Care Against Growth [draft]

Draft essay for a talk I’m giving at The Maintainers III in DC on October 7.

Sidewalk Labs’ smart cities project in Quayside, Toronto has become a combination of lodestar and black hole. Almost no element of the project has gone unaddressed and uncritiqued, and rightfully so. From Bianca Wylie’s excoriation of the privacy and governance nightmares endemic to the project,[i] to Shannon Mattern’s reveal of the hollowness of Sidewalk’s community engagement and attempts at ‘co-design’,[ii] to Molly Sauter’s discussion of the colonial aesthetics of the imagery of the project’s renderings.[iii] These critiques are indispensable but my focus in this essay is much smaller in scope—about a meter in diameter, if memory serves.

In a universal project such as Sidewalk’s Quayside, the details betray the whole—and a simple modular paver functions as a cypher revealing a monstrous intentionality. At Sidewalk Labs’ 307 (their “experimental workspace”-slash-guinea pig cage in Toronto),[iv] a wood-construction concept version of this paver is on display. Designed with Carlo Ratti Associati and called “Dynamic Street”[v], the installation allows visitors to get familiar with the system. In the recent Master Innovation and Development Plan (or MIDP), these pavers are intended to be “coupled with open access channels consisting of precast concrete sections, enabling streets and the infrastructure they house to evolve as technology changes”.[vi] The initial idea for the paver was lifted from the French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, Development and Networks, or IFSTTAR. The IFSTTAR version was called, with considerably less hubris, the “Removable Urban Pavement”, or RUP.

Both Sidewalk and IFSTTAR begin as a desire to cut down on on-site labor time necessary to repair a street—an admirable goal. IFSTTAR’s report notes the RUP was intended to allow a street to be “opened and closed within just a few hours using very lightweight site equipment, in restoring the initial street appearance and all its functionalities”.[vii] Similarly, the Dynamic Street, when paired with open access utility channels beneath, “could work as a pair to increase the ease of utility work” and lessen disruption (disruption, the Silicon Valley motto, is now the enemy in this case).[viii] But in the case of the Dynamic Street, replacability is abandoned to “create a streetscape that responds to citizens’ ever-changing needs”.[ix] The focus is less on the street as a stage than as a technological armature, featuring lights, heating, and sensor suites.[x] For Sidewalk, the street and its pavers are a means to a greater end: a city as a blank slate of infinite amenities and infinite control, where capital, as technological progress, can play unimpeded. Technoutopia begins in the destruction of the old mundane, and the simple paver ushers in a world where responsiveness—to bourgeois desires, to capitalist privations—is the rule. “Sidewalk Labs recognizes that this new approach to street systems would require changes to existing regulations and operations,” the MIDP shyly admits.[xi] But the changes Sidewalk describes are seismic shifts. By reconsidering street maintenance not as a laborious process of 20- or 30-year maintenance cycles, but one of von Neumannesque continuous reproduction, urban maintenance is recast as a logistical issue. Logistics has no place for the human subject or its labor, just the expansion of wealth.[xii] To enable the logistical dawn, labor must be made a background process. When labor is invisible, the city seems organic as well as a highly technological artifact, seemingly responding ‘automatically’ to “the emergence of [the] new”[xiii], free to pursue relentless “optimization”.[xiv]

“To work today is to be asked,” Fred Moten and Stefano Harney write, “…to do without thinking, to feel without emotion, to move without friction, to adapt without question, to translate without pause, to desire without purpose, to connect without interruption”.[xv] As Karl Marx wrote, capital considers the worker “when he is not working, as a human being”, but this same sentiment is true while at work as well.[xvi] Logistics is the capitalist systematic, the fever dream of the brain of capital, and its moving parts are caked with blood even as they take on ever more hideous forms.[xvii] The heart of Quayside is not the digital, but the flowing of people and commodities: “an empire which, with its network of pumps, filters, vats and basins, incarnates the Principle of Fluidity… “approaching this horizon, the ideal would be a factory without matter and…without workers!”[xviii] But labor is not a constant in an algorithm or the action of a hollow subject: it is a social relationship, an expression of care. To understand care, we can turn to the experience of unpaid domestic labor.

Maria Puig de la Bellacasa describes care as “a signifier of devalued ordinary labours that are crucial for getting us through the day”. [xix] This labor is often thought of as “domestic”, such as childcare, hospice, and other “embodied practices”, as Monique Lanoix explains, and it is undertaken predominantly by women and people of color.[xx] But care can be a mode of both production and reproduction—it is the ‘personal reason’ to the question “why are you doing that?”. As an unquantifiable quiddity of labor in the abstract, care cuts past the capitalist presentation of labor solely as a wage relation, gesturing instead towards an atavistic understanding of work as a social practice which can and does exist apart from capital but has been captured and commoditized by it.[xxi] It is in the interest of capital to maintain the a singular conception of labor as a wage-relationship which produces value, as we have seen in feminist critiques of unpaid domestic labor and the demand of “wages for housework”. Returning again to de la Bellacasa, capital must be “a sociotechnical assemblage [which] can reinforce asymmetrical relations that devalue caring”.[xxii] Sidewalk’s Quayside fits snugly into this asymmetrical machinery, which we can give another name: capitalist development in and of itself.[xxiii] This system can seem inexorable: Achille Mbembe warns that “[u]nless we reinvent the terms of what counts and in the process resignify what value stands for as well as the procedures of assigning value, of measuring value, of exchanging value, things won’t change”.[xxiv]

