work is hard. The project is still in train so it remains to be seen how it plays out. Nevertheless, I have a few questions.
First, the project is positioned as a means of helping local residents of a given area and yet a lot of the funding seems to be directed towards academic work that must be, in part, institutionally based – I wonder how this works out? Where does the ‘Professor of Contribution’ actually sit – where’s their office?
Second, I’m curious about the relationship between the processes and practices labelled as ‘contributory’ and the techniques and technologies from long-standing engaged/ participatory democracy activities, e.g. GovLab, MySociety and others. How is ‘participatory’ employment/economics different?
Third, towards the end of the interview, below, Stiegler claims that the aim is not to build a specific local economy but to ultimately transform the macro-economy, but we don’t really get any detail about how you get from Plaine Commune to the whole of France. It would be good to see more on that.
Finally, the tools that are suggested, and have been created through the Institute for Research and Innovation at the Pompidou Centre are very pedagogical – concerned with shared or collaborative learning, in the vein of educational technology – and so it would be good to understand if that is the sole focus or whether the toolset will broaden and if so how?
Anyway… please find below the two (rough) translations. As usual I have included in square brackets original French, where I’m unsure of the translation, or clarifications. I have also maintained, in the Conversation piece, all of the original francophone hyperlinks unless there is a clear anglophone alternative.
The borough [territoire] of Plaine Commune* wants to trial a “contributory income”. The project is still in the hands of researchers and, if it takes place, it will not begin in the near future. The concept is supposed to respond to the massive loss of salaried jobs, due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. “According to a study, three million jobs will disappear by 2025,” notes the philosopher Bernard Stiegler, who works on the project for the borough [territoire]. This Wednesday, he presented the outline, in Saint-Denis, alongside Patrick Braouezec, president (Front de gauche) of Plaine Commune. The latter was commissioned in May 2015 by the Ministers of Economy and Higher Education to discuss the issue.
The contributory income, unlike a universal income, could be paid to a part of the population, on the condition that they perform, in one way or another, a service to society. Bernard Stiegler distinguishes here (salaried) “employment” from “work” (accomplished outside of any contract). And he cites the example of the ‘intermittents du spectacle’ [see: https://www.redpepper.org.uk/intermittent-support-how-cuts-are-hitting-artists-in-france/] “who continue to work when they are not employed by a director, by improving their abilities”.
Who could be involved in this contributory income, in a territory where poverty affects nearly one in three households? Nothing is stopped but Bernard Stiegler and Patrick Braouezec cite areas such as sport, music, street food, mobile mechanics [mécaniques sauvages] … There needs to be a way “to allow the entire population to feel their work is recognised, while also enabling young people who have skills without qualifications to contribute to society” says Patrick Braouezec.
With the support of the Ministry of Higher Education, last Autumn a Chair of Contributive Research was created at the Maison des sciences de l’homme in Saint-Denis. Orange and Dassault Systems are participating in the research, alongside the Institute of Research and Innovation headed by Bernard Stiegler. A report is delivered to the ministers concerned today. The implementation of the experiment cannot be decided upon before the elections: “In June, we will take up where we left off [reprendrons notre bâton de pèlerin],” insists Patrick Braouezec.
* Plaine Commune is something like a borough within the suburban department (a governmental and legislative geographical authority within France) of Seine-Saint-Denis, which is a part of what gets referred to as “Greater Paris“.
A [demographically] young and economically dynamic territory facing mass unemployment and the challenges of social and cultural diversity is the location where, at the request of Patrick Braouezec, the president of Plaine Commune, the philosopher Bernard Stiegler is initiating an unprecedented and ambitious experiment: to make this community – which brings together nine cities of Seine-Saint-Denis – a “Contributory Learning Territory”. It will carry out contributory “research-action” projects, including the inhabitants; in the long term, it will be a question of setting up a contributory income to differently distribute wealth at a time when automation makes work precarious. In November 2016, a new Chair of Contributory Research joined the principle researchers, created within the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (MSH-North Paris). The Conversation France met the philosopher [Bernard Stiegler] to learn more about this initiative, where new ways of doing research and reflections upon the nature of the work of tomorrow interact.
What is the purpose of this project?
It is a question of inventing a “French disruption” and to make the Plaine Commune borough, which is not privileged but shows a striking dynamism, into a laboratory, a school, a avant-garde location, including appropriating so-called smart cities [originally in English with “villes intelligentes” appended] – but not to become a smart city as it is defined today, and to us seems unbearable, unacceptable and probably bankrupt. It is about installing a true urban intelligence.
We are launching a process of borough-wide experimentation with a view to generating and supporting real social innovation opening the way to a new macro-economy where industrialists, financiers, universities, artists, governments and local politicians work in concert, and with the inhabitants, in this indispensable political and economic reinvention. The objective is ultimately to set up an economy based on a “contributory income”, which is based in particular on the principle of a gradual extension of the system for intermittents du spectacle into other activities.
When did this project take shape?
