Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Viva La Revolucion!

Here's a picture of souvenir given to me by a student. I like it a lot.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Berlin Postcard

Here's a very nice snapshot emailed to the LumpenProf by a LumpenStudent. It's taken at the Marx-Engles plaza in Berlin. For some reason, he said he thought of me while he was there. I'm touched!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Not the Daily Show

Here's a wonderful video from the Daily Show writers about the current writers strike:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why Does Lawrence Summers Keep Getting Work?

Here's a rather somber news item from Inside Higher Ed on recent trends in the political tendencies of the US professoriat.

The results of the study find a professoriate that may be less liberal than is widely assumed ... The authors of the study also found evidence of a significant decline by age group in faculty radicalism, with younger faculty members less likely than their older counterparts to identify as radical or activist.
The article includes this sobering chart:

Percentage of Faculty Members, by Age, Identifying as Left Radicals or Activists


Left Radicals

Left Activists










The authors of the study also note that:
Marxist identity was also low, but with less identifiable shift by age group (the range was 3.9 to 4.7 percent) and with the strongest disciplinary support in the social sciences (17.6 percent) and humanities (5.0 percent), with negligible support elsewhere.
The right's attack on academia has paid off it seems with universities shying away from the hiring and tenuring of overtly leftist faculty members. It appears that the LumpenProf will only get lonelier as the years pass. However, just to add a little extra dose of crap into this mix, the article quotes at length from Lawrence Summers who participated in the discussion at the presentation of these findings. Summers, the former President of Harvard and former Chief Economist for the World Bank commented:
... the extent of the imbalance and some informal research he has conducted “give me pause” and has him wondering about the possibility of bias against right-leaning thinkers. He examined the scholars being asked to give Tanner Lectures (a top lecture series at leading universities) and the political leanings of economists and political figures among honorary degree recipients at a top university (which he declined to name). Liberals receive more such honors by far, he said.

It’s not that there are no conservative professors, he said, but their share is so small as to raise questions that deserve more attention. Summers wondered if the situation isn’t like it was in the early days of baseball’s racial integration, when people trying to say equality had arrived could point to the relatively equal performance of black and white stars. “But it appeared that there were not any African-American .250 hitters,” Summers said. “The only [black] players who played were stars.”

I found this statement to be deeply shocking although, considering the source, I should have expected something of this sort. Summers is famous for making shockingly heinous pronouncements. During his stint at the World Bank, Summers authored a now infamous memo arguing that the World Bank should be "encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]." While President of Harvard University, Summers called into question the scholarly chops and academic integrity of Cornel West (thus strengthening Princeton's Center for African-American Studies). This was followed by his remarks on the dearth of women faculty in the sciences as being due to the innate differences in intelligence between women and men. It's not every academic that manages to get his very own "Controversies" section in his Wikipedia article.

Now we learn from Summers that right wing faculty are just like African-American baseball players during the height of the civil rights movement. wtf?! Why does this man keep getting work?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Code Monkey

Some days the LumpenProf strangely identifies with the Code Monkey...

Code Monkey get up get coffee
Code Monkey go to job
Code Monkey have boring meeting
With boring manager Rob
Rob say Code Monkey very diligent
But his output stink
His code not functional or elegant
What do Code Monkey think?
Code Monkey think maybe manager want to write god damned login page himself
Code Monkey not say it out loud
Code Monkey not crazy, just proud

Code Monkey like Fritos
Code Monkey like Tab and Mountain Dew
Code Monkey very simple man
With big warm fuzzy secret heart:
Code Monkey like you ...

Code Monkey have every reason
To get out this place
Code Monkey just keep on working
See your soft pretty face
Much rather wake up, eat a coffee cake
Take bath, take nap
This job fulfilling in creative way
Such a load of crap ...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day

This year, December 8 will be Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. For some reason, I like this a lot:

You must spend the entire day in costume and character. The only rule is that you cannot actually tell anyone that you are a time traveler. Other than that, anything's game.

There are three possible options:

1) Utopian/cliché Future - "If the Future did a documentary of the last fifty years, this is how badly the reenactors would dress." Think Star Trek: TNG or the Time Travelers from Hob. Ever see how the society in Futurama sees the 20th century? Run with it. Your job is to dress with moderately anachronistic clothing and speak in slang from varying decades. Here are some good starters:

- Greet people by referring to things that don't yet exist or haven't existed for a long time. Example: "Have you penetrated the atmosphere lately?" "What spectrum will today's broadcast be in?" and "Your king must be a kindly soul!"

- Show extreme ignorance in operating regular technology. Pay phones should be a complete mystery (try placing the receiver in odd places). Chuckle knowingly at cell phones.

2) Dystopian Future - This one offers a little more flexibility. It can be any kind of future from Terminator to Freejack. The important thing to remember is dress like a crazy person with armor. Black spray painted football pads, high tech visors, torn up trenchcoats and maybe even some dirt here or there. Remember, dystopian future travelers are very startled that they've gone back in time. Some starters:

- If you go the "prisoner who's escaped the future" try shaving your head and putting a barcode on the back of your neck. Then stagger around and stare at the sky, as if you've never seen it before.

- Walk up to random people and say "WHAT YEAR IS THIS?" and when they tell you, get quiet and then say "Then there's still time!" and run off.

- Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell "NOOOOOOOOO"

- Stare at newspaper headlines and look astonished.

- Take some trinket with you (it can be anything really), hand it to some stranger, along with a phone number and say "In thirty years dial this number. You'll know what to do after that." Then slip away.

