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Mediations of Labor: Algorithmic Architectures, Logistical Media, and the Rise of Black Box Politics

05-Jan-15

By Soenke Zehle and Ned Rossiter

Logistical Media and the Second Machine Age
In a recent panel on living and dead labor at a conference in New York City, respondent Doug Henwood delivered a series of salvos on why he finds cultural theorists so deficient in their comprehension of contemporary labor struggles.1 Declaring himself a “vulgar Marxist” interested in “the world that actually exists” as distinct from “people lost in the idea of artisanal labor and mental labor,” Henwood proceeded to invoke a barrage of statistics to assert the centrality of production and manual labor to the economy and political thought: “there are something like 10-12 million manufacturing workers still in the United States, manufacturing production is up something like 25% since the depths of the recession in this country. Things are still very, very important. There are more truck drivers in the United States than there are computer programmers, there are something like 2 million people working for Walmart doing very physical things. Their bodies are ruined by the job very often.” Drawing on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Henwood then went on to note that the top ten jobs in the US over the next decade are expected to be in the service industries (cashiers, food service workers, home health aids). “For the first time in history the majority of the population consists of wage earners. The world has become entirely proletarianized even if we think we are working for Google.” By Henwood’s reckoning, only two companies are making money off “post-material” activities—Google and Facebook. More…

  1. Panel with Richard Gilman-Opalsky, Todd Hoffman, Stevphen Shukaitis, McKenzie Wark and Doug Henwood, “Between Living and Dead Labor,” Living Labor: Ante-Conference Events, Department of Performance Studies, New York University, April 9-10, 2014, http://vimeo.com/album/3000621/video/102627558.

Organized Networks: A Guide for the Distracted Multitudes

05-Jan-15

By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

‘One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful’. Sigmund Freud

These days, strategic considerations for political organization no longer bother with mediation, representation and identity politics. Instead, the key question revolves around the design of new (sustainable) organizational forms. What is the social today, if not social media? It is not enough to indulge in the aesthetics of revolt. Flaws in the 19th and 20th century models of the party, the union and the movement are easy to detect, but what will replace them? It is tempting to say that the network is the dominant form of the social: a programmed life under permanent surveillance? What can replace the corporate walled gardens such as Facebook and Twitter? Our answer: a federation of organized networks, based on secret societies. More…

Coded Vanilla: Logistical Media and the Determination of Action

05-Jan-15

Abstract
Logistical media coordinate and control the movement of labor, people, and things situated along and within global supply chains. The combination of software and infrastructure holds a determining force in the production of subjectivity and the capacity for action. Algorithmic architectures of logistical media extract data and manage labor whose value is exploited as financial capital. Gamification techniques further extend the power of logistical media as technologies that govern knowledge production. Anonymity offers one possible strategy of withdrawal.

Ned Rossiter, ‘Coded Vanilla: Logistical Media and the Determination of Action’, South Atlantic Quarterly 114.1 (2015): 135-152.

[pre-publication version uploaded soon]

The Aesthetics of Algorithmic Experience

04-Jan-15

By Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

We did not need the NSA scandal as a reminder that the minute we decide to engage in technologically mediated relations we inscribe ourselves in matrices of control. In fact, one might even question the status of NSA surveillance as a scandal: the democratically legitimated laws authorizing such big data projects have been on the books for a long time. Less known are the algorithmic architectures that scrape, mine, harvest, store, cluster, sequence, combine and analyse data generated through our daily use of computational systems. Even more obscure is the extent to which an aesthetic dimension attends the multiple formats and structures that organize data as a dynamic object. To conjoin aesthetics with algorithmic cultures brings us to the centre of info-politics today: namely, the capture of experience within ‘integrated world capitalism’.1 More…

  1. Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton, London: Athlone Press, 2000.