“[W]e could imagine physical infrastructures that support ecologies of care — cities and buildings that provide the appropriate physical settings and resources for street sweepers and sanitation workers, teachers and social workers, therapists and outreach agents,” Shannon Mattern writes. To imagine caring infrastructures is to imagine a world for us, far from Quayside and its rabid commoditization of urban life and activity. This imagination is a theoretical standpoint first and foremost: workers are the subject, coming first, with technological progress a firm second, in a dramatic inversion of the status quo.[xxv] The theory is answered by a polical practice of design-labor, addressing labor in its role within the logistical system, that is, “the inevitable interrelations of agendas of technological change and (re)distributions of labor with associated implications for both material and symbolic reward”, as Lucy Suchman writes.[xxvi] By becoming conscious of our role as caretakers of infrastructural and social relationships, the potential for interrupting capitalist development begins to come into view. Labor reasserts itself as a teleological undertaking, and care the method by which it is performed.[xxvii]

This new standpoint throws the differences between the RUP and the Dynamic Street into harsh relief. In the RUP report, I was shocked to find that the pavers themselves were ultimately not the essential element. After design meetings with engineers and “network operators”, the RUP team realized that the paver itself lived and died by its substrate. The new “Structural Excavatable Cement-Treated Material” (SECTM) developed in response with and as an element of labor ultimately was, as the report stated, the “most innovative aspect” of the project, designed greater ease of maintenance and installation.[xxviii] When Sidewalk and Carlo Ratti Associati adapted the RUP for Toronto, they seemingly left out SECTM, instead favoring ‘good life’ scenarios that imagine the street as a stage for unbridled logistics and the occassional block party, wherein residents with an “digital reconfigurator” can “design urban scenarios of their own”,[xxix] “in order to swiftly change the function of the road without creating disruptions on the street”.[xxx] The hypnagogic urbanism of Sidewalk Labs—ephemeral, responsive only to desire, possessed of infinite growth—is not free of the material world at all, despite their claims. The digital dream is borne up by a sea of faceless logistical workers, bound to the city-machine. To center labor in our minds represents a weapon in the war against the smart city—a war that we are, perhaps, already losing.



[i] Wylie’s Medium page is an inexhaustible and incredibly valuable repository of information about the Sidewalk Toronto process as well as full of brilliant ruminations on the threats it poses to governance, privacy, and citizenship. See more at Bianca Wylie, “Collected Medium Posts,” Medium, accessed September 19, 2019,

[ii] Shannon Mattern, “Sidewalk Labs’s Material Co-Design,” Words In Space (blog), April 28, 2019, See also the now-canonical “The City is Not a Computer” and “Instrumental City”, both at Places Journal.

[iii] Molly Sauter, “City Planning Heaven Sent,” e-flux Architecture, February 1, 2019,

[iv] Sidewalk Labs, “Participate,” Sidewalk Toronto (blog), accessed September 18, 2019,

[v] Rima Sabina Aouf, “Carlo Ratti and Sidewalk Labs Collaborate to Build Reconfigurable Dynamic Street,” Dezeen, July 20, 2018,

[vi] Sidewalk Labs, “The Urban Innovations,” Draft Master Innovation and Development Plan, June 24, 2019, 137,

[vii] François de Lerrard, Thierry Sadran, and Jean Maurice Balay, “Removable Urban Pavements: An Innovative, Sustainable Technology,” The International Journal of Pavement Engineering 31p (2012): 1–2,

[viii] Sidewalk Labs, “MIDP,” 136.

[ix] Aouf, “Carlo Ratti and Sidewalk Labs Collaborate to Build Reconfigurable Dynamic Street.”

[x] Quoted in Aouf.

[xi] Sidewalk Labs, “MIDP,” 135.

[xii] Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, “Fantasy in the Hold,” in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (Brooklyn: Minor Compositions Press, 2016), 87.

[xiii] Sidewalk Labs, “MIDP,” 138.

[xiv] Sidewalk Labs, “Sidewalk Labs Street Design Principles,” Sidewalk Labs Street Design Principles, accessed May 12, 2019,

[xv] Moten and Harney, “Fantasy in the Hold,” 87.

[xvi] Buret quoted in Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trans. Martin Milligan (Amherst: Prometheus, 1988), 50.

[xvii] Raniero Panzieri, “The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx versus the ‘Objectivists,’” in Outlines of a Critique of Technology, ed. Phil Slater (Ink Links, 1980).

