Graeber critiques Vulgar Foucault & ANT

Universalizing elite perspective is the characteristic danger of an anti-sociological philosophy.

“Vulgar Foucauldianism came to dominate so many ostensibly oppositional academic disciplines at the time—came to enshrine the particular class experiences of the professional-managerial class as universal truths: that is, a world of networks and networking, where games of power create social reality itself, all truth-claims are merely stratagems, and where mechanisms of physical coercion are made to seem irrelevant (even as they became ever more omnipresent) because all the real action is assumed to take place within techniques of self-discipline, forms of performance, and an endless variety of dispersed and decentered flows of influence. As a description of academic life, or for that matter professional life in general, such descriptions are often spot on. But it’s not what life is like for most people on earth and never has been. Indeed, the very fact that it was being posed not as a type of class experience but as a universal truth (in fact the only universal truth, since all others are denied) demonstrates just how wrong-headed the tendency, at this time, to dismiss older forms of ideology really was…

“Vulgar Foucauldianism simultaneously developed the subjective experience of professional-managerial work arrangements as the basis for a universal principle of human sociality, and denied the central importance of either capitalism, or the threat of direct physical violence, at exactly the moment the threat of direct physical violence was becoming central to the operation of capitalism.

But the same effacement can be observed even in those approaches that most loudly claimed to be doing the opposite. Proponents of actor-network theory, for instance, insist that they were “doing the work” of unearthing the connections that were simply presumed by theorists of “the social.” But in reality what ANT mainly does is translate academic politics into the very constitutive principle of reality. ”

— Graeber 2014. Anthropology and the rise of the professional-managerial class.

http://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau4.3.007/1651

“Radicalism is not a form of experience. Once the foundation of real experience has been abandoned, a hierarchy of radicalism rises above it. This can be surpassed, it would appear, only by further radicalism. A mystical constellation is formed that can be overcome only by doing away with the inverted relation between the two levels of radicalism—in other words, by going back to experience itself. When Marx says that being radical means nothing more than getting hold of things by their roots, and that the root of a human being is the human being, it becomes clear that radicalism in analysis and struggle can only be intensified downward. It is a bourgeois reflex to process it upward, toward ideas, platforms, and authorities. The only reliable means of penetrating this veil is the “materialist instinct” of the masses. In fact, this instinct acts like an emergency brake in bringing the entire train to a halt, as is proved in the case of all counterrevolutions.” –Negt & Kluge 1993 Public Sphere and Experience: 93.

 “In those areas of society where this hybrid of proletarian interests and universal, ubiquitous bourgeois norms of organization develops, it is no longer possible to speak simply of a bourgeois public sphere. It is decaying in these areas, but it still exists in this decayed state. The type of proletarian public sphere that has developed by using bourgeois organizational forms not only binds together real proletarian interests and experiences but concentrates them into a specific stage of a proletarian public sphere. This sphere distinguishes itself from the bourgeois in its external forms—the workers’ association, the working-class housing estate, and the trade union.

 At this level, proletarian interests participate in the movement of society.

Insofar as they do, this is not a mere semblance but real participation. Not only can the apologists of the existing system point to this fact, but the workers themselves rightly see some of their demands thereby fulfilled while regarding others as promises for the future, as granted in principle. This assumption is not a total delusion. Their interests have in reality been incorporated into the social context of living—as they will also be in the future programming and consciousness industry—but they are incorporated as merely objective interests, as the satisfaction of reified needs. The integration begins with the fact that their marriages are modeled on the bourgeois family; that they employ the language and culture of bourgeois society; that they have to frequent institutions or organizations—generally centralized ones—to maintain this status quo. This results in an aporia: they are unable to abandon this manifestation of the proletarian public sphere that restricts them to a passive standpoint, for if they did they would have to cut themselves off from their experiences and interests that have been organized by it and have taken on its forms. But neither are they able, on the other hand, to maintain this state of affairs. They remain blind to the laws of the movement of capital and the whole historical process if they simply try to maintain the status quo defensively— even if defense appears to be their strength. At the least sign of crisis or of a change in the status quo—for instance, through additional political repression— this state of affairs, which has been accepted as stable, works to the disadvantage of the workers. They become the object of redistribution or the more the mere raw material in the process of social exploitation.” –Negt & Kluge

 

What’s interesting to me about Negt & Kluge‘s social-philosophical/antisociological (anti-comparative) formulation is that when they—rarely– try to give examples of their idealist assertions—eg. asserting that a bourgeois marriage standard is carried by the working class, they fly far apart from empirical reality—particularly outside of the notable core social democratic failures of the German-speaking Catholic conservative states and the English-speaking bourgeois states. Even in Anglo-American states, feminists observe that the single-parent household is the family form of poverty under capitalism.

