‘Cognitive capitalism’ and the rat race: how capital measures immaterial labour in British universities

Article


De Angelis, M. and Harvie, David 2009. ‘Cognitive capitalism’ and the rat race: how capital measures immaterial labour in British universities. Historical Materialism. 17 (3), pp. 3-30.
AuthorsDe Angelis, M. and Harvie, David
Abstract

One hundred years ago, Frederick Taylor and the pioneers of scientific management went into battle on US factory floors. Armed with stopwatches and clipboards, they were fighting a war over measure. A century on and capitalist production has spread far beyond the factory walls and the confines of ‘national economies’. Although capitalism increasingly seems to rely on ‘cognitive’ and ‘immaterial’ forms of labour and social cooperation, the war over measure continues. Armies of economists, statisticians, management scientists, information specialists, accountants and others are engaged in a struggle to connect heterogeneous concrete human activities on the basis of equal quantities of human labour in the abstract, that is, to link work and capitalist value.
In this paper, we discuss contemporary capital’s attempt to (re)impose the ‘law of value’ through its measuring of immaterial labour, considered by thinkers such as Hardt and Negri to be ‘outside’ or ‘beyond measure’. Using the example of higher education in the UK — a ‘frontline’ of capitalist development — as our case study, we explain how measuring takes places on various ‘self-similar’ levels of social organisation. We suggest that such processes are both diachronic and synchronic: socially necessary labour times of ‘immaterial doings’ are emerging and being driven down at the same time as heterogenous concrete activities are being made commensurable. Alongside more overt attacks on academic freedom, it is in this way that neoliberalism appears on campus.

Keywordshigher education; primitive accumulation; knowledge; capitalism; value theory; competition; university; immaterial labour; measure
JournalHistorical Materialism
Journal citation17 (3), pp. 3-30
ISSN1465-4466
Year2009
Accepted author manuscript
License
CC BY-ND
Web address (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/146544609X12469428108420
http://hdl.handle.net/10552/353
Publication dates
Print29 Oct 2009
Publication process dates
Deposited29 Oct 2009
Additional information

Citation:
De Angelis, M. Harvie, D. (2009) ‘‘Cognitive capitalism’ and the rat race: how capital measures immaterial labour in British universities.’ Historical Materialism, 17 (3) 3-30.

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