Transformation, Manufacturing and the Productive Forces of Knowledge and Language: A Temporary Socio-Economic System for the Distribution of Meaning

It was hard work but we did it with joy. If one of us were sick or on holiday they would be missed. Everyone of us could count on the others to take on our work in case of problems, for example at home. (…) It was an atmosphere that we created ourselves.

An ex-Italsider worker in an interview at Bagnoli, August 31 2010¹

…a Fordist construct – a time before factory turned into office (and office into home), and before labor itself became linguistic.

Christian Marazzi, “Capital and Language”²

Assuming the condition that art produces a sense of ways of contemporary life in relation to the historic struggles that brought them about as well as a perspective of their future development, my intention in the following will be to elaborate on the background issues that inform my project as well as on some of its more specific details.

I. Fordism / Post-Fordism and contemporary notions of cognitive capitalism

From a Neo-Schumpeterianist³ point of view, Fordism constitutes the paradigm of the fourth Kondratiev Wave⁴, whose alleged time span from 1930 till 1980 indicates the major part of the operational period of the Italsider steel mill. Emerging out of Industrial Capitalism, the remains of Italsider are not only the physical manifestation of a historic architecture of labor and production, but also witnesses to a series of transformations of the productive forces within western European economies, thus giving birth to various new social formations over time.

Taylorist and Fordist structuring of the labor process might be foremost applicable to Turin and the primary industrialization and, incidentally, financialization⁵ of the North but it is safe to assume that the struggle for increasing efficiency did not stop at the doors of a steel mill in Southern Italy.

A few examples should be given in the following of theoretical approaches that attempt to outline a post-Fordist socio-economic condition, or, to go back to the Kondratiev Wave theory employed by Neo-Schumpeterianism, the fifth wave cycle, which is dominated by information and communication technology. The project which I will outline in the second part of this text is based on the assumption that such a shift actually happened regardless of the terms or divergences in concepts used to describe it (or, for that matter, to explain the causal relationship of its emergence, e.g due to the social crisis of Fordism mentioned below). The implications of these claims certainly merit a much greater deal of thought than is the case here. For the sake of keeping this draft at a reasonable length however I do acknowledge to work with concepts whose further elaboration would go into a level of detail that is not my concern at this time.

To quote from Carlo Vercellone:

As a consequence of the social crisis of Fordism, capitalism has entered into a phase of deep transformations concerning both the division of labour and the modality of capital valorization. During this phase, the increasing importance of the role of knowledge and the dimension of cognitive labour have to be considered as the main factors of the changing nature of the capital/labour relation.

(…) the relation between knowledge and power constitutes an essential feature of the class struggle in organizing production: (…) who controls productive knowledge (which Marx refers to as the intellectual powers of production) can also aspire to manage production itself, that is to say, can determine the organization of labour and the social purpose of production.⁶

Under these assumptions, we have to consider the transformation of labor within a knowledge-based society in which the production process is shifted towards a commodified collaborative structure that exists within discreet feedback loops:

Immaterial labor finds itself at the crossroads (or rather, it is the interface) of a new relationship between production and consumption. The activation of both productive cooperation and the social relationship with the consumer is materialized within and by the process of communication. The role of immaterial labor is to promote continual innovation in the forms and conditions of communication (and thus in work and consumption). It gives form to and materializes needs, the imaginary, consumer tastes, and so forth, and these products in turn become powerful producers of needs, images, and tastes. The particularity of the commodity produced through immaterial labor (…) consists in the fact that it is not destroyed in the act of consumption, but rather it enlarges, transforms, and creates the “ideological” and cultural environment of the consumer. This commodity does not produce the physical capacity of labor power; instead, it transforms the person who uses it. Immaterial labor produces first and foremost a “social relationship” (a relationship of innovation, production, and consumption). Only if it succeeds in this production does its activity have an economic value. This activity makes immediately apparent something that material production had “hidden,” namely, that labor produces not only commodities, but first and foremost it produces the capital relation.