As is so often the problem in English-language societies, our abstractions are borrowed from the German (often via the French), and so they, and our analytical apparatus are rooted in their very particular geopolitical position and historical accidents.

Nowhere is sociology, particularly comparative empiricism, more important than in societies that have to borrow their philosophy from other societies. It becomes a check on abstraction excesses in accounts of the social.

Bibliography

Zamora, D. 2016. “Michel Foucault, Neoliberalism…” In These Times.

U Chicago’s Critical Inquiry used to have Becker & Ewald’s lecture/discussion on Foucault posted. But they removed it.

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Leadership Cultures

Managerial theory shifts over time. From a Sociological perspective, however, I would like to know, How does cultural difference produce managerial conflicts?

Here I start with the research assumption that managerial culture may combine with individual psychology to produce variations in managerial approaches, but that these variations tend to cluster within cultural communities. That is, there is more variation across cultures than amongst individuals within cultures.

As a sociologist, I would hypothesize that there are significant differences in managerial style across different groups, or cultures, of people, and that these would fall along cultural differences associated with gender and regional socialization.

And from a political sociology perspective, I would extend the research question: How might such cultural conflicts inform some interpretations of Anglo-American electoral politics, in a context in which managerialism is a central organizational form of life, particularly work?

Case Study: Regional and gendered managerial culture clashes in a Midwestern recreational vehicle manufacturing business

A Midwestern US recreational vehicle manufacturing business, we’ll call it Kisyinewmistatim, is an unusual business. It was founded by county business leaders in the late 1950s to provide economic stabilization in a low-amenity region of the US that serves as a source of agricultural land rents to finance, and consequently bleeds wealth and population. In the 21st century, Kisyinewmistatim has been charged by its Board of Directors to convert its mainframe to Microsoft Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) business systems management software, a massive undertaking.

Why convert to the ERP system? The current mainframe system is built around the considerable human intelligence of the workers who put the rec vehicles together, and the fixed capital that goes into production is managed around that intelligence core. This leaves too much fixed capital unemployed or even depreciating, where the current industrial norms are just-in-time factor supply. With the ERP systems coordination software, ideally, a) the intelligence required to run the system can be extracted like rents from the workers to the Microsoft software, and in so doing, b) the fixed capital, or non-human factors of production can be cost-optimized, and the variable capital, or the human intelligence of the workers, can be converted from a central pivot of the enterprise to a flexible marginal role, thereby allowing a shift to higher profits and greater returns to shareholders.

After a $30M initial failure, the company spends another $13M to try again.

To manage the second attempt at the conversion, a statuesque female project manager is brought in from the outside, and from a more-affluent, more liberal, more urban nearby state. She manages the integration for over a year. Along the way in this difficult conversion, as you might imagine, she comes to clash with two executive directors at Kisyinewmistatim.

The first clash is with the executive director of shop floor rec vehicle assembly. He is a man from a slaver state, Arkansas. He flat refuses to communicate or cooperate with the project manager, simply screaming at and berating her and talking her down to others. The male manager from the slaver region explicitly accuses the conversion project manager of being insufficiently “hard,” that is, insufficiently male and authoritarian to cooperate with.

The second is the project manager’s boss, a male IT executive with an explosive temper. He is in a cultural clash with the shop floor exec director. The two execs spend a lot of time performatively, publicly declaring their compatibility; but they spend even more time clashing and not cooperating in meetings. Neither the shop floor exec or her IT boss will listen to the Project Manager. While their regional cultures of management differ, they share the managerial conviction that such a conversion project requires simple top-down fiat command, rather than coordination and listening and responding to feedback and information from lower-rank workers.

How is the Project Manager to survive this situation? Working with people who will cooperate her, she manages the conversion of almost all the systems to the new Microsoft software system. There is one particularly-tricky switch-over that will require a few extra months to work out. But her boss refuses. He screams at her, gives her a raise, and demotes her. The last conversion piece will still require a few extra months to work out, as it is a structural issue.

The Project Manager assesses that for the new Microsoft system to work will still require shop floor workers who understand how to build recreational vehicles to use their knowledge to cobble gaps in the system together. As other studies have shown, where the product must function in the physical world, such as with automobiles, marketing cannot hide that managerial-surveillance software systems cannot replace the role of worker intelligence in making (cf Scarry 1985). Only where the product has non-physical qualities, such as in education, can marketing suffice to hide the limits of capitalist machines’ capacity to contribute to making.

