Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Consumption in Cognitive Capitalism: Commodity Riots and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat of Consumption

Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Consumption in Cognitive Capitalism: Commodity Riots and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat of Consumption

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the introduction to the book Radical Thought in Italy (Virno and Hardt, 1996), the editors--somewhat apologetically--explain that 'the Italian mode of thinking revolutionary politics' has 'seldom develop[ed] the critique of the commodity ... as a major theme,' since such analysis 'run[s] the risk of falling into a kind of asceticism that would predicate revolutionary struggle on a denial of the pleasures offered by capitalist society'. In contrast, revolutionary thinking in Italy,

Involves no such denial, but rather the adoption and appropriation of the pleasures of capitalist society as our own, intensifying them as shared collective wealth ... Revolution is a desiring machine ... Communism rather will emerge out of the heart of capitalism as a social form that not only answers the basic human needs of all but also heightens and intensifies our desires. (Virno and Hardt, 1996: 7, emphasis added).

We draw inspiration and courage from these lines to attempt to make that link; to bring together autonomist Marxism with analysis of consumption of commodities and to discuss commodities and their consumption in contemporary cognitive capitalism not in a rejectionist, austere, strict anti-capitalist manner, but rather in a way that shows the joy, desire, fun, sex-appeal, a new kind of 'mystical character' that commodities and consumption have in our capitalist society. Our 'laboratory' and ground for inspiration in searching for the significance of consumption was the department stores and fashion boutiques of London (not the factory, nor the library). It was there that we were transfixed by the joyfulness, youthfulness, and immense intimacy of commodities offered for consumption; but also felt the starkness, if not outright hostility, that (some) Marxists often regard consumption with.

In this paper, we aim to take a step further the discussion on the commodity-form and commodities in cognitive capitalism (Boutang, 2007; Paulre, 2008; Vercellone, 2005) that we started elsewhere (Tsogas, 2012; Tsogas, et al., 2013). We instigate an examination of consumption of commodities and scrutinize the influence of cognitive capitalism. We attempt to challenge the prevalent belief that consumption--on the question of first and last things--does not seem to matter as much as production. We explore the conditions and circumstances in cognitive capitalism under which consumption not only does matter but, in fact, commands over production; it dictates what, where, and how much is produced, and when consumption suffocates in the confines of industrial capitalism, we suggest that it desperately tries to break out, either peacefully (through cyberspace) or even violently (in commodity riots).

2. Consumption in Cognitive Capitalism

On the deduction that immaterial and affective labor (Hardt and Negri, 1994; 2000; 2005; 2009; Lazzarato, 1996; Negri, 2008; Virno, 2004) add immaterial qualities to a commodity, which could have a disproportionate effect on its retail value (Tsogas, 2012; Tsogas, et al., 2013), we put forward a negation of value creation in cognitive capitalism. In classic Marxist analysis, value is created in production and destroyed in consumption. In cognitive capitalism, we stipulate, consumption not only does not destroy production, but, in fact, it guides and precedes it; as knowledge comes before creation, creation can exist in the space that knowledge has allocated for it. What, in other words, we declare here is that the Tayloristic/Fordist model of production followed by consumption is long dead.

Benetton and cognitive capitalism

The fashion label Benetton delivered the first fatal blow in the mid to late 1980s. Under the guidance of Prof. Bruno Zuccaro and by using the, then, newly emerged computer communications protocols as well as bar codes on products, they managed to connect--in a truly radical and revolutionary way--consumption with production (Mantle, 1999). …

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