Issue #17 Hidden Labor and the Delight of Otherness: Design and Post-Capitalist Politics

Hidden Labor and the Delight of Otherness: Design and Post-Capitalist Politics

Tom Holert

Issue #17
June 2010

1. Ritualistic Negativity

One of the most intriguing tasks of the theme and thesis of this issue of e-flux journal is the imagining and reframing of cultural and aesthetic practice in decidedly post-capitalist terms—that is, as embedded in and engendered by processes of globally networked solidarity, diversity, cooperation, interdependence, and so forth. I would like to begin by supplementing the notion of practice with the notion of design, which may provide the discussion with an initial spin. Of course, “design” is a contested term, and its meaning and function can differ dramatically. In this article, “design” will be taken to be synonymous with “urban design,” though even this specification doesn’t help much to reduce the problem of reference and cultural difference, as “urban design” is deployed in highly ideological ways and is necessarily steered by varying institutional interests.1

Workers on a modern assembly line, Ford Mustang.

The very notion of “design,” not to mention the ideologies and machinations implied in “designerly approaches to problem-solving as potential disciplining force,” are most questionable.2 Moreover, the “logics of design” are being mixed and modulated to transform society in heretofore-unknown ways. According to Michael Hardt, “design” has become a “general name” for post-Fordist types of production, which is to say that nobody can claim to be outside of design anymore. As Hardt argues, this marks “a position of great potential” for the immaterial laborer, and can also indicate “a certain kind of critique and struggle that can be waged from within.”3 Hence, the usual rebuttal of design (and urban design in particular) to accusations of being a top-down, master-planning imposition of value-making schemes of urbanity (justified as it may be) needs rephrasing, as it tends to freeze the critique in predictable anti-capitalist stances without looking for ways of negotiating differing visions of urban and cultural production pursued within the practice itself. As Hardt points out, the immanence of design—the fact that design cannot be escaped because it effectively organizes post-Fordist subjectivity, both materially and metaphorically—necessitates a political and ontological reframing of design discourse, as a discourse on being as both designed and designing.

That said, a perspective might be proposed that goes beyond well-rehearsed figures of critique, namely, those accusing design and its practitioners of being complicit with capitalist commodification and, ultimately, exploitation; or looking at the neoliberal city in the only way that seems viable and acceptable from and for a position of the radical Left: as something to be relentlessly opposed, denounced, and scandalized.

While there are certainly countless reasons for criticism, rejection, and disgust, one may also agree with Adrian Lahoud—an architect and critic from Sydney who maintains the (quite fantastic and tellingly titled) blog “Post-Traumatic Urbanism”—in his opinion that

Lists and examples of urban injustices like uneven development, gentrification, and zero-tolerance policing make for an appropriate corrective to the historical account of capitalist development but fall short of any transformational consequence… . By constraining political agency to action within the confines of a given political landscape, we exclude the contours and limits of this landscape as a site for political action. The system itself must be up for grabs.4

Any consideration of “design” in this quest for political agency should allow for the dialectical tensions between, say, planning and change, destruction and construction, critique and mapping, and so forth. If there is no outside to design, political action would have to address the designed as much as the designable nature of reality, the techno-social fallouts and catastrophes of design processes and the palliative step-by-step cures of vernacular, informal, low-visibility ways of going about design. These tensions relate to the relationship between micropolitics and radical politics, between on the one hand a longue durée practice of small steps, dispersed moments of counter-hegemonic resistance amounting to change, and, on the other, the single decisive act—the “event” so eloquently evoked by Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek, and others—seems key. What is to be done to unchain criticism from ritualistic negativity, from being simply the “anti-” of capitalism or neoliberalism? The current dispensation connects thinking and doing to the idea of fighting rather than overcoming, of confronting the enemy directly rather than rendering it obsolete. The “system itself” must be up for grabs, indeed, but its suspension may not necessarily come through the means and strategies proposed so far.