This immaterial labor constitutes itself in forms that are immediately collective, and we might say that it exists only in the form of networks and flows. The organization of the cycle of production of immaterial labor (because this is exactly what it is, once we abandon our factoryist (sic!) prejudices—a cycle of production) is not obviously apparent to the eye, because it is not defined by the four walls of a factory.

This labor form is also characterized by real managerial functions that consist in (1) a certain ability to manage its social relations and (2) the eliciting of social cooperation within the structures of the basin of immaterial labor. (The basin of immaterial labor being the location in which the cycle of production of immaterial labor operates. This location has to be conceived of as being outside in the society at large as opposed to the clearly defined realm of the factory).⁷

II. Forum Universale delle Culture 2013

I want to think about the implications of the abandoned industrial field of Bagnoli as a possibility of how we can conceive of systems of production and distribution, the according modes that underlie those systems and how and which transformations within the social could bring these further within reach. In other but similar words, I regard my project as undertaking an inquiry into possible modes of production and distribution in a post-industrial socio-economic environment, and, in a more general sense, the possible ways of living implied by them and their socio-political framework. “Post-industrial” in this case being indicative of the presence of a network of phenomena that is being referred to as globalization, which inevitably includes the neoliberal project that however, as I would claim, did not historically initiate it. Rethinking and reconceptualizing “the global project” apart from neoliberalism should also be an issue that underpins the discourse.

In the following, I will elaborate on aspects which I consider crucial in terms of establishing some reference points to engage in a discussion about the potential further course of the proposed project.

II. I Manufacturing

First of all, my project takes on the notion of the “forum” in a very literal way. The starting point is the creation of a productive framework that manufactures a virtual substance. In other words, I am proposing a congress, which is to be held at the recently completed convention center in Bagnoli over an extended and yet to be defined period of time within the timeframe of the Forum. This congress is supposed to be structured in a common way, which is to say that it is based on lectures of invited speakers according to which a schedule will be made available to the public. It uses language to elaborate on topics that my project as a whole, i.e. as a work, tries to imply within its structure. These questions are related to the thoughts mentioned at the beginning and aim of the congress to shed light on their relevance from various but equally important fields: philosophy, politics, economics, architecture and urban planning and various forms of cultural production. Naturally, no suggestions in terms of potential speakers should be made at this point and the fact that I am outlining a project that is based on a multitude of agents hopefully implies an axiomatically de-centered notion of authority. The list of authors from which I quote in this text is nonetheless informative. One tentative approach towards the formation of the program is to focus on an intellectual discourse that emerges out of Italy and whose obvious implications would then determine its international part. 

This first part of the project is what I refer to as the production process, or historically speaking, the manufacturing process. Knowledge is being produced over an extended period of time through the established discourse and is constantly and in every aspect being documented. This means that all lectures will be filmed and recorded and all papers or other materials used for presenting should be available for reproduction. The production process therefore involves at the same time a transformation and encoding of the knowledge into discreet entities.

II.II Distribution

The second part of the project is what I want to call the distribution process. This part is concerned with the creation of a system for the distribution (the entering into the world) of the elaborated meaning.

Physically this structure manifests itself as a temporary architecture that should be constructed at a suitable place within the Italsider area (as of now it is impossible for me to provide further specifications due to the early stage of the general development of the Forum). This architecture will function as part of the system / factory in the sense that it stores and makes available the product which is the collectively elaborated discourse that I described earlier. This product however must be understood in the sense that it is based only on the idea of a product but never becomes a finalized product. What is therefore manufactured here in a general sense is an open-ended product. To be specific:

All the documented material from the congress will be made available to the visitors of the forum in the documentation center. While the duration of the congress may be subject to further evaluation based on various criteria, the lifespan of the documentation center by definition extends itself over the whole duration of the forum because it is not conceived as an event but rather becomes an institution within the forum and as such should be potentially open to every visitor. The documentation will be available to the visitors in video, audio and print. If in material form, such as print for example, it can be acquired at cost price. There will be extensive research material provided on all people who participate in the congress and the documentation center should also provide the facilities for visitors to engage in this material.

