Technopolitics - Research Project Outline
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We propose to develop a cooperative, open-content research format that will facilitate a detailed theoretical debate on the historical relations between technological and political transformations, culminating in studies of the present crisis of "informationalism" or the "network society." Building on existing concepts of the technological paradigm, we seek to enlarge the current horizons of research by establishing a chronological framework to track developments in the arts and the communications media as well as changing patterns of consumption, circulation, self-organization and political mobilization. The resulting more broadly integrated model of technopolitics will allow individual researchers to develop their own applications of shared concepts and resources, thus contributing to an informational commons and an enriched public sphere.
What is a technological paradigm, and what is it good for? Beginning with Kondratiev in the early twentieth century, numerous writers have identified "long waves" of economic growth focused around an initial cluster of technological innovations which emerge, come to maturity and then decline in importance over a cycle of some forty to sixty years. By correlating the history of technological development with a broader range of scientific, organizational and financial trends, later authors such as Carlota Perez seek to identify "paradigms" in which a large number of factors reinforce each other, giving rise to periods that are identifiable not only to the retrospective view of the historian but also to those who live through them. To better understand the current era, it is necessary to examine the existing concepts of the long wave and the technological paradigm, in order to test their validity and limits. How to avoid the reification of structuralist categories and grand narratives? How to escape the exclusive and normalizing focus on a hegemonic center? How to identify the multiple protagonists of social change and recognize their dialectical contributions to the forms of technological development? By displacing the accent from paradigmatic continuity to processes of rupture and transformation, it should be possible to forge a new concept of "technopolitics" that can help to identify the key inventions, conflicts and forms of cooperation that will determine the outcomes of the present crisis.
The research will be carried out cooperatively, using an existing content-management system (http://thenextlayer.org) as both an archive of raw materials and an interactive space for the confrontation of ideas and the development of hypotheses. Three principle areas of investigation are currently envisaged:
1) a Methodology section, comprising annotated summaries of the major theories of social and technological change as well as inquiries into their validity and applicability to the present;
2) a Chronology section comprising case studies of technical, social, cultural and political developments in specific periods;
3) an Applications section, containing copies of individually or cooperatively authored materials generated on the basis of the research.
Grant funding will be sought for the principle researchers, but access to the materials will be open and ad-hoc contributions to the research will be welcome. It is expected that the research should be applied in a large variety of ways, and that the development of these applications should be the principal motivation for contributing to the common archive. Due acknowledgement of the project and of specific contributions will be required of the users. The site will be protected with a pro-forma password so as to limit careless interventions and facilitate the archiving of copyrighted materials.
In an initial phase, the research will focus primarily on a collaborative review of the existing theories of social and technological change. Researchers will contribute (or add to) summaries of each of the principle books and articles, including page references and links to scanned excerpts or graphic tables and charts; when possible, full copies of the book or article will be archived. At the end of each summary, individual researchers will be able to contribute, billboard-style, to a running debate on validity and applicability. After a sufficient number of works have been consulted, one or several position papers will be authored in the attempt to sum up the conclusions; however, the methodology section will remain continuously open to new contributions. The major groups of authors to be treated include, but are not limited to, the following:
--> Study of technological cycles (Kondratiev, Schumpeter, Perez, Piore & Sabel, Freeman & Soete...)
--> Regulation School (Aglietta, Boyer, Lipietz, Jessop, Harvey...)
--> World Systems Theory (Wallerstein, Arrighi, Minqi Li...)
--> Autonomous Marxism (Negri, Vercellone, Marazzi, Moulier-Boutang...)
Given the range of theories to be treated, difficulties will inevitably arise as to how those methodologies can be reconciled or mapped onto each other and whether the tensions can be made fruitful for the development of new research questions that go to the heart of real aporias and contradictions of contemporary capitalism -- thereby increasing the potential of forms of social and cultural critique to actively participate in the conflicts that are already unfolding.
The Chronology will entail, on the one hand, using the methodological study to establish stylized periods of stability and crisis, and on the other, defining a number of broad fields of technopolitical development, so as to orchestrate a large number of case studies dealing with specific technical artifacts, economic trends, cultural productions or institutional forms. The case studies should in turn allow for a refinement of the understanding of historical periods and of the pertinence of the field-categories being used. Before even presenting the initial ideas on periodization and fields of inquiry, several caveats are in order. First, any periodization can only be approximate, it is always on the order of a hypothesis, and is in no way meant to become a procrustean bed that distorts the real phenomena. Second, because of the hierarchical nature of capitalist social relations, periods do not necessarily have the same extension or significance in different geographical locations; they are crucially affected by center-periphery distinctions and interactions, and one of the major problems for this research is to account for these geographic differentials. Third, scientific, organizational and artistic developments may well have their significance at a later time, when social, economic and political conditions are ripe for their widespread diffusion. Fourth, the delimitation of different fields of research is a dialectical device; it is done, not merely to facilitate the research and to respect existing disciplinary divides, but above all in order to isolate contradictory "aspects" or "moments" of a process which tends to unify and violently suppress its contradictions. For us, the Chronology is conceived not as a machine to repress distinctions, but rather as a space to open up potentials.
Initial hypothesis, subject to revision:
1908-28: Take-off of mass production system
1929-37: Regulation crisis of mass production (Great Depression)
1938-67: Keynesian Fordist hegemony
1968-77: Crisis of Fordism (wildcat strikes and liberation movements)
1978-2000: Take-off of informatic production (Neoliberalism or flexible accumulation)
2001-??: Regulation crisis of informatic production
Fields of development
The fields are conceived both in general terms that capture dominant trends, and also dynamically, as a locus of conflicts between interest groups, political forces, cultural reactionaries or vanguards, etc. An initial hypothesis distinguishes 4 fields of technopolitical development:
1. Production, communication and military technologies, grasped in relation both to the scientific discoveries that underlie them and to the economic and/or power-political imperatives that press for their development.
2. Modes of governance including labor organization, finance and social-welfare policy, to be understood in their effects on class structure and consciousness.
3. Worldwide monetary and military orders, as determined by the territorial policies of sovereign states, the molecular activities of firms, and the spatial circulation of labor and desire.
4. Media developments, artistic inventions, ideological and cultural trends (including consumer seduction, nationalist indoctrination, critical movements in civil society, self-organization and counter-cultural subversion).
These would be up to each of the contributors. They might include: essays, books, Masters' or PhD theses, exhibition proposals, radio shows, conference proceedings, artworks, installations or other cultural artifacts... The point is to develop a cooperative, open-content research format, based on and inspired by free software and oriented toward the creation of an informational commons. The time is particularly ripe for this kind of research: the current economic/ecological crisis is almost certain to inflect technological developments in ways that will be determined, in part, by democratic debate and social movements.