In December 2013, following the “The new age of automation” colloquium held at the Pompidou Centre, which focused on the effects of digital technology in the development of the data economy. I had discussions with industrialists and the president of Plaine Commune, Patrick Braouezec: we take very seriously the Oxford and MIT analyses which predict a job collapse because 47% of jobs current in the United States would be automatable, 50% in France, etc. – the Roland Berger corporation anticipate three million jobs will be lost in ten years. Something has to be done.
A minimum wage is not a solution on its own. If the issue of automation and job loss is taken seriously, new production processes and criteria for redistributing wealth must be developed.
Why is the distinction between work and employment essential?
If automatable work disappears, we can celebrate: this type of job consists of applying prescribed procedures by systems that mechanically control employees. The work is done more and more outside of employment. The pianist practices his scales in the same way that the mathematician practices his maths: outside of employment … Thus, to work is to first increase one’s abilities – and these abilities are what can bring a wealth to the world that is not yet present.
We borrow the concept of capacity to the Indian economist Amartya Sen. He has highlighted something significant that is the basis of our reflection: he showed that in Bangladesh, even during a period of famine, development indicators and life expectancy were higher than those of Harlem. Amartya Sen, who is interested in communities, not just individuals, has shown how these communities maintain what they call “capabilities“.
A capability is knowledge – a life-skill as well as know-how or intellectual knowledge. Many people in Harlem have lost this because they are caught in a process of proletarianization by patterns of production or consumption. In the twentieth century, the know-how of the worker disappears then it is the turn of the life-skills of the consumer, who begins to adopt prefabricated behaviours by marketing firms. Ultimately, Alan Greenspan himself declares before the Congressional Budget Committee that he has “>lost his economic knowledge!
Principally, there is, the president of Plaine Commune, Patrick Braouezec’s keen interest, for over ten years, in the work we are doing as part of the Institute for Research and Innovation and the Ars Industrialis Association which I chair. There is also the extraordinary economic dynamism of this borough, especially in the south of the department with this very strong urban dynamic around the Stade de France, a development begun twenty years ago.
In the northern suburbs are also two universities, Paris 8 and Paris 13, with several excellent groups, the Condorcet campus in whicha number of researchers and graduate schools in the social sciences, such as the EHESS [School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences], will be concentrated, and it is also an urban space where many artists settle. Ultimately it is a territory that must find solutions to deal with mass unemployment. Extrapolating figures from Roland Berger’s study [Roland Berger is a business consultancy firm], unemployment for the under-25s, which was 38% two years ago, is set to increase catastrophically in the next ten years. The consequences for Plaine Commune are likely to be unbearable.
There is therefore an imperative need to open up new perspectives on making an economically viable means of developing that might otherwise become apocalyptic. The nation has the duty to support such a development. We believe that the potential of this transformation must serve as an exemplar, the aim is not to develop a “local” economy here.
How will the research component of the project be organized?
We identified a series of objectives with the elected officials and administrative staff of Plaine Commune. We have started a survey of a number of major stakeholders who validated the process and we are currently launching a Chair of Contributory Research whose first mission will be to produce a dossier to define the experimental scope of the project, in close collaboration with Plaine Commune.
In this context, we launched a call for applications for PhD studentships around a dozen themes, which closed on September 30, 2016. We initially had to select between 10 and 20 PhD students. The budgets allocated to us in 2016 by the Ministry of Research and Higher Education has not ultimately allowed us to hire doctoral students this year. We therefore recruited five researchers – in economics, political science, sociology, philosophy and education studies – into a one-year contract to start the work and put in place the methods of contributory research, which represents a whole series of constraints. Another researcher in psychoanalysis has been retained, who is self-financing.
In the first place, they will have to be able to explain the subject of their work to the inhabitants of Plaine Commune, whether they are fluent in French or not. We will of course help them by mobilizing actors, videographers, artists, media outlets … But they will have to make an effort to explain, even if their subject is theoretical. They will follow two seminars a week: one that I will lead and another that they will lead themselves, by presenting their work to one another and inviting [external] researchers or contributors. They will work together, share their notes and results, first with each other and then with the local residents.
Can you give a concrete example?
In the renovation of social housing, for example, a contribution economy for a building could be set up to create a “negentropic” – as opposed to entropic – environment which is also a site for building the skills of the inhabitants, in the style of the architect Patrick Bouchain [more information on Bouchain]. These are residents who innovate and produce sustainable value for themselves, as much as for the city.
More generally, what place is there for residents in this system [dispositif]?
For this project, which takes ten years to [attempt to] deeply change things, we hope to be able to involve the 400,000 inhabitants of Plaine Commune with this contributory research approach; it will start on a small scale to extend to what could be called a contributory democracy. The program is transdisciplinary, as all fields must be explored, such as sports for example. Here, the Stade de France is crucial and sport has been profoundly transformed by the digital in recent years. If we speak to the young people of Seine-Saint-Denis without being able to say anything about football, we will not get very far – especially as there is the prospect of the Olympic Games in 2024.
