Circulation and Lazzarato’s Chainworkers

If you have spoken to me recently about Virno and Lazzarato’s respective conceptions of post-fordist labour then you would know that I have been relatively surprised by the lack of attention to questions of circulation in economies organised around post-fordist modes of production.

EDIT: I realised I didn’t link to the lecture/talk given by Lazzarato forwarded on to me by Brett (here, it will ask for secure connection bollocks, not sure why). Plus I am referencing an aborted blog post on the London bombings and circulation. I decided not to post it, because I am not a political pundit, but there are some things that need to be extracted on the topic of ‘circulation’.

I have been chasing up what Marx says about circulation and distribution in his works. I have a fair way to go yet, but it is possible to lay the groundworks of a critique of Marx with the relatively simple observation the Marx is interested in the circulation of capital in circuits of exchange and the distribution of something like ‘access’ to the means of production between the workers and the owners. (‘Access’ is not the right word, but I do not have my books here to come up with a better definition.) Firstly, Marx locates circulation not within production or consumption but within the circuits of exchange. Secondly, distribution is not so much an on going process, but a representation of a particular state of affairs that defines the relationship between workers and owners at a moment of production. This is all very interesting, but I want to literally go against this flow and trace the reverse circulation and the reverse distribution. So within the circuits of exchange it is not capital I am interested in, but commodities and service-based labour. Within distribution it is not access to the mode of production, but the distribution of labour across the ‘networked’ mode of production (or ‘distributed production line’ of producers->suppliers->assemblers). Also production and consumption cease to be rigid categories describing ‘points’ or moments of transformation and exchange respectively, and become continual distributed practices without any clearly defined ‘moment’ within circulation.

What is interesting is that Lazzarato gives an example of the ‘chainworker’ who combines with the ‘brainworker’:

This is an Italian website and we will talk about this more, later but it has this wonderful saying, ‘Chain and brainworkers unite’.
Brainworkers are the creative workers and chain workers are workers working in distribution, like department stores, supermarkets, and fast food chains. It’s no longer the chain of production that is referred to in the Latin language, no longer the assembly line; it’s become a chain of distribution.

Chain has two important resonances here: Chain stores of the franchise variety and a link in a chain. Chain stores are a classic example of the ways immaterial and material labour combine. In the example of a fast food establishment, the commodities sold already are imbued as ‘image-commodities’ (spectacle); think of the Quarter Pounder. The burger itself is nothing special and yet if we remember Pulp Fiction one of the more memorable scenes involves the Julius character talking about the ‘French’ Quarter Pounder known as the Royale with Cheese. The material artefact is nominally the same and yet the difference comes from the ‘image’ of the burger as a Quarter Pounder/Royale with Cheese.

The burger itself is constructed the same in each country according to an ‘assembling line’ model in the kitchen area where each worker has a specialised task. The ‘assembly line’ of post-fordism is not the same as the ‘production line’. The assembly line involves the input of already produced commodities to be assembled into another commodity form. The assembly does not involve the transformation of ‘nature’ into a commodity ala the labour of production, but involves the assemblage is heterogeneous elements (bun, vegetable, meat, sauce) into another commodity form. The bun, meat, vegetable, and sauce are delivered to the kitchen area ready for assembly. In Bergsonian terms ‘assembly’ is ‘translation’, while production is ‘transformation’. The interface between assembly and exchange is the immaterial labourer in the form of the counter worker.