Conference Agenda

RN06_09a: Coercion, Surveillance and the Disciplining of Labour under Authoritarian Capitalism
Friday, 23/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Ian Bruff, University of Manchester
Session Chair: Thomas Haines-Doran, SOAS
Location: GM.332
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road


Surveillance And Capitalist Accumulation: Putting Capitalism Into Surveillance Capitalism

Markus Kienscherf

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Shoshana Zuboff’s recent book on surveillance capitalism’s dispossession and commodification of users’ personal data provides a compelling critique of the political economy of digital surveillance, but ultimately fails to relate surveillance capitalism to the totality-in-contradiction of capitalist accumulation. Surveillance capitalism has, after all, emerged has a central mode of accumulation that now massively encroaches but still ultimately depends on other modes of accumulation. Yet, Zuboff’s critique of surveillance capitalism is ultimately driven by a desire to return to ‘forms of information capitalism that reunite supply and demand in ways that are genuinely productive of effective life and compatible with a flourishing democratic social order’ (Surveillance Capitalism, 395). But what if surveillance capitalism itself emerged as a fix to a general contradiction between capitalist production and circulation? What if the rationalities and practices of surveillance that surveillance capitalism broadened and deepened on an unprecedented scale are themselves products of capitalist accumulation in general? Is there a return to (information) capitalism without surveillance capitalism? This paper will, first of all, show how rationalities and practices of surveillance arose in response to the requirements and contradictions of capitalist accumulation. Secondly, based on a better understanding of how concrete rationalities and practices of surveillance capitalism relate to the requirements and contradictions of capitalist accumulation the paper will locate surveillance capitalism within the unity-in-contradiction of capitalism. By way of a tentative conclusion, the paper will then discuss some of the political implications of the contradictory relations between surveillance capitalism and the capitalist mode of production in general.

China: Towards digital authoritarian capitalism?

Steven Rolf

Aston university, United Kingdom

In order to address debates surrounding corporate and state power in the global political economy, this paper explores China’s ’new economy’ and its relationship with China’s intensifying authoritarian mode of governance. Exploring the rise of digital technology firms and the increasingly politically repressive nature of the party-state, it argues that these two relatively independent trends are converging to both power domestic-oriented economic growth and intensify political authoritarianism.

Liberal theorists have long seen the development of capitalism in China as a potential vehicle for both democratisation and a further opening of the economy. Special economic zones formed a precusor to a substantial opening of the field for investments in manufacturing and some service sectors; under ‘going out’, large SOE firms have struck out to invest abroad (currently undergoing a huge expansion with the BRI program), while the stock connects, flotation of the currency and listings of firms on overseas stock exchanges have permitted some limited financial liberalisation. Politically, China certainly became somewhat more open and its bureaucracy became accountable, competitive, predictable and limited in its jurisdiction. But for the most part, observers expecting this to happen have accepted the disappointing result that China has remained intransigent in the face of internal and external pressure toward political-economic liberalisation. And today, views convergent around Carl Minzner’s thesis that the ‘reform and opening’ period is over. What is driving this trend? This paper explores some major trends in digital technologies and how they are being mobilised by the party-state (through direct investment and co-optation of elites) to stabilise the power of the CCP.

Global Flows of Goods and Everyday Violence: The Port-city of Buenaventura, Columbia

Alke Jenss

Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut, Germany

Buenaventura is Colombia's biggest, bustling port on the Pacific. Yet the city, particularly the area surrounding the port, has also seen waves of extreme violence. By way of focusing the linkages between local violence and the political economy of the port, this contribution asks: In what ways do the global interconnections of the port economy shape Buenaventura as a site of violence? How does everyday violence shape spatial practices within the city, particularly movement? How do every day coping strategies, reacting to a violent context, produce an urban, yet global space? I suggest an analysis that links the production of urban space through everyday practices (Lefebvre 1991) to the notion of violence as inherent to urban power relations (Coronil/Skurski, 2006) on the one, and to the role of global flows of goods in critical logistics literature (Cowen 2014, Khalili 2015) on the other hand. The main argument is that, global interconnections through the port are not decoupled from, but rather constitute a condition for violence in Buenaventura. By looking more closely at the city’s next-to-port spaces, we can understand Buenaventura’s urban as a space both constituted by daily violence and by stretching along global supply chains. Both violence and the secured, off-access port spaces shape, transform and limit inhabitants’ movement, while they enable global flows. I identify coping strategies such as accompaniment, adaptation of movement to zig-zag patterns, and organized spatial strategies. The article contributes to recent debates on violence and the everyday, and urban space shaped by a coercive global economy.

‘Cheap Logistics’ – Value Chain Management And The Corporal (Re-)organisation Of Labour And Struggle

Anne Engelhardt

Kassel University, Germany

Raj Patel and Jason Moore (2018: 3; 22) claim in their book ‘A history of the world in seven cheap things’ that the ‘Capitalocene’ requires ‘cheapness’ as a ‘set of strategies’ to accumulate capital. While their work illustrates the very fascinating historical developments of physical and corporal exploitation from colonialism to today, their approach is rather descriptive: It does not explain ‘how’ cheapness could become so vital. Using the arguments of this book as a starting point, this paper employs a Marxist lens to analyse the atom of capitalist accumulation: the commodity. I argue (using Cowen, Harvey, Marx) that the use value of commodities creates a need for an ever-increasing velocity and volume in capital circulation. This allows cheap logistics and requires a constant restructuring and advancement of the global value chain management. This constant process of technological development creates and requires ‘cheapness’ of food, energy, work, care and lives, while also reshaping the corporal organisation of labour: It concentrates workers at new facilities such as amazon warehouses and in other sectors atomizes or ‘uberizes’ their working structures. The paper argues with Bahnisch, Kanngieser, Federici, Fracchia and Orczeck that this recent restructuring process has an impact on labouring bodies, reproductive work and social struggles. While it changes eating habits and traffic density, it also expands the working day, decreases social and communal life and requires new flexible strategies for trade union and social movement activists to organise and fight back.