An admirably concise definition by Trebor Scholz on loc 432 of Uberworked and Underpaid:
This term can be briefly described as follows:
First, it is about cloning the technological heart of Uber, Task Rabbit, Airbnb, or UpWork. Platform cooperativism creatively embraces, adapts, or reshapes technologies of the sharing economy, putting them to work with different ownership models. It is in this sense that platform cooperativism is about structural change, a transformation of ownership models.
Second, platform cooperativism is about solidarity, sorely missing in an economy driven by a distributed and mostly anonymous workforce: the interns, freelancers, temps, project-based workers, and independent contractors. Platforms can be owned and operated by inventive unions, cities, and various other forms of cooperatives such as worker-owned, produser-owned (producer-user –produser), multi-stakeholder, co-ops.
Third, platform cooperativism is built on reframing concepts like innovation and efficiency with an eye toward benefiting all, not just sucking up profits for the few. I propose ten principles of platform cooperativism that are sensitive to the critical problems facing the digital economy right now. Platform capitalism is amazingly ineffective in watching out for people.
In various posts over the last few years, I’ve written about my fascination with images of civilisational collapse. Reading Riots and Political Protest, by Steve Hall, Simon Winlow, Daniel Briggs and James Treadwell, I find myself wondering if this fascination is in large part because of how ‘civilisational collapse’ and the ‘end of capitalism’ tend to be conflated under our present circumstances. As they write on pg 18,
The dominant images of the end of capitalism in Western culture are those of absolute economic devastation and crushing hardship, a return to Dark Age repression and poverty. In the popular imagination, capitalism is lively and vivacious, and all alternatives to it are dull, grey and monotonous.
Images of civilisational collapse are so emotive under current conditions because of our much remarked upon inability to imagine a world beyond capitalism. For this reason I think sociological engagements with how these dystopias are represented could provide rewarding. By identifying their questionable assumptions, highlighting what is untenable in accounts of collapse and what might turn out differently in reality, could we open up the space in which to think about a beyond rather than merely an end?
A great article by
Can one therefore imagine that capitalism is a caputalism bearing the Cain’s mark of collapse? And how can we envisage this end?
“The image I have of the end of capitalism — an end that I believe is already under way — is one of a social system in chronic disrepair” is how the German social scientist Wolfgang Streeck put it two years ago. A permanent quasi-stagnation with at best mini-growth rates, explosive inequality, privatization of all and sundry, endemic corruption and plunder, where normal profit expectations get ever lower, a consequent moral collapse (capitalism is more and more linked to fraud, theft and dirty tricks), the West getting weaker and weaker, staggering along as it foments disintegration and crisis in trouble spots on its periphery.
The Nobel Prize winner for economics, Paul Krugman, like Larry Summers, paints a picture of “permanent slump.” Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary – truly no leftie – uses the phrase of “secular stagnation” as a self-evident truth – meaning that the long centuries of dynamic capitalist growth could come to an end.
The renowned economist Robert J Gordon has also investigated in a much-discussed paper whether – at least in the USA – “economic growth is over.” Growth rates took on dynamic pace in 1750, reached breakneck speed in the mid-20th century and have since gone down in successive periods. The great innovations that bring both productivity progress and growth – they may be history: “The growth of productivity … slowed markedly after 1970.” The third industrial revolution, with computerization and concomitant labour saving, also demonstrated its essential effects between 1960 and the late 1990s but has practically come to a standstill since the noughties. Despite superficial impressions, the past 15 years may have produced practically no more genuinely productive innovations. “Invention since 2000 has centered on entertainment and communication devices that are smaller, smarter, and more capable, but do not fundamentally change labour productivity or the standard of living in the way that electric light, motor cars, or indoor plumbing changed it.”
In his latest book The End of Normal, economist James K. Galbraith plays a similar tune and even goes one step further. The era of prosperity between 1850 and 1970 has anchored in the economist fraternity the unspoken certainty that constant growth is “normality” but stagnation and crisis “the exception.” Galbraith now suspects: “Whatever worked in times gone may well no longer work today.”
