Prologue: the Net and the Self

Informationalism, Industrialism, Capitalism, Statism: Modes of Development and Modes of Production

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Informationalism, Industrialism, Capitalism, Statism: Modes of Development and Modes of Production

The information technology revolution was instrumental in allowing the implementation of a fundamental process of restructuring of the capitalist system from the 1980s onwards. In the process, this technological revolution was itself shaped, in its development and manifestations, by the logic and interests of advanced capitalism, without being reducible to the expression of such interests. The alternative system of social organization present in our historical period, statism, also tried to redefine the means of accomplishing its structural goals while preserving the essence of these goals: that is the meaning of restructuring (or perestroika, in Russian). Yet Soviet statism failed in its attempt, to the point of collapsing the whole system, to a large extent because of the incapacity of statism to assimilate and use the principles of informationalism embodied in new Information technologies, as I shall argue in this book (volume III) on the basis of empirical analysis. Chinese statism seemed to succeed by shifting from statism to state-led capitalism and integration in global economic networks, actually becoming closer to the developmental state model of East Asian capitalism than to the "socialism with Chinese characteristics" of official ideology,22 as I shall also try to discuss in volume III. None the less, it is highly likely that the process of structural transformation in China will undergo major political conflicts and institutional change in the coming years. The collapse of statism (with rare exceptions, for


example, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, which are, nevertheless, in the process of linking up with global capitalism) has established a close relationship between the new, global Capitalist system, shaped by its relatively successful perestroika, and the emergence of informationalism, as the new material, technological basis of economic activity and social organization. Yet both processes (capitalist restructuring, the rise of informationalism) are distinct, and their interaction can only be understood if we separate them analytically. At this point in my introductory presentation of the book's idees fortes, it seems necessary to propose some theoretical distinctions and definitions concerning capitalism, statism, industrialism, and informationalism.

It is a well-established Tradition in theories of post-industrialism and informationalism, starting with classic works by Alain Touraine23 and Daniel Bell,24 to place the distinction between pre-industrialism, industrialism, and informationalism (or post-Industrialism) on a different axis from the one opposing capitalism and statism (or collectivism, in Bell's terms). While societies can be characterized along the two axes (so that we have industrial statism, industrial capitalism, and so on), it is essential for the understanding of social dynamics to maintain the analytical distance and empirical interrelation between modes of production (capitalism, statism) and modes of development (industrialism, informationalism). To root these distinctions in a theoretical basis, which will inform the specific analyses presented in this book, it is unavoidable to take the reader, for a few paragraphs, into the somewhat arcane domains of sociological theory.

This book studies the emergence of a new social structure, manifested in various forms, depending on the diversity of cultures and institutions throughout the planet. This new social structure is associated with the emergence of a new mode of development, informationalism, historically shaped by the restructuring of the Capitalist mode of production towards the end of the twentieth century.

The theoretical perspective underlying this approach postulates that societies are organized around human processes structured by historically determined relationships of production, experience, and power. Production is the action of humankind on matter (nature) to appropriate it and transform it for its benefit by obtaining a product, consuming (unevenly) part of it, and accumulating surplus for investment, according to a variety of socially determined goals. Experience is the action of human subjects on themselves, determined by the interaction

between their biological and cultural identities, and in relationship to their social and natural environment. It is constructed around the endless search for fulfillment of human needs and desires. Power is that relationship between human subjects which, on the basis of production and experience, imposes the will of some subjects upon others by the Potential or actual use of violence, physical or symbolic. Institutions of society are built to enforce power relationships existing in each historical period, including the controls, limits, and social contracts achieved in the power struggles.

Production is organized in class relationships that define the process by which some human subjects, on the basis of their position in the production process, decide the sharing and uses of the product in relationship to consumption and investment. Experience is structured around gender/sexual relationships, historically organized around the family, and characterized hitherto by the domination of men over women. Family relationships and sexuality structure personality and frame symbolic interaction.

Power is founded upon the state and its institutionalized monopoly of violence, although what Foucault labels the microphysics of power, embodied in institutions and organizations, diffuses throughout the entire society, from workplaces to hospitals, enclosing subjects in a tight framework of formal duties and informal aggressions.

Symbolic communication between humans, and the relationship between humans and nature, on the basis of production (with its complement, consumption), experience, and power, crystallize over history in specific territories, thus generating cultures and collective identities.