2. Thinking Like a Craftsman

Dedicated to the ideas of libertarian communism, is a website that pursues the “political expression of the ever-present strands of co-operation and solidarity.” In March 2009 a contributor posting under the alias “Kambing” ventures the interesting thought that “the artisan” may qualify as “a rather attractive concept for a post-capitalist subject—it certainly beats the bourgeois star artist or proletarianized designer as a way of organizing creative activity.” However, “Kambing” continues, the concept of the artisan is at the same time

doomed as an attempt to overcome capitalism, as it can be so easily drawn back into capitalist processes of accumulation and dispossession. This is precisely the problem with a lot of autonomist (and anarchist) strategies for resistance or “exodus”—including some forms of anarcho-syndicalism.5

This skepticism is only too familiar by now—any candidate put forward for the new revolutionary subject will be quickly rendered inappropriate, deficient, co-optable. The reasons for such pre-emptive skepticism, popular even among the most hard-line autonomists, anarchists, or anarcho-syndicalists, are manifold. However, a central argument for this co-optation is linked to the awe-inspiring malleability and adaptability of capitalism as such, accompanied by post-political renderings of “democracy,” helpful in reducing politics “to the negotiation of private interests,” as Slavoj Žižek puts it in his discussion of what he considers to be a symptomatic proximity between contemporary biopolitical capitalism and the post-operaist productivity of the multitude: “But what if, in a parallax shift, we perceive the capitalist network itself as the true excess over the flow of the productive multitude?”6

The Fable of the Hedgehog and the Hare.

The structure of the argument has been so thoroughly rehearsed in past decades that it has assumed a somewhat mythical truth. Capitalism is the shape-shifting creature-beast always already ahead and above—regardless of which revolutionary force tries to overthrow or subvert it—as it continually vampirizes any signs of resistance. It may be necessary to deploy the perceptual model of the parallax, as Žižek does, in order to maintain the structurally paranoiac—if absolutely legitimate—belief in capitalism’s shrewdness, which sometimes seems to resemble the clever hedgehog family in the Grimms’ fairytale “The Hare and the Hedgehog.” Its remarkable ability to re-invent itself and stay alive even as the current full-fledged crisis in interlinked systems of state and corporate capitalism turn capitalism-as-such into a transcendent miracle and/or metaphysical force with increasingly violent repercussions on the ground, with its most recent turn being the recruitment of state and legal powers. Referring to Carlo Vercellone’s 2006 book Capitalismo cognitivo, Žižek points to how profit becomes rent in postindustrial capitalism.7 The more capitalism behaves in “de-regulatory, ‘anti-statal,’ nomadic, deterritorializing” fashions, the more it “relies on increasingly authoritarian interventions of the state and its legal and other apparatuses.”8 While the “general intellect” in reality doesn’t appear to be that “general” or shared—with the products of the innumerable and increasingly dispersed multitudes becoming copyrighted, commoditized, and legally encapsulated as part of the accumulation of wealth by way of “rent”—the unity of the proletariat has split into three parts, following Žižek’s Hegelian idea of the future: white-collar “intellectual laborers,” blue-collar “old manual working class,” and the “outcasts (the unemployed, those living in slums and other interstices of public space).”9 Any possibility of solidarity amongst these factions appears to have been foreclosed, and in many respects the separation seems absolute. The liberal-multicultural self-image of the cognitive workforce doesn’t rhyme particularly well with the populist, nationalist position of the “old” working class, and both are further ostracized by the unruliness, illegality, and poverty of the outcasts who alienate white collar workers and blue collar workers alike, as they seem to indicate through their fate how imperiled their remaining privileges of citizenship may be.

But Žižek’s Hegelian triad of postindustrial proletarian factions is debatable. The identities (intellectual laborers, working class, outcasts) are much too unstable, much too fluid and transient for a theorization of the (im)possibilities of overcoming capitalism. And it remains doubtful whether their insertion into the discourse provides more than a paralysis characterized by deadlock, tribal oppositions, and endless desolidarity.