Even if Robert Gordon’s thesis about a declining dynamics in innovation is not entirely right it might well be the case that today’s innovations no longer serve the prosperous nature of capitalism as a whole but have rather ambivalent effects. Above all, one of their effects is that jobs are destroyed without new ones replacing them. The new digital technologies mainly serve the purpose of reducing costs and winning new markets at the cost of older firms. Here the current period is distinct from earlier phases of innovation: whereas, in earlier times, ‘creative destruction’ in the process of innovation got rid of old and often poor jobs (as in agriculture) but huge amounts of new and often better ones arose (as in the car industry), so now innovations bring higher joblessness for one part and, worse, more precarious jobs for the other part of the labour force. The cumulative income of the man on the street thereby comes under increasing pressure and heads irredeemably downwards.
My speculative interest in techno-fascism arises out of a shared sense of the possibility that capitalism may merely trundle on: low to zero growth rates, growing structural unemployment, declining living standards, increasing inequality and the erosion of social security. The reason I regard this possibility as dystopic, that is potentially leading to dystopian outcomes, relates to digital technology as the remaining locus of innovation within the economy and the possibility for social control which it portends.
An interesting link via . There’s some stuff one could take issue with but I think it’s an interesting exercise and the project as a whole looks extremely worthwhile.
Last week Paul Mason posted a provocative Guardian essay suggesting that the end of capitalism has begun. It’s a precursor to his upcoming book PostCapitalism: A Guide To Our Future which is released in a few days time. I’m looking forward to the book, not least of all because it’s an optimistic counterpoint to the gloomy thought experiment I’ve been intermittently working on for months now: what would techno-fascism look like? I finished my first piece of work on this recently, a contribution to the Centre for Social Ontology’s Social Morphogenesis project, making the case that digital capitalism is giving rise to ‘distracted people’ and ‘fragile movements’ while also facilitating surveillance and repression of a degree of efficiency exponentially greater than any security apparatus that has previously existed in human history.
My rather depressing conclusion concerns spiralling obstacles to durable social movements exercising a sustained influence over political and social life, though not necessarily to protest, politicisation or critique. As the project progresses, I want to explore two tendencies towards digitally facilitated suppression: the ‘hard’ strand, the openly authoritarian mechanisms through which digital technology is used repressively and how they might diffuse, as well as the ‘soft’ strand, the increasingly designed informational environment and the cognitive costs involved in escaping it, as well as their implications for collective action.
I situate these in terms of post-democracy and the political economy of the second machine age: crudely, I’m suggesting that the interests of elites in defensive repression, in the face of growing structural underemployment and unemployment driven by automation, creates a risk that ‘soft’ repression (already a problem) comes to be conjoined with ‘hard’ repression, with a post-democratic political climate likely to render popular restraints upon this drift ineffective. This is compounded by a political context in which the war on terrorism is giving way to the war on extremism, normalising repressive measures against those whose ‘ideology’ (let alone their actions) put them outside the political mainstream. Underlying this analysis are some much more specific arguments about ‘distracted people’ and ‘fragile movements’ which I won’t summarise here, as well as an argument I want to develop of where a trend to vertical integration is likely to lead the tech sector and how this might further incline the culture within it in a way susceptible to acquiescing to some rather extreme measures.
It’s a depressing argument. But I’m looking forward to developing it. The project has been on hold since I finished my CSO paper because I need to finish Social Media for Academics. But I’m presenting an initial version of the overall argument at a Futures Workshop in August and then I’ll begin work on a book proposal in September. I’d like to include two chapters of design fiction in the finished book: one envisioning post-capitalism and another envisioning techno-fascism. I don’t believe either outcome is inexorable but I do find my own arguments worryingly convincing (I’m often very critical of my own work but I’m really pleased with the CSO chapter, it went through a slightly brutal multistage review process and it really shows) at least in terms of currently inoperative social mechanisms that one could easily envision kicking in under future politico-economic circumstances not much worse than our present ones. But if Mason’s book is as provocative as I suspect it will be, I’d like to use it as an optimistic foil, not least of all to preserve the social optimism which I’m concerned that I’m in the process of losing.
This extract from a recent Guardian debate with Mason (HT Phil BC) gives a taste of what the book will be like: https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/membership/video/2015/jul/23/paul-mason-is-capitalism-dead-video (unfortunately it won’t embed on wordpress.com)