Why put digital at the heart of the project?
Because digital technology is changing all knowledge, and because knowledge is the key to the future. In 2008, Vincent Peillon, at the time Minister of Education, asked me to lead a group on the introduction of digital [technology] into school; I had then a little disappointed his cabinet by stating: “The digital is dangerous for schools”. I resigned pretty quickly. I’m working on these issues with Maryanne Wolf, an American neuropsychologist. She conducts accurate analyzes, based on medical imaging, and some of her findings are rather troubling.
I’m not saying that we do not need the digital in school, but I do say that it must be introduced deliberately. I continued to support this point of view, particularly at the National Research Agency where I sat for a few years; I had thus proposed to develop doctoral research in all fields to see what the digital “does” within disciplines. For it is not simply a new way of teaching or transmitting knowledge; it is first of all a means of producing knowledge, scientific objects; take nano-objects, for example, which are today entirely produced by the digital; biology and astrophysics also go through the digital, and in mathematics the conditions of proof are modified.
Digital technology is a scientific revolution on which no one works, because all the credits are put on innovation to develop the software and the interfaces of tomorrow … In 2008, I also told by a consultant of Vincent Peillon that it was necessary to adopt a rational attitude towards the digital world and to study it. He told me that I reasoned like an “intellectual” and that he needed quick results. I suggested that we could move forward through contributory research. That is to say, to bring digital into school by introducing, at the same time, research. I always cite Finland where all teachers in are obliged to do research – and this is clearly not insignificant in the quality of the results of this country. That’s what I call contributive research, it goes beyond the teaching profession and concerns the whole population.
What is the digital doing in research?
Digital technology is transforming all scientific activities, as the instruments of observation have been doing since the sixteenth century, passing through what Bachelard called phenomenotechnics [for further discussion]. Yet unlike previous scientific technologies, digital technology also modifies life-skills and know-how, that is to say, everyday life and social relations as well as linguistic skills, for example: these are the scientific objects that are changed.
We are also in a period where technology is evolving extremely fast; if we follow the normal circuits of scientific deliberation, we always arrive too late. This is “disruption“.
Faced with disruption, the social systems and the people who constitute them must also grasp technological development to become prescribers and practitioners, and not only consumers – and sometimes victims. The social system is being short-circuited, and so destroyed, by the technical system. To this end, we must do “concurrent engineering” [l’ingéniérie simultanée]; Thirty years ago, Renault and Volvo introduced such methods to accelerate the transfer of technology by working in parallel and not sequentially; it has become today what we call “agile development”. I have been practicing this for a long time, especially with engineers. For Plaine Commune, the idea is to elaborate – simultaneously with all the different stakeholders in the territory, including the industrialists – a debate, theoretical hypotheses, a required scientific oversight, and using action research methods.
What do you mean by action research?
This is a method developed in the United States in the 1940s by Kurt Lewin who used it in psychosociology; for him, when working with “subjects”, to use the vocabulary of psychologists, it is necessary that people themselves become researchers, because they are precisely subjects and not objects.
This method was then used in management, it is also why it is much criticized by the left and Marxists who see a method of integration and ultimately manipulation. Norway, in particular, has been advanced in transforming its industrial production tools. Action research has also been used in the field of psychiatry, such as at the Tavistock Institute in London.
We must mention here the works of François Tosquelles [this paper provides some context about Tosquelles], a refugee from the Spanish war who transformed a neglected psychiatric hospital in Lozère into a place that became experimental, somewhat by accident. Totally abandoned by the Vichy government in the 1940s, this hospital, like many others, had to face an extreme situation with patients dying of hunger. Tosquelles then completely reversed the situation by urging his patients to take hold of the state of affairs to make the hospital the object of care. The institution became the sick person to be cared for. This was the beginning of a revolution, which included Georges Canguilhem. At the Borde clinic Félix Guattari pursued this direction with Jean Oury.
Is there a place for industrialists in Plaine Commune?
Orange and Dassault Systèmes actively support us. Orange is seeking to develop local platforms and related local services, and together with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) we argue that we need to bring forward a new kind of web that cannot be transformed into a data economy. A contributory tool for people, not people serving the platform!
From Dassault Systèmes, whose engineering communities are already working on the contributory mode, there is a very strong interest for the research and experimentation that we carry out around the sharing of notes. They are also very sensitive to the problems of the contributory economy.
What will these new contributory tools consist of?
Tools [see the IRI website] for note-taking, for example, there is a system capable of making a contributory recommendations – allowing, through the algorithmic analysis of annotations, to recommend the work of other researchers, on various criteria, in order to emphasize convergences and divergences and thus activate the kinds of critical dynamics that make science. It is a kind of computer-assisted Socratic dialogue. When you have 24 students, it’s the teacher who does that; but it’s impossible with thousands of people.
The goal is also to develop new types of social networks that are built around a controversy or a common goal. This would connect not individuals but groups, restoring the social link. Today, social networks are antisocial; But this is not inevitable.
