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The Flexible Personality:

For a New Cultural Critique


by Brian Holmes


The events of the century's turn, from Seattle to New York, have shown that

a sweeping critique of capitalist globalization is possible, and urgently

necessary – before the level of violence in the world dramatically

increases. The beginnings of such a critique exist, with the renewal of

"unorthodox" economics.1 But now one can look further, toward a critique of

contemporary capitalist culture.


To be effective, a cultural critique must show the links between

the major articulations of power and the more-or-less trivial aesthetics of

everyday life. It must reveal the systematicity of social relations and

their compelling character for everyone involved, even while it points to

the specific discourses, images and emotional attitudes that hide

inequality and raw violence. It must shatter the balance of consent, by

flooding daylight on exactly what a society consents to, how it tolerates

the intolerable. Such a critique is difficult to put into practice because

it must work on two opposed levels, coming close enough to grips with the

complexity of social processes to convince the researchers whose

specialized knowledge it needs, while finding striking enough expressions

of its conclusions to sway the people whom it claims to describe – those

upon whose behavior the transformation of the status quo depends.


This kind of critique existed very recently in our societies, it

gave intellectual focus to an intense and widespread dissatisfaction in the

sixties and seventies, it helped change an entire system. Today it seems to

have vanished. No longer does the aesthetic dimension appear as a contested

bridge between the psyche and the objective structures of society. It is as

though we had lost the taste for the negative, the ambition of an

anti-systemic critique. In its place we find endless variants on

Anglo-American "cultural studies" – which is an affirmative strategy, a

device for adding value, not for taking it away. The history of cultural

studies argues today for a renewal of the negative, of ideology critique.


When it emerged in the late fifties, British cultural studies tried

to reverse aesthetic hierarchies by turning the sophisticated language of

literary criticism onto working-class practices and forms. Elevating

popular expressions by a process of contamination that also transformed the

elite culture, it sought to create positive alternatives to the new kinds

of domination projected by the mass media. The approach greatly diversified

the range of legitimate subjects and academic styles, thereby making a real

contribution to the ideal of popular education.2 What is more, cultural

studies constituted a veritable _school_ on the intellectual left,

developing a strategic intention. However, its key theoretical tool was the

notion of a differential reception, or "negotiated reading" – a personal

touch given to the message by the receiver. The notion was originally used

to reveal working-class interpretations of dominant messages, in a model

still based on class consciousness.3 But when the emphasis on reception was

detached from the dynamics of class, in the course of the 1980s, cultural

studies became one long celebration of the particular twist that each

individual or group could add to the globalized media product. In this way,

it gave legitimacy to a new, transnational consumer ideology.4 This is the

discourse of alienation perfected, appropriated, individualized,

ethnicized, made one's own.


How can cultural critique become effective again today? I am going

to argue for the construction of an "ideal type," revealing the

intersection of social power with intimate moral dispositions and erotic

drives.5 I call this ideal type the _flexible personality_. The word

"flexible" alludes directly to the current economic system, with its casual

labor contracts, its just-in-time production, its informational products

and its absolute dependence on virtual currency circulating in the

financial sphere. But it also refers to an entire set of very positive

images, spontaneity, creativity, cooperativity, mobility, peer relations,

appreciation of difference, openness to present experience. If you feel

close to the counter-culture of the sixties-seventies, then you can say

that these are _our_ creations, but caught in the distorting mirror of a

new hegemony. It has taken considerable historical effort from all of us to

make the insanity of contemporary society tolerable.


I am going to look back over recent history to show how a form of

cultural critique was effectively articulated in intellectual and then in

social terms, during the post-World War II period. But I will also show how

the current structures of domination result, in part, from the failures of

that earlier critique to evolve in the face of its own absorption by

contemporary capitalism.


Question Authority


The paradigmatic example of cultural critique in the postwar period is the

Institut für Sozialforschung – the autonomous scholarly organization known

as the Frankfurt School. Its work can be summed up with the theoretical

abbreviation of Freudo-Marxism. But what does that mean? Reviewing the

texts, you find that from as early as 1936, the Institut articulated its

analysis of domination around the psychosociological structures of

authority. The goal of the _Studien über Autorität und Familie_ was to

remedy "the failure of traditional Marxism to explain the reluctance of the

proletariat to fulfill its historical role."6 This "reluctance" – nothing

less than the working-class embrace of Nazism – could only be understood

through an exploration of the way that social forces unfold in the psyche.