The first step of the distribution process therefore is to provide the documentation on site as part of the forum.

The second step is to find ways to involve the local people in particular, at which “local” remains yet to be defined. Tentatively speaking, people would qualify as “local” whose relation to and possible interest in the forum is expected to be established through their spatial and maybe emotional proximity to its physical site. Possible ways could be television, radio and newspaper.

Thirdly, the distribution process is conceived as operating on a potentially global scale through the internet. All the documentation that is suitable should be available online on a specific website created for the project. Radio PAN could be involved in this part by conducting interviews with presenters and structuring the online availability of the audio content.

The production and the distribution process are not to be conceived as singular events but are intertwined. However, the causal relationship always requires the distribution process to be defined on the basis of a production process that preceded it. In order to repeat itself in terms of an open-ended inquiry, production on the other hand is dependent on distribution. 

Finally it will be important to summarize the production process in a publication that should be issued once the physical structure of the discourse has vanished.

II.III Participation

It is important at this point to elaborate on the notion of participant. Every visitor, physical or not, in other words, every person interested in the discourse established by the project, is a potential participant (at which it should be emphasized that the notion of online availability and interactivity does not imply an illusionary notion of universal reach). Participation can take various forms depending on the structure that allows for its realization. These will have to be further elaborated but it is important for now to note that the project is open for everybody to contribute to the production process provided that they can access at least one of the levels of its productive structure.

II.IV Site-Specificity

It seems inevitable that we should leave behind the nostalgic notions of a site as being essentially bound to the physical and empirical realities of a place. Such a conception, if not ideologically suspect, often seems out of synch with the prevalent description of contemporary life as a network of unanchored flows. Even such an advanced theoretical position as Frampton’s Critical Regionalism seems dated in this regard; for it is predicated on the belief that a particular site/place exists with its identity-giving or identifying properties always and already prior to what new cultural forms might be introduced to it or emerge from it. In such a pre- (or post-) poststructuralist conception, all site-specific gestures would have to be understood as reactive, “cultivating” what is presumed to be there already rather than generative of new identities and histories.

Miwon Kwon, “One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity”⁸

…the functional site may or may not incorporate a physical place. Instead, it is a process, an operation occurring between sites, a mapping of institutional and textual filiations and the bodies that move between them(…). It is (…) an informational site (…). It is a temporary thing, a movement, a chain of meanings and imbricated histories; a place marked and swiftly abandoned.

James Meyer, “The Functional Site; or, The Transformation of Site Specificity”⁹

First to think about notions of institution. I am thinking of my project as being a temporary institution within the larger temporary institutional framework of the Forum. This temporary institution however does not primarily manifest itself as a physical structure, at which of course it is also not entirely virtual. The important implication of “non-physicality” being the idea of a blurring of the specific boundaries of physical structures which indicate a clear notion of inside and outside (hence of institutional sphere) into a realm that escapes any description in such terms.

My approach within the process of developing the project was to take on the mode of production of steel manufacturing and apply it to the productive structure that I outlined earlier.

To recap the very general structure of the site-specific process to which I am referring:

Iron ore is being imported into the manufacturing site (potentially on a global scale). Inside the blast furnace, the ore is reduced to molten metal. The molten metal is refined and further processed towards the final product. The final product

leaves the manufacturing site, it is being distributed (potentially on a global scale).

In other words, I am interested in a site-specific production process that, at the same time as referring to an industrialized mode of production, acknowledges and examines the socio-economic shift that I tried to outline in the first part of this text (“labor itself became linguistic”²). More specifically, I am examining the site-specific mode in which an iteration that refers to the conditions of its own production and their wider social implications is being produced, distributed and reproduced.

The material I am working with is essentially language and, on a primary level, the process of signification through language as well as processes of encoding meaning for distribution. On a physical level, the structure that I use and / or that I actively design is a structure for signification.