Mostly, then, it is about recreating links …
There is currently a big debate in California on big data and correlationist mathematics, the advances in which lead some to say that we will soon be able to do without theory: some, including Chris Anderson, claim that thanks to correlations theoretical elaboration becomes incidental. I am fiercely opposed to this delusional discourse, which is part of the basis of the data economy, and I criticise this in The Automatic Society.
Digital contributory technologies must be used not to bypass the decision of individuals and groups but to debate and consolidate decisions. The first time I thought about what could be a “truly smart city” , it was in the very small town of Loos-en-Gohelle with its mayor, Jean-François Caron, who ten years ago set up a system of sensors – for recording circulation, temperature, consumption – which does not trigger automated regulations managed by algorithms … rather they convene meetings of residents and associations.
How do you differentiate between contributory and collaborative?
[There is] a big difference. Collaborative is what enables working for free; it is the logic of the Uber, Amazon or Airbnb -type platforms where, progressively, under the pretext of sharing data, we create short circuits, we perform disintermediation, we completely deregulate and we become predatory because we have captured all of everyone’s data and we control all this in an occult way. It is a negative contribution; these platforms which redistribute nothing – neither money nor symbols [symbole] – proletarianise and de-symbolise [désymbolisent]. This is also a criticism that can be addressed to Google. I am thinking here of Frédéric Kaplan’s work which showed that the algorithmic exploitation of language by Google leads tendentially to a standardization of language, producing entropy.
A negative contributory economy is an economy that further aggravates the entropy of consumerism. Many people who work in the collaborative field and the sharing economy are doing very nice things but the collaborative economy is not yet qualified at the macro-economic level: it is only thought at the level of the firm, the small enterprise, and the problem is that it does not take all account for the issue of positive and negative externalities. As a result, it leads to the contrary of how it has been imagined.
It is to bring these issues to the macro-economic level that we have the ambition, in Plaine Commune, to contribute to the invention of a new national accounting plan [nouveau plan comptable national], obviously with other territories. The goal is not to remake the local economy, but an economy that is localized, externalisable and deterritorializable. In short, it is not a question of creating boundaries – but, rather, of creating limits: limits to the Entropocene that is the Anthropocene, and for a negentropic economy with a view to a Neganthropocene.
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!
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.
CFP JOPP Special Issue #11: CITY – Abstracts due 31 Jan 2017
Editors: Penny Travlou, Nicholas Anastasopoulos, Panayotis Antoniadis
Call for papers
One of the welfare state’s key jurisdictions was to tend to housing and public space in benevolent ways. However, under the neoliberal dogma, commodification and gentrification threatens both the right to housing and the right to the city while in recent years, cities have become increasingly militarized and surveyed, resembling battlegrounds where freedom and democracy are under attack. At the same time, recent economic, political, and social crises have activated many counter-forces of resistance and creative alternatives for the grassroots production of food, health services, housing, networking infrastructures, and more.
The role of technology has been contradictory as well. On the one hand, the Internet has enabled some of the most remarkable peer production success stories at a global scale, such as Wikipedia and Free and Open Source Software, among many others. On the other hand, it has empowered huge corporations like Facebook and Google to fully observe and manipulate our everyday activities, and oppressive governments to censor and surveil their citizens.
At the city scale, technology offers opportunities for self-organization, like wireless community networks and numerous bottom-up techno-social initiatives, but also animates the top-down narrative of the “smart city” and the commodification of the “sharing economy as a service” provided by globally active platforms such as Airbnb and Uber. In this situation, peer production in space emerges as a vital bottom-up practice reclaiming citizen participation, and inventing new forms of community.
In this context, some core challenges arise:
– If we choose not tÎ¿ rely on global players to provide peer production support at a local scale, how could different areas of peer production in the city, digital and physical, interact and support each other?
– What types of governance models can adequately support peer production in the city?
To address those challenges one needs to take into consideration the following:
– Lessons learned from the Internet and how they may be incorporated in the context-specific realities of the city.
– Knowledge-transfer methodologies across different localities.
– Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborations (urban studies, media studies, sociology, architecture, cultural geography, informatics etc.).
– Possible collaborations and synergies between activists that fight for the “right to the city” and those that fight for the “right to the Internet”.
-Knowedge/experience transfer between non-urban settings (i.e. intentional communities, ecocommunities, the Transition movement, etc.) and the urban movements.
– Inquiry into research methods and methodologies to be developed and used for analysing ICT-mediated peer production in urban space.
This special issue aims to explore a wide variety of alternative and innovative peer practices, like urban agriculture, food sustainability, solidarity economy, right to the city movements, cooperative housing, community networks, P2P urbanism tactics, co-design practices and more, that are directly reflected in the production of urban space. We are particularly interested in novel combinations of theory, methodologies, and practices that can contribute to peer production in the city and enable new synergies between projects and communities.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
– Urban commons and peer production
– Case studies of innovative peer practices approached from different perspectives
– Comparative case studies on patterns of commoning and think-global / act-local methodologies
– The regional dimension: examples from the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia
– Political issues of autonomy, hegemony, labour, gender, geopolitical and post-colonial perspectives
– Alternative forms of education and learning tools for promoting self-organization and community
– Innovative governance tools for peer production in the city
– Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary methodological approaches
– Urban studies and the right to the (hybrid) city
– Open source urbanism/architecture
– Recycling/upcycling vs buying: making, consuming or prosuming the city?
