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Spatial fix, Digital labour e cavitazione economica · 2015-10-02 by mmzz

Sta finalmente rovesciandosi la tendenza apologetica nei confronti delle nuove tecnologie, e verificando la previsione del bravo scrittore di fantacienza Bruce Sterling che dell’informatica si parlerà tra qualche anno come dell’energia atomica oggi. Così come fummo entusiasti dell’atomo negli anni ’50, tanto siamo atterriti dalla sua distruttività oggi; allo stesso modo considereremo tra non molto le nuove tecnologie “disruptive” che oggi sono tanto attratenti per gli imprenditori di Silicon Valley.

In questa direzione va la special issue di Communication, Capitalism & Critique (Vol 13, No 2 2015) dedicata al Digital Labour e soprattutto alla pratica del lavoro gratuito nella forma dell’Internship: Theorising Digital Labour and Virtual Work – Definitions, Dimensions and Forms

In particolare questo articolo ha attivato una serie di ulteriori letture: The Digital Spatial Fix; Daniel Greene, Daniel Joseph

Gli autori si concentrano su quello che chiamano “cyeber-proletariato” di lavoratori che gratuitamente o per compensi minimi svolgono del lavoro per la produzione di beni “digtali” dell’industria culturale. In un cas particolare considerano i beni scambiati nei video-game. Si collocano dunque in un vasto sforzo di adattamento delle teorie economiche e socio-economiche pensate per industrie tradizionali a quelle basate sulle ICT.

[] Capital has long sought what David Harvey (1981; 1981; 2001; 2003) calls a “spatial fix” to declining rates of profit and the possibility of over-accumulation: expansion into new or under-exploited geographies becomes a way to dispose of accumulated capital or to create fresh opportunities for new accumulation at faster rates than before. Digital spaces can act as outlets for the same sort of fixes we have seen in the past while providing new opportunities for exploitation and accumulation. Meanwhile, digital spaces potentially intensify and extend those same crises. For Marx, capital is value in motion and so digital spaces, like older formations of fixed capital, are necessarily sites where that value is fixed in place to allow for value production; but that fixity, even if it is a fixity of Web platforms or warehoused servers, eventually becomes a barrier to further accumulation in need of a dose of ‘creative destruction’.

Vedremo poi, leggendo Harvey, cosa si intenda per questa “destrucion”.

New transportation methods or means of communication and coordination that minimize the time assembled commodities rest in production facilities (i.e. “just-in-time” production) keep capital in motion and reduce the potential for devaluation. This is a virtual fix.[…] Since the 1970s, a generation of geographers have investigated how crises of capitalism develop within and spread across the world market and the built environment. This political economic perspective has its roots in a variety of Marx’s scattered spatial critiques. One such observation is the dialectic formed between the homogeneity of a world market and the geographical division of labour required for profitable commodity production. Another is that ever-faster communications and transportation infrastructure are necessary to overcome barriers to the circulation of capital and so function as the “annihilation of space by time” (Marx 1993a, 524). With respect to crisis formation, the basic contradiction here is that capital, as value in motion, must be frozen in place in order for accumulation to occur. This may come in the form of technological investment, a particular organizational form, or investment in physical or social (e.g. highways, schools) infrastructure that increases the speed and volume of circulation or the productivity of labour.

We use “primitive accumulation of time” to refer to the profit model of social networking sites and most of the free Web: access is free but your activity is enclosed and recorded so that your patterns of socialization can be packaged and sold to data brokers and advertisers. It is a quantitative development of Marx’s original concept, taking advantage of extra-economic means of coercion in new social spaces in order to accumulate not new labourers but tiny slivers of labour time.

Like the primitive accumulation of time, the annihilation of time by space is an extension and intensification of an older fix rather than a qualitatively different one. Where the annihilation of space by time refers to the reduction of turnover time through large fixed capital projects, like railways, that defeat geographic barriers to circulate goods as quickly as possible, we use the annihilation of time by space to mean the construction of communications infrastructure to gain a competitive advantage in exchange specifically and financial exchanges especially. Speed remains the competitive advantage, but the scale of it, faster than any human can process, creates a different relationship to spaces of value capture.

Mi piace che sottolineino che digital geographies are always material senza cadere nella trappola della non-spazialità del mondo digitale.

Ma dipreciso a cosa si riferiscono i due autori parlando di “spatial fix”? Il termine fix vuol dire sia fisso che rimedio, soluzione (più nel senso di rattoppo). La ricerca mi ha portato all’articolo originale di Harvey sullo “Spatial Fix” (THE SPATIAL FIXHEGEL, VON THUNEN, AND MARX), in cui l’autore mette in relazione la questione posta da Hegel sulla tensione tra la dimensione etica della famiglia e quella economica del mercato e su come Von Thunen (a me ignoto) e Marx abbiano affrontato il problema.

Hegel interprets the family as a sphere of ethical life dominated by particular and personal altruism. Civil society, on the other hand, is a sphere of “universal egoism” in which each individual seeks to use others as a means to his or her own ends. This is, above all, the sphere of market competition, the social division of labour and “universal interdependency” as described in political economy

Can civil society be saved from its internal contradictions (and ultimate dissolution) by an inner transformation – the achievement of the modern state as the “actuality of the ethical Idea?” Or does salvation lie in a “spatial fix” – an outer transformation through imperialism, colonialism and geographical expansion? These are the intriguing questions that Hegel leaves open.