Materialities of Software: Logistics, Labour, Infrastructure [extended version]

13-Feb-14

This chapter brings digital humanities research into the domain of logistical industries. The primary task of the global logistics industry is to manage the movement of people and things in the interests of communication, transport and economic efficiencies. The software applications special to logistics visualise and organise these mobilities, producing knowledge about the world in transit. Yet for the most part the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software remains a black box for those not directly using these systems as a matter of routine in their daily work across a range of industries, which include but are not limited to logistical industries. Healthcare, medical insurance, education, mining and energy industries along with retail and service sectors also adopt ERP systems to manage organisational activities. One key reason for the scarce critical attention to ERP systems is related to the prohibitive price of obtaining proprietary software, which often costs millions of dollars for companies to implement. The aesthetics of ERP software is also notoriously unattractive and the design is frequently not conducive to ease or pleasure of use. More…

Locative Media as Logistical Media: Situating Infrastructure and the Governance of Labor in Supply-Chain Capitalism

05-Feb-14

The German based company SAP is one of the largest developers of software that drives global economies, offering leading enterprise software solutions – specifically logistics software – that makes possible movements of people, finance and things that coalesce as global trade. In its 2012 Annual Report with the not especially modest title, Helping the World Run Better, SAP declares that “63% of the world’s transaction revenue touches an SAP system.”1 SAP specializes in software development and web-based services associated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in the logistics industries among many others, including mining, health, finance, medical, insurance, oil and gas, retail and higher education. This means companies can integrate and automate the majority of their business practices in real-time environments that share common data. So goes the sales pitch. More…

  1. SAP, Helping the World Run Better, 2012 Annual Report, 4.

Privacy is Theft: On Anonymous Experiences, Infrastructural Politics and Accidental Encounters

28-Nov-13

By Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

Urban piracy, data piracy, cultural and media piracy, oceanic piracy, ecological piracy – piracy abounds across the world today. Whether analyzed in terms of property violations or acts of resistance, invoked by commercial monopolies or citizen alliances, addressed through strategies of criminalization or the invention of new rights, analyses of piracy delineate the boundaries and (il)legitimacies of specific regimes of power. Across legal, governmental, social, cultural and affective articulations of power, piracy involves a wide array of actors in contestations of ownership, new forms of use and alternative politics of the common. More…

Organised Networks: Weak Ties to Strong Links

28-Nov-13

By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

Sloganism for late 2013: “I feel protected by unpublished Suite A algorithms.” (J. Sjerpstra) – “I am on an angry squirrel’s shitlist.” – Join the Object Oriented People – “When philosophy sucks, but you don’t.” ­– “See you in the Sinkhole of Stupid, at 5 pm.” – “I got my dating site profile rewritten by a ghost writer.” – “Meet the co-editor of the Idiocracy Constitution” – The Military-Entrepreneurial Complex: “They are bad enough to do it, but are they mad enough?” – “There really should be something like Anti-Kickstarter for the things you’d be willing to pay to have not happen.” (Gerry Canavan) – Waning of the Social Media: Ruin Aesthetics in Peer-to-Peer Enterprises (dissertation) – “Forget the Data Scientist, I need a Data Janitor.” (Big Data Borat) More…

Toward a Politics of Anonymity: Algorithmic Actors in the Constitution of Collective Agency

27-Apr-13

By Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

The widespread adoption by users of social network media has increasingly rendered the border between life and labor indistinct. The human soul has been put to work, formatting its informatic expression in clouds without freedom.1 Some of the most radical political events witnessed over the past few years – the Arab Spring, the European Austerity Protests and the Occupy movements – have been notable in their choice of commercial social media services such as Facebook and Twitter to facilitate techniques of organization. How these political mobilizations sustain themselves over time remains an open question, but one that nevertheless requires concepts and models of organization to take into account the politics of code. Beyond a political economy of user-as-product approaches, we contend that it is the figure of anonymity that most effectively identifies the stakes of a new protocol politics. The question of anonymity is at the heart of an emergent politics of information governance, addressing the role of protocols, policies and practices in systems of networking. More…

  1. See Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, trans. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.

Dirt Research

27-Apr-13

‘Dirt is the stuff that makes a system jump’.
Born, Furján, Jencks, 2012

The phrase ‘dirt research’ described the ‘direct’ method by which Canadian political economist and communications theorist Harold A. Innis (1894-1952) collected material for his research on economic history in Canada. The result of extensive travels across Canada, where he gathered oral testimonies on the staples industries (fur trade, cod fisheries) and transport systems (rivers, railways) combined with exhaustive archival research, Innis’ method of dirt research sought to establish a ‘general organizing principle’ by which patterns of economic and social development could be understood ‘beyond the basic data’.1 More…

  1. John Watson, Marginal Man: The Dark Vision of Harold Innis, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008, 123.
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