Abstract submission: 31 January 2017
Notification to authors: 15 February 2017
Submission of full paper: 15 May 2017
Reviews to authors: 15 July 2017
Revised papers: 15 September 2017
Signals due: 10 October 2017
Issue release: October/November 2017
Abstracts of 300-500 words are due by January 31, 2017 and should be sent to email@example.com>. All peer reviewed papers will be reviewed according to Journal of Peer Production guidelines. See http://peerproduction.net/peer-review/process/. Full papers and materials are due by May 15, 2017 for review. Peer reviewed papers should be around 8,000 words. We also welcome experimental, alternative contributions, like testimonies, interviews and artistic treatments, whose format will be discussed case by case with the editors.
*This special issue was initiated during the Hybrid City III (Athens) conference and developed further during the IASC Urban Commons (Bologna) and Habitat III (Quito) conferences.
The interview with Bernard Stiegler translated below comes from the l’Humanité.fr website. This follows nicely from the other interview about ‘how to survive disruption’ I recently translated. It’s interesting for a number of reasons, but I think principally because he offers a little more detail on how one might go about creating an ‘economy of contribution’ by discussing the experiments with Plaine Commune and what he means by “contributory income” and how that differs from a ‘universal basic income”. For those interested in Stiegler’s work, beyond the philosophical texts, this is quite an enlightening read (I think).
As usual, clarifications and original French are in square brackets. In this case, all of the footnotes are by me. I hope some others find this of interest… I did.
In the face of the upheavals created by digital data, the philosopher [Bernard Stiegler], developing his research in concert with the think tank Ars Industrialis and the Institute of Research and Innovation [of the Pompidou Centre], invites us to comprehensively [de fond en comble] rethink work. He advocates the establishment of an economy of contribution based on a new type of value production and social justice.
We are entering the era of big data. Does the quantitative explosion of digital data signal a new industrial revolution?
Bernard Stiegler Yes and it is already upon us. A study for the board of Roland Berger [a global strategy consultancy] suggests that three million jobs will be destroyed in the next ten years. But, other studies predict that 47% of jobs in the US, 50% in Belgium and France, will be automated in the course of the next twenty years. We are entering the third historical wave of automation. In the 19th century machine tools enabled capitalism to achieve enormous gains in productivity, while distributing the resulting profits only amongst the bourgeoisie. The second wave was created through Taylorism and the assembly line, which in part benefited the working classes because the workers consumed the goods they played a part in producing, creating mass markets. The third wave is not solely constituted by robots but also by the data we all generate, notably with our smart phones. All of these data that we deliver to platforms, such as Google, banks or shopping websites, are processed in every country and in an immediate manner by algorithms. Their exploitation allows, for example, a company like Amazon to predict what it may sell and to encourage us to buy in an extremely efficient manner, all with the minimum staff. Further, automation is allowing the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, to design very simple robots, capable of placing and retrieving stock incredibly quickly, without human interaction, controlled by software.
Does this means that in the near term a company like Amazon will be able to do without employees to pick, pack and send out packages?
Bernard Stiegler Warehouse workers will be replaced by robots. The “robolution”  is becoming increasingly possible for a large number of companies. The humanoids that are reaching market now are much less expensive and more advanced than the large automata already in use. Even SMEs can invest in them.
In the medium term then, such automation concerns everyone?
Bernard Stiegler Driverless lorries are already on the roads of Nevada and soon will be in Germany. Artificial intelligence will be able to replace lawyers who put their legal studies on file. All analytical jobs will be effected. Even medics. A high performance robot is able to conduct prostate surgery… In his Foundations of a Critique of Political Economy [the Grundrisse], Karl Marx formulated the hypothesis: what if everything is automated? If nothing changes, in particular regions, 80 to 90 percent of the under 25s will soon have no other perspective. The markets will collapse, because there will be no more purchasing power, and with them will go the social security system that relies on workers’ contributions. A new society is being formed and it is not very compatible with that of today. We urgently need to rethink everything, to develop trade based on a new type of value production and social justice. I strongly believe in experimentation, which is why we have launched a project related to Plaine Commune  in the urban community of Seine-Saint-Denis. Beginning with a 10-year pilot programme, the aim is to create a district of learning [territoire apprenant] whose inhabitants are not only consumers of but also providers [prescripteurs] of digital services.