The managerial culture question before us is: What do the silent expectations inscribed by culture mean for the interpretation of competent management, as well as individuals’ propensity to communicate and cooperate?

In the Kisyinewmistatim example above, we can see that both gender and regional origin supplied the content of the executive management actors’ understanding of competent management, as well as their propensity to communicate and cooperate. Their masculine and inegalitarian cultural constructions of managerialism include:
1) The manager should be male.
2) The manager should declare orders, using a concussive male voice.
3) Where the orders cannot be satisfied by lower-ranking workers, those workers are to be constructed as embodiments of failure. The workers bear non-ideal conditions.
4) The manager does not listen to lower-ranking workers about conditions impacting work goals.
5) Top managers publicly affirm each other.

Yet, we know from the voluminous managerial literature, these are not the central decisions and skills that managers should be exercising to ensure organization goals are achieved. Rather, TBC…

Political Sociology extension:

How might such cultural conflicts inform some interpretations of Anglo-American electoral politics, in a context in which managerialism is a central organizational form of life, particularly work?

Now let’s consider managerialism as a habitus that proliferates in regions that manage global production and reproduction systems. For people for whom managerialism is a normal mode of coordination, what constitutes leadership? My hypothesis is that leadership is conceived in managerial terms.

Therefore, in an election in a managerialist economy (such as a financialized economy), political leaders may be imagined and evaluated by the criteria associated with different managerial cultures.

Thus, we may understand interpretrations of Clinton/Biden/Democrat Party v. Trump/Republican Party leadership aptitude and performance, for example, as arguments for and against contrasting managerial cultures.

TBC…

Yet is it appropriate to reduce capitalist countries’ political executive to a managerial role? How valid is the construction of political executives as managers, and governance as managerial style or culture?

TBC…

For consideration on intersections between the managerial interpretation of politics and the militarized interpretation of politics: Berlet, C. & Lyons, M.N. 1998. “Repression and ideology: Reflections on the legacy of discredited centrist/extremist theory.”

Post-secondary public education mining services

The Chronicle for Higher Education would not let me post this response to a 2018 article advertising edu-software:

“Won’t Someone Please Think of the Children” (WoSPThoC) is the most effective frame in which to market digital education and labor surveillance technology, and I can recognize a resonant, gendered application of moral discourse on behalf of American managerial talent’s competitive position in that dynamic international software market.

I am disappointed, however, when there’s a wasted marketing opportunity to overlap WoSPThoC with Anti-Racism TM and Positive Psychology. Anti-Racism TM has been deployed effectively in previous and concurrent Anglo-American welfare budget privatizations, K-12 privatizations, and in the development of militarized Open Borders-carceral labour markets, while newer Positive Psychology enjoins everyone to be their very best selves, extend their credit, and cooperate fully with private property and its paternal guardians.

We should not miss opportunities for discursive reinforcement in a booming market such as post-secondary education budget mining. I would like to suggest my innovative advisory, consultant, and Influencer expertise to any post-sec market development team that may be monitoring this promotional spot.

Dysfunction-function junction

“Hamilton-Paterson sees the destructive impact of the ‘money men’ on industries more clearly. The catastrophic and unnecessary fate of ICI (which broke the hearts of some of my own chemical-engineering relatives) came about as men and women with long shop-floor experience and technical qualifications were pushed out of management by newcomers who claimed to be financial wizards. They weren’t. They played the great corporation for short-term stock-market gains, and they lost.

Hamilton-Paterson adds the example of Network Rail’s bungled electrification of Great Western (its cost rose in two years from £874 million to £2.8 billion). ‘That’s privatisation for you: layers upon layers of managers and accountants who know nothing about railways. The old British Rail alternative was layers upon layers of experienced railwaymen who knew nothing about accountancy but who did know exactly what electrifying a line entailed and simply got on and did it.’ Later in his book, he attacks the notion (‘holy writ’ today) that a college degree in management enrols one in a portable profession in which it hardly matters what a company does.”

Neal Ascherson, “As the toffs began to retreat” LRB 40(22).

If your goal is to play the institution housing an accretion of wealth–the corporation, or the privatized public good/service–for stock-market gains, then it very much doesn’t ever matter if you accomplish any substantive social or environmental goals.

