Work has become mobility

“In Marx, time begins to come into view as the measure of labour (a Hegelian step forward with respect to the deficiencies of modern science), but, step by step, as the course of class struggle and the abstraction of labour asserts itself, time increasingly becomes interior to class composition, the the point of being the motor of its very existence and of its specific configuration. The process develops so that the maximal temporalization of the labour process (and of the production process) leads to the maximal re-appropriation of all the spatial conditions of existence. When work has become mobility, pure and simple mobility — when, that is, it is time pure and simple — then it is the possibility and actuality of the constitution of the world. O’Connor and Hossfeld, Paul Virilio, Jean-Paul de Gaudemar have all recently come to this awareness in writings of various degress of importance — an awareness which is alone adequate to the development of mature capitalism: mobility comes to be the very definition of the proletarian class today.”
— Antonio Negri, Time for Revolution, pg 35-36.

“Work has become mobility.” I wonder what Negri means by this? I have a good idea, but it is not clear in his text. What he is trying to do in this text (the first part of Time for Revolution originally published in 1981) is anticipate and counter the tendencies highlighted here by McKenzie Wark:

“If there is a reason why the left appears to be struggling to keep up with the pace of change, it may be that the forces traditionally identified as ‘left’ no longer represent the frontline in the class conflict that, in Marxist thinking, determines the forward movement of history. Much of the agenda of the left seems either to be about resisting change completely or accommodating to it in ways that preserve the interests of certain constituencies, particularly those skilled workers in manufacturing and in the white collar public sector that belong to left wing unions.”
Celebrities, Culture and Cyperspace, pg 277-278.

What I don’t understand is Negri’s use of the term ‘mobility.’ It is certainly related to the rise to dominance of the ‘service industry’ over the manufacturing sector. The translator to Time for Revolution, Matteo Mandarini, makes the point in an enlightening footnote to his introduction:

“The dominance of the service sector over manufacturing in many pf the most advanced capitalist economies is evidence of how the difference in the cycles of production and reproduction increasingly fall away, ot how their priority is inverted, so that ‘so-called reproductive sectors now take on a central role’ (Negri, Macchina tempo, p. 211). The claim is not that manufacturing disappears in postmodern, post-Fordist production practices: ‘Quantitative indicators cannot grasp either the qualitative transformation in the progression from one paradigm to another or the hierarchy among the economic sectors in the context of each paradigm.’ What is meant is simply that: ‘Today all economic activity tends to come under the dominance of informational economy and to be qualitatively transformed by it’ (Hardt and Negri, Empire, pg 281, pg 287-288).” — Matteo Mandarini, pg 267, fn 22.

So what I am thinking about is the link between ‘mobility’ and the ‘informational sector’ in the context of the shifting sands (or not) of ‘left’ theory, or maybe just ‘left’ appreciations of the contemporary.

Strong and weak techno-utopiasts have really focused in on the ‘informational sector’ side of these tendencies (e.g. Wark’s book). My interests — the car stuff and mobility — are a lot more ‘material.’ It is not as if materiality itself has ‘vanished into air’ just because the ‘immaterial’ modes of reproduction have become dominant. Part of the argument I develop in my thesis is that there is a gap between Negri and Hardt’s argument to do with the relation between biopolitical reproduction and the dominance of the informational sector, or, rather, there is a gap in the prevailing approaches to the problems they isolate. My argument is that the material circulation of labour — that is, the mobility of labour — also needs attention. For it is here that car culture and panics over road safety become sites of contestation over the biopolitical reproduction of mobile subjects, and panics over ‘p-platers’ are specifically panics over the successful incorporation of ‘youth’ into these regimes of mobility. The road safety and licensing industries are perceived to have failed in their specific task to reproduce docile mobilised subjects and is where my thesis is ‘political’ in the traditional cultural studies sense.