Questa opzione dello “spatial fix” è dunque una soluzione per allargare mercati o per scaricare il peso della crisi e ristabilire un equilibrio. Passa spesso per processi drammatiamente distruttivi, tra cui gli autori elencano anche le due guerre mondiali:

At times of savage devaluation, the search for a spatial fix is converted into inter-imperialist rivalries over who is to bear the brunt of devaluation. The export of unemployment, inflation, and idle productive capacity, become the stakes in an ugly game. Trade wars, dumping, tariffs and quotas, restrictions on capital flow and foreign exchange, interest-rate wars, immigration policies, colonial conquest, the subjugation and domination of tributary economies, the forced reorganization of the division of labor within economic empires, and finally, the physical destruction and forced devaluation of a rival nation’s capital through war, are some of the options at hand.

The question of who is right and wrong is of immense and immediate import. If the Marxian theory of the spatial fix is right, then the perpetuation of capitalism in the twentieth century has been purchased at the cost of the death, havoc and destruction wreaked in two world wars. But each war has been waged with ever more sophisticated weapons of destruction. We have witnessed a growth in destructive force that more than matches the growth of productive force which the bourgeoisie must also create as a condition of its survival. Our present plight must surely give us pause. As the crisis tendencies of capitalism once more run amok, inter-imperialist rivalries sharpen, and the threat of autarky within closed trading empires looms. The struggle to export devaluation comes to the fore and belligerence dominates the tone of political discourse at all levels”

Incidentalmente, viene da confermare l’ipotesi già formulata, che l’insorgenza del cyberwarfare risponda proprio a esigenze economiche, e secondo questa visione dello “spatial fix” proprio le necessità distruttive descritte da Harvey, dove va scaricata la tensione della sovraproduzione e della svalutazione.

Queste letture già moto interessanti,mi hanno portato all’intervista di Harvey a Giovanni Arrighi, attraverso il quale ho scoperto Braudel nel 2006 e congetturato che ci trovassimo alle soglie di un nuovo cambiamento di egemonia, cosa che (ho scoperto oggi) Arrighi in effetti teorizzò già negli anni ’70.

In THE WINDING PATHS OF CAPITAL , Arrighi racconta molto di se e della sua ricerca, tra cui chiarire i collegamenti con lo spatial fix di Harvey (che lo sta intervistando):

One point is that there is a very clear geographical dimension to the recurrent cycles of material and financial expansion, but you can see this aspect only if you do not stay focused on one particular country—because then you see a totally different process. This is what most historians have been doing—they focus on a particular country, and trace developments there. Whereas in Braudel, the idea is precisely that the accumulation of capital jumps; and if you don’t jump with it, if you don’t follow it from place to place, you don’t see it.

You have to move with it to understand that the process of capitalist development is essentially this process of jumping from one condition, where what you’ve termed the ‘spatial fix’ has become too constraining, and competition is intensifying, to another one, where a new spatial fix of greater scale and scope enables the system to experience another period of material expansion. And then of course, at a certain point the cycle repeats itself.

When I was first formulating this, inferring the patterns from Braudel and Marx, I had not yet fully appreciated your concept of spatial fix, in the double sense of the word—fixity of invested capital, and a fix for the previous contradictions of capitalist accumulation. There is a built-in necessity to these patterns that derives from the process of accumulation, which mobilizes money and other resources on an increasing scale, which in turn creates problems of intensifying competition and over-accumulation of various kinds. The process of capitalist accumulation of capital—as opposed to non-capitalist accumulation of capital—has this snowball effect, which intensifies competition and drives down the rate of profit. Those who are best positioned to find a new spatial fix do so, each time in a larger ‘container’. From city-states, which accumulated a huge amount of capital in tiny containers, to seventeenth-century Holland, which was more than a city-state, but less than a national state, then to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain, with its world-encompassing empire, and then to the twentieth-century, continent-sized United States.

Arrighi conclude con l’auspicio che si arrivi a un commonwealth of civilizations living on equal terms with each other, in a shared respect for the earth and its natural resources

In conclusione, sembra che il momento che stiamo vivendo vede l’accelerarsi per via della tecnologia di una serie di processi che sono sempre stati presenti nell’economia e che fanno parte delle dinamiche capitalistiche.

Arrighi non ha mai preso in considerazione l’“Infosfera” come quel cambiamento di scala di cui il capitalismo ha bisogno per mantenere la dinamica espansiva, (ma osserva che —ora che non non è più possibile un slato di scala oltre quella planetaria — si è adattato a rivolgersi ai poveri).
L’articolo di Greene e Joseph tenta questo salto, identificando nel mondo online (preferisco il termine Infosfera di Floridi) il possibile sfogo espansivo e distruttivo delle dinamiche capitalistiche, con l’annesso carico di sfruttamento umano.

Mi emere una possibile metafora idraulica con il fenomeno della cavitazione. Quando un’elica gira troppo in fretta, genera delle bolle che possono danneggiare l’elica stessa, oltre che impedirle di aver presa nell’acqua. Le ICT consentono di acellerare molto le dinamiche più dannose del capitalismo, specie se associate alla finanziarizzazione massiccia che vediamo di recente. Le bolle (questa volta economiche e finanziarie), danneggiano e distruggono l’elica (l’economia, l’ambiente e soprattutto le persone) senza permettere di andare avanti.