[xviii] Gilles Châtelet, To Live and Think Like Pigs: The Incitement of Envy and Boredom in Market Democracies (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2018), 76.

[xix] Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, “Matters of Care in Technoscience: Assembling Neglected Things:,” Social Studies of Science, December 7, 2010, 94,

[xx] MONIQUE LANOIX, “Labor as Embodied Practice: The Lessons of Care Work,” Hypatia 28, no. 1 (2013): 85–100.

[xxi] Bruno Gulli, Labor of Fire: The Ontology of Labor between Economy and Culture (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2005).

[xxii] Bellacasa, “Matters of Care in Technoscience,” 97.

[xxiii] Panzieri, “The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx versus the ‘Objectivists.’”

[xxiv] cls-1{fill:#fffffc;} cls-2{fill:#11161a;}profile-placeholderBy: Sindre Bangstad et al., “Thoughts on the Planetary: An Interview with Achille Mbembe,” New Frame, September 5, 2019,

[xxv] This inversion is discussed more fully in Mario Tronti, “A New Type of Political Experiment: Lenin in England,” in Workers and Capital, trans. David Broder (Verso, 2019). More generally, it occupies a central theoretical obsession of operaia, particularly the editors of Quaderni Rossi.

[xxvi] Lucy A. Suchman, Human-Machine Reconfigurations. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 278.

[xxvii] Georg Lukács, Ontology of Social Being: Labor, vol. 2, 3 vols. (London: Merlin Press, 1978).

[xxviii] François de Lerrard, Thierry Sadran, and Jean Maurice Balay, “Removable Urban Pavements: An Innovative, Sustainable Technology,” 5.

[xxix] Carlo Ratti Associati, “The Dynamic Street,” Carlo Ratti Associati, 2018,

[xxx] “Dynamic Street for Sidewalk Labs,” Smart Cities World, accessed September 19, 2019,

Devastating memory: Abstraction and the M1895

(the following is completely unedited, not intended to be anything other than kind of elaborate notes, and more of a primer on Lefebvrian dialectics than anything noteworthy. Also I wrote it on an airplane on 2 hours of sleep)


This talk is an attempt to solidify ideas I am currently thinking through about the historical character of war, not as teleological escalation but as a contingent social process. This is a talk about history as it moves and is moved by space.

Basically, I begin by rejecting any view which treats war as a special case or interruption of society, economics, and politics. The proposal here—that the character of military fortifications, for example, of a war economy happens and then reverts to peacetime—is ludicrous. War “as event” fundamentally misunderstands the shifting continuum of history, conceiving of it as, usually, a string of moments contributing to unceasing progress which abstractly proceeds on its own. This is a simplistic, turnkey, universal history which seems appropriate because, in the words of Georg Lukács, it is “a simplified presentation that simplifies the problems and solutions themselves, rather than the historical constellations of problems and solutions”. War is always coming, always going, weaving its way through the social totality.

Focusing on military space allows a different angle on the problem. Of course, to think about space, one usually finds themselves at some point looking at Henri Lefebvre, particularly to his concept of abstract space, a representation of space as a universal which is a lodestar of spatial power. Japhy Wilson notes that for Lefebvre, abstraction is “a concrete historical process in which capital accumulation and technocratic rationality—materiality and representation—are dialectically intertwined”. In a spatial sense, abstraction refers both to a sort of universal, Cartesian conception of space, and the concomitant administration of that space as a technocratic plaything. Abstraction, for Lefebvre, is the materialization of alienation. The central figure of alienation within capitalism is the commodity-form, which bends all of modern capitalist life and social activity to its logic. Lukács insists that any commodity of any type “must not be considered in isolation or even regarded as the central problem in economics, but as the central, structural problem of capitalist society in all its aspects”. (p181-182) (So, when we talk about the commodity, in some sense we are talking about capitalism.) Lefebvre jumps back in to develop the commodity in another arena: “[a]ll Marxist concepts”, he writes in The Production of Space, “are taken to a higher level without any one stage in theory disappearing. The reconsideration of Marxist concepts develops optimally by taking account fully of space”. (So, when we talk about the role of commodity-logic in space, we are talking about abstract space or the attitude of capitalism in space.

The title of this talk—‘devastating memory’—is an allusion to a passage of Lefebvre’s from The Production of Space: “there is a violence intrinsic to abstraction, and to abstraction’s practical (social) use…For abstraction’s modus operandi is devastation, destruction…[t]he violence of abstraction unfolds in parallel with what we call ‘history’…”. Put another way, the devastating memory simultaneously refers to the slow-motion annihilation of life under capitalism as well as reclaiming spatial memory from an indifferent power that sees space as empty substrate. If abstraction contains within it devastation, what is to be made of space which is conceived for the purposes of devastation? This is a peculiar question; one can’t realistically say a space’s usage is ‘military’ in nature, full stop, and expect this to be enough. Military uses can be concrete (this barracks at this base in this country) or may describe, as in the case of this paper, a valence or attitude shared across spaces.