Locating the actual site of the work is a complex task. The work is initiated on a physical level but then continues its existence, reproduction and eventual dispersion within the virtual non-place (that is a de-centered and/or dispersed accumulation of virtual sites of non-signification), which is impli

II.V The Public / the Common

The key to understanding economic production today is the common, both as productive force and as the form in which wealth is produced.

It is important to keep conceptually separate the common – such as common knowledge and culture – and the public, institutional arrangements that attempt to regulate access to it. (…) the common exists on a different plane from the private and the public, and is fundamentally autonomous from both.

Michael Hardt / Antonio Negri, “Commonwealth”¹⁰ 

My project is conceived of as being radically public. Participation in the presentations is arranged on a first come, first served basis. Access to the documentation (on site or online) and contribution to the discourse is free, unlimited and open to anyone. It should be noticed here that “public” indicates the institutional authority that inevitably governs access to its structure, even if the attempt is to reduce the level of governing as far as possible, respectively, to not restrict access in any way.

More important than notions of open access however, which should be taken for granted in this case anyway, is a production process that produces common knowledge. Hardt and Negri state the following on the production of the common:

…the common can only be produced socially, through communication and cooperation, by a multitude of singularities. (…)

An individual can never produce the common, no more than an individual can generate a new idea without relying on the foundation of common ideas and intellectual communication with others. Only a multitude can produce the common.

And the following lines give an idea on the political economy of the common:

Democracy (…) is required to foster the production of the common and the expansion of productive forces (…). This democracy of producers entails, in addition to freedom and equality, one more essential element: the power of decision, which would organize production, create forms of cooperation and communication, and push forward innovation.

Again, there should be no doubt about the fact that my project resides within the public and that the common is merely an idea behind it. The relevance of the public should however not be underestimated. For it is the realm within which the production process is generated and, importantly, regenerated. This means that consumption implies production, as stated earlier. The production process is insofar not based on the consumption of a commodity in terms of a finite process, but sustains itself through participation. This of course invokes notions of economic strategies associated with cognitive capitalism and also the Foucauldian notion of Biopower and its relation to the multitude should be further considered here. My point however is an interest in the transition from the public into the common.

Beyond the framework that I outline in this text and that constitutes my project, I am thinking of the Forum as a whole but also, maybe even more importantly, about the future of Bagnoli. I hope that the area that contains within itself the narrative of a historic period can become a place of ideas that is dedicated to the local people. There are examples existing already today. The Città della Scienza might come to mind, but particularly striking to me was my last visit to Bagnoli at the end of August 2010:

II.VI The ex-Italsider workers

Shortly before leaving Naples, I had the chance to meet some of the Italsider workers who still remain in the Bagnoli area today. Besides some superficial translation, I did not understand much of the literal meaning of their remarks until I received a script of the recording. But I could not fail to grasp a sense of their loyalty towards a place that has been shaping their identity over a long period of time.

The association that they created serves the local people by providing subsidized access to sports facilities. But more than that, the sense of community that came into being within a physical structure and, in this case, the ramifications of economic subsidies seemed to me as a reflection and, to that extend, a surrogate of the worker’s community at the time when Italsider was still in operation. The dependency on subsidies implies a dependency on the extent of consideration to which the interests of the people of Bagnoli are met within local politics. As one of the workers put it:

This association charges very low fees to allow for the former workers, their families and the local people to make use of the facilities. And this is possible only through subsidies. We are dependent on financial resources.

I want to explicitly say that it is part of my project to give voice to the concerns of the workers and that my participation would be conditional on the extent to which they are respected and met. Not only in terms of supporting them in their current issues but also in offering them a firm position within the productive structure of the work so as to present their individual history and thereby a part of the historic reality of Bagnoli. On that note, I want to suggest a careful considering of the mode of operation of the structure that they created in terms of a concept for a future reality of the specific site. Production was what made Italsider a place for social relationships. My proposal is to maintain this aspect of its historic environment and conceive of it as a democratic field for the production of social relationships.