We imagine that this area was not chosen at random. Plaine Commune is both rich in diversity, it’s network of associations but also home to a disadvantaged population, facing mass unemployment…
Bernard Stiegler When I started talking about this project with Patrick Braouezec, president of Plaine Commune, 38% of young people under 25 were unemployed in Seine-Saint-Denis. That figure is now 50% and if we follow the projections, the rate could reach between 80 and 90% in ten years. This endemic problem of unemployment will affect all developed countries unless they invent something new: that’s what we want to do in Plaine Commune. The idea is to develop an economy of contribution in a completely different model to Uber. The time gained through automation must be made available to people, otherwise the economy will collapse. The Indian economist Amartya Sen has shown, through a study comparing the residents of Bangladesh and Harlem [New York], that life expectancy is better and we live in a better society when the sharing of expertise strengthens social ties. He discusses a Human Development Index. Plaine Commune is a bit like Bangladesh: the people there are exercising a remarkable energy. [Various] actors, businesses and residents are aware of the urgent need to invent something radically new, which is to use the mechanisms of contribution to develop a commons in a project that promotes the development, exchange, and transmission of practical knowledge [savoir-faire], life skills [savoir-vivre] and theoretical knowledge [savoir théoretiques] among the younger generations, associations, businesses, public services of the area, and doctoral students from around the world. Researchers will have the mission to facilitate and work alongside these changes.
So this project proposes to put people at the centre of an increasingly automated society [une société de plus en plus robotisée]?
Bernard Stiegler Standardisation, the elimination of diversity, and the destruction of knowledge produce high-dose entropy, characterised by the state of “disorder” of a system. Here was must engage in a little theory. In the nineteenth century, physicists established that, in the theory of a universe in expansion since a big bang, energy irreversibly dissipates. The law of becoming is entropy [La loi du devenir est l’entropie]. Erwin Schrödinger, a great theorist of quantum mechanics (which is the theoretical basis of nanotechnology), however, showed that life is characterised by its ability to produce negative entropy, which is also called negentropy. This delays disorder, that is to say death, which is a decomposition of living matter. Social organisations have a similar function. Automation, which is a hyper-standardisation, produces entropy. Google’s algorithms, which can translate the languages of the world through English, which acts a pivot language, causes an immense linguistic entropy. The impoverishment of vocabulary and dysorthography regresses individual and collective intelligence through a submission to the law of averages. Conversely, life produces, through exceptions, mutations that are impossible to anticipate but which are the very conditions of evolution. Poets and writers have shaped languages through their exceptional use of language. Algorithms erase all exceptions: they only work by calculating probabilities based upon averages. Crude automation produces a generalised (mental as well as environmental) disorder, which ruins the economy. In the economy of tomorrow, automation can instead be placed at the service of the production of negative entropy. It must allow for the valorisation of exceptions by developing the collective empowerment of everyone to make the commons [la valorisation des exceptions en développant la capacitation collective de chacun pour en faire du commun].
The upheaval that you describe considerably changes the concept of work. Are we facing the erasure of the organisation of employment around the notion of salaried work?
Bernard Stiegler In employment [l’emploi] today, the worker [travailleur] is deprived of their expertise [savoir-faire]. They must follow a process and rely upon software – until one day, the task has become automated and the employee [l’employé] is dismissed. Work [Le travail], by contrast, is an activity during which the worker enriches the task by exercising their knowledge [savoir] through its differentiation [en le différenciant], and continually bringing something new to society. This kind of work produces negentropy, that is to say, also, value, and it cannot be automated because it consists, on the contrary, in de-automating [désautomatiser] routines. Ongoing automation must redistribute some of the productivity gains in order to fund some time for everyone to build capacities [un temps de capacitation de tout un chacun] within an economy of contribution that enables everyone to enhance their knowledge. This is why we advocate the adoption of a contributory income, which is not the same as a universal income.
Precisely, the idea has even more trouble finding its way because it overlaps very different definitions …
Bernard Stiegler Such an income, also called “basic” [income], is a safety net. A contributory income is at the intersection of the models of temporary work in the performing arts [intermittents du spectacle] and the practices of [creating] free software. It covers various levels of compensation that depend upon the periods of employment and the level of salary. The work of tomorrow will be discontinuous [intermittent]. Periods of employment will alternate with periods of acquiring, developing and sharing knowledge. The right to the contributory income will be “rechargeable”, based upon the number of hours of employment. In case of problems, the system will be accompanied by a minimum living wage [revenu minimum d’existence] – as a social protection system accompanying the scheme. The trial we have led with Plaine Commune includes testing a contributory income to benefit those who are younger, for whom the amounts could increase with age and where the contribution allowance [allocation contributif] outside of the employed period would represent a percentage akin to the model of paying unemployment benefit to those working in the performing arts [les intermittents]. The beneficiaries would be invited to “invest in themselves” [«s’encapaciter»], that is to say, to increase their knowledge through studies as well as professional experience. They would be invited to share their knowledge [savoirs] with their neighbouring community [communauté territoriale]. All of this calls for a new collective intelligence, capable of mobilising formal and advanced theoretical knowledge, which is why, with doctoral students, the aim is to develop a contributory research involving the young and local residents. The aim is to develop an economy of contribution founded on the production of negentropy. 