The decline of the father's authority over the family, and the increasing

role of social institutions in forming the personality of the child, was

shown to run parallel to the liquidation of liberal, patrimonial

capitalism, under which the nineteenth-century bourgeois owner directly

controlled an inherited family capital. Twentieth-century monopoly

capitalism entailed a transfer of power from private individuals to

organized, impersonal corporations. The psychological state of masochistic

submission to authority, described by Erich Fromm, was inseparable from the

mechanized order of the new industrial cartels, their ability to integrate

individuals within the complex technological and organizational chains of

mass-production systems. The key notion of "instrumental reason" was

already in germ here. As Marcuse wrote in 1941: "The facts directing man's

thought and action are  those of the machine process, which itself appears

as the embodiment of rationality and expediency.  Mechanized mass

production is filling the empty spaces in which individuality could assert



The Institut's early work combined a psychosociological analysis of

authoritarian discipline with the philosophical notion of instrumental

reason. But its powerful anti-systemic critique could not crystallize

without studies of the centrally planned economy, conceived as a social and

political response to the economic crisis of the 1930s. Institut members

Friedrich Pollock and Otto Kirchheimer were among the first to characterize

the new "state capitalism" of the 1930s.8 Overcoming the traditional

Marxist portrayal of monopoly capitalism, which had met its dialectical

contradiction in the crisis of 1929, they described a definitive shift away

from the liberal system where production and distribution were governed by

contractualized market relations between individual agents. The new system

was a managerial capitalism where production and distribution were

calculated by a central-planning state. The extent of this shift was

confirmed not only by the Nazi-dominated industrial cartels in Germany, but

also by the Soviet five-year plans, or even the American New Deal,

anticipating the rise of the Keynesian welfare state. Authority was again

at the center of the analysis. "Under state capitalism," wrote Pollock,

"men meet each other as commander or commanded."9 Or, in Kirchheimer's

words: "Fascism characterizes the stage at which the individual has

completely lost his independence and the ruling groups have become

recognized by the state as the sole legal parties to political



The resolution of economic crisis by centralized planning for total

war concretely revealed what Pollock called the "vital importance" of an

investigation "as to whether state capitalism can be brought under

democratic control." This investigation was effectively undertaken by the

Institut during its American exile, when it sought to translate its

analysis of Nazism into the American terms of the Cold War. What we now

remember most are the theory and critique of the culture industry, and the

essay of that name; but much more important at the time was a volume of

sociological research called _The Authoritarian Personality_, published in

1950.11 Written under Horkheimer's direction by a team of four authors

including Adorno, the book was an attempt to apply statistical methods of

sociology to the empirical identification of a fascistic character

structure. It used questionnaire methods to demonstrate the existence of a

"new anthropological type" whose traits were rigid conventionalism,

submission to authority, opposition to everything subjective, stereotypy,

an emphasis on power and toughness, destructiveness and cynicism, the

projection outside the self of unconscious emotional impulses, and an

exaggerated concern with sexual scandal. In an echo to the earlier study of

authority, these traits were correlated with a family structure marked not

by patriarchal strength but rather weakness, resulting in attempts to sham

an ascendancy over the children which in reality had devolved to social



_The Authoritarian Personality_ represents the culmination of a

deliberately programmed, interdisciplinary construction of an ideal type: a

polemical image of the social self which could then guide and structure

various kinds of critique. The capacity to focus different strands of

critique is the key function of this ideal type, whose importance goes far

beyond that of the statistical methodologies used in the

questionnaire-study. Adorno's rhetorical and aesthetic strategies, for

example, only take on their full force in opposition to the densely

constructed picture of the authoritarian personality. Consider this quote

from the essay on "Commitment" in 1961:


Newspapers and magazines of the radical Right constantly stir up

indignation against what is unnatural, over-intellectual, morbid and

decadent: they know their readers. The insights of social psychology into

the authoritarian personality confirm them. The basic features of this type

include conformism, respect for a petrified façade of opinion and society,

and resistance to impulses that disturb its order or evoke inner elements

of the unconscious that cannot be admitted. This hostility to anything

alien or alienating can accommodate itself much more easily to literary

realism of any provenance, even if it proclaims itself critical or

socialist, than to works which swear allegiance to no political slogans,

but whose mere guise is enough to disrupt the whole system of rigid

coordinates that governs authoritarian personalities...12



Adorno seeks to show how Brechtean or Sartrean political engagement

could shade gradually over into the unquestioning embrace of order that

marks an authoritarian state. The fractured, enigmatic forms of Beckett or

Schoenberg could then be seen as more politically significant than any call

to rally collectively around a cause. Turned at once against the weak

internal harmonies of a satisfied individualism, and against the far more

powerful totalizations of an exploitative system, aesthetic form in

Adorno's vision becomes a dissenting force through its refusal to falsely

resolve the true contradictions. As he writes in one of his rhetorical

phrases: "It is not the office of art to spotlight alternatives, but to

resist by its form alone the course of the world, which permanently puts a

pistol to men's heads."13


The point is not to engage in academic wrangling over exactly how

Adorno conceived this resistance of contradictory forms. More interesting

is to see how a concerted critique can help give rise to effective

resistance in society. The most visible figure here is Herbert Marcuse,

whose 1964 book _One-Dimensional Man_ became an international best-seller,

particularly in France. Students in the demonstrations of May '68 carried

placards reading "Marx, Mao, Marcuse." But this only shows how Marcuse,

with his directly revolutionary stance, could become a kind of emblem for

converging critiques of the authoritarian state, industrial discipline and

the mass media. In France, Sartre had written of "serialized man," while

Castoriadis developed a critique of bureaucratic productivism. In America,

the business writer William Whyte warned against the "organization man" as

early as 1956, while in 1961 an outgoing president, Dwight D. Eisenhower,

denounced the technological dangers of the "military-industrial complex."

Broadcast television was identified as the major propaganda tool of

capitalism, beginning with Vance Packard's book _The Hidden Persuaders_ in

America in 1957, then continuing more radically with Barthes' _Mythologies_

in France and above all, Debord's _Society of the Spectacle_. Ivan Illich

and Paul Goodman attacked school systems as centers of social

indoctrination, R.D. Laing and Félix Guattari called for an

anti-psychiatry, and Henri Lefebvre for an anti-urbanism, which the

Situationists put into effect with the practice of the _dérive_. In his

_Essay on Liberation_, written immediately after '68, Marcuse went so far

as to speak of an outbreak of mass surrealism – which, he thought, could

combine with a rising of the racialized lumpen proletariat in the US and a

wider revolt of the Third World.


I don't mean to connect all this subversive activity directly to

the Frankfurt School. But the "Great Refusal" of the late sixties and early

seventies was clearly aimed at the military-industrial complexes, at the

regimentation and work discipline they produced, at the blandishments of

the culture industry that concealed these realities, and perhaps above all,

at the existential and psychosocial condition of the "authoritarian

personality." The right-wing sociologist Samuel Huntington recognized as

much, when he described the revolts of the 1960s as "a general challenge to

the existing systems of authority, public and private."14 But that was just

stating the obvious. In seventies America, the omnipresent counter-culture

slogan was "Question Authority."


What I have tried to evoke here is the intellectual background of

an effective anti-systemic movement, turned against capitalist productivism

in its effects on both culture and subjectivity. All that is summed up in a

famous bit of French graffiti, _On ne peut pas tomber amoureux d'une courbe

de croissance_ ("You can't fall in love with a growth curve"). In its very

erotics, that writing on the walls of May '68 suggests what I have not yet

mentioned, which is the positive content of the anti-systemic critique: a

desire for equality and social unity, for the suppression of the class

divide. Self-management and direct democracy were the fundamental demands

of the student radicals in 1968, and by far the most dangerous feature of

their leftist ideology.15 As Jürgen Habermas wrote in 1973: "Genuine

participation of citizens in the processes of political will-formation,

that is, substantive democracy, would bring to consciousness the

contradiction between administratively socialized production and the

continued private appropriation and use of surplus value."16 In other

words, increasing democratic involvement would rapidly show people where

their real interests lie. Again, Huntington seemed to agree, when he in

turn described the "crisis" of the advanced societies as "an excess of



One might recall that the infamous 1975 Trilateral Commission

report in which Huntington made that remark was specifically concerned with

the growing "ungovernability" of the developed societies, in the wake of

the social movements of the sixties. One might also recall that this

specter of ungovernability was precisely the foil against which Margaret

Thatcher, in England, was able to marshal up her "conservative

revolution."18 In other words, what Huntington called "the democratic

distemper" of the sixties was the background against which the present

neoliberal hegemony arose. And so the question I would now like to ask is

this: how did the postindustrial societies absorb the "excess of democracy"

that had been set loose by the anti-authoritarian revolts? Or to put it

another way: how did the 1960s finally serve to make the 1990s tolerable?