“People talk easily about political ‘consensus’ in the postwar years. Edgerton disagrees. There was no lasting consensus between the parties on the welfare state, he says, and the idea of a ‘Butskellism’ common to Labour and Tory is a myth. Only for the ‘warfare state’ was there a consensus, to keep its secrets and to pay its vast bills. Britain’s hugely profitable arms trade is an enduring by-product of that state, and here Hamilton-Paterson contributes an unsettling thought. ‘It is the arms industry perhaps more than any other that best preserves the inventive standards and traditions of British engineering, research and technical expertise.’”–Ascherson

The How & Why of Privatization Touts

At the Ivies, the students are instructed by only the most high-status, most fail-tastic privatization marketeers (AKA conservative economists) that only the best-funded gentlemen’s networks can float.

How privatization and class warfare is sold to future US leadership: with lies, covering obscene kleptocracy and its further socialized costs.

Note: Larry Summers may have long since lost his royal Harvard throne, but not just because of his sexism (the putative cause) and racist ecological imperialism (There’s that too.), or even just being an evil overlord of the rampant social, economic and environmental mega-destruction that is neoliberalism. Rather, his Harvard departure is likely due to this: Summers decided to use Harvard funds to pay the costs (The US Justice Department fined Shleifer $26.5 million) of Andrei Shleifer’s massive kleptocratic privatization profiteering in post-communist Russia.

Yee-ha! Good ole fancy boys! Creme de la…uh… I’m guessing Summers himself has enjoyed many, many such back-scratching indulgences over the years, and it’s all par for the course for that highly-oiled and polished ruling mafioso. What was that? Did someone mention Goldman Sachs owns the Fed and the US government? You don’t say. Now what were we talking about? Berlusconi?

Harvard University: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.

State Terror: SOCOM

“Whereas the late scholar of militarism Chalmers Johnson used to refer to the CIA as “the president’s private army,” today JSOC performs that role, acting as the chief executive’s private assassination squad, and its parent, SOCOM, functions as a new Pentagon power-elite, a secret military within the military possessing domestic power and global reach.

 In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.”

Nick Turse on SOCOM “The (US) Military’s Secret Military.”

Strange Fruit: A Nice Kid Savagely, "Legally" Cut Down

Young Treyvon Martin was hunted down and murdered in cold blood because ALECNRA machine-written law, in the context of the undead slave society legal and cultural tradition within the US, identifies all black male activity (including even walking to and from a convenience store to buy a box of Skittles) as a “threat” that legally can be “met with deadly force.”

That’s right. We find that our corporate overlords (including Walmart), via their venal, despicable ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), have been going from state to state, flogging the legalization of hunting neighborhood black children (The Castle Doctrine Act/ Stand Your Ground law. Yes, it is not a coincidence that the legislation titles sound like they were written by a penis. The Little King strategy). Corrupt policy for an apartheid military society.

Look, this is clearly a case where liberals should be in there, taking on the conservative corporate warlords. The ALEC / NRA legislation is nothing more than Klan policy in a Jim Crow country.

“You live in a country where your son can get A’s and B’s in high school, be well liked by his teachers, never get in trouble with the law, and run out to buy a snack during the NBA All Star Game, and never come home…because someone decides he has the right to execute your son…That’s the country you live in, if you are black in America” Lawrence O’Donnell.

The rotten-hearted US, devoid of the union strength required to set a brake on and break a corporate-feudal law that elaborates itself as a greasy film of excuses for abominations against humanity.


Likewise, ‎”Florence, an African-American, was driving with his pregnant wife and four-year-old son in March 2005 when he was pulled over by a New Jersey state trooper. He was arrested on a bench warrant for an unpaid fine. The warrant had been cancelled two years earlier after the fine was paid, but it had never been removed from the police data system. Florence was taken away in handcuffs and spent the next six days at the Burlington County Detention Center, where he was ordered to undress, sprayed with a delousing agent and inspected for contraband and gang tattoos. He spent an additional day at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, where he was stripped and ordered to squat and cough, a maneuver designed to eject anything hidden in the rectum. Brought before a magistrate, he was released without charge.” 
The anti-democratic Supreme Court says, “no problem”.

The militarized NYC police “elite gun unit” has been outed for systematically treating black people, and black people alone “like animals,” as policy. 

“They didn’t care if it was kids in there, they didn’t care if it was women in there, naked women,” the detective said. “. . . They treated them as if they had no rights whatsoever. It was disgusting.” 