It is very weird, because little attention has been paid to these (at first glance, very narrow) issues within cultural studies, but at the same time my argument is somewhat obvious and, beyond the near-fetish for techno-utopian understandings, the issues themselves — automobility, incorporation into regimes of flexible labour, spatial governmentality, etc. — are the basis of contemporary everyday life.

Edit: I started writing a response in the comments section to Christian‘s question (posted in the comments), when I realised my question was far too long and better served in the main-post field.

Christian asks, “I thought the question of mobility was old news?”

Watchew talkin’ bout Christian?

Let me open with a quote from Virilio:

“The first important revolution on the technical plane is that of transportation, which favors an equipping of the territory with railroads, airports, highways, electric lines, cables, etc. It has a geopolitical element. The second revolution which is almost concomitant, is the transmissions revolution, including Marconi, Edison, radio, television. From this point on, technology is set loose. It becomes immaterial and electromagnetic.”

He then goes on to say there is another revolution, of miniaturisation. This third revolution produces a ‘hyper-active man.’ My interest, for this post, are the first two revolutions. Virilio is wrong to suggest that technology becomes immaterial and electromagnetic without qualifying the fact that such transmission technologies were added to the technologies of transportation, but did not completely replace them. We still have technologies of transportation, and I will take this as being obvious. What we are left with is a hybrid form. ‘Mobility’ now, in the most general sense, is both material and immaterial.

Part of your question, Christian, relates to the usefulness of my questions. Hasn’t mobility been done before? Short answer: not really. The question of ‘material’ mobility has not been sufficiently answered, and I would even go as far as to suggest the right sort of questions have not even been asked properly yet. There has been far too much focus, ironically, on the static elements of mobility — the ‘to’ and the ‘from’ and even the ‘passing through’ — but not much on mobility itself — the ‘passing.’ Only very recently come in for serious attention. John Urry has written a book on mobilities and Vincent Kaufman has published a much needed, but rather disappointing, book on the concept of ‘motility‘ (mobility potential) and there are others.

What is also very interesting about your question, Christian, is that you imply there is a ‘new.’ The funny thing about the ‘new’ is that it is pretty subjective. If you invert Virilio’s revolutions, every ‘new’ person who comes in to the world by being born into an advanced capitalist country undergoes these revolutions all over again. They need to be conditioned, like the rest of the urban biomass (including us), to accept the conditions of automobility and whatever. Damn near every person in every western country has to undergo this process. The transport and media transmission revolutions for every human being are almost concomitant and they are continually ‘new.’ That is the starting point of my argument regarding the p-platers, etc.

There is another thread to your question: that ‘mobility’ is not contemporary, i.e. it is ‘old.’ (Now I know how repressed old men feel going through a middle-age crisis, haha;) Cultural Studies’ relentless fascination with the contemporary is carry-over from its anthropological influences. However, the problem then emerges, how do you define the contemporary? What is the limit of contemporanaiety? The first, obvious answer is the ‘now,’ what is currently happening. Although, if you want to get a grasp of the emergence of the contemporary — what I have been doing with the Van Wheels and archival Street Machine research — then it is necessary to trace the contemporary back to when it was ‘new.’ That is, how long has the ‘contemporary’ existed? Virilio locates the emergence of the first revolution in transportation more than 150 years ago and just because it emerged 150 years ago does not mean it is not part of the ‘contemporary.’

What I still don’t understand is what Negri means by ‘mobility,’ as he seems to equate mobility with time; maybe he means some sort of Bergsonian proletariat? Dunno?

Oooh, House of Flying Daggers beckons!

3 replies on “Work has become mobility”

  1. Negri is a terrible writer – maybe a great theorist.. but his style of writing, or the choice of translators we have, is appalling. I thought the question of mobility was old news?

  2. maybe negri didn’t know what he meant either 😉 maybe, you should make it mean what you want … and explain what you mean clearly … hey, ho, lets go … mobility – going someplace, meaning something: anywhere, anyplace, doesn’t matter where i’m goin’, i’m just floating in the wind. [sing while drunk and lost in a park.](few songs in there all jumbled up, no particular order; mobility?)

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