Divide and Recuperate


"We lack a serious history of co-optation, one that understands corporate

thought as something other than a cartoon," writes the American historian

and culture critic Thomas Frank.19 In a history of the advertising and

fashion industries called _The Conquest of Cool_, he attempts to retrieve

the specific strategies that made sixties "hip" into nineties "hegemon,"

transforming cultural industries based on stultifying conformism into even

more powerful industries based on a plethoric offer of "authenticity,

individuality, difference, and rebellion." With a host of examples, he

shows how the desires of middle-class dropouts in the sixties were rapidly

turned into commodified images and products. Avoiding a simple manipulation

theory, Frank concludes that the advertisers and fashion designers involved

had an existential interest in transforming the system. The result was a

change in "the ideology by which business explained its domination of the

national life" – a change he relates, but only in passing, to David

Harvey's concept of "flexible accumulation."20 Beyond the chronicle of

stylistic co-optation, what still must be explained are the interrelations

between individual motivations, ideological justifications and the complex

social and technical functions of a new economic system.


A starting point can be taken from a few suggestive remarks by the

business analysts Piore and Sabel, in a book called _The Second Industrial

Divide_ (1984). Here the authors speak of a _regulation crisis_, which "is

marked by the realization that existing institutions no longer secure a

workable match between the production and the consumption of goods."21 They

locate two such crises in the history of the industrial societies, both of

which we have already considered through the eyes of the Frankfurt School:

"the rise of the large corporations, in the late nineteenth century, and of

the Keynesian welfare state, in the 1930s."22 Our own era has seen a third

such crisis: the prolonged recession of the 1970s, culminating with the oil

shock of 1973 and accompanied by endemic labor unrest throughout the

decade. This crisis brought the institutional collapse of the Fordist

mass-production regime and the welfare state, and thereby set the stage for

an _industrial divide_, which the authors situate in the early 1980s:


The brief moments when the path of industrial development itself is at

stake we call industrial divides. At such moments, social conflicts of the

most apparently unrelated kinds determine the direction of technological

development for the following decades. Although industrialists, workers,

politicians and intellectuals may only be dimly aware that they face

technological choices, the actions that they take shape economic

institutions for long into the future. Industrial divides are therefore the

backdrop or frame for subsequent regulation crises.23



Basing themselves on observations from Northern Italy, the authors

describe the emergence of a new production regime called "flexible

specialization," which they characterize as "a strategy of permanent

innovation: accommodation to ceaseless change, rather than an effort to

control it." Abandoning the centralized planning of the postwar years, this

new strategy works through the agency of small, independent production

units, employing skilled work teams with multi-use tool kits and relying on

relatively spontaneous forms of cooperation with other such teams to meet

rapidly changing market demands at low cost and high speed. These kinds of

firms seemed to hark back to the craftsmen of the early nineteenth century,

before the first industrial divide that led to the introduction of heavy

machinery and the mass-production system. To be sure, in 1984 Piore and

Sabel could not yet have predicted the importance that would be acquired by

one single set of products, far from anything associated with the

nineteenth century: the personal computer and telecommunications devices.

Nonetheless, the relation they drew between a crisis in institutional

regulation and an industrial divide can help us understand the key role

that social conflict – and the cultural critique that helps focus it – has

played in shaping the organizational forms and the very technology of the

world we live in.


What then were the conflicts that made computing and

telecommunications into the central products of the new wave of economic

growth that began after the 1970s recession? How did these conflicts affect

the labor, management and consumption regimes? Which social groups were

integrated to the new hegemony of flexible capitalism, and how? Which were

rejected or violently excluded, and how was that violence covered over?


So far, the most complete set of answers to these questions has

come from Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, in _Le Nouvel Esprit du

Capitalism_, published in 1999.24 Their thesis is that each age or "spirit"

of capitalism must justify its irrational compulsion for accumulation by at

least partially integrating or "recuperating" the critique of the previous

era, so that the system can become tolerable again – at least for its own

managers. They identify two main challenges to capitalism: the critique of

exploitation, or what they call "social critique," developed traditionally

by the worker's movement, and the critique of alienation, or what they call

"artistic critique." The latter, they say, was traditionally a minor,

literary affair; but it became vastly more important with the mass cultural

education carried out by the welfare-state universities. Boltanski and

Chiapello trace the destinies of the major social groups in France after

the turmoil of '68, when _critique sociale_ joined hands with _critique

artiste_. They show how the most organized fraction of the labor force was

accorded unprecedented economic gains, even as future production was

gradually reorganized and delocalized to take place outside union control

and state regulation. But they also demonstrate how the young, aspiring

managerial class, whether still in the universities or at the lower

echelons of enterprise, became the major vector for the artistic critique

of authoritarianism and bureaucratic impersonality. The strong point of

Boltanski and Chiapello's book is to demonstrate how the organizational

figure of the _network_ emerged to provide a magical answer to the

anti-systemic cultural critique of the 1950s and 60s – a magical answer, at

least for the aspirant managerial class.


What are the social and aesthetic attractions of networked

organization and production? First, the pressure of a rigid, authoritarian

hierarchy is eased, by eliminating the complex middle-management ladder of

the Fordist enterprises and opening up shifting, one-to-one connections

between network members. Second, spontaneous communication, creativity and

relational fluidity can be encouraged in a network as factors of

productivity and motivation, thus overcoming the alienation of impersonal,

rationalized procedures. Third, extended mobility can be tolerated or even

demanded, to the extent that tool-kits become increasingly miniaturized or

even purely mental, allowing work to be relayed through telecommunications

channels. Fourth, the standardization of products that was the visible mark

of the individual's alienation under the mass-production regime can be

attenuated, by the configuration of small-scale or even micro-production

networks to produce limited series of custom objects or personalized

services.25 Fifth, desire can be stimulated and new, rapidly obsolescent

products can be created by working directly within the cultural realm as

coded by multimedia in particular, thus at once addressing the demand for

meaning on the part of employees and consumers, and resolving part of the

problem of falling demand for the kinds of long-lasting consumer durables

produced by Fordist factories.


As a way of summing up all these advantages, it can be said that

the networked organization gives back to the employee – or better, to the

"prosumer" – the _property_ of him- or herself that the traditional firm

had sought to purchase as the commodity of labor power. Rather than

coercive discipline, it is a new form of internalized vocation, the

"calling" to creative self-fulfillment in and through each work project,

that will now shape and direct the employee's behavior. The strict division

between production and consumption tends to disappear, and alienation

appears to be over

come, as individuals aspire to mix their labor with their leisure.26 Even

the firm begins to conceive of work qualitatively, as a sphere of creative

activity, of self-realization. "Connectionist man" – or in my term, "the

networker" – is delivered from direct surveillance and paralyzing

alienation to become the manager of his or her own self-gratifying

activity, as long as that activity translates at some point into valuable

economic exchange, the _sine qua non_ for remaining within the network.