So, periods of paid employment remain in your system – what is the difference between contributory work [travail contributif] and precarious part-time job [petit job précaire]?
Bernard Stiegler The switchboard operator job at TF1 paid in the vein of someone working in the performing arts [comme intermittents du spectacle] is only made precarious [précarisée] at the expense of Assedic . Contributory work must be defined by precise criteria. However, such a question cannot be answered a priori, except through the formal principal I have already stated, which is the production of negentropy, that is to say: practical know-how [savoir-faire], life skills [savoir-vivre] and formal knowledge [savoirs formels]. The PhD theses of our doctoral students are intended to inform these issues in close collaboration with the work carried out in Villetaneuse by Benjamin Corriat’s team on the economy of the commons. We will build on the experience of the architect Patrick Bouchain, who has shown how to put urban renewal projects in the service of a political economy of collaboration – where the residents, who are directly involved in the renovation, may be paid in shares of the development [l’habitat]. There are possibilities for developing the economy of contribution through associations, cooperatives, the social economy and solidarity, public services, as well as through industry, where new production methods will create new professions, which will be intermittent.
Have you any idea of how to fund this radical transformation to systems of production?
Bernard Stiegler A share of the gains in productivity must be redistributed. Taxes raised on trillions of euros passing through purely speculative markets might actually be invested in profitable, just and sustainable projects, without forgetting the fight against tax evasion. Vocational training credits [Les crédits de la formation professionnelle] – 38 billion Euros per year – should be involved in funding the economy of contribution, as should many of the exemptions from social charges or tax that could be diverted for this purpose. They represent 80 billion Euros. There really is enough there for this to be funded.
Notes [by me]
1. “Robolution” is a literal translation of the neologism used by Stiegler, i.e. a portmanteau of robot & revolution.
2. The project with Plaine Commune is specified in outline [in French] on the France Strategie 2017-2027 website, and is supported by the Fondation de France.
3.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.]
4. Assédic or ASSEDIC is the partial acronym of “Association pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce” (Association for Employment in Industry and Trade).
In a recent interview with the French-language Swiss newspaper (or at least the web version) Le Temps, Bernard Stiegler addresses some of the key issues underlying his most recent book (not yet in translation) concerning disruption. Addressing in one sweep the ideological uses of the term by those involved in technological entrepreneurialism (especially in the US) and the wider sense in which (as he has previously argued) Stiegler sees a form of widespread dispossession of knowledge, of life skills and indeed of livelihood across Europe through the rapid political, social and technological changes to work and everyday life – Stiegler continues to argue for his favoured political response: an economy of contribution.
Of interest here, perhaps, is the brief discussion of his (and, I think, Ars Industrialis‘) collaboration in the creation of a Chair of Innovation [one of a number of proposed ‘research chairs’] to be based in Plaine Commune an urban unitary authority, or greater Paris borough (established through the creation of Metropolitan Greater Paris [Métropole du Grand Paris] as one of the nine Établissements publics territoriaux or boroughs/unitary authorities) on the Northern fringe of Paris that is designated as le Territoire de la Culture et de la création, or ‘the borough for creativity and culture‘. As I understand it Stiegler proposes Plaine Commune as ‘territoire contributif‘ – a sort of region of contribution [a territory or zone delineated as an area in which the economy of contribution might take precedence, along the same lines as ‘free trade zones‘ perhaps, but with a very different ethics/politics]. The principle role of the ‘chair’ is to oversee the pilot of a kind of basic or citizens’ income (broadly akin to a universal basic income) that Stiegler suggest will be implemented through a formal agreement of ‘contribution’ – whereby the income is granted on the premise that the young people given it will use it to subside their own personal development, in turn making them greater contributors to society.
As always, I have done my best to clarify and offer original French terms where I think it helps but done so in square brackets. I welcome comments and suggestions about this translation – please understand it to be a ‘rough’ version, I am nowhere near fluent enough for this to be considered particularly authoritative!
The vacuity of the “data economy” or the revitalisation of our societies in a contributory mode? For Bernard Stiegler it’s time to choose …
Bernard Stiegler does not define disruption within the five hundred pages that begin with “Inshallah” and end with “we must dream”. The term, borrowed from nuclear physics, and in particular, experiments in closed rooms suggestively called “tokamaks” denotes a “sudden onset of instability”. In the jargon of our digital age the word now means the ability of an innovation to destabilize entire sectors of the economy and society. It is also worth noting that in the (not unrelated) terminology of the American Medical Association, a “disruptive physician” is a practitioner whose deplorable behavior undermines the health of those around him. So, we’re all clear then.