The method of abstraction

Lefebvre’s spatial framework analogically transfers Marx’s method as elaborated in the Grundrisse: concepts are developed by moving from the “from the abstract to the concrete”. Marx describes his method against both his favorite punching bag “the classical economists” and Hegel. For this talk, I can’t start with abstract space itself and arrive at the concrete realities of space which has become a commodity. This process would take a long time—a book, a career—but luckily Lefebvre has already handled the dirty work. All that remains to do is supply another twist of the knife (by returning to Marx).

Most commentators on Lefebvre address his analogical treatment of space as a simple copying-over of Marx’s analysis of the commodity in the opening pages of the Grundrisse. Marx mentions the idea of “production in general” (20). This “general category, this common element sifted out by comparison, is itself segmented many times over and splits into different determinations”—basically, this means that though production may be a constant (writers such as Lukács will identify production qua labor as the origin of human social being itself). From production in general, there are the determinations, and from there, a “particular branch of production” (such as agriculture, vehicle manufacturing, being a barista, hauling freight, and so on). This is not a ‘new rung’ or ‘topographical division’ within the dialectical movement from abstract to concrete: the determination is not an object on its own but rather a movement within the method. The determination may be seen as a sort of speciation or heuristic of abstraction in general. What this means in terms of military space is as Edward Thompson wrote about the nuclear bomb in Notes on exterminism, the weapon is “thing of menace…[as well as a] component in a weapon-system”, taking care to understand that “producing, manning, and supporting that system is a correspondent social system”. That social system—that which administers the bomb, the gun, etc.—is the determinant. Feminist critical conflict studies does important work in this arena, exploring the military social system and exposing its violent, patriarchal perpetuation, the reproduction of its social relations left to bloodthirsty imperialists and soldier males.

I would like to focus on two attitudes, among many which begin to define military space. Military space disappears and projects. It hides and it explodes outwards. To attempt to define the contours of military space and its relationship to abstraction, I would like to make a case study of the Endicott fortification system, a distributed coastal defense network on both the East and West coasts of the United States and the Gulf of Mexico.



In 1885, then-US President Grover Cleveland asked his Secretary of War, William C. Endicott, to create a ‘Board of Fortifications’, tasked with the creation of recommendations to significantly upgrade the United States’ coastal defenses, which had ceased since the 1870s. After the Civil War—in which the bulk of military budget and development had gone into ‘monitor ships’ for river warfare—the United States’ Navy was woefully out of date. Endicott’s report proposed $127 million (or $3.2 billion today) be poured into developing a reticulated system of fortifications and defensive batteries at strategic locations all along the coast of the United States, with a particular focus on urban centers. “The recommendations were enormous and arguably unrealistic, covering 27 locations…[and] including armament, floating batteries, submarine mines, and torpedo boats”.

Endicott’s program was never fully realized, and didn’t truly come into effect until 1890, hitting its stride in 1898 as a response against the Spanish in the Spanish-American War. In 1910, another Board of Fortifications was convened, and the Endicott period was brought to a close. However, the Board under Endicott represented a significant leap forward, both in terms of spatial understanding and technological capacity. The variegated approach the Endicott recommendations took towards coastal defense challenges both military operational procedure and ideas of concrete space. “Seacoast artillery…primarily served at separate harbors, manning varying numbers of batteries with widely differing sizes and number of guns”. There is no concrete aspect which is true for all Endicott fortifications; at the same time, it would be difficult to say it is fully abstract. Rather than a cohesive clockwork structure, coastal defense requires a conceptual acceptance of fluidity.

In many ways, the formal character of the fortifications—commonly, open-roofed concrete depressions surrounded by earthen glacis—was a substrate for the true star of the Endicott modernization: the “large caliber-breech loading artillery”, such as the 12-inch M1895 cannon which sat behind and inside the concrete defenses.



To fortify is to spatialize and technologize logistical knowledge. The foritified position spatializes the social hierarchy of military order by making legible the order in the territory. With respect to the Endicott system, the establishment of the concrete walls establishes the position: high, out of sight, with quite literally a commanding view of the territory. When constructed on a continental scale, we can identify some commonalities between the most disparate military spaces.

Position alone is not enough to truly disappear. Defense must be total when it comes to the military determination of space. This is evident, of course, in the M1895 gun. In its ‘coastal defense’ configuration the M1895 was mounted on an M1896, M1897, or M1901 ‘disappearing carriage’, which allowed the massive bulk of the gun to drop behind its concrete walls, into a hollowed out part of the battery. The nature of the fortification was such that even its offensive emanations must be concealed unless absolutely necessary.