Production is a socially complex process because each one of its elements is internally differentiated. Thus, humankind as collective producer includes both labor and the organizers of production, and labor is highly differentiated and stratified according to the role of each worker in the production process. Matter includes nature, human-modified nature, human-produced nature, and human nature itself, the labors of history forcing us to move away from the classic distinction between humankind and nature, since millenniums of human action have incorporated the natural environment into society, making us, materially and symbolically, an inseparable part of this environment. The relationship between labor and matter in the process of work involves the use of means of production to act upon matter on the basis of energy, knowledge, and information. Technology is the specific form of this relationship.

The product of the production process is socially used under two forms: consumption and surplus. Social structures interact with


production processes by determining the rules for the appropriation, distribution, and uses of the surplus. These rules constitute modes of production, and these modes define social relationships of production, determining the existence of social classes that become constituted as such classes through their historical practice. The structural principle under which surplus is appropriated and controlled characterizes a mode of production. In the twentieth century we lived, essentially, with two predominant modes of production: capitalism and statism. Under capitalism, the separation between producers and their means of production, the commodification of labor, and the private ownership of means of production on the basis of the control of capital (commodified surplus), determined the basic principle of appropriation and distribution of surplus by capitalists, although who is (are) the capitalist class(es) is a matter of social inquiry in each historical context, rather than an abstract category. Under statism, the control of surplus is external to the economic sphere: it lies in the hands of the power-holders in the state - let us call them apparatchiki or lingdao. Capitalism is oriented toward profit-maximizing, that is, toward increasing the amount of surplus appropriated by capital on the basis of the private control over the means of production and circulation. Statism is (was?) oriented toward power-maximizing, that is, toward increasing the military and ideological capacity of the political apparatus for imposing its goals on a greater number of subjects and at deeper levels of their consciousness.

The social relationships of production, and thus the mode of production, determine the appropriation and uses of surplus. A separate yet fundamental question is the level of such surplus, determined by the productivity of a particular process of production, that is by the ratio of the value of each unit of output to the value of each unit of input. Productivity levels are themselves dependent on the relationship between labor and matter, as a function of the use of the means of production by the application of energy and knowledge. This process is characterized by technical relationships of production, defining modes of development. Thus, modes of development are the technological arrangements through which labor works on matter to generate the product, ultimately determining the level and quality of surplus. Each mode of development is defined by the element that is fundamental in fostering productivity in the production process. Thus, in the agrarian mode of development, the source of increasing surplus results from quantitative increases of labor and natural resources (particularly land) in the production process, as well as from the natural endowment of these resources. In the industrial mode of development, the main source of productivity lies in the introduction of new energy sources, and in


the ability to decentralize the use of energy throughout the production and circulation processes. In the new, informational mode of development the source of productivity lies in the technology of knowledge Generation, information processing, and symbol communication. To be sure, knowledge and Information are critical elements in all modes of development, since the process of production is always based on some level of knowledge and in the processing of information.25 However, what is specific to the informational mode of development is the action of knowledge upon knowledge itself as the main source of productivity (see chapter 2). Information processing is focused on improving the technology of Information processing as a source of productivity, in a virtuous circle of interaction between the knowledge sources of technology and the application of technology to improve knowledge Generation and Information processing: this is why, rejoining popular fashion, I call this new mode of development informational, constituted by the emergence of a new technological paradigm based on Information technology (see chapter I).

Each mode of development has also a structurally determined performance principle around which technological processes are organized: industrialism is oriented toward economic growth, that is toward maximizing output; informationalism is oriented towards technological development, that is toward the accumulation of knowledge and towards higher levels of complexity in Information processing. While higher levels of knowledge may normally result in higher levels of output per unit of input, it is the pursuit of knowledge and Information that characterizes the technological production function under informationalism.

Although technology and technical relationships of production are organized in paradigms originating in the dominant spheres of society (for example, the production process, the military-Industrial complex) they diffuse throughout the whole set of social relationships and social


structures, so penetrating and modifying power and experience.26 Thus, modes of development shape the entire realm of social behavior, of course including symbolic communication. Because informationalism is based on the technology of knowledge and information, there is an especially close linkage between culture and productive forces, between spirit and matter, in the informational mode of development. It follows that we should expect the emergence of historically new forms of social interaction, social control, and social change.

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