“What white American majorities have been collectively attempting to redeem for the past 40 years, is a White Man’s Country. That’s why they have voted Republican in presidential elections since 1968, with Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy. That’s why, in the wake of the Black Freedom Movement of the Sixties, white electorates in every state put in office politicians that methodically constructed an overwhelmingly non-white Prison Gulag that now warehouses 1 out of every 4 incarcerated persons on the planet, half of them African American. That’s the essential truth of Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow, under which Blacks are criminalized as a people in order to return them to the status of a subjugated class. 

The Stand Your Ground-like laws that have been enacted by more than two-dozen states are very public manifestations of unreconstructed white nationalism on the offensive.”


I don’t look at the Right wing blogotwitterosphere. That’s a pastime for others, and not my schtick. But I am somewhat interested in how the Right cannot effectively spin the spate of state terror unleashed on innocent black people these days. I did happen to stumble upon one conservative comment thread trying desperately to damage-control spin the topic of Martin’s murder. The political tack that the conservative tweeter was trying to flog was this: “The Left (which hesheit calls “neoliberals”–either for obfuscation purposes if hesheit is a paid conservative dittohead, or because hesheit is honestly politically clueless) has politicized the Martin murder. Good people will simply see Martin’s murder as an inexplicable act of God, not think, and just sadly FEEL the unaccountable tragedy, and then quietly walk away, nothing to see here folks, get back to your workstations.” 
So you, Little Lord Faunteleroy, declare it’s exploitative, it’s impossible, it’s wrong to both feel and think. To start, I gotta alert you, junior. The Right, though they believe they are the only humans, actually do not have a monopoly on feeling bad at the death of boys. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence, historical and contemporary, that conservatives’ feelings are shockingly absent at the death of black boys; and the Left, the thinking, political Left, is decidedly more human, more feeling in this regard. 
Not only that surprising fact, but also: Someone let the politicization out of the bag a loooong time ago, Twinkles: Hence the NRA, ALEC, their Castle/Stand Your Ground political campaign to militarize American civil society, as well as the similarly elite, antidemocratic use of constitutional law to allow wealth to dominate politics and to give free reign to state terror. That’s all political, Virginia. And it’s politics that results in political corruption, economic pillaging, brutality, state terror…and murder. Are you still telling us to stop feeling and thinking together? I’ve got to wonder what’s wrong with you.
This conservative schtick did not seem to be getting much traction (not much of a conservative yes-men choral response) on-line, leading me again to believe that this tweeter is an unpaid conservative tool. (Or conservatives are just completely busted on selling their brutal polity achievements these days.) [UPDATE: No. This nothing-to-see-here/back-to-your-workstations conservative gambit was reproduced for a mass audience…by The Daily Show (Larry Wilmore & Jon Stewart), in April 2012. It should be noted that The Daily Show positions itself as a “fair & balanced” liberal political commentator. See here and here for analyses of conservative liberalism.]

I do have one thing to say to unpaid conservative internet trolls:

If you are attempting to flog conservative dogma, and you don’t get a piece of Koch’s prodigious black gold accumulated and reserved precisely for such a commercial service (as protected by the antidemocratic SCOTUS), then you need to examine your life, son. There’s a term for someone who does unpaid work for a wealthy, freeloading tyrant who could easily pay for the labor…No wait. A slave wants freedom, but is brutally constrained. Something (self-)objectified, that is dedicated to be used by a boss, that aspires neither to commodification nor freedom, well now that is specifically a tool. A tool, son. We all know what the Limbaughs, Malkins, and Palins are doing: Paying for the estates, the nannies, the Manolo Blahniks, the Mercedes-Benz SUVs, and the Viagra stash, working for a massive, high-rent industry. The question is: What are you doing, Littlest Hobo King? I’ll tell you what. Since you come so cheap, I need a squire. I’ll pay you  a little above your going rate: a strand of licorice and a gumdrop for your lifelong service. …Or maybe you should consider opening up some books, going to some new places, making some new friends, listening to some different voices, do some reflecting about which side of history you do the free work for. …And for the record, you can keep feeling as well as reflect. It’s a little razzle-dazzle we Leftists like to call being human.

And, conservative pros, good luck with your Right-wing pro-feudal state terror spin. All your dogmatic court and legislative coups spew brutality and crisis. You don’t know how to rule worth a damn.

Researcher Fournier likewise finds a pattern of institutionalized racism in Anglo-American (Canadian) courts (forthcoming, Canadian Criminal Law Review 2012). The courts are lenient on men who kill their families in a fit of “passion”, iff the men are white.