Obviously, the young advertisers and fashion designers described by

Thomas Frank could see a personal interest in this loosening of

hierarchies. But the gratifying self-possession and self-management of the

networker has an ideological advantage as well: responding to the demands

of May '68, it becomes the perfect legitimating argument for the continuing

destruction, by the capitalist class, of the heavy, bureaucratic,

alienating, profit-draining structures of the welfare state that also

represented most all the historical gains that the workers had made through

social critique. By co-opting the aesthetic critique of alienation, the

networked enterprise is able to legitimate the gradual exclusion of the

workers' movement and the destruction of social programs. Thus, artistic

critique becomes one of the linchpins of the new hegemony invented in the

early 1980s by Reagan and Thatcher, and perfected in the 1990s by Clinton

and the inimitable Tony Blair.


To recuperate from the setbacks of the sixties and seventies,

capitalism had to be become doubly flexible, imposing casual labor

contracts and "delocalized" production sites to escape the regulation of

the welfare state, and using this fragmented production apparatus to create

the consumer seductions and stimulating careers that were needed to regain

the loyalty of potentially revolutionary managers and intellectual workers.

This double movement is what gives rise to the system conceived by David

Harvey as a regime of "flexible accumulation" – a notion that describes not

only the structure and discipline of the new work processes, but also the

forms and lifespans of the individually tailored and rapidly obsolescent

products that are created, and the new, more volatile modes of consumption

that the system promotes.27 For the needs of contemporary cultural critique

we should recognize, at the crux of this transformation, the role of the

personal computer, assembled along with its accompanying telecommunications

devices in high-tech sweatshops across the world. The mainstay of what has

also been called the "informational economy," the computer and its

attendant devices are at once industrial and cultural tools, embodying a

compromise that temporarily resolved the social struggles unleashed by

artistic critique. The laptop serves as a portable instrument of control

over the casualized laborer and the fragmented production process, while at

the same time freeing up the nomadic manager for forms of mobility both

physical and fantasmatic; it successfully miniaturizes one's access to the

remaining bureaucratic functions, while opening a private channel into the

realms of virtual or "fictitious" capital, the financial markets where

surplus value is produced as if by magic, despite the accumulating physical

signs of crisis and decay. Technically a calculator, the personal computer

has been turned by its social usage into an image- and language machine:

the productive instrument, communications vector and indispensable receiver

of the immaterial goods and semiotic or even emotional services that now

form the leading sector of the economy.28


Geographical dispersal and global coordination of manufacturing,

just-in-time production and containerized delivery systems, a generalized

acceleration of consumption cycles, and a flight of overaccumulated capital

into the lightning-fast financial sphere, whose movements are at once

reflected and stimulated by the equally swift evolution of global media:

these are among the major features of the flexible accumulation regime as

it has developed since the late 1970s. David Harvey, like most Marxist

theorists, sees this transnational redeployment of capital as a reaction to

social struggles, which increasingly tended to limit the levels of resource

and labor exploitation possible within nationally regulated space. A

similar kind of reasoning is used, on the other end of the political

spectrum, by the business analysts Piore and Sabel when they claim that

"social conflicts of the most apparently unrelated kinds determine the

course of technological development" at the moment of an industrial divide.

But it is, I think, only Boltanski and Chiapello's analytical division of

the resistance movements of the sixties into the two strands of artistic

and social critique that finally allows us to understand the precise

aesthetic and communicational forms generated by capitalism's recuperation

of – and from – the democratic turmoil of the 1960s.



Beneath A New Dominion


If I insist on the _social form_ assumed by computers and

telecommunications during the redeployment of capital the recession of the

1970s, it is because of the central role that these technologies, and their

diverse _uses_, have played in the emergence of what Manuel Castells

conceives as the global informational economy. Describing the most advanced

state of this economy, Castells writes that "the products of the new

information technology industries are information processing devices or

information processing itself."29 Thus he indicates the way that cultural

expressions, recoded and processed as multimedia, can enter value-adding

loop of digitized communications. Indeed, he believes they _must_ enter it:

"All other messages are reduced to individual imagination or to

increasingly marginalized face-to-face subcultures."30 But Castells tends

to see the conditions of entry as fundamentally technical, without

developing the notion that technology itself can be shaped by the patterns

of social, political and cultural relations. He conceives subjective and

collective agency in terms of a primary choice or rejection of the network,

followed by more or less viable paths within or outside the dominant

system. The network itself is not a form, but a destiny. Any systemic

change is out of the question.


A critical approach can instead view computers and

telecommunications as specific, pliable configurations within the larger

frame of what Michel Foucault calls "governmental technologies." Foucault

defines the governmental technologies (or more generally,

"governmentality") as "the entire set of practices used to constitute,

define, organize and instrumentalize the strategies that individuals, in

their freedom, can have towards each other."31 At stake here is the

definition of a level of constraint, extending beyond what Foucault

conceives as freedom – the open field of power relations between

individuals, where each one tries to "conduct the conduct of others,"

through strategies that are always reversible – but not yet reaching the

level of domination, where the relations of power are totally immobilized,

for example through physical constraint. The governmental technologies

exist just beneath this level of domination: they are subtler forms of

collective channeling, appropriate for the government of democratic

societies where individuals enjoy substantial freedoms and tend to reject

any obvious imposition of authority.


It is clear that the crisis of "ungovernability" decried by

Huntington, Thatcher and other neoconservatives in the mid-1970s could only

find its "resolution" with the introduction of new governmental

technologies, determining new patterns of social relations; and it has

become rather urgent to see exactly how these relational technologies

function. To begin quite literally with the hardware, we could consider the

extraordinary increase in surveillance practices since the introduction of

telematics. It has become commonplace at any threshold – border, cash

register, subway turnstile, hospital desk, credit application, commercial

website – to have one's personal identifiers (or even body parts: finger-

or handprints, retina patterns, DNA) checked against records in a distant

database, to determine if passage will be granted. This appears as direct,

sometimes even authoritarian control. But as David Lyon observes, "each

expansion of surveillance occurs with a rationale that, like as not, will

be accepted by those whose data or personal information is handled by the

system."32 The most persuasive rationales are increased security (from

theft or attack) and risk management by various types of insurers, who

demand personal data to establish contracts. These and other arguments lead

to the internalization of surveillance imperatives, whereby people actively

supply their data to distant watchers. But this example of voluntary

compliance with surveillance procedures is only the tip of the control

iceberg. The more potent and politically immobilizing forms of self-control

emerge in the individual's relation to the labor market – particularly when

the labor in question involves the processing of cultural information.