Military disappearance is also a historical phenomenon. The Endicott system lasted until 1910; the M1895 gun in service until 1945. After this, there were two further disappearances. Abstract space’s indifference to usage is present here in a militarily contingent way: with ocean-facing coastal defense obsolesced in favor of air defense, the former forts of the Endicott system undergo a rapid transformation culminating in dissolution. Take, for example, Fort Tilden. After World War II, the coastal guns were retired and Nike Hercules anti-aircraft missiles soon took their place. Other forts disappeared into sprawling peacetime complexes, hidden behind fences and guard posts or under overgrowth.. Before long, even these were made obsolete, superseded by the advent of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles such as the Minuteman III. And even here was a further, dialectically unfolding disappearance: the ICBMs into hardened bunkers, and Fort Tilden into the control of the Park Service. The total indifference of abstract space continues unabated. One may imagine a future in which, for whatever reason, New York may again need coastal defenses, and the seamless transition the parks may make back to a hardened—which is to say, disappearing—military emplacement. This is the conditionality of abstract space: there is no condition at all. There is only abstraction’s “devastating conquest of the lived by the conceived”.



Disappearance is paired with projection. This appears concretely as the projection of force—a military term which means exactly what it sounds like. The Endicott system fortifications display this acutely—they are designed to make the here everywhere. The weaponry guns alone which each fortification wielded allowed for the projection force as much as 9 miles beyond its walls. Projection of force is inherently a colonial spatial practice, which allows for the explosion of a territory beyond its natural borders. The bounded character of military fortification obtains an annunciatory power that goes beyond the materiality of the weapon and into an institution. Projection entails an expansion of the rational logics of the military power prior to the construction of any structure or the placement of any gun. The area within the gun’s reach becomes oceanic—treated as flat and infinite, a projection on a map—and the oceanic becomes naturalized as the targeting field. The gun reorganizes space around it, in polar rays stretching out from the mouth of the gun; war space is not geometric but volumetric. At the same time, the flat sea requires projection upwards the arcing shot, the orbital strike, the fort on the bluff above the waves to use the infinite plain to its fullest extent. Space itself must take on strange, non-cadastral directions—a volume whose perfect 3D grid is interrupted only by the languid arcs of falling shells.



military space—not a new representation of space but a spatial practice (that is, of the triad) which occurs in, but does not diminish, the tendencies of abstraction (which are informed by the application of knowledge and power). To both appear and disappear, to become massive and shrink to nothing, is dialectical—it is about negation, and the negation of the negation. It is hard to separate the two: disappearance enables projection, and projection (keeping enemies at bay) makes disappearance all the more useful.

Not about supplying specificity to the overall condition of abstraction, but rather an attempt to describe two attitudes which abstraction may be thought of as having

The precise relationship of the determination with both the abstract and the concrete remains something I am unsure of.

Daniel Bell and the fiction of post-industrialism

What does post-industrial mean? Of course, answering this question requires first answering what industrial means, but this does not tell the entire story. I will concern myself solely with the post-industrial, as in it I identify something of a semiotic container which contains subsequent periodizations and proposed epochal shifts of a socio-technological nature: the Information Age, the Age of Artificial Intelligence, the Digital (or Third) Industrial Revolution, semiocapitalism/cognitive capitalism, surveillance capitalism, and the Anthropocene, to name just a few. (If there’s one thing to be sure of, the declaration of new historical eras seems to be profitable for one’s academic prospects, if nothing else.) It is my position that the declaration of the post-industrial necessarily preconditions or is isomorphic with all the above epochal shifts in that it is a subject without an object, a form without an object, a fabricated truth that attempts in the first instance to provide handholds and propulsive force to the societal totality. It is worth noting here that the only thing that can be said to discursively challenge this expansive definition of the post-industrial in terms of planetary-historical ramifications may be neoliberalism—which, I will argue later, effectively can be viewed as the political-bourgeois manifestation of a post-industrial weltanschauung insofar it is isolable at all. And above it all, the post-industrial age is itself a phantasm, just another tactic of capital’s spectacular tendency towards naturalization (particularly, post-industrialism’s insistence on its own Pyrhhic victory, making is so “old debates about capitalism and socialism are increasingly irrelevant”), and a specific reaction to political unrest and the collapse of the Euro-American economic base. (Lasch 1973) However, I will use the term—though with some distaste, and for the purposes of analysis only.


