Noopolitics: Hauptmann, Lazzarato, Deleuze

by Erik S

IMG_1235Beyond work and employment?

In his article “The Concepts of Life and the Living in the Societies of Control” Maurizio Lazzarato describes a chronological development from disciplinary societies to control societies – following Foucault’s acknowledgment of this difference when developing his biopower analysis of the disciplinary states of prisons, hospitals, etc., and distinguishes bio-power and bio-politics on the one hand from noo-politics on the other. Institutional and political control are performed through various means and techniques in disciplinary societies and societies of control, from “the moulding of the body ensured by disciplines (prisons, school, factory, etc.), the management of life organized by biopower (Welfare State, politics of health, etc.), and the modulation of memory and its virtual powers regulated by noo-politics (Herzian, audio-visual and telematics networks, constitution of public opinion, of perception and of collective intelligence).” Connected to these makings, Lazzarato draw attention to a sociological sequence – “working class (as one of the modalities of confinement), population, publics” – in which the various stages pay attention to individuals and groups through categorizations (Lazzarato, p. 186). And indeed, also through architectural history we do recognize this sequence as particular attention paid to the working class, population and publics in the making of buildings and cities. In the text by Deborah Hauptmann (which is an introduction to an anthology titled Cognitive Architecture: From Biopolitics to Noopolitics), she emphasizes the importance of Lazzarato’s text specifically in its distinction between bio- and noo-politics and his assertion that even though societies of today are increasingly controlled (and governed) through our minds, the bodily control as described by Foucault’s disciplines are not obsolete but function in parallel with more contemporary confinements of mediation.

Lazzarato condemns the labor movement and its persistence of focusing on work, which points at Marxism’s current impotence. It is true, as Lazzarato concludes his article, that the labor movement “has nothing to put in the place of praxis” and that “[i]t can’t imagine a process of constitution of world and self which is not centered around work.” Marxist ideology, as different to the current politics of the labor movement, is also centered around the concept of work, and with this, its compatibleness with disciplinary societies is obvious. Similarly, it is perhaps equally clear that it is incompatible with the current control societies? Lazzarato is, however, omitting the (primary) function Marxist ideology has (have had) as critique. Although he has written extensively on capitalism and consumerism in relation to the historical changes of work and production, Lazzarato is not in this text linking praxis and critique. Deleuze, on the other hand, tie the changes from disciplinary to control society directly to the mutations of capitalism, from production to metaproduction. In the latter, capitalism is “no longer directed toward production but toward products, that is, toward sales or markets.” Deleuze is asking (in 1990) “whether trade unions still have any role”? Similarly, we could questioned Lazzarato’s view that the labor movement should find a replacement of praxis – this is what they are all about – but instead put out a quest for something replacing labor, a perspective that is able to critique the current guises of capitalism in the same way the labor movement put forward an alternative mode of production. If production (and then employment) was key to both capitalist and Marxist organization of work, perhaps it is the mediation and subjectivation of publics that (at the moment) is the central aspects of capitalist transformation? But what kind of alternative is coming out of (architectural) mediation or subjectivation? Perhaps an effective capitalist critique? Or something that make us come to terms with the current “fluid politics” and the “modulation” of capitalism? It seems clear that such “publics” will not be compatible with the institutional organization of parliamentary politics which arguably still is too rooted in a disciplinary state of control.

I find Lazzarato’s final passing reference on labor’s failed shift of focus from work to employment very interesting. He mentions it as a “sad chapter in the decline of the labor movement.” Without knowing his argument for why it is sad, it seems to me that it failed exactly because it was a compromised alternative put forward by the labor movement in response to capitalism’s transformation towards employment, which resulted in individuals previously pursuing work careers with job security where found without social security and forced to promote their individual status as employable. After reading Lazzarato and Deleuze, one is easily fooled to believe that the formation of publics and acting from a distance through networks of flows are also responses to confinement and the answers to resist control (also for the labor movement) whereas both in fact point at the danger of (uncritically) mimicking the seductive mechanisms of the present society of control. Yet, current architectural practice does not seem to point at any wider critical awareness of such a danger…