Against Good Common Sense or - the Value of Labour

Root Event

4. Werkleitz Biennale real[work]
Against Good Common Sense or - the Value of Labour

Everybody talks about work. I can’t even except myself from the notorious use of this word. The gross amount of all activities is simply termed “work”, the self-employed creator of culture can allow himself that.

Franz Schandl has rightly asked, whether we even know what we are talking about, when we speak of work. The German language alone impedes understanding, due to the fact that it does not differentiate between “work” and “labour” as in English. Schandl argues further, “Against common sense, we must keep in mind: work is a market-related activity with the purpose of exploitation”. Thus work would be a necessity for modern Homo Oeconomicus, work determines capital and vice versa. Is that also the case in the hemispheres of The New Economy? Capital seems to accumulate on its own, the employees in the services sector ensure the free traffic of information, human productivity stands on the shelf like so many old commodities for rationalisation. The problem with work then, is not that it restricts our freedom, rather that, under the law of merit it doesn’t exist any more, at least not there, where it was until now. “In the future, work will be seen as something which one does, and not something which one has.” (Klotz)

Maurizio Lazzarato calls this “mass intellectualisation”. Since the beginning of the 70s, doing manual labour has involved intellectual activities more and more, “while at the same time the new communications technologies demand subjectivities, which require a great deal of knowledge. (…) Be subjects - that is how the instruction reads which has become the slogan of Western Society” (Lazzarato). The knowledge of the workforce of the information society would become relevant capital, the classic dependencies are turning into their opposites. Neal Stephenson envisions in his cyberpunk bestseller Snow Crash the nervousness of a crude entrepreneur:

“When I have a programmer working under me who is working with that information, he is wielding enormous power. Information is going into his brain. And it’s staying there. It travels with him when he goes home at night. It gets all tangled up into his dreams, for Christ’s sake. He talks to his wife about it. And, goddamn it, he doesn’t have any right to that information. If I was running a car factory, I wouldn’t let the workers drive the cars home or borrow tools. But that’s what I do at five o’clock each day, all over the world, when my hackers go home from work.”

Typically, software developers and engineers in the companies of the information and telecommunications industry are considered to be “artists”: ingenious inventors of technical solutions, who do not subject themselves to the rules of industrially planned production processes or the profit expectations of the enterprise, and they often do not even attach the desired importance to the expectations of the customers” (Baukrowitz and Boes).
That doesn’t matter. The style of deregulated work models paired with the ambience of innovation, creativity, individuality, orientation towards the future, stands at the very top of the secret list of marketing rhetoric - copied down by those, namely “artists”, who don’t have the problem of being without work, but rather necessarily exist without money.
And the others? Will the 4 million unemployed in Germany ever enjoy the benefits of being retrained as hackers? Industrial society answers beyond the rhetorical question. As long as the evaluation of work is bound to the logic of exploitation - against common sense, we must keep in mind: he who has no work, has in fact nothing to do.

The crisis of “western civilisation”, plagued by self-aggression in the late stages of capitalism is fundamental enough, so that nobody has yet managed to gain an overall view of things. The conditionality of human activity described by Hannah Arendt dodges the national borders of each and every ideology. This time there is no external - such a thing never existed.
Thus, the search for answers remains feverish. Where no answers exist, one questions further. No doubt, in order to calm oneself down. But perhaps the formulation of questions will ever improve, which expressed cinematically would mean the attempt to change the perspectives.

This stimulation could act, at least here, as the subtitle to the film- and video programs of real[work].

Schandl, Franz: Das Heldenlied der Arbeit steht vor seinem Abgesang. Frankfurter Rundschau 27.4.2000

Klotz, Ulrich im Gespräch mit Ina Hönicke: Hierarchien sind die wahren Ideenkiller. Frankfurter Rundschau 3.4.2000

Lazzarato, Maurizio: Immaterielle Arbeit, in: Umherschweifende Produzenten. Berlin 1998, S. 40 - 42

Stephenson, Neal: Snow Crash. New York 1992, S. 116

Baukrowitz, Andrea und Boes, Andreas: Ein neuer Arbeitskrafttyp entsteht. Frankfurter Rundschau 2.3.2000