Even in the triumphalist, reactionary circles which spawned post-industrialism as process/product, there is significant disagreement with the specifics of the post-industrial age: when it began, what it entails, and so on. That said, Daniel Bell’s 1974 The Coming of Post-Industrial Society is largely taken to be the touchstone of this new designation, and Bell as its prophet, having popularized Alain Touraine’s phrase from a few years prior. Bell’s sketch of post-industrialism’s anticipated social form has some generic features, including the change “from a goods-producing economy to a service economy, the centrality of theoretical knowledge for innovation, the change in the character of work, from a game against nature and a game against fabricated nature to a game between persons”.[1] In the face of this description, Bell’s caveat that “A post-industrial society cannot provide a transcendent ethic….” almost goes without needing to be said.[2] I follow from Christopher Lesch’s assertion, in his review of The Coming of Post-Industrial Society for The New York Review of Books, that Bell’s declaration of the dawn of the post-industrial age is ageless, predicated on not just various other thinkers but also Bell’s own essays predating his book by 15 years. Of course, the novelty of Bell’s work is not at stake. What is, however, of immense importance, is the fact that the concept of the post-industrial has come not to inform but to dominate: power functions in a post-industrial manner, bearing in mind Marx’s statement that theory which gains material form by gripping the masses. However, in a grotesque perversion, the masses are made to dance, as ever, to the steps provided by an elite that styles itself as post-industrial: post-industrialism, along with any epochal designation more broadly, does not exist outside the minds and actions of power. Beyond any discussions of the service economy, innovation, or development of work’s character, it is simply a social-economic relation—specifically one of hierarchical power.


By choosing to remain oblivious to both the primacy of social-economic relations insofar as they constitute the totality of society, Bell could not help himself but to “rebel” (if you could call it that) against what he perceived as the monomyths of both a vulgarized Marxist “econocentricism” and a functionalist-positivist moral standard. “Marxists,” Bell wrote, “believe that the society is unified through the mode of production; functionalists believe that society is integrated through a common value system. Neither view, I believe, is adequate to explain certain contradictions in contemporary society”.[3] Bell positions his own account of the disunity of society specifically against Lukács’ totality, as an alternative view, thus begging the question (where did the perceived atomization come from?) and then seeking to plot out the ramifications of a social metaphysic of his own construction.


Bell placing his own account of the post-industrial in relation to the totality opens up a particularly withering line of critique by Lukács from History and Class Consciousness, bound up in his own definition of what the totality is—a heuristic by which to observe and comprehend the fitful interaction and laws of motion of capitalist society in toto. To begin, Lukács draws out Marx’s statement: “The relations of production of every society form a whole”.[4] This is also where Bell begins, and which he turns aside in favor of a fitful plurality defined by contradiction (it is to Bell’s paltry credit that he can detect these). Lukács goes on, admitting that “This dialectical conception of totality seems to have put a great distance between itself and reality, it appears to construct reality very ‘unscientifically’”.[5] However, the unscientific appearance of the totality is only when juxtaposed against bourgeois “royal science”: “The rightness of this view [of the totality] only emerges with complete clarity when we direct our attention to the real, material substratum of our method, viz. capitalist society with its internal antagonism between the forces and the relations of production [emphasis mine].”


So—Lukács’ totality is not a monomyth at all, but rather a method by which to collapse the above and the below, the macro and the micro, into a subject of analysis which nevertheless does not eliminate contradiction so as to construct a closed, teleological system. Bell’s own claim that Post-Industrial Society is an attempt to reckon with “changes in the social structure” falls flat, as by his own admission that, yes, his analysis comes with gaping holes and contradictions of its own. (When pressed on his claim that the promotion of knowledge to a primary role in production characterizes post-industrial society and thus “makes the university a central site” fails to take into account geopolitical intelligence regimes such as the CIA, he can only say that “there are many devils in a devilish world, but those kitchen sinks belong in another room, and please keep them there”. It is here that the true value of the totality becomes clear, as a method of working with and through contradiction. What in Bell’s fetishistic science appears as the limit of its logic and a space in which the goalposts must be moved back could be and in fact is resolved easily by an understanding of the totality as a gestalt. Contradictions are not overwhelmed or transcended; contradictions belong to the nature of capitalist reality. These contradictions are constantly shifting and transitory—they are themselves conditional to the particular, peculiar logic of capitalism itself.


By synthesizing his post-industrial framework, Bell has made an ideological argument that not only seeks to provide a gloss for capitalism’s inherently contradictory structure, but further performs a crude sleight of hand by admitting that capitalism’s relations are conditional (in a vulgar theodicy: industrialism is dead, long live capitalism!) while at the same time promising that capitalism in itself is “predestined to eternal survival by the eternal laws of nature and reason”. Post-industrialism, in Bell’s view, happened to capitalism—not the other way around; it reigns supreme, indomitable, and the most Bell can humbly do is take its pulse and try to paper over its excesses and its crises. Thus, the problem of accumulation and the annihilation of urban fixed capital in the 60s and 70s becomes a promising pivot towards a world in which neither matters, where value can be conjured out of thin air.

[1] (Bell and Lasch, An Exchange on Post-Industrial Society 1974)

[2] (Bell and Lasch, An Exchange on Post-Industrial Society 1974)

[3] (Bell and Lasch, An Exchange on Post-Industrial Society 1974)

[4] The Poverty of Philosophy

[5] (Lukács n.d.)