In fact, these and other identities shift according to (but also against) the self-transformation of capitalist institutions enabled by various neutralizations and recuperations. And these self-transformations entail wars of position, to use Gramsci’s term. As Chantal Mouffe put it a few years ago in pre-9/11, pessimism-of-the-intellect/optimism-of-the-will style: “although it might become worse, it might also become better.”10 Even Žižek—who has always endorsed a strong idea of capitalism, evincing a certain obsession with the task of proving capitalism’s fascinating, horrifying, and stupefying superiority as one that could only be seriously challenged by a return to the Leninist act—is himself looking for other actors and different processes now. Currently, his hope lies with the hopeless, the people fooled and victimized by “the whole drift of history”—in other words, the very “outcasts” from the proletarian triad mentioned above, those who are forced into improvisation, informality, clandestinity, as this is supposedly all they are left with in a “desperate situation.”11

To rely on the desperation of others for one’s own idea of a successful insurrection is of course deeply romantic and utopian. Žižek may be right in asserting that waiting for the Revolution to be undertaken by others has been the fundamental error of too many leftists. However, would he count himself or anyone in his vicinity to be “desperate” enough to act, especially in a spirit of voluntarism and experimentation that would effectively dissolve the constraints of “freedom” as it is granted by neoliberalism?

The “artisan” evoked by “Kambing,” though immediately disregarded as allegedly “doomed” to fail in the face of capitalism like so many others, may be an interesting figure to reconsider here—less out of interest in revolutionary politics than in envisioning alternate ways of organizing “creative activity” to replace and/or evade capitalist modes of production. As Raqs Media Collective have pointed out in their essay “Stubborn Structures and Insistent Seepage in a Networked World,” the figure of the artisan arrived historically before the worker and the artist, before “the drone and the genius,” while it enabled the “transfiguration of people into skills, of lives into working lives, into variable capital.”12 “The artisan,” Raqs claim, “is the vehicle that carried us all into the contemporary world.” However, after the artisan’s role in “making and trading things and knowledge” had been replaced by those of the worker and the artist, by the ubiquity of the commodity and the rarity of the art object, the artisan now seems to be returning, but in different guises—the migrant imbued with all kinds of tactical knowledges, the electronic pirate, or the neo-luddite, many of whom are immaterial laborers, pursuing processes of “imagining, understanding, and invoking a world, mimesis, projection and verisimilitude as well as the skillful deployment of a combination of reality and representation.”

Interestingly (and similarly), “Kambing” distinguishes the “artisan” from the “bourgeois star artist” and the “proletarianized designer.” However, one may also imagine these distinct figures aligning—with each other and with others beyond themselves. These alignments or fusions would depend on an ability and a willingness to recognize and accept difference and diversity not only in one’s own social surroundings, but also within oneself as a subject. To acknowledge the fact that one may simultaneously inhabit more than one identity leads almost inevitably to co-operation with others that would go beyond the model of the homogeneous community.

But, in Capital, Marx is highly skeptical of “co-operation” as a way out of capitalism: “Co-operation ever constitutes the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production.” Its power is

developed gratuitously whenever the workmen are placed under given conditions and it is capital that places them under such conditions. Because this power costs capital nothing, and because, on the other hand, the labourer himself does not develop it before his labour belongs to capital, it appears as a power with which capital is endowed by Nature—a productive power that is immanent in capital.13

The very power of co-operation that Marx located at the center of the capitalist project has become the keystone of post-operaist theories of post-Fordism. They have observed that the value-increasing function of co-operation has become increasingly tangible in a system based on an essential superfluity of labor and the permanence of unemployment, a system that simultaneously captures and exploits the very “power” of non-labor-based communality and communication. “Since social cooperation precedes and exceeds the work process, post-Fordist labor is always, also, hidden labor,” as Paolo Virno wrote in A Grammar of the Multitute. 14 Defining hidden labor as “non-remunerated life” in the very “production time” of post-Fordism that exceeds “labor time,” Virno also provides an opportunity to discuss unaccounted for, unpaid labor – exploitable and valorized by capital as it is – as a realm of potential freedom and disobedience. Indeed, the politics of cooperation and communication (which include affective labor) operate at the mingled and sometimes dirty practices of such cooperation between factions of contemporary laborers are illustrated by one of the many examples of the hidden labor of artisanry in Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman. Reflecting on the debilitating split between head and hand that occurred when architects and designers began to use computer-aided design (CAD) programs, Sennett postulates the need “to think like craftsmen in making good use of technology,” and to consider the ” sharp social edge” of such thinking. Thinking like craftsmen could entail a certain kind of work that one executes after the designers have left the building. Particularly interested in the parking garages of Atlanta’s Peachtree Center, Sennett noticed a specific, inconspicuous kind post-factum cooperation between designers and artisans/craftsmen:

