Bernard Stiegler

Relational Industry and The Economy of Contribution

Industrial welder © Creative Commons

The current Fordist model of the product-consumer, established in the 19th century and developed in the 20th century, is paving the way for a third phase of industrial capitalism. This is what the philosopher Bernard Stiegler calls the «hyper-industrial period» and coins the terms «intangible economy» or «knowledge industry.» New relational technologies are at the core of this revolution, and they rely on self-production and indexing (on the network), this establishes new social relations based on a logic input. The contributing figure emerges like a major economic player who is an amateur in the world of culture, comprising of this typology. The contribution of this new economy carries over the metamorphoses of work, including a reaffirmation of a libidinal economy that sustains the dissolution of boundaries between work and «life outside of work.»

Bernard Stiegler is a philosopher and specialist of mutations due to technological development. He is head of the Centre Pompidou’s Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation (IRI).

Excerpts from a talk by Bernard Stiegler in 2007 on the occasion of the Entretiens du nouveau monde industriel at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, published in Le design de nos existences à l’époque de l’innovation ascendante, Éditions Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2008. 



Three convictions regarding the new industrial world

The first conviction is that We live more than ever in an industrial world, and that the pernicious myth of what has been called the “post-industrial” society is at last behind us. We have witnessed ever more radical and rapid transformations in our time, and this process of permanent innovation, constituting an extraordinarily new and strange phenomenon with regard not only to history, to proto-history, but also to prehistory of humanity – which we call modernisation – is more than ever industrial. It is the age of an industry of services such that industrialisation affects henceforth life in its totality, the most diverse social relations and mental activity in every possible corner. I have called it the hyper-industrial eraBernard Stiegler, De la misère symbolique. À l’époque hyperindustrielle, Paris, Galilée, 2004..

My second conviction is that we move to an industrial world. The world that we have left was based on a productivist model that was put into place in the nineteenth century, one that was enhanced in the twentieth century as an organised industry based on a consumerist model:  Fordism, which had brought this productivist-consumer organisation to a state of perfection, was founded on assembly line work and on mass media. Breaking with an tradition dominated by similar cultural industries, the new industrial world is what has emerged from what we have called in turn the “information society”, the “knowledge society”, the “industry of knowledge” and the “economy of the immaterial”. Whether these qualifications are adequate or not is a vast question that remains open; I have in fact addressed these questions elsewhereOn the immaterial, see Économie de l’hypermatériel et psychopouvoir, Mille et une nuits. 2008, and on what François Fillon called the « bataille de l’intelligence », Prendre soin. De la jeunesse et des générations, Flammarion, 2008..

My third conviction is that the excess of the product-consumer model – which now reaches from all sides its own systemic limits, confirming what René Passet had put forward 28 years agoRené Passet, L’Économique et le Vivant, Paris, Economica, 1979.– is so essential to the appearance of a new type of relational technologies. These relational technologies appeared at the heart of the most recent level of the product-consumer society, leading to what Jeremy Rifkin called “cultural capitalism”. But they carry a relational potential that breaks with product-consumer organisation since they are based on a functional opposition between two instances that form it: the producer and the consumer.

In Jeremy Rifkin’s model, mass media exploits analogic relational technologies that capture  conscious time by “providing” time from a standardised experience (like a television or radio programme, but also like tourist industries and those of “leisure”). But these typical relational technologies of the twentieth century provide connection time that is also interaction time –  which constitutes in this way a new type of techno-logical relational experience. [...]

Exceeding the product consumer model

At the beginning of the 21st, which we have entered into facing so many surprises, the over-riding emotion is one of great instability – above and beyond the date of 11 September that, in one day, would shock the world for a very long time. And yet, it is certainly not terrorism that constitutes the most disturbing fact of this beginning of the century, one that is also a new millenium. It is the potential of instability, of which we are feeling the increasing effects, that comes from a systemic mutation on a much deeper scale. I maintain that this is bringing us towards a third period of our industrial societies.

In this regard, our first hypothesis is that we are entering into a third period of industrial capitalism where the production & consummation opposition tends to become secondary, that is to say no longer carrying the dynamism of a dynamic system that is industrial capitalism. [...]

The new industrial relations, beginning from new social relationships in the hyper-industrial and hyper-material society, will be more and more on the level of the contribution – from where the actors will tend to infiltrate the sealed border that separates the producers from the consumers. [...] 

The new industrial relations establishing these social relationships will be made possible by collaborative technologies. The figure of the contributor, of which the connoisseur in the world of art and culture is a specific example [...] carries on from what André GorzAndré Gorz, Métamorphoses du travail, Paris, Gallimard, « Folio-Essais », 2004. called the metamorphoses of work. But what concerns work also concerns life outside work: in reality this separation becomes more blurry when the opposition between production and consumption seems to fade.

Our second common hypothesis is that the renewal of the figure of the connoisseur and the correlating emergence of the economy of the contribution was made possible not only by a strong desire of the populace--and in particular the youth who no longer only want to consume--but also by the deployment of digital relational technologies that break down the opposition between production and consumption by providing methods of autoproduction, as well as from the indexing of the world wide web where new types of networks are woven  from “social networks”. Our belief is that the concretisation and the systemic cristallisation of this revolution will lead to an industrial economy of contribution. [...]

This is always how great transformations have taken place: “on the back of the conscience” as Hegel said, and “on doves’ feet”, added Nietzsche. Let’s remember here that the world of culture finds itself in a position of avant-garde vis-à-vis the industrial society that invents it. [...]

Rising innovation, a new age of design

To design in the age of contribution, in the age of an economic and contributory industrial model--one whose new figures of connoisseurs would form an avant garde with the artistic world--is in the first instance to share the capacity to design, to conceive, with those who were previously called clients and who, having become contributors, participate in the forming of a round so that it becomes a fertile spiral rather than a vicious circle. This implies first of all that one must go beyond the linear sequence that starts from conception in the broad sense (from research to design, passing through research, development and ergonomy, etc) to distribution. It is not about significantly modifying the division of labour and its organisation, i.e., management: it is about overturning nature, even the relationship between the direct and indirect actors of the total industrial framework, putting, in a way, the external elements in the centre. [...]

The new praxis and its utopia

The training of the contributor as an economic actor (as its ideal type is the connoisseur) is, in effect, a reaffirmation of the libido and a reinvention of its economy, which ends up being ruined by methods of capturing and of the misappropriation of marketingI tried to describe the causes and effects of this destruction in Mécréance et discrédit and in De la misère symbolique.: the contributor is he or she who reaffirms the necessity to construct a long-lasting libidinous economy, if I may say so, and who constructs it themselves. They don’t wait for the industrial society to construct it for them. [...]

The development of computer technology, of audiovisual and of telecommunications converging in the digital world constitutes a new level of reproductibility as it becomes accessible to almost everyone at little or no cost, suddenly allowing all sorts of actors to have access to functions that were once only open to professionals. [...]

If we pause for a moment to review what has been put forward here, we see that we are witnessing a transformation of the industrial conditions of transformation by the appearance on the one hand of transformational technologies and on the other by a modality of distribution of the roles between transformers where the recipient of the transformations is no longer he or she who--as it was for the client--undergoes all these transformations, but rather that they become on the contrary a recipient as well, that is to say a transformator. The challenge of the new industrial world is therefore the invention of a circuit of generalised transformation, or rather a reticular network of circuits that carry out this generalised transformation. 

Translated from French by Orhan Memed

(This article was published in Stream 02 in 2012.)