Critique of “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”

Langdon Winner’s widely-cited essay “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” is perhaps a perfect example of what Georg Lukács would identify as a wholly bourgeois approach to the interaction of technology and society. Winner’s piece means well, but remains fundamentally blinkered by a worthy progressivist veneer that nevertheless cannot conceal a “bourgeois, contemplative materialism” inseparable from “the classical economics with which it is so closely bound up”, resigned forever to merely express “the antagonisms of capitalist society and the intractability of its problems when conceived in its own terms”. Winner, for his part, attempts to play both sides: pitting Marx and Engels against each other on the question of technology’s effect on the organization of social (and particularly productive) relations, but at the same time speaking to a rosy view of the future as a choice between nuclear or solar power, and never mentioning capitalism by name—not even once!

Winner’s piece seems to be the type of writing that, if I had read it a year or two ago, would have absolutely floored me. His approach is clear and his arguments seem lucid, nearly indomitable (an opinion shared by the Wikipedia editor of his article who writes that “criticisms [of Winner] are often narrowly focused upon particular cases in Winner’s essays, the height of the bridges built by Robert Moses on the Long Island Parkway, for example, and tend to overlook his general arguments about the interweaving of political institutions and technological devices”. However, Winner suffers from the aforementioned inability to escape the formulation of capitalism’s problems within its own terms.

Returning to Lukács’ essay “Technology and Social Relations” is illustrative in showing how Winner’s argument, while persuasive, is founded on capitalism’s foundation. As Lukács critiques Bukharin throughout the essay, he slowly explicates not just Bukharin’s failures to accurately situate technology within society but a wider problem of technology in general. “All economic or ‘sociological’ phenomena“, Lukács writes, “derive from the social relations of men to one another. Emphasis on a false ‘objectivity’ in theory leads to fetishism”. Winner commits the same error Bukharin does: both “find the underlying determinants of society and its development in a principle other than that of the social relations between men in the process of production” and thus give to technology a “far too determinant position” which, in Bukharin’s own terms (cited by Lukács) “every given system of social technique determines human work relations as well”. In this model, technique (or technological development) determines society itself. Technology becomes, like nature, an abstract, transcendental constant, “over and above” social relations. Though Lukács does not, of course, dispute that technology “retroactively influences the productive forces”, what is at issue here is both Winner’s and Bukharin’s mistake of placing those same productive forces at some remove above technology itself. In Winner’s quest to “take seriously” (always an injunction to maturity with these people!) the technological artifact, he makes a foundational mistake, which Lukács finds to be exactly the problem of the artifact (and specifically, the undialectical character of a new artifact qua progress), which he identifies within a general stream of productive “technique” as a dangerous focus on erroneous figures as opposed to the actually important ground, on the “undissolved quiddity (unaufgelöster Dinghaftlichkeit) and false ‘objectivity’” of the object as opposed to the truth of technology as subjected to socio-economic relations, or labor.

Winner identifies his approach as both technological and political. “The theory of technological politics,” he explains, “draws attention to the momentum of large-scale sociotechnical systems, to the response of modern societies to certain technological imperatives”. At no point does he explain what those imperatives are, or to ask who is giving them. Later, Winner continues: “societies choose structures for technologies that influence how people are going to work, communicate, travel, consume, and so forth over a very long time”. How do societies choose? Though Winner is not shy about pointing out, say, the role of a mechanical harvester in destroying agricultural communities, he seems incapable of stating the obvious: societal choice is not undertaken consensually, it is not something that we, as a civilization, are all grasping towards with each other’s best interests in mind. Winner spends some time adopting the tone of the scold, the dour academic Marxist, wherein Winner (in caricature) undertakes a separation of the economic and political in order to establish a “Marxist” view in which everything is suborned to the economic and therefore allowing Winner the wherewithal to properly and “maturely” get down to brass tacks. We should not give Winner any credit here: in his attempt to carve off the economic from the political, he then entreats us to imagine a political object: Robert Moses’ bridges, for example, intentionally designed as too low to admit buses under them. Winner writes:

“Automobile-owning whites of “upper” and “comfortable middle” classes, as he called them, would be free to use the parkways for recreation and commuting. Poor people and blacks, who normally used public transit, were kept off the roads because the twelve-foot tall buses could not get through the overpasses. One consequence was to limit access of racial minorities and low-income groups to Jones Beach, Moses’s widely acclaimed public park. Moses made doubly sure of this result by vetoing a proposed extension of the Long Island Railroad to Jones Beach.”

He then comes so close to diagnosing the problem—”Moses’s social-class bias and racial prejudice”—without asking the question he himself asks earlier. Why does Moses have these biases, why was he able to put them into action? If society is determining its technological future, why did we not all roll up our sleeves and put a stop to this?

I’ll end this post with the blunt answer: Winner is a bourgeois theorist, and as such, eliminates questions of class as a universal in order to readmit it as a particular.


“There is no dialectic between social and technical relations, but only a machinism that dissolves society into the machines whilst deterritorializing the machines across the ruins of society, whose ‘general theory … is a generalized theory of flux’…”

Which is to say, cybernetics.

