Shock news: Post-modernist says something interesting

George Orwell's 1984If communication is the key to knowledge work, then why do people communicate like this:

We present immaterial labour 2.0 as an ambivalent modality of both biopower and biopolitical production, and as an exemplar of the paradigm shift underway in our interface with popular culture, media, and information and communication technology.

I had to stop and translate it word for word. Let’s assume that ‘immaterial labour 2.0’ means something: let’s call it ‘working with web 2.0 tools’. Ok, I’ve translated jargon into other jargon, but I do at least understand the second lot. So:

We present working with web 2.0 tools as an ambivalent modality of both biopower and biopolitical production … etc

I’m going to assume that ‘ambivalent modality’ means ‘a form that’s hard to pin down’. It may not, but let’s go with that for now:

We present working with web 2.0 tools as a form of both biopower and biopolitical production that is hard to pin down… etc

But what is ‘biopower’? Or ‘biopolitical production’?  It’s no surprise that a quick google uncovers Foucault. Wikipedia, bless it, says this:

Biopower was a term originally coined by French philosopher Michel Foucault to refer to the practice of modern states and their regulation of their subjects through “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations.”

Ok… leaving aside that it’s defined as the increase in techniques and not the techniques themselves, we now have:

We present working with web 2.0 tools as a form of both the explosion of techniques for controlling people and biopolitical production that is hard to pin down, and … etc

The first and simplest definition of ‘biopolitical’ in Wikipedia is ‘the style of government that regulates populations through biopower (the application and impact of political power on all aspects of human life)’.

So this gives us:

We present working with web 2.0 tools as a form of control and subjugation of people by governments and other bodies that is hard to pin down, and as an exemplar of the paradigm shift underway in our interface with popular culture, media, and information and communication technology.

Actually that’s interesting!. Web 2.0 tools aren’t nice and friendly; they are the very stuff of Orwellian supervision? Mmmm.  Much the conclusion of Wiki vs Word (my previous post): the main differences is the audit trail which is the very stuff of accountability.  But why use the word ‘exemplar’ when you could say ‘example’?

We present working with web 2.0 tools as a form of control that is hard to pin down, and as an example of the sea change in how we use popular culture, media, and information and communication technology and how they affect us.

In other words: Big Brother is LinkedIn

No kidding. This is moderately interesting, expecially in the context of the work-place.  It has also taken me 45  minutes to translate a single paragraph and, of course, other meanings can be constructed.

Am I going to read the whole thing? Maybe I will, now I know what it’s about. But why write like that? It’s off-putting and it hides stuff which, on this occasion at any rate, is really interesting.

Anyway, here it is, for what it’s worth:

Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and Social Networks
Mark Coté and Jennifer Pybus

Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0:
MySpace and Social Networks
Mark Coté and Jennifer Pybus

PS – I still have no idea what the verb ‘to immaterial’ means.


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14 responses to “Shock news: Post-modernist says something interesting

  1. Having skimmed half the thing I can say that it doesn’t get much better. I think they seemed to be suggesting that ‘immatterial labour’ was actually ‘work without a concrete product’ so that makes the first bit ‘we present engaging in work on web 2.0 platforms…’ but then they used the word ‘valorization’ and I gave up in disgust.

    Really there’s no excuse for tht sort of obscurificatrion.

  2. Oh, except they would put ‘work’ in apostrophes, so it’s no wonder it doesn’t make any more sense really.

  3. Actually, they have had to spend a good couple of pages defining ‘work’ but I think they mean ‘effort’ as in ‘We present making the effort to be involved in web 2.0 technologies…’ which actually does seem to make sense when combined with the rest of it. Your translation anyway. Theirs still doesn’t make sense.

  4. Sol, you’re a hero. The only problem is that I am now even more afraid of that paper than I was before!

    Ben

  5. you have done a very good job. good keep it up.

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  8. Hi,
    In their title, they are referring to Paul Willis’s book Learning to Labor there, and inserting immaterial.

  9. That’s interesting Hasan. Thanks for letting me know. I still think it’s unforgivable to write so opaquely.

    Cheers, and thanks for dropping by.

    Ben

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  11. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of the Sokal affair.

    I’d also like to draw your attention to a chapter in Douglas Hofstadter’s “Metamagical Themas” (if you don’t already own this book, and given the concerns of this blog I can’t imagine for a moment why you wouldn’t, go get it now) in which he derides a passage from a magazine called “Art Language”, which is very similarly opaque.

    My theory is that the people who write such stuff have a crisis of confidence. They’re not sure that what they think is interesting or original, and they’ve a sneaking suspicion that they and all their colleagues, mentors and students are worthless intellectual parasites, adding nothing at all to the sum of human knowledge. They may be right. I wouldn’t know, because I can’t be bothered making the effort to find out what it is they’re talking about. This is partly because I’m lazy. However, I also have a principled objection to making the effort in many cases.

    Much of what these people are, or at least appear to be, talking about is the nature of thought and communication. That one can talk about communication in a way that communicates so inefficiently, and to do so apparently deliberately, makes my irony meter go ‘spoing’.

    Don’t get me wrong – jargon is necessary. Anyone with any kind of technical specialisation knows this. But I’ve got my own little system for categorising jargon.

    All jargon, in my experience, can be broken down into one of two categories. Any word or phrase that a specialist uses whose meaning is not either immediately clear or inferrable by a non-specialist is speaking either Esperanto, or Klingon.

    Esperanto jargon is that which is used to cut out ambiguity, to remove irregularity, to clarify communication between those who know it. One way to recognise when something is in Esperanto jargon is to ask a specialist what it means. If, when they’ve explained it, you say “Oh, OK.”, that’s Esperanto jargon. It makes sense in context, and you can see immediately why people use it.

    Klingon jargon is that which is used deliberately to exclude non-specialists, and to ostentatiously mark out the user as someone who wants you to know they are a specialist. You can recognise Klingon jargon by, again, asking someone to explain it to you. If, when they’ve explained it, you say “Why don’t you just bloody say that then?”, that’s Klingon jargon.

    My most common and blood-boiling example of Klingon jargon is the word “utilise”. People use that word all the time. I could have used it in that last sentence, or indeed this one. What would either of those sentences have gained? Two syllables and a pompous tone, whoopy frikkin doo.

    If someone uses Klingon jargon on you, look upon them as you might someone who uses actual Klingon on you, and preferably, tell them so, and tell them why.

    Qapla’.

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  14. Wonderful post. It is really a nice post and I got wonderful information.

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