From «design capitalism» to cognitive capitalism

  • Publish On 12 January 2017
  • Yann Moulier-Boutang

Art plays the role of a true matrix in cognitive capitalism; says the economist and philosopher Yann Moulier Boutang. Claimed creativity in management dictates the need for autonomy and self-production for «salaried employees» and for businesses alike, which together stand as the creators of a new aesthetic today. This evolution is explained by a global competition that forces an innovation that is permanent, accelerated, constant and is directing entrepreneurs towards economic segments with higher value: the intangible. It was at this threshold between the explicit and implicit, the merchant and the non-profit, and the interactivity of multiple agents, that innovation would be played. Like the analogy of bees in their «reproductive system,» their utility and their price are more related to the pollination of fruits and vegetables to the production of honey.

Yann Moulier Boutang is an economist and essayist. He teaches at the University of Technology of Compiègne, at the Binghamton University of New York, and at Shanghai’s UTSEUS Complexcity laboratory.

[Extracts]

The artistic (and academic) paradigm is becoming increasingly important in the production of goods, services and knowledge. What is the origin of this phenomenon? Is it a fad? Is this an appeal to romantic decorative art, or, as in the heyday of the Second Empire, of another face of industrialization, which combines, in reaction against the «antique» backdrop, functionality,  aesthetic, and taste of a perceived public now defined as such? Is this a variety of industrialization of a field of culture which had hitherto escaped the commodification of digital technologies? Of an industrialization that would leave intact the main parameters?

In our view, the relationship is much more radical and profound. It reflects a new great transformation. The design capitalism involves the prosumer in the individualization of the object. Creativity is required from the various agents at different stages of production (design, quality control, product tracking, intelligent consumption).

[…]

We will begin with an observation: that art and knowledge have become attractors of the industrial world. We then examine the reasons for this transformation. The main reason, in our view, is that art plays the role of a real matrix of what I call the advent of cognitive capitalismYann Moulier Boutang, Le Capitalisme cognitif, la nouvelle grande transformation, Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, 2007. and of a mutation of the true nature of the industrial thanks to the digital age and to technology in fields as varied as the division of labor, compensation, the valuation of intangibles and networks. This transformation is, in my opinion, so important that I tend to emphasize this discontinuity by avoiding even the use the word industrial. It is within this overall framework that we should consider the new contradictions besetting what Bernard Stiegler called the hyper-industrial.

Art and knowledge: attractors of the industrial world

Creativity and inventiveness are the new rules […]

What is new–the true modernity that the postmodern has not affected–is that art becomes not the window dressing of industry but its center of gravity. Industrial capitalism had accepted design as accommodating the basis–the identical repetition allowing for large-scale economies–or function–the value of its use–with the art or decorative form. […] We are seeing what looks like a reversal (announced and performed by contemporary art): the industrial form becomes the base(s) of art within the meaning of two homonyms: substrate or substance and business.

[…]

The creativity that is talked about in manuals on human resource management depends on a generalization of creation, a poetic creation […] The need for autonomy and self-production (from the moral to the management of human capital, to the entrepreneurship of risk taking) are not only «values» of justification and an amazingly functional ideology to the  dissolution of resistance of social bodies in a permanently fluid recombination.

[…]

Companies now see themselves as creators of a world of emotions, of experience, of livingJeremy Rifkin, L’âge de l’accès : la vérité sur la nouvelle économie, Paris, La Découverte, 2000 ; Maurizio Lazzarato, Puissances de l’invention. La psychologie économique de Gabriel Tarde contre l’économie politique, Paris, Les Empêcheurs de tourner en rond, Le Seuil, 2002., in fact, of a new aesthetic. […] Beyond the sphere of marketing, this slide or «artistic turning point» also affects the evaluation of human resources on the side of management, but also from the employee or «provider» of services (when they have their own business) who must internalize a new concept of their «value».

[…] 

The artistic element is a form of the cognitive from the moment we do not reduce knowledge to codified and simplified knowledge and that it is the complex which we have intended. Art is then a privileged mode of access to the complex.

The reasons for the mutation

A word here about the concept of the immaterial and its growing role. For the orthodox economist, the immaterial is the codifiable potential of property rights, i.e., when innovation will be recognized by the market as an asset capable of generating income.

[…]

 Note also that the immaterial (the intangible of the accountants) splits into two types of resources that reveal more and more the new information and communication technologies:  immaterial 1 and immaterial 2.

[…]

 With regard to immaterial at the first level, or immaterial 1, we mean the process of incorporation of the cognitive and of the know-how in the material production accompanied by the issuing of property rights on codified media (patents, copyrights and trademarks). Immaterial at the second level will be understood to be that which surrounds immaterial 1, its halo, the key to a more delicate and more complex process of subordination of the material production of devices to capture innovation.

[…]

 What is revealed by the digital age and the tenacious stupidity of computers is naked intelligence, pure, as an ability to provide new answers to questions unasked and not solutions that were not pre-programmed. It is thus the intelligence and production of knowledge at level 2, those used to make and to designate things we did not know how to do.

[…]

The art matrix of cognitive capitalism

Art is a means to generate attention and also make sense in a society of information and noise.

[…]

Put simply, that which was only a phenomenon of the avant-garde has been standardized. The amateur plays a crucial role in educating the public, the audience; the expert user (prosumer) today co-produces software by reducing the number of bugs, provided the source code is accessible, as is the case in free software. But it is in the constitution of the devices of revelation and of capture of immaterials 2–particularly in the practices of a network of users–that contemporary art has revealed itself to be a carrier of an experience, a know-how that companies have begun to observe in their research and development departments. It is their ability to generate the immaterials of the second level that is now the measure of their capacity to retain intellectual capital.

[…]

We see that it is on the edge between the explicit and the implicit (immaterials 1 and 2), between the merchant and the non-merchant (externalities), where innovation is moving.

[…]

A new paradigm of human activity is taking place.

[…]

 We use the metaphor of bee pollination to characterize the mutation of the concept of productive activity. The economic value of bees comes more from their ability to pollinate crops, especially fruits and vegetables, than of their production of honey (the ratio is 350 to 1).

[…]

If what is worth more today, economically, is the power of differentiation and of innovation, it is by the interactivity of multiple agents and the density of pollination in complex living environments that one sees improvement. The questions of organization of the measurement of creativity, the time when the brain is available, and the employment and business forms become the real challenges. The American sociologist Richard FloridaRichard Florida, The Flight of the Creative Class, The New Global Competition for Talent, New York, Harper Collins, 2006. and the economist Eric von Rippel of MITEric von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation, Harvard, MIT Press, 2005., who strongly question vertical structuring, both highlight that the innovative production systems are those organized by rhizomes, making infinite multiple networks (as in a layering plant) and are bottom up and not top down.

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

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