Cinema, the Post-Fordist Worker, and Immaterial Labor: From Post-Hollywood to the European Art Film

By Goddard, Michael; Halligan, Benjamin | Framework, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Cinema, the Post-Fordist Worker, and Immaterial Labor: From Post-Hollywood to the European Art Film


Goddard, Michael, Halligan, Benjamin, Framework


This article examines the relations between film and work under the conditions of post- Fordist modes of production as they have emerged since the 1970s. This necessarily involves engaging with the recent po liti cal theories of post- Fordism, and immaterial labor and biopolitics, which were developed in Italy from the 1970s and have become extremely influential on contemporary understandings of new modes of work and production. The concept of biopolitics- or, more precisely, biopower- was first developed in Foucault's work in the late 1970s, especially the introduction to the History of Sexuality,1 and seminars such as Security, Territory, Population and The Birth of Biopolitics.2

Foucauldian biopower refers to a contemporary mode of power that directly governs, manages, and monitors life, considered in terms of the state of population control and security regimes. As such, it differs both from classical conceptions of sovereign power, based on the power over life and death of an absolute ruler, or Foucault's own conceptions of modern power formation in terms of a disciplinary apparatus. This still nascent concept of biopower was famously taken up in the work of Giorgio Agamben, especially in Homo Sacer.3 In his earlier essay "Form- of- Life," Agamben combines the concept of biopower with sovereign power and rejects, or at least problematizes, Foucault's genealogical distinction between sovereign and biopo liti cal modes of power.4 Instead, Agamben discusses biopo liti cal power as the governance of what he calls "bare" or "naked" life.5 He traces the concept of bare life to Aristotle, but points out that it took a par tic u lar significance in modernity, especially in such specifically modern sites as concentration camps and in relation to refugees, not covered under the term "human rights."6 According to Agamben, "the first concentration camps in Eu rope were built as a means of controlling refugees ... Jews and Gypsies could be sent to extermination camps only after having been fully denationalized ... When their rights are no longer the rights of the citizen, that is when humans are truly sacred, in the sense that this term used to have in Ancient Rome: doomed to death."7 While the governance of stateless populations and even more so the management of concentration camps are clear instances of biopolitics as a direct power over life itself, Agamben's insistence on these examples obscures the pervasion of the whole of the social by biopower theorized by Foucault by limiting it only to these extreme cases. Furthermore, it evacuates any possible agency from naked life by situating it as passive and even doomed to death, and therefore is not very amenable for thinking about the creativity and re sis tance inherent in work.

For these reasons, this article refers to a subsequent reformulation of "biopower" by Hardt and Negri, and other postautonomist thinkers such as Paolo Virno and Maurizio Lazzarato, who have proposed a division between biopower, understood in the Foucauldian sense, and what they call biopolitics, which refers to the forms of re sis tance proper to regimes of biopower.8 This conception of biopolitics has the advantage of privileging practices of re sistance and creativity over pro cesses of capture and control, and also focuses on the sphere of work and its contemporary post- Fordist transformation. This is a much more productive account of biopolitics and bare life than Agamben's account, and one that shifts the latter's passive conception of biopower and sacrificial bare life toward what Hardt and Negri call biopo liti cal production, to bring out "the synergies of life, or really the productive manifestations of naked life."9

The emphasis on biopolitics as production is also usefully applied to cinema. Cinema, in its incorporation and coordination of bodies in movement, can be understood as biopo liti cal in the sense that it directly incorporates living pro cesses by means of a technical apparatus that rec ords and then later projects them. …

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