A standardized bumper had been installed at the end of each car stall. It looked sleek, but the lower edge of each bumper was sharp metal, liable to scratch cars or calves. Some bumpers, though, had been turned back, on site, for safety. The irregularity of the turning showed that the job had been done manually, the steel smoothed and rounded wherever it might be unsafe to touch; the craftsman had thought for the architect.15

The labor of modifying and repairing the work of others is certainly not groundbreaking in terms of anti-capitalist struggle per se. However, the physical skills, the attitude of care and circumspection, the inscription of a hand that performs “responsible” gestures, and so forth, all engender a shared authorship—in this case a cooperation between the absent architect’s and/or construction company’s work and the subsequent, careful labor of detecting and correcting the building’s design problems. This cooperation is neither contractually negotiated nor socially expected, but instead results from a specific situation in which a problem called for a solution. It is inseparable from local conditions and constraints, and should not be taken as a model for action. Yet, on other hand, it is intriguing, as it displays relationalities within material-social practices that usually remain unnoticed, and whose resourcefulness is thus overlooked.

Paris scene with a goldsmith’s shop , detail of a miniature from “La Vie de St Denis”, 1317. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

In some respects Sennett’s concept of “thinking like craftsmen” resembles a definition of “design” that Bruno Latour introduced the same year The Craftsman was published. Speaking at a conference held by the Design History Society in Cornwall, Latour differentiated “design” from the concepts of building or constructing. The process of designing, according to Latour, is marked by a certain semantic modesty—it is always a retroactive, never foundational, action, always re-design, and hence “post-Promethean.” Furthermore, the concept of design emphasizes the dimension of (manual, technical) abilities, of “skills,” which suggests a more cautious and precautionary (not directly tied to making and producing) engagement with problems on an increasingly larger scale (as with climate change). Then, too, design as a practice that engenders meaning and calls for interpretation thus tends to transform objects into things—irreducible to their status as facts or matter, being instead inhabited by causes, issues, and, more generally, semiotic skills. And finally, following Latour, design is inconceivable without an ethical dimension, without the distinction between good design and bad design—which also always renders design negotiable and controvertible.16 Here, at this site of dispute and negotiation, especially on an occasion in which the activity of design is “the whole fabric of our earthly existence,” Latour finds “a completely new political territory” opening up.17

3. “Weak Theory”

Such a notion of politics, based on a specific, if slightly idiosyncratic idea of design as a modest and moderating practice that follows rather than leads, can now be linked to another project that envisions a “politics of (economic) possibility.” J. K. Gibson-Graham, the pen-name of two feminist economists and geographers, whose elaborate argument draws on a pioneering spirit of “disclosing new worlds” rather than flocking to the same subject position, take an approach that may initially appear overly optimistic in its rhizomatricy, but that is well founded in fieldwork and action research in the Pioneer Village in Massachusetts, the Asian Migrant Centre in Hong Kong, and the Latrobe Valley in Australia. They obviously know what they are talking about when they refer to the “cultivation of subjects” for these “community enterprises and initiatives” of post-capitalist “new commons,” which are capable of affording an understanding and, even more, an enjoyment of difference, as well as “new ways of ‘being together.’ ”