Chronotopic mapping is, above all, the recognition of a need of system aesthetics. In fact, the word map is no longer helpful where we’re going. We must ask Bateson’s question: “What is it in the territory that gets on to the map?” The answer should, of course, be nearly nothing. Reducing the map, as chronotopos does, to an empty container rather than the totality of available information is a fundamental deletion of importance. The necessity of representation dissolves like a bad dream. The fetish of recording is revealed as a sad joke taken too far.

The ecstasy of recuperation ends as the indigestible is fatally consumed…the intestines erupt in bleeding ulcers and become the place of feverish, hallucinogenic degrees of decomposition and calcification. Welcome to Interzone…the haemorrhage of the Global Village.

Welcome to Interzone. Welcome to the urbicide of the planet. Methodologies turn to ash. Cartography flips back into fascism as we remember, finally, it was initially developed to survey property, consolidate territory, and direct the movements of armies…the hydra-head of Black Capital consumes the head of the state…augury and excrement of the war machine. In supplication to absolute deterritorialization the notion of territory itself boils and drains into the past, leaving vast turgidity which we will nonetheless inhabit. “Tell me, why are you here already, in this endless sea, with no land to hop on, or air to croak with, it makes no sense to me at all!”

In the scylla-charybidean chiral pinch we find ourselves, identity is stripped down to nothing. Persons are reducible to 2 opposite tendencies: vectors, distance/time functions that take off from space; and more importantly, a nearly-infinite capacity to move at fiber optic speeds.  Recognizing this removes the concept of personhood. They are not wholes. They are not even swarms. They are euclidean amoebae—and here, it is important to note, the nucleus is diminished in relation to cytoplasmic extensibility.

What chronotopos does that time-geography does not is recognizes this as fundamental and seeks to apply an aesthetics without incarcerating the amoebic, interring it once again within flesh. Space is necessarily annihilated by time and by technē both, disintegrating utterly and forever under the magnificent onslaught. When the amoeba-I communicate it is no longer with messages, it is with participation in supra-planetary marketspace. Buying is speaking, murmuring intonations into the thousand ears of Black Capital. My voice is heard in far-flung distribution centers, logged on secure servers in places my physical nucleus could never access, shooting through wires, aggregated and flattened to nothing. Materialism cracks and rots. Amoeba-I walks through walls.


CHRONOTOPOS/The body in capitalism pt. 1

Chronotopos is in many ways coterminal with time-geography, or the cracking open of the static plane of territory and subsequent invasion by temporality. The body in capitalism is not a body at all, but rather the recognition that the age of corporeality is over. Both phrases look inside physical reality and find a cavity of utter entropy and pure dissolution. The thesis is this: space and the body (or identity) have both been annihilated by time.


Practically, chronotopos is simple enough. Instead of treating the map as the site of infinity, treat it y=0, and plot time on the y axis, taking off from surface structuration.

t-s aquarium

Cartographic friction is annihilated by the speed and surgical efficacy of the line. At the same time, chronotopos is a visualization of qwernomics in spatial practice, upending the Rosen-Roback model of classical economics to reveal a secret sigilization just out of focus of quotidian geography, and the dromological time-space compression of the landscape undertaken by individualized spatial practice.


PC Adams’ A Reconsideration of Personal Boundaries in Space Time sees a near-total reformatting of Torsten Hagerstand’s initial time-space aquaria to reflect the even greater practical abstraction of the human body in the advent of digital communications. Adams borrows McLuhan’s description of the body in media as tentacular and dendritic, and in fact poses the need for body and person to be separated into dialectic pairs. The body remains in space—this is Hagerstrand’s finite line, moving across the laminar surface of the map—while the body expands, contracts, shifts, diffuses.

Social Media Connections map

While agreeing overall with his central thesis—that a user’s communication via digital media to another user, be they miles, countries, or worlds away, is tantamount to being there—the image of tentacular extension is, in my opinion, too placid. What is happening here is not a reaching out and the receipt of haptic feedback; rather, it is a swallowing or a twinning. The body may remain an euclidean nucleus, but the person branches, swarms, becomes cybernetic.

ext dia



Of course, time and space are perhaps most succinctly joined in the formulation for velocity: distance divided by time. Thus, chronotopos is, in the first instance, about speed, and in particular, its representation.


Sadie Plant writes that to enter the digital is to be invaded. Adams obviously agrees: his map of “personal extensibility” as seen above, is a map of a user. Digital and material coexist and smear into each other. Fundamentally, Adams-mapping, a subset of chronotopic mapping, is to recognize that the body is nothing, your person is you—and your person isn’t even fully perceivable or even terrestrial. You exist on servers, in fiber optic cables, pinging off satellites. This becomes more and more true as more data comes online: habits, purchases, path-dependencies become starkly illuminated. And as such, there is a mutual invasion, a systemic incursion in which participating in the digital is not really the novel finding, but the extent to which the digital is participating in you.