Salaried labor, whether performed on site or at distant,

telematically connected locations, can obviously be monitored for

compliance to the rules (surveillance cameras, telephone checks, keystroke

counters, radio-emitting badges, etc.). The offer of freelance labor, on

the other hand, can simply be refused if any irregularity appears, either

in the product or the conditions of delivery. Internalized self-monitoring

becomes a vital necessity for the freelancer. Cultural producers are hardly

an exception, to the extent that they offer their inner selves for sale: at

all but the highest levels of artistic expression, subtle forms of

self-censorship become the rule, at least in relation to a primary

market.33 But deeper and perhaps more insidious effects arise from the

inscription of cultural, artistic and ethical ideals, once valued for their

permanence, into the swiftly changing cycles of capitalist valorization and

obsolescence. Among the data processors of the cultural economy – including

the myriad personnel categories of media production, design and live

performance, and also extending through various forms of service provision,

counseling, therapy, education and so on – a depoliticizing cynicism is

more widespread than self-censorship. It is described by Paolo Virno:


At the base of contemporary cynicism is the fact that men and women learn

by experiencing rules rather than "facts"... Learning the rules, however,

also means recognizing their unfoundedness and conventionality. We are no

longer inserted into a single, predefined "game" in which we participate

with true conviction. We now face several different "games," each devoid of

all obviousness and seriousness, only the site of an immediate

self-affirmation – an affirmation that is much more brutal and arrogant,

much more cynical, the more we employ, with no illusions but with perfect

momentary adherence, those very rules whose conventionality and mutability

we have perceived.34



In 1979, Jean-François Lyotard identified language games as an

emerging arena of value-production in capitalist societies offering

computerized access to knowledge, where what mattered was not primary

research but transformatory "moves" within an arbitrary semantic field.35

The unpredictable semiotic transformations of Mallarmé's "roll of the dice"

became a competitive social gamble, as in stock markets beset by insider

trading, where chance is another name for ignorance of precisely who is

manipulating the rules. Here, cynicism is both the cause and prerequisite

of the player's unbounded opportunism. As Virno notes: "The opportunist

confronts a flux of interchangeable possibilities, keeping open as many as

possible, turning to the closest and swerving unpredictably from one to the

other." He continues: "The computer, for example, rather than a means to a

univocal end, is a premise for successive 'opportunistic' elaborations of

work. Opportunism is valued as an indispensable resource whenever the

concrete labor process is pervaded by diffuse 'communicative action'...

computational chatter demands 'people of opportunity,' ready and waiting

for every chance."36 Of course, the true opportunist consents to a fresh

advantage within any new language game, even if it is political. Politics

collapses into the flexibility and rapid turnover times of market

relations. And this is the meaning of Virno's ironic reference to

Habermas's theory of communicative action. In his analysis of democracy's

legitimation crisis, Habermas observed that consent in democratic societies

ultimately rests on each citizen's belief that in cases of doubt he could

be convinced by a detailed argument: "Only if motivations for actions no

longer operated through norms requiring justification, and if personality

systems no longer had to find their unity in identity-securing interpretive

systems, could the acceptance of decisions without reasons become routine,

that is, could the readiness to conform absolutely be produced to any

desired degree."37 What was social science fiction for Habermas in 1973

became a reality for Virno in the early 1990s: personality systems without

any aspiration to subjective truth, without any need for secure processes

of collective interpretation. And worse, this reality was constructed on

distorted forms of the call by the radical Italian left for an autonomous

status of labor.


The point becomes clear: to describe the immaterial laborer,

"prosumer," or networker as a _flexible personality_ is to describe a new

form of alienation, not alienation from the vital energy and roving desire

that were exalted in the 1960s, but instead, alienation from political

society, which in the democratic sense is not a profitable affair and

cannot be endlessly recycled into the production of images and emotions.

The configuration of the flexible personality is a new form of social

control, in which culture has an important role to play. It is a distorted

form of the artistic revolt against authoritarianism and standardization, a

set of practices and techniques for "constituting, defining, organizing and

instrumentalizing" the revolutionary energies which emerged in the Western

societies in the 1960s, and which for a time seemed capable of transforming

social relations.


This notion of the flexible personality, that is, of subjectivity

as it is modeled and channeled by contemporary capitalism, can be sharpened

and deepened by looking outside of France and beyond the aspirant

managerial class, to the destiny of another group of proto-revolutionary

social actors, the racialized lumpen proletariat in America, from which

arose the powerful emancipatory forces of the Black, Chicano and American

Indian movements in the sixties, followed by a host of identity-groups

thereafter. Here, at one of the points where a real threat was posed to the

capitalist system, the dialectic of integration and exclusion becomes more

apparent and more cruel. One the one hand, identity formations are

encouraged as stylistic resources for commodified cultural production.

Regional cultures and subcultures are sampled, recoded into product form,

and fed back to themselves via the immeasurably wider and more profitable

world market.38 Local differences of reception are seized upon everywhere

as proof of the open, universal nature of global products. Corporate and

governmental hierarchies are also made open to significant numbers of

non-white subjects, whenever they are willing to play the management game.

This is an essential requirement for the legitimacy of transnational

governance. But wherever an identity formation becomes problematic and

seems likely to threaten the urban, regional, or geopolitical balance – I'm

thinking particularly of the Arab world, but also of the Balkans – then

what Boris Buden calls the "cultural touch" operates quite differently and

turns ethnic identity not into commercial gold, but into the signifier of a

regressive, "tribal" authoritarianism, which can legitimately be repressed.

Here the book _Empire_ contains an essential lesson: that not the

avoidance, but instead the stimulation and management of local conflicts is

the keystone of transnational governance.39 In fact the United States

themselves are already governed that way, in a state of permanent

low-intensity civil war. Manageable, arms-consuming ethnic conflicts are

perfect grist for the mill of capitalist empire. And the reality of

terrorism offers the perfect opportunity to accentuate surveillance

functions – with full consent from the majority of the citizenry.