J. K. Gibson-Graham’s books, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) (1996) and A Postcapitalist Politics (2006), are organized around what they call “techniques of ontological reframing (to produce the ground of possibility), rereading (to uncover or excavate the possible), and creativity (to generate actual possibilities where none formerly existed).”18 Gibson-Graham base their ideas, which are informed by, among other schools of thought, feminist poststructuralism and queer theory, on strong notions of un-thinking (avoiding notions such as economic determinism), anti-essentialism (avoiding any understanding of causality), anti-universalism, and anti-structure, all in order to conceptualize “contingent relationships” that replace “invariant logics.” By way of this substitution, “the economy loses its character as an asocial body in lawful motion and instead becomes a space of recognition and negotiation.”19

Gibson-Graham use words that denote a deliberate weakness, pliability, and openness, such as “underlaboring,” and the two intensely advocate a tolerance of “not-knowing.” Contingency, difference, and differentiation lie at the core of their thinking, as do the empiricism and materialism of actor-network theories and object-oriented ontologies that offer a means of describing and thinking through the unfolding logic within an object as a thing, but also as “a very concrete process of eventuation, path-dependent and nonlinear,” thereby de-privileging global systems under the auspices of emergence and becoming.

As they put it, “With the aim of transforming ‘impossible into possible objects,’ reading for absences excavates what has been actively suppressed or excluded, calling into question the marginalization and ‘non-credibility’ of the nondominant.”20 Underscoring the “always political process of creating the new,” Gibson-Graham consider politics to be “a process of transformation instituted by taking decisions on an ultimately undecideable terrain”—and their own thought process as “starting in the space of nonbeing that is the wellspring of becoming”; it is here that they discover the “space of politics” and its “shadowy denizens”—the “subject” and “place.”21 Gibson-Graham are not naïve, however, when it comes to theorizing the dynamics of subjection, the question of “how to understand the subject as both powerfully constituted and constrained by dominant discourses, yet also available to other possibilities of becoming.”22 But they call for an acknowledgment of the necessity to withdraw from a “traditional [leftist] paranoid style of theorizing” that also brings about changes in the effects that give rise to social transformation and communal becoming, a “wonder as awareness of and delight of otherness” combined with a “growing recognition that the other is what makes self possible.”23 This bewildering and enjoyable “recognition” drives Gibson-Graham’s research, and their (pedagogical) vision of a post-capitalist politics is inseparable from a belief in the possibility of “cultivating subjects”—citizens for a different, community-based, cooperative economy. And in contradistinction to theorists such as Žižek or Badiou, Gibson-Graham actually speak of individual agency, of specific persons whose subjectivities have registered the experiences of community economies and their particular potentiality, embracing the weakness and micrological scale of such fieldwork, also in terms of theory.

Writing in the vein of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Gibson-Graham suggest that

Weak theory can be strong politics—it opens up social options that would be inaccessible to a theorist intent on eliminating surprise (by exploring the unknown rather than extending and confirming the known). It widens the affective possibilities of politics (who knows what emotions will arise in an experimental, only partly mapped space?) and allows for the possibility of maximizing positive affect (something we all want to do, which means that participation in politics would not be limited to the stoical cadre of the already politicized).24

Although Gibson-Graham do not address the realm of culture and cultural production explicitly, their thinking remains relevant to the question of how design can be approached within the scope of a post-capitalist project. Even if aspects of their discourse appear familiar in the context of theories pertaining to art and to cultural production in general—and may therefore lack the scandalizing or provocative edge they purportedly have in the disciplines of economics and geography—even savvy readers trained in narratives of “becoming” should gain a sense of how politics can be framed differently with regard to predominant “progressive” discourses of radical-democratic or neo-Maoist persuasion. Moreover, Gibson-Graham’s attention to contingency and agency, to singularity and a “place-based politics of subjectivation” can be enormously helpful in providing a framework for approaching cooperative cultural production in a different way—as a politics that boldly centers on the local and the particular without falling victim to a retrograde romanticism of the homogenous community or the “neighborhood.” As much as Gibson-Graham are critically aware of the governmentality of the cooperative found in the “third way” politics of 1990s neoliberalism (with their rhetoric of “trust,” “mutual obligation,” “reciprocity”), so should one be aware of the misuses of terms such as “participation” in urban government and design discourses.25 However, the capacity for Gibson-Graham’s path-dependent, de-disciplining, and place-specific methodology to be extended towards cultural (discursive and material) practices of doing—such as design and craftsmanship (conceived roughly along the lines of Sennett or Latour)—make them vital for articulating a means of going beyond the failure of grand designs, demonstrated so drastically by the current crisis of large-scale state and economic institutions. Given that everyone is affected—if to different degrees (but much too often disastrously)—by the neoliberal abolishment of everything, small-scale endeavors of solidarity, however networked, that intentionally neglect or dismiss the disciplining effects of capital (and of anti-capitalist politics as well), and that develop humble ways of altering and improving inherited designs, do not appear to be the worst option available at the moment.

Richard Latham, Hallicrafters T-54 7-inch (18cm) television, Designed in 1948 by Raymond Loewy’s firm.

4. Participation

What would be necessary to transform “design” into a discipline of un-disciplinary moves and motions, into a practice of possibility and an articulation of becoming? In “Design and Human Values,” a legendary Aspen design conference that took place in 1957, the American designer Richard Latham interrogated the ideas that designers cater to and the kind of responsibility they should take:

As designers, we may properly assume responsibility for goodness and badness in the work we create; we are called upon, and entitled, to make value decisions. We are also entitled to a pioneering spirit and a desire to see things change for the better; we need not assume that what is is always inevitable or for the best. I believe that change, even for its own sake, can be a good thing. But I contend that, before we dare assume this right to judge and shape other people’s values, we had better first examine our own values and our own motives for wanting to exercise this control over the lives of others… . We designers … can begin to build a meaningful aesthetic culture if we are willing to prepare ourselves for a new learning experience, and we cannot learn unless we participate.26

Unless one simply dismisses these lines as old-school navel-gazing or as the exhortative sophistry of someone who made a good living from the value systems of the design trade, the statement conveys a surprising desire to open the profession to the uncertainties and challenges of a becoming. Terms such as “change” and “learning experience” can be read as a purposeful destabilization of the social and aesthetic contracts of the design profession. Latham’s punch line, “we cannot learn unless we participate,” certainly suggested, in 1957, a paradigmatic re-orientation of the role and position expected of the future designer. Interestingly, participation was not yet considered to be integral to a designer’s or planner’s role, but only a means of improving knowledge and experience: in order to learn, one has to take part. Yet the question remains: who is invited to participate, and who is inviting them? The desire to participate must not necessarily meet recognition by others. You may ask whether you are allowed, but the question can be refuted. An inherent right to participate cannot be taken for granted by the designer, much less the non-expert citizen. One may further ask whether a right to design should be declared and henceforth claimed, based on the fundamental role assignable to design, designing, and, particularly, the contemporary condition of a weak and hidden (post-)artisanal potentiality distributed throughout networks, whether global or local. Granted that these networks are subject to “seepage,” as Raqs Media Collective call it—to “those acts that ooze through the pores of the outer surfaces of structures into available pores within the structure,” resulting in a “weakening of the structure itself”—design may be conceived and enacted as a multiplicity of acts that persistently erode such structures while eliciting conversations between neighboring, shared, and communal practices.27


Reading a syllabus such as the one penned by Richard Plunz, director of the “urban design” graduate program at Columbia University, New York, may give an idea of the nature of the semantic and discursive investments in play. “Urban Design is pursued as a critical re-assessment of conventional approaches relative to questions of site, program, infrastructure, and form-mass, as they have been defined by urban design practice during the past century. The Urban Design curriculum is pedagogically unique on the role of architecture in the formation of a discourse on urbanism at this moment of post-industrial development and indeed, of post-urban sensibility relative to traditional Euro-American settlement norms.” (Urban Design, Open House for GSAPP Architecture Programs – MArch, MSAAD, MSAUD, Columbia University, November 4, 2009). The expression “post-urban sensibility” is intriguing, as it points to the possibility of thinking beyond the discipline which is advertising itself by using it. Although the term “post-urban” has developed a very specific meaning in the architectural and urbanist debate of late, imagining a “post” of the “urban” in historical and/or systematic terms could be considered in various ways, for instance, as looking for a different kind of conceptualization of what the “urban” is and should be; or, as a call to overcome a specific imagination and representation of the “urban” as well as overcoming the binarisms of public and private, corporatism and street-level resistance, revanchist fortification and insurgent survival strategies, all characterizing key features of the “urban” that have been rehearsed for such a long time.


See Juris Milestone, “Design as Power: Paul Virilio and the Governmentality of Design Expertise,” in Culture, Theory & Critique 48, no. 2 (October 2007): 175–198.


See Michael Hardt and Christopher Hight, “Designing Commonspaces: Riffing with Michael Hardt on the Multitude and Collective Intelligence,” in Architectural Design 76, no. 5 (September/October 2006): 70–73.


Adrian Lahoud, review of Urban Politics Now: Reimagining Democracy in the Neoliberal City, ed. BAVO (Gideon Boie and Matthias Pauwels) (Rotterdam: NAi, 2008), Post-Traumatic, May 14, 2009.


“Kambing,” comment on “Autonom(ous)(ist) Marxism – Half baked anarcho-syndicalism?,”, comment posted June 5, 2009.


Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London and New York: Verso, 2009), 136, 141.


Carlo Vercellone, Capitalismo cognitivo: conoscenza e finanza nell’epoca postfordista (Rome: Manifestolibri, 2006).


Žižek, First as Tragedy, 145.


Ibid., 147.


Chantal Mouffe, “Every Form of Art Has a Political Dimension,” interview by Rosalyn Deutsche, Branden W. Joseph, and Thomas Keenan, Grey Room, no. 02, (Winter 2001): 118.


Žižek, First as Tragedy, 155.


Raqs Media Collective, “Stubborn Structures and Insistent Seepage in a Networked World,” in Seepage (New York/Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2010). See .


Karl Marx, Capital: The Process of Capitalist Production, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, and ed. by Frederick Engels. Volume 1 of Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (London: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1921), 365–6.


Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude: For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, trans. Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, and Andrea Casson (New York: Semiotext(e), 2004), 103.


Richard Sennett, The Craftsman (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008), 44.


See Bruno Latour, “A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (with Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk),” keynote lecture at the “Network of Design” meeting held by the Design History Society in Falmouth, Cornwall, September 3, 2008, text available at . This paragraph is partly cited from Tom Holert, “Design and Nervousness,” trans. Gerrit Jackson, Texte zur Kunst 72 (December 2008):108f.




J. K. Gibson-Graham, A Postcapitalist Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), xxix–xxx.


Ibid, xxx.


Ibid, xxxii.


Ibid., xxxii–xxxiii, xxxiii.


Ibid., xxxvi.


Ibid., 5, 20.


Ibid., 205.


Cf. ibid., 224.


Richard Latham, “Communication of Values Through Design,” in The Aspen Papers: Twenty Years of Design Theory from the International Design Conference in Aspen, ed. Reyner Banham (London: Pall Mall Press, 1974), 91.


Raqs Media Collective, “Stubborn Structures.”

Design, Labor & Work, Marxism
Post-capitalism, Libertarianism
Return to Issue #17

Some parts of this essay were written for the conference “Design for the Post-Neoliberal City,” organized by Jesko Fezer and Matthias Görlich for Civic City/Design2Context, ZHdK, Zurich, March 12–13, 2010.

Tom Holert is an art historian and cultural critic. A former editor of Texte zur Kunst and co-publisher of Spex magazine, Holert currently lives in Berlin and teaches and conducts research in the Institute of Art Theory and Cultural Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. He contributes to journals and newspapers such as Artforum, Texte zur Kunst, Camera Austria, Jungle World, and Der Standard. Among his recent publications are a book on migration and tourism (Fliehkraft: Gesellschaft in Bewegung—von Migranten und Touristen, with Mark Terkessidis), a monograph on Marc Camille Chaimowicz’ 1972 installation “Celebration? Realife” (2007) and a collection of chapters on visual culture and politics (Regieren im Bildraum, 2008).


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