Adam has an interesting post up asking what happened to Negri and Hardt.
Now on the home stretch of exam prep, I am going back through Empire and find myself wanting to reread it “for real” sometime soon, now that I’ve finally read many more of the works they’re referencing. I have long thought that the supposed “disproof” of their theses by the events after 9/11 was a little too easy, and reviewing the opening sections on the new configuration of sovereignty, I’m much more inclined to argue that they were describing a transition that is real and that the Bush administration is continuing. Indeed, their analyses of the politics of fear, of the new ambiguous status of war, of the use of the blanket term “terrorism,” etc., etc., all seem to directly anticipate the post-9/11 climate, to be more plausible now than they were then.
Adam asks, “what happened to Hardt and Negri?” An interesting question; the current lack of interest in them is rather surprising, given that Empire was and is pretty much entirely correct. I was reminded of this by a post on ads without products, in which:
When it gets to the stuff that lies outside of the so-called “information economy” – when it comes to the relatively minor items like a roof over your head or food on the table or a stable income, I’ll be damned if I can see how non-market social-sharing systems are going to help a whole lot.
Now this is right and, as the post and comments emphasize, open source is no threat to capitalism. But the important point of Hardt and Negri’s analysis of immaterial labor is to look at this the other way round; it’s not that open source will provide us with food and housing, but that the things that deprive us of food and housing are increasingly overlapping with issues of control over information. The science of biofuels and genetically modified corn are immaterial components in the current very material food shortages; likewise, new forms of finance capital are the immaterial specificities of the sub-prime mortgage crisis that is kicking people out of their homes. On international politics, Empire remains accurate, too; indeed, the discussion of the role of nuclear weapons in making all wars in Empire interminable could have been written to describe the choice between Hilary “Bomb Iran” Clinton and Barack “Bomb Pakistan” Obama.
The quote from ads without products strikes me as particularly stupid, as the discussion about immaterial labor was never about how suddenly immaterial labor is going to solve all of our problems or that material labor has ceased to be important or critical. Rather, in good Marxist fashion, Negri and Hardt look for those sites within our social and historical situation where change and resistance might be possible. Not only is the control of information one of the ways in which we are controlled today, but with technologies such as the internet, we also have new means of organizing that cross national boundaries and are very difficult to control through traditional statist means.
I basically got pushed back into rereading Negri and Hardt for an article that was requested from me on Deleuze (those requesting the article were very specific as to what they wanted, asking for a discussion of Autonomia and Negri and Hardt as well). The experience has been surprising. The first time I read Negri and Hardt years ago, I found myself neither wildly impressed nor dismissive. Their work just sort of slid of my back. This time around I’ve found myself deeply impacted by their work. Indeed, it seems to me that they’re more relevant and accurate than ever. Perhaps something has changed in me, perhaps something in the world situation. I don’t know. I’d be curious to know what happened to them as well.
The critiques I have heard– 9/11, criticisms of immaterial labor, etc –strike me as either missing the argument or missing the manner in which Marxist cultural analysis is deployed, i.e., through an analysis of dominant tendencies within a historical situation. Marx could have been pilloried for example the same reasons that Negri and Hardt are pilloried about immaterial labor: by critics pointing out the underveloped nature of capitalism and factory labor during his time. Nor do I see it as an either/or. There’s nothing about discussing the central role of immaterial labor that diminishes or excludes material labor and its importance. Moreover, it seems to me that the failure of the war in Iraq and the growing collapse of the American economy lend some credence to what Negri and Hardt argue about the demise of the nation state (again these are processes, not all or nothing observations). While the Iraq war looked like a return to imperial models, what it in fact shows is the last desperate and dying gasp of the imperial model, or the inability of even the most powerful military state to unilaterally impose its will in a global world. The only critique I’ve heard that somewhat hits the mark is that their proposals at the end of Empire are rather vague and undefined. Voyou argues that Negri and Hardt are too overtly political and this is why they’ve been rejected, but I don’t see this as they offer very little in the way of a concrete program. Of course, in the Marxist tradition, the role of the social theorist isn’t to propose what changes are to be made or to provide a model of the state, but to immanently locate those tendencies from whence change might emerge. Moreover, others in the Autonomia school such as Virno deal with these issues more explicitly.
At any rate, I’d be very interested in hearing what others think. What, if anything, happened to Negri and Hardt?