“Let’s put it simply. We are still living in a capitalist society; and in the last twenty years, one major change has been the qualitatively new importance of information, communication and knowledge both in the economy and in society at large. These two frameworks are overlapping, but they do not necessarily coincide which leads to some important problems and tensions worth closer study.
First, where knowledge, information and communication play a central role, the processes of production appear intrinsically and more immediately social. They benefit and rely on flows and networks of production which go beyond the formal boundaries of any specific organisation (not to say single individuals). This gives more prominence to the forces of cooperation and of mutual interdependence and presses any institution to experiment in organisational logics based on openness to the ‘outside’. This, for example, is one reason for the success of open source within a growing segment of IT-industry. More significantly this ‘openness’ is the logic behind the internet itself: an open architecture is its initial conception and the secret of its incredible (and fundamentally unplanned and decentralised) development.
But there is also another aspect of this social nature of production that needs to be noted: in many senses, the flows of production appeared to shift away from the formal boundaries of what is traditionally considered productive work, to spread into society at large. The gargantuan literature in business and media studies about the increasing blurring of the divide between consumer and producer has to do with this phenomenon. But just consider Google’s model of value production – that is, offering for free online services and platforms of social networks, to then exploit the user- generated data and contents in various ways – and here is one emblematic example of this shift.
In any case, the general problem which then emerges is that the social nature of these processes seems to put pressure on any regulatory, governance and accounting system closed within the boundaries of formally isolated organisations. This is well reflected in the proliferation of mechanisms of governance that stems directly from the need to regulate the collaborative action of a multiplicity of protagonists who are autonomous and so not governable by simple authoritative mechanisms. But, more deeply, this configuration also brings people to questioning the adequacy, legitimacy and efficiency of property regimes as we know them, be they private or state mechanisms. The increasing rediscovery of the notion of commons by these movements and many beyond them – has its roots here. Though yet arguably indefinite, it reflects the search for a new conceptual guide in the design of institutional frameworks more attuned to these new relations of production.
Let’s now turn to another aspect: the nature and organisation of work. When we look at the qualities which need to be mobilised and at the forms of organisation of production in these spheres, we observe an increasing importance of attitudes and capacities such as creativity, flexibility, development of information, continuous learning, problem-solving, initiative, communicational and relational skills, decision-making, attention, experiential/practical/”tacit” knowledge. Now, what makes these qualities peculiar is that they are embedded in individuals and are not easily reproducible and controllable through planned command or automated mechanisms. Moreover, they depend on motivations which are not easily reducible to the monetary, as is recognised in the same management literature and experience and as the experience of [Free Culture]-movements widely confirms. The necessity to deal with such a workforce and processes of production has been indeed one of the major sources of the crisis in the Fordist organisation of production and of innovation in management styles. But the puzzle for governance in these productive forces – which reflects a blurring of entrepreneurial and managerial functions and of dependent work – is far from being solved.
However, there is another dimension where the experience of the FC-movements is interesting. There are experiments of a different kind around these problems and these potentials which have contributed to re-framing in a different way complicated problems related to the meshing and mobilisation of different motivations, non-hierarchical division of labour, collaboration and coordination, and so on. And quite interestingly, they have done all this by experimenting with new notions of what constitutes property, working on the basis of a distributional/sharing – rather than exclusive – approach to property, conceiving themselves as producing common resources.
There is, finally, a third cluster of problems which I would like to highlight in this brief and very incomplete map. The increased immaterial and social nature of the processes of production and of products is creating a series of problems in the systems of measures. Economists, policy-makers and the business literature all struggle to define new parameters for the measure of the value of capital, of work, of wealth, of productivity. Such problems are evidently further complicated by the digital revolution, which made it possible that a digital product, once created, can be potentially reproduced “easier, faster, ubiquitously and almost free”; and which, moreover, is subversively creating social practices that are exploring an economy based on principles like, “not scarcity, not rivalry, not exclusivity”, that is something which evidently troubles basic rules both of economy and of the control of the appropriation of value. In this lies another clue that fundamental difficulties are emerging, which point toward what could be called a crisis of the system of value – which, indeed, has many other roots, well beyond this realm.
All this doesn’t mean that these problems are not solvable in principle within a capitalist framework. We can already observe innovative mechanisms of accumulation which effectively deal with these new developments. What is more dubious is that they can be managed without fundamental changes in the institutional framework.”
Marco Berlinguer on the problems of information capitalism
October 15, 2012 by morosopher