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Accepted Paper:

The scale of the problem  
Daniel Greene (University of Maryland)

Short abstract:

This talk brings recent developments in communization theory to bear on the political economy of infrastructure. The challenge of making revolution is emphasized by moving back and forth between the intimacy of digital communication and the planetary scale of communications infrastructure.

Long abstract:

Historical materialism pursues a "ruthless criticism of all that exists." Ruthless, Marx explained, not just in its hostility to existing power structures but in its deconstruction of power's operation--no matter how much the critic and their social position may be indicted by the process. The globalization that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union was, in many quarters, hailed as itself revolutionary: breaking the rule of value through weightless communications networks and allowing a disaffected--but always connected--precariat to organize outside the hierarchy of the party form.

But neither Hardt nor Fukuyama could end history. Indeed, a closer inspection of the political economy of contemporary communications--the exchange points and data centers at the base of the internet--reveals the planetary scale of contemporary capitalism. Far from revolutionary, the firms controlling these choke points are simple landlords, fortifying some of the most valuable real estate in human history. Drawing from recent work in communization theory, this talk works backwards from the utopian prospect of a communist internet to examine what would have to change in the ownership, operation, and design of internet infrastructure to make it a true commons. Such a thing may be no more possible than a communist Wal-Mart, since we are dealing not with logical premises or neutral technical capacity, but fossilized social forms. But asking after it reveals the class conflicts embedded both in this infrastructure and in our own desires for connection.

Traditional Open Panel P331
Political Economy, Historical Materialism, And STS
  Session 1 Tuesday 16 July, 2024, -