¹ This is a quote taken from a conversation with Ex-Italsider workers, Bagnoli, 2010

² Marazzi, Christian 2008, Capital and Language – From the New Economy to the War Economy, Semiotext(e)

³ “From a general point of view, however, the future developmental potential of socio-economic systems i.e. innovation in a very broad understanding encompassing besides technological innovation also organizational, institutional and social innovation has to be considered as the normative principle of Neo-Schumpeterian Economics”

Hanusch, Horst and Pyka, Andreas 2005, Principles of Neo-Schumpeterian Economics, University of Augsburg, Institute for Economics

In an attempt to “discern the relevant symptoms, evaluate how they can be treated, and arrive at a prognosis for capital”, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri quote the following words from Joseph Schumpeter’s “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” in “Commonwealth / 5.3 Pre-Shocks Along the Fault Lines”:

“Capitalist performance is not even relevant for prognosis (of capital’s future development). Most civilizations have disappeared before they had time to fill to the full the measure of their promise. Hence I am not going to argue, on the strength of that performance, that the capitalist intermezzo is likely to be prolonged. In fact, I am now going to draw the exactly opposite inference. “

And they go on to describe his position as: “Once it loses its power of innovation and entrepreneurship, Schumpeter believes, capital cannot long survive” (On the characteristics of the entrepreneur, see Schumpeter, Joseph 1911, The Theory of Economic Development, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. On the obsolescence of the entrepreneur, see Schumpeter, Joseph 1942, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Harper&Brothers, New York)

⁴ “K-waves unfold as phased processes that imply S-shaped growth (or learning) curves, including for each particular sector, and over a period of some 50-60 years, a period of slow start-up, followed by fast growth, and ultimate leveling-off. That is why they are waves of economic activity, each wave different in kind from the last one, rather than cycles, seen as mechanical fluctuations in attainment of some uniform quantity. The start-up period of the next leading sector is also the period of flattening growth rates, declining profits, and severe competition for the previous lead industry; this transition between two leading sectors peak may be known as downswing, and takes the form of generalized slow-down and in the 1930s, of the Great Depression.”

Modelski, George, Kondratieff (or K-) Waves,

Kondratiev, Nikolai 1925, The Long Wave Cycle, Richardson & Snyder

⁵ Segreto, Luciano 1997, Models of Control in Italian Capitalism from the Mixed Bank to Mediobanca, 1894-1993, Business and Economic History Vol. 26

This process is described in the above mentioned paper, positioning the history and lifespan of Italsider within the development of Italian capitalism from a post-unified Italy…

“Italy is a country that arrived late for its appointment with industrialization. As in similar cases, the nation has made an enormous effort to overcome this delay by seeking the support of two classic compensating institutions: the mixed bank and the state [Gershenkron, 1962; Romeo; Castronovo, 1995; Zamagi, 1990; Federico, 1996] (…) The first long phase of growth in the Italian economy (…) began at the end of the nineteenth century and ended with the First World War, coinciding with a long period of expansion in the international economy [Landes, 1969, pp. 231-358; Foreman-Peck, 1983, pp. 90-174] …until post-1970s Italy

“Mediobanca’s financial links with the principal banks of the country (now private) and the leading industrial groups have given it the central position in what has been called the ‘Galaxy of the North’ [Barca, 1994; Turani; De Cecco and Ferri, 1996; Bruno and Segreto, 1996]

⁶ Vercellone, Carlo 2005, The Hypothesis of Cognitive Capitalism, Towards a Cosmopolitan Marxism, Birkbeck College and SOAS, London

⁷Lazzarato, Maurizio 1996, Immaterial Labor

⁸Kwon, Miwon 1997, One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity, October Vol. 80, MIT Press

⁹Meyer, James 1995, The Functional Site; or, The Transformation of Site Specificity, Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art, Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2000

¹⁰ Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio 2009, Commonwealth, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA