Beyond Cognitive Capital


Cognitive capitalism is the term that Autonomist Marxist researchers, particularly at the French journal Multitudes, have used to describe the contemporary economic regime -- which conventional theorists call the "knowledge-based economy." Under this regime, crucial productive resources that were formerly embodied in fixed capital (machines, industrial plant) tend increasingly to migrate into the mind body of the workers, in the form of knowledge, skill sets, affective and creative capacities. These are exercised socially, in the lived space of the metropolis and through electronic networks. A fudamental contradiction emerges between the imperatives of capitalist command and the free cooperation of living labor.

The concept of cognitive capitalism is expansive and powerful, and it can be very useful for both anlysis and emancipation. Clearly it has a lot to say about labor in the university and in the art system; and it goes far beyond these realms to encompass the most important transformations of labor, wages and contract relations over the last forty years. However, the concept can be mystifying when it is not developed in tandem with a close analysis of control function and the ways they reach deeply into common psychosocial experience. Indeed, the recent financial crisis has led to quite a bit of reconsideration by the major Autonomist theorists, particularly on the control functions of debt in a financialized economy. This section will be devoted to teasing out various nuances of the concept and testing both its possibilities and its limits. It will take some time to construct this section in detail.