Bernard Stiegler does not define disruption because that is not his objective. His new book is placed in the disruption: the subject is us, who are totally enveloped within it – all of us, with our “processes of individuation” devastated by the conversion of our interior being into data that is delivered for automatic calculation. All of us, with our “protentions” (that is to say “the desire and expectation of the future”) short-circuited by algorithms. All of us, who face the “hegemonic becoming of disinhibition” [désinhibition devenue hégémonique] exemplified by the repulsive figure of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. We are all looking for tools to perform a split, the stakes of which are everything: on one side the void, on the other, if all goes well, the “reconstruction of a true society” [reconstitution d’une véritable société]. This is the conclusion of the French philosopher, theorist and practitioner of innovation, pioneer of digital and socio-technical thinking – and also, in previous lives, owner of a jazz club and former prison inmate, as he as highlighted himself – a combination of analysis with lived experience, which is, in this way, faithful to the foundations of phenomenology.
“How to not go mad?” Asks the subtitle of his book, and how did we arrive at such a question becoming inescapable? Via a long and winding path for society, answers Stiegler, that passes through “the inversion of the Enlightenment project” and leads to the “ultra-liberal capitalism” of the present, born from conservative revolutions that work towards the “pure and simple liquidation of public power”. Also, via a long technological path that has remained unthought since Plato, because philosophy essentially refuses to think technics. To represent the point where digital disruption converges with the climate crisis, Stiegler offers the testimony of a fifteen year old boy called Florian: “We no longer dream of having a family, of having children, a profession, ideals, because we are convinced that we are the last generation”. What is to be done? Surrender to madness? Allow suicidal thoughts to creep into the crevices of our minds like ivy? Let’s see…
Le Temps: Is the situation you describe the product of technology itself, or rather of the socio-political context?
Bernard Stiegler: When computing technologies can go four million times faster than us there are associated structural effects. However, we can use these tools in alternative ways to servicing the data economy. In any case, the web was not, initially, designed for capturing data: it was a space for publication, whose success was related to the opportunity to participate in public life through publication. In the Renaissance, printing opened out a public space that we call the Republic of Letters. The web potentially opens a new space that one can call the Digital Republic. The is what happened at first but quickly, and especially in the ten years since the introduction of social networks, the internet has become a system for capturing behaviour, for the development of what the Belgian lawyer Antoinette Rouvroy calls algorithmic governmentality, by which she means the control of individuals by algorithms.
– Is it still possible to split away from this?
– It is not only possible it is absolutely essential. The computational system as it functions today produces a standardisation, a homogenisation of existential spaces, which leads to a destruction of society. Increasingly, people are seen as the mediated reports of algorithms, and these are substituted for social systems. This results in a loss of a sense of existence that causes frustration, violence and madness, which is to say: despair and desensitisation [denoétisation]: the destruction of cognitive capacities. At an economic level, with the development of automation we see the destruction of more than half of the jobs in Europe and the United States. If we do not want to also thereby destroy half of the purchasing power, and thus consumption and economic activity, we must redistribute income outside of salaried employment, which exists less and less.
– We understand you have a plan…
– It shall be necessary to redistribute the gains made through automation through what we can call a contributory income, remunerating people who augment their capacities to act, in the sense understood by the Indian economist Amartya Sen. At the moment I am developing a project in the Seine-Saint-Denis district, which has more than 430,000 inhabitants, working with their unitary authority [l’établissement public territorial] Plaine Commune. Within the authority, we are creating a Chair of Contributive Research, in partnership with universities and businesses and with the support of three ministers. Primarily, this relates to the question of distributing a contributory income amongst several hundred young people drawn at random, whom we will support through a formal agreement [with them] based upon their acquisition of knowledge. The latter need not be purely academic, we are also speaking here of life skills [savior-vivre] and practical know-how [savoir-faire] in areas that could be [for example] sport or cooking.
In a famous study, Amartya Sen wondered why adult male mortality was higher in the New York neighbourhood of Harlem than in Bangladesh. In answering the problem he put forward an explanation based on [the idea of] collective knowledge that, he said, gave the Bangladeshis an ability to withstand incomparably greater adversity. In the Western world, people are thoroughly proletarianised: they no longer have [such] knowledge [savoirs], they only have the skills to operate a supermarket checkout, accounting software or financial data tools. They are therefore no longer capable of innovating [produire du changement], they only perpetuate the standardised nature of the system. A contributory income, on the contrary, remunerates people who acquire and enhance their capacities to enrich the social. We are also in favour of an unconditional income: both of these devices [dispostifs] are complimentary.
– So, in this way, there can be a future “in the disruption”…
– It is never too late for effective action [pour bien faire]. It is absolutely essential to develop an economy of contribution, using the algorithms that are already exploiting the data economy, that does not reject disruption, because that serves no purpose, because the reality of disruption is something nobody can prevent. This demands a new form of public power and a new European politics that develops an alternative model for these technologies. We must urgently reconstruct an ecology of dreams [une écologie du rêve], of thought [pensée], and social relations, and it must be created through experimentation, rather than solely through theorisation. Today we are in processes of denial, people do not want to hear talk of the extreme gravity of the situation. Yet as soon as there are real prospects [of change], they will [finally] be able to discuss it.
Bernard Stiegler, «Dans la disruption. Comment ne pas devenir fou?» (Editions Les Liens qui libèrent, 480 p.)