Literature Study GuidesEmpirePart 3 Chapter 4 Summary

Empire | Study Guide

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri

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Empire | Part 3, Chapter 4 : Passages of Production (Postmodernization, or The Informatization of Production) | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • Economic history follows three distinct phases that defined its dominant sectors: (1) agriculture and the extraction of raw materials; (2) industry and the manufacturing of goods; (3) the provision of services and the manipulation of information.
  • The advent of economic industrialization coincided with modernization, and the transition to an industry dominated by information coincided with postmodernization.
  • In a section subtitled "Illusions of Development," the authors suggest that discussion of economic development is often based on false historical analogies. This is because the basis of the discussion is the belief that the economy of all countries follows the same pattern of development, and so countries that lag behind others in terms of economic production are labeled "developing countries." This line of discussion fails to acknowledge that "developed" countries achieve their position because of their "dominant position in the global system."
  • Developed and developing countries occupy a prescribed hierarchy that mutually support one another. This hierarchy will remain no matter how much a developing country grows economically.
  • In a section subtitled "Informatization," the authors opine that modernization and industrialization turned farms into factories, and with this evolution came discipline, technology, and wage stabilization. Industrialization transformed both human relationships and human nature.
  • In current times, modernization has reached its end, indicated by the fact that industrial production is no longer expanding or dominating other forms of economic production.
  • The service economy has replaced industrialization, which translates to increased mobility and flexibility for workers. In countries such as the United States, Britain, and Canada, a service economy model has developed, increasing service-sector jobs. Japan and Germany have focused on info-industrial jobs, in which information serves to reinforce the existing industrial economy.
  • Another effect of postmodernization is that although industrial economies have declined in developed countries, they have merely been exported to developing countries.
  • In a section subtitled "The Sociology of Immaterial Labor," the authors note that the shift to an informational economy signals a shift in the quality and nature of labor.
  • Examples of the differences between the Ford factory and the Toyota factory demonstrate this shift within the auto industry. Ford does not encourage a relationship between production and consumption—there is enough demand that the company does not need to pay attention to what a market desires. For Toyota, production communicates with the consumption market constantly. Cars are only produced in response to existing consumer demand.
  • The labor of the service economy is immaterial since it produces no concrete goods. Rather, it creates a cultural product, knowledge, or communication. Whereas once humans learned to think and act like factory machines, now they increasingly must learn to think like computers. Computers in turn have become a kind of prosthesis for the human mind and offer an opportunity for humans to redefine themselves.
  • Yet a division of labor still occurs within the service economy because the expansion of knowledge-based jobs suggests a correspondence with lower-value jobs such as data entry.
  • Another consequence of informatization of the economy is the notion of abstract labor in which the worker is increasingly distanced from the end product of his or her labor.
  • A final kind of immaterial labor is affective labor, which includes health services and the entertainment industry that also produce something intangible yet commodifiable, such as care and amusement.
  • In a section subtitled "Network Production," the authors point out that one consequence of an informational economy is the decentralization of production. Certain industry sectors can even do away with factory sites as workers are increasingly able to communicate through new informational technologies. Assembly lines have been replaced with networks as a way to organize production. Physical proximity becomes less relevant for communication.
  • Informational labor requires abstract cooperation, in which communication plays a central role even if workers do not know each other outside of said communication.
  • The creation of information networks also means products can reach consumers quickly as a result of just a few keyboard strokes. This creates a kind of "friction-free" capitalism in which information systems act as a smooth go-between. Production and consumption happen in the same virtual place.
  • One consequence of the deterritorialization of production is that it puts workers in a weaker position to bargain. Whereas once capital and its workers were bound to a specific place, both are now free from territory and bargaining. This places workers in a vulnerable position, and in turn the information economy can acquire a weakened workforce made up of freelancers and part-time labor.
  • In a section subtitled "Information Highways," the authors suggest that communication networks require management and structure to ensure production in an informational economy. It is one of the U.S. government's highest priorities to regulate and police this global information infrastructure. An analogy can be made that these networks play the same role as the construction of roads did for the Roman Empire, which led to the expansion and management of imperial territories. The same analogy can be made to the construction of railways in the 19th century. Yet information infrastructure proves intrinsic to the production process rather than merely a route.
  • The Internet is an example of information infrastructure. Because it has no center, it cannot be destroyed even if part of it is attacked. At the same time, because there is no central power, it can be difficult to control.
  • The competition among transnational corporations to create monopolies in a quest to dominate and control arises as another issue with information infrastructure. Although communication technologies hold the possibility of democracy, they also hold the possibility of exclusion.
  • In a section subtitled "Commons," the authors assert that the privatization of public property has been a continuous quest throughout the modern period.
  • The authors posit that today the world participates in a more radical commonality than has ever been experienced before thanks to the advent of communication and social network spaces.
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