With these last considerations we have obviously changed scales,

shifting from the psychosocial to the geopolitical. But to make the ideal

type work correctly, one should never forget the hardened political and

economic frames within which the flexible personality evolves. Piore and

Sabel point out that what they call "flexible specialization" was only one

side of the response that emerged to the regulation crisis and recession of

the 1970s. The other strategy is global. It "aims at extending the

mass-production model. It does so by linking the production facilities and

markets of the advanced countries with the fastest-growing third-world

countries. This response amounts to the use of the corporation (now a

multinational entity) to stabilize markets in a world where the forms of

cooperation among states can no longer do the job."40 In effect, the

transnational corporation, piloted by the financial markets, and backed up

by the military power and legal architecture of the G-7 states, has taken

over the economic governance of the world from the former colonial

structure. The "military-industrial complex," decried as the fountainhead

of power in the days of the authoritarian personality, has been superseded

by what is now being called the "Wall Street-Treasury complex" – "a power

elite a la C. Wright Mills, a definite networking of like-minded luminaries

among the institutions – Wall Street, the Treasury Department, the State

Department, the IMF, and the World Bank most prominent among them."41


What kind of labor regime is produced by this networking among the

power elite? On June 13, 2001, one could read in the newspaper that a sharp

drop in computer sales had triggered layoffs of 10% of Compaq's world-wide

workforce, and 5% of Hewlet Packard's – 7,000 and 4,700 jobs respectively.

In this situation, the highly mobile Dell corporation was poised to draw a

competitive advantage from its versatile workforce: "Robots are just not

flexible enough, whereas each computer is unique," explained the president

of Dell Europe.42 With its just-in-time production process, Dell can

immediately pass along the drop in component prices to consumers, because

it has no old product lying around in warehouses; at the same time, it is

under no obligation to pay idle hands for regular 8-hour shifts when there

is no work. Thus it has already grabbed the number-1 position from Compaq

and it is hungry for more. "It's going to be like Bosnia," gloated an upper

manager. "Taking such market shares is the chance of a lifetime."


This kind of ruthless pleasure, against a background of

exploitation and exclusion, has become entirely typical – an example of the

opportunism and cynicism that the flexible personality tolerates.43 But was

this what we really expected from the critique of authority in the 1960s?





Posing as a WTO representative, a provocateur from the group known as the

Yes Men recently accepted an invitation to speak at the "Textiles of the

Future" conference in Tampere, Finland. Taking both an historical and a

futuristic view, Hank Hardy Unruh explained how the U.S. Civil War need

never have happened: market laws ensure that cotton-picking slaves in the

South would eventually have been freed. Feeding, clothing, housing and

policing a slave in a country like Finland would be absurdly expensive

today, he argued, compared to wages in a country like Gabon, where the

costs of food, clothes and lodging are minimal, and even better, the price

of policing is nil, since the workers are free. But he cautioned that the

use of a remote workforce had already been tried in countries like India:

and the screen of his PowerPoint presentation showed footage of rioters

protesting British rule. To keep a Ghandi-like situation of workers'

revolt, hand-spun cotton and local self-sufficiency from ever developing

again in our time, he said, the WTO had a textile solution.


It was at this point that an assistant appeared before the crowd

and ripped off Mr. Unruh's standard business attire to reveal a glittering,

golden, skin-tight body suit, equipped with a yard-long inflatable phallus

suddenly springing up from the groin area and seeming to dance about with a

life of its own. Animated graphics on the PowerPoint screen showed a

similarly outfitted man cavorting on a tropical beach: the Management

Leisure Suit, Unruh explained, was conceived to transmit pleasing

information through implanted body-chips when things were going well in the

distant factory. But the end of the protuberance housed a television

monitor, with a telematic control panel allowing the manager to intervene

whenever unpleasant information signaled trouble in the making: "This is

the Employee Visualization Appendage, an instantly deployable hip-mounted

device with hands-free operation, which allows the manager to see his

employees directly, as well as receive all relevant data about them," Unruh

continued,44 while the audience clapped and whistled.


The Yes Men, archetypal figures of our society's capacity for

consent, seem to have captured every detail of the modern control and

consumption regime. Could one possibly imagine a better image of the

style-conscious, tech-savvy, nomadic and hedonistic modern manager,

connected directly into flows of information, able and compelled to respond

to any fluctuation, but enjoying his life at the same time – profiting

lavishly from his stock options, always up in the air between vocation and

vacation, with unlimited pleasure and technological control right at his

fingertips? True to its ethics of toleration, the corporate audience loved

the textiles, the technologies, and the joke as well, at least until the

entire conference was ridiculed in the press the next day. Did they even

wince as images of the distant workers – fifteen-year-old Asian women on a

factory floor, kids squatting at lathes – flashed up rapidly on the

PowerPoint screen?




The flexible personality represents a contemporary form of governmentality,

an internalized and culturalized pattern of "soft" coercion, which

nonetheless can be directly correlated to the hard data of labor

conditions, bureaucratic and police practices, border regimes and military

interventions. Now that the typical characteristics of this mentality – and

indeed of this "culture-ideology"45 – have come fully into view, it is high

time that _we_ intervene, as intellectuals and citizens. The study of

coercive patterns, contributing to the deliberately exaggerated figure of

an ideal type, is one way that academic knowledge production can contribute

to the rising wave of democratic dissent. In particular, the treatment of

"immaterial" or "aesthetic" production stands to gain from this renewal of

a radically negative critique. Those who admire the Frankfurt School, or,

closer to us, the work of Michel Foucault, can hardly refuse the challenge

of bringing their analyses up to date, at a time when the new system and

style of domination has taken on crystal clear outlines.


Yet it is obvious that the mere description of a system of

domination, however precise and scientifically accurate, will never suffice

to dispel it. And the model of governmentality, with all its nuances,

easily lends itself to infinite introspection, which would be better

avoided. The timeliness of critical theory has to do with the possibility

of refusing a highly articulated and effective ideology, which has

integrated and neutralized a certain number of formerly alternative

proposals. But it is important to avoid the trap into which the Frankfurt

School, in particular, seems to have fallen: the impasse of a critique so

totalizing that it leaves no way out, except through an excessively

sophisticated, contemplative, and ultimately elitist aesthetics. Critique

today must remain a fully public practice, engaged in communicative action

and even communicative activism: the recreation of an oppositional culture,

in forms specifically conceived to resist the inevitable attempts at

co-optation.46 The figure of the flexible personality can be publicly

ridiculed, satirized, its supporting institutions can be attacked on

political grounds, its traits can be exposed in cultural and artistic

productions, its description and the search for alternatives to its reign

can be conceived not as another academic industry – and another potential

locus of immaterial productivism – but instead as a chance to help create

new forms of intellectual solidarity, a new collective project for a better

society. When it is carried out in a perspective of social transformation,

the exercise of negative critique itself can have a powerful subjectivizing

force, it can become a way to shape oneself through the demands of a shared



The flexible personality is not a destiny. And despite the

ideologies of resignation, despite the dense realities of governmental

structures in our "control societies," nothing prevents the sophisticated

forms of critical knowledge, elaborated in the peculiar temporality of the

university, from connecting directly with the new and also complex, highly

sophisticated forms of dissent appearing on the streets. This type of

crossover is exactly what we have seen in the wide range of movements

opposing the agenda of neoliberal globalization.48 The development of an

oppositional "school" can now extend to a vastly wider field. The

communicational infrastructure has been partially externalized into

personal computers, and a considerable "knowledge capital" has shifted from

the schools and universities of the welfare state into the bodies and minds

of immaterial laborers: these assets can be appropriated by all those

willing to simply use what is already ours, and to take the risks of

political autonomy and democratic dissent. The history of radically

democratic movements can be explored and deepened, while the goals and

processes of the present movement are made explicit and brought openly into



The program is ambitious. But the alternative, if you prefer, is

just to go on playing someone else's game – always in the air, between

vocation and vacation, eyes on the latest information, fingers on the

controls. Rolling the loaded dice, again and again.




1. The World Social Forum, held for the first time in Porto Alegre in

January 2001, is symbolic of the turn away from neoclassical or

"supply-side" economics. Another potent symbol can be found in the charges

leveled by economist Joseph Stiglitz at his former employers, the World

Bank, and even more importantly, at the IMF – the major transnational organ

of the neoclassical doctrine.

2. For a short history of cultural studies as a popular-education movement,

then a more theoretical treatment of its origins and potentials, see

Raymond Williams, "The Future of Cultural Studies" and "The Uses of

Cultural Theory," both in _The Politics of Modernism_ (London: Verso,


3. See Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson, et. al., _Resistance through

Rituals_ (London: Routledge 1993, 1st edition 1975), esp. the "theoretical

overview" of the volume, pp. 9-74.

4. The reversal becomes obvious with L. Grossberg et. al., eds., _Cultural

Studies_ (New York: Routledge, 1992), an anthology that marks the

large-scale exportation of cultural studies to the American academic


5. The methodological device of the ideal type was developed by Max Weber,

particularly in _The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism_; as we

shall see, it was taken up as a polemical figure by the Frankfurt School in

the 1950s.

6. Martin Jay, _The Dialectical Imagination_ (Berkeley: University of

California Press, 1996/1st ed. 1973), p. 116.

7. Herbert Marcuse, "Some Social Implications of Modern Technology," in A.

Arato and E. Gebhardt, eds., _The Essential Frankfurt School Reader_ (New

York: Continuum, 1988), pp. 143, 158.

8. The term "state capitalism" is more familiar as an indictment of false

or failed communism of the Stalinist Soviet Union, for instance in Tony

Cliff, _State Capitalism in Russia_ (London: Pluto Press, 1974); however,

the concept as developed by the Frankfurt School applied, with variations,

to all the centrally planned economies that emerged after the Great


9. Friedrich Pollock, "State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations"

(1941), in ibid., p. 78.

10. Otto Kirchheimer, "Changes in the Structure of Political Compromise"

(1941), in _The Essential Frankfurt School Reader_, op. cit., p. 70.

11. T.W. Adorno et. al., _The Authoritarian Personality_ (New York: Harper,


12. T.W. Adorno, "Commitment" (1962), in _The Essential Frankfurt School

Reader_, op. cit. p. 303.

13. Ibid., p. 304.

14. M. Crozier, S. Huntington, J. Watanabi, _The Crisis of Democracy_

(Trilateral Commission, 1975), p. 74.

15. In the words of the Parisian _enragés_: "What are the essential

features of council power? Dissolution of all external power – Direct and

total democracy – Practical unification of decision and execution -

Delegates who can be revoked at any moment by those who have mandated them

- Abolition of hierarchy and independent specializations – Conscious

management and transformation of all the conditions of liberated life -

Permanent creative mass participation – Internationalist extension and

coordination. The present requirements are nothing less than this.

Self-management is nothing less." From a May 30, 1968 communiqué, signed


OCCUPATIONS, made available over the Internet by Ken Knabb at:


16. Jürgen Habermas, _Legitimation Crisis_ (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975/1st

German edition 1973), p. 36.

17. _The Crisis of Democracy_, op. cit., p. 113.

18. The origins of the "conservative revolution" are described by Keith

Dixon in an excellent book, _Les évangélistes du marché_ (Paris: Raisons

d'agir, 1998).

19. Thomas Frank, _The Conquest of Cool_ (Chicago: The University of

Chicago Press, 1997), p. 8.

20. Thomas Frank, ibid., p. 229; the references to Harvey are on pp. 25 and


21. Michael J. Piore and Charles F. Sabel, _The Second Industrial Divide_

(New York: Basic Books, 1984); excerpts in R. Koolhaas, S. Boeri, S.

Kwinter, et. al., _Mutations_, exhibition catalogue, arc en rêve centre

d'architecture, Bordeaux, 2000, pp. 643-644.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, _Le Nouvel esprit du capitalisme_

(Paris: Gallimard, 1999); in this and the following three paragraphs, I

draw mainly on on pp. 208-85. As the title of the book suggests, the

authors use Weberian methodology to propose a new ideal type of capitalist

entrepreneur, "connectionist man." Unlike the Frankfurt School, they do not

systematically relate this ideal type to a socioeconomic order and a mode

of production/consumption, but remain primarily concerned with questions of


25. Andrea Branzi, one of the north Italian designers who led and theorized

this transition, distinguishes between the "Homogeneous Metropolis" of

mass-produced industrial design, and what he calls "the Hybrid Metropolis,

born of the crisis of classical modernity and of rationalism, which

discovers niche markets, the robotization of the production line, the

diversified series, and the ethnic and cultural minorities." "The Poetics

of Balance: Interview with Andrea Branzi," in F. Burkhardt and C. Morozzi,

_Andrea Branzi_ (Paris: Editions Dis-Voir, undated), p. 45.

26. In _L'individu incertain_ (Paris: Hachette, 1999, 1st ed. 1995),

sociologist Alain Ehrenberg describes the postwar regime of consumption as

being "characterized by a passive spectator fascinated by the [television]

screen, with a dominant critique marked by the model of alienation"; he

then links the positive connotations of the computer terminal in our own

period to "a model of communication promoting inter-individual exchanges

modeled on themes of activity and relationships, with self-realization as

the dominant stereotype of consumption" (p. 240). Note the disappearance of

critique in the second model.

27. David Harvey, _The Condition of Postmodernity_ (Oxford: Blackwell,

1990), pp. 141-148.

28. In the text "Immaterial Labor," Maurizio Lazarrato proposes the notion

of aesthetic production: "It is more useful, in attempting to grasp the

process of the formation of social communication and its subsumption within

the 'economic,' to use, rather than the 'material' model of production, the

'aesthetic' model that involves author, reproduction, and reception.... The

'author' must lose its individual dimension and be transformed into an

industrially organized production process (with a division of labor,

investments, orders, and so forth), 'reproduction' becomes a mass

reproduction organized according to the imperatives of profitability, and

the audience ('reception') tends to become the consumer/communicator."

Today, the computer is the key instrument allowing for this industrial

organization of aesthetic production. In: _Radical Thought in Italy: A

Potential Politics_, eds. Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press, 1966), p. 144.

29. Manuel Castells, _The Rise of the Network Society_ (London: Blackwell,

1996), p. 67.

30. Manuel Castells, ibid., p. 374.

31. Michel Foucault, "L'éthique du souci de soi comme pratique de la

liberté," interview with H. Becker, R. Forner-Betancourt, A. Gomez-Mueller,

in _Dits et ecrits_ (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), vol. IV, p. 728; also see the

excellent article by Maurizio Lazarrato, "Du biopouvoir à la biopolitique,"

in _Multitudes_ 1, pp. 45-57.

32. David Lyon, _Surveillance Society_ (Buckingham: Open University Press,

2001), p. 44.

33. For an analysis of the ways that (self-) censorship operates in

contemporary cultural production, see A. Corsani, M. Lazzarato, N. Negri,

_Le Bassin du travail immateriel (BTI) dans le métropole parisien_ (Paris:

L'Harmattan, 1996), pp. 71-78.

34. Paolo Virno, "The Ambivalence of Disenchantment," in _Radical Thought

in Italy_, op. cit., pp. 17-18.

35. Lyotard, _La condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir_ (Paris:

Minuit, 1979), esp. pp. 13-14 et 31-33.

36. Paolo Virno, "The Ambivalence of Disenchantment," op. cit., p. 17.

Compare Sennet's discussion of a 1991 U.S. government report on the skills

people need in a flexible economy: "in flexible forms of work, the players

make up the rules as they go along... past performance is no guide to

present rewards; in each office 'game' you start over from the beginning."

Richard Sennet, _The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of

Work in the New Capitalism_ (New York: Norton, 1998), p. 110.

37. Jürgen Habermas, _Legitimation Crisis_, op. cit., p. 44.

38. Can research work in cultural studies, such as Dick Hebdige's classic

_Subculture, the Meaning of Style_, now be directly instrumentalized by

marketing specialists? As much is suggested in the book _Commodify Your

Dissent_, eds. Thomas Frank and Matt Weiland (New York: Norton, 1997), pp.

73-77, where Frank and Dave Mulcahey present a fictional "buy

recommendation" for would-be stock-market investors: "Consolidated

Deviance, Inc. ('ConDev') is unarguably the nation's leader, if not the

sole force, in the fabrication, consultancy, licensing and merchandising of

deviant subcultural practice. With its string of highly successful

'SubCultsTM', mass-marketed youth culture campaigns highlighting rapid

stylistic turnover and heavy cross-media accessorization, ConDev has

brought the allure of the marginalized to the consuming public." Whether

cultural studies has been instrumentalized or not, it has clearly appeared

preferable, in American universities, to the "identity politics" which grew

directly out of the sixties' emancipation movements and seemed on the verge

of posing a real threat to cultural hierarchies in the early 19902

(particularly with the controversies over the literary canon and the book

_I, Rigoberta Menchú_).

39. See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, _Empire_ (Cambridge, Mass.:

Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 198-201: "The triple imperative of the

Empire is incorporate, differentiate, manage."

40. Piore and Sabel, _The Second Industrial Divide_, op. cit.

41. Jagdish Bhagwati, "The Capital Myth," _Foreign Affairs_ May/June 1998;

electronic text available at


42. "Une crise sans precedent ebranle l'informatique mondiale," _Le Monde_,

June 13, 2001, p. 18.

43. The ultimate reason for this tolerance appears to be fear. In

_Souffrance en France_ (Paris: Seuil, 1998), the labor psychologist

Christophe Dejours studies the "banalization of evil" in contemporary

management. Beyond the cases of perverse or paranoid sadism, concentrated

at the top, he identifies the imperative to display courage and virility as

the primary moral justification for doing the "dirty work" (selection for

lay-offs, enforcement of productivity demands, etc.). "The collective

strategy of defense entails a denial of the suffering occasioned by the

'nasty jobs'.... The ideology of economic rationalism consists... – beyond

the exhibition of virility – in making cynicism pass for force of

character, for determination and an elevated sense of collective

responsibilities... in any case, for a sense of _supra-individual

interests_" (pp. 109-111). Underlying the defense mechanisms, Dejours finds

both fear of personal responsibility and fear of becoming a victim oneself;

cf. pp. 89-118.

44. The story of the Yes Men is told by RtMark, Corporate Consulting for

the 21st Century, at <>; or go directly to


45. The notion that contemporary transnational capitalism legitimates

itself and renders itself desirable through a "culture-ideology" is

developed by Leslie Sklair, in _The Transnational Capitalist Class_

(London: Blackwell, 2001).

46. Hence the paradoxical, yet essential refusal to conceive oppositional

political practice as the constitution of a party, and indeed of a unified

social class, for the seizure of state power. Among the better formulations

of this paradox is Miguel Benasayag and Diego Sztulwark, _Du

contre-pouvoir_ (Paris: La Decouverte, 2000). It is no coincidence that the

book also deals with the possibility of transforming the modes of knowledge

production: "The difference lies less in belonging or not to a state

structure like the university, than in the articulation with alternative

dynamics that coproduce, rework and distribute the forms of knowledge. That

must be done in sites of 'minority' (i.e. 'non-hegemonic') counter-power,

which can gradually participate in the creation of a powerful and vibrant

bloc of counter-power" (p. 113).

47. The notion of a new emulation, on an ethical basis, between free and

independent subjects seems a far more promising future for the social tie

than any restoration of traditional authority. Richard Sennet doesn't hide

a certain nostalgia for the latter in _The Corrosion of Character_, op.

cit., pp. 115-16; but he remarks, far more interestingly, that in "the

process view of community... reflected in current political studies of

deliberative democracy... the evolving expression of disagreement is taken

to bind people more than the sheer declaration of 'correct' principles"

(pp. 143-44).

48. For a glimpse into the way intellectuals, activists, workers, and

artists can cooperate in dissenting actions, see Susan George, "Fixing or

nixing the WTO," in _Le Monde diplomatique_, January 2000, available at <>.