2) The Past - This one is more for beginners. Basically dress in period clothing (preferably Victorian era) and stagger around amazed at everything. Since the culture's set in place already, you have more of a template to work off of. Some pointers:

- Airplanes are terrifying. Also, carry on conversations with televisions for a while.

- Discover and become obsessed with one trivial aspect of technology, like automatic grocery doors. Stay there for hours playing with it.

- Be generally terrified of people who are dressed immodestly compared to your era. Tattoos and shorts on women are especially scary.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Encouraging News

Here is some encouraging news on rethinking the tenure process from Inside Higher Ed and Western Carolina University:

Western Carolina University — after several years of discussions — has just announced a move in the other direction. The university has adopted Boyer’s definitions for scholarship to replace traditional measures of research. The shift was adopted unanimously by the Faculty Senate, endorsed by the administration and just cleared its final hurdle with approval from the University of North Carolina system. Broader definitions of scholarship will be used in hiring decisions, merit reviews, and tenure consideration.

Boyer, who died in 1995, saw the traditional definition of scholarship — new knowledge through laboratory breakthroughs, journal articles or new books — as too narrow. Scholarship, Boyer argued, also encompassed the application of knowledge, the engagement of scholars with the broader world, and the way scholars teach.

All of those models will now be available to Western Carolina faculty members to have their contributions evaluated. However, to do so, the professors and their departments will need to create an outside peer review panel to evaluate the work, so that scholarship does not become simply an extension of service, and to ensure that rigor is applied to evaluations.

Lee S. Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (through which Boyer did much of his work), said Western Carolina’s shift was significant. While colleges have rushed to put Boyer’s ideas into their mission statements, and many individual departments have used the ideas in tenure reviews, putting this philosophy in specific institutional tenure and promotion procedures is rare, he said. “It’s very encouraging to see this beginning to really break through,” he said. What’s been missing is “systematic implementation” of the sort Western Carolina is now enacting, he said.

What could really have an impact, Shulman said, is if a few years from now, Western Carolina can point to a cohort of newly tenured professors who won their promotions using the Boyer model.

John Bardo, chancellor at Western Carolina, said that a good example of the value of this approach comes from a recent tenure candidate who needed a special exemption from the old, more traditional tenure guidelines. The faculty member was in the College of Education and focused much of his work on developing online tools that teachers could use in classrooms. He focused on developing the tools, and fine-tuning them, not on writing reports about them that could be published in journals.

“So when he came up for tenure, he didn’t have normal publications to submit,” Bardo said. Under a trial of the system that has now been codified, the department assembled a peer review team of experts in the field, which came back with a report that the professors’ online tools “were among the best around,” Bardo said.

The professor won tenure, and Bardo said it was important to him and others to codify the kind of system used so that other professors would be encouraged to make similar career choices. Bardo said that codification was also important so that departments could make initial hiring decisions based on the broader definition of scholarship.

Asked why he preferred to see his university use this approach, as opposed to the path being taken by many similar institutions of upping research expectations, Bardo quoted a union slogan used when organizing workers at elite universities: “You can’t eat prestige.”

Monday, October 01, 2007

Where all the children are above average...

There's a very nice article over at Inside Higher Ed on the problems of upping the GPA requirements for admission to certain majors beyond the GPA requirements for graduation:

Progression requirements produce what a colleague calls “academic boat people,” because these students drift from major to major even though they meet, and often exceed, the university’s general 2.0 GPA standard for continued enrollment. What are we to do with these students? What are we to tell parents when they complain that their child has a 2.4 GPA and yet cannot gain admittance into any of three preferred majors? Who should teach these students, and help them graduate? At my university such students become “undeclared majors,” and are transferred automatically into the College of Arts and Sciences. Do deans of the other colleges send flowers and chocolates in thanks of such generosity?

More important, who are these students? Last November I spied one of them late one evening at the local Sam’s Club. She was a decent writer in my upper-division course, but consistently earned C grades, and contributed very little to class discussions. She was at work, of course, and her lapel button held a photograph of her infant daughter. She greeted me kindly, and noted that she worked full time, was a new mother, and that soon she would finish the research paper for my course. At once my assumptions about her ability changed; suddenly her course grade reflected the complexity of life, and was no longer a simple metric of future success. Much the same happened months later when I encountered another student in a restaurant. He too earned a C from me, and as we conversed he noted that he worked more than 40 hours a week while enrolled in my course. He attended my 8 o’clock class, went straight to work, and then returned to campus for a class at night. As a progression requirement pusher I failed to incorporate the reality of these students into our department’s standards.

To be sure there are many students who do not work late, do not face double days with families, and who simply do not apply themselves in courses. This does not justify progression requirements, even though the goal of excluding just such students motivated my own jump into rule making. And herein lies the problem: progression requirements are exclusionary. They keep people from pursuing their particular academic goals. They prevent students from specializing in a field of particular interest to them. Yes, budget constraints mean that universities sometimes cannot meet the demand for programs. But often such issues are absent, and yet progression requirements remain. Take it from a former progression requirement pusher: Such exclusion, as well meaning as it may be, prevents universities from fulfilling the call to educate our citizens. As such they should be eliminated when possible, reduced when feasible, and abandoned as a means of determining in advance who will and will not be successful in life.

This an area of academic discrimination that is increasingly important to resist. Often its source lies in a self-aggrandizing desire to see our own fields has the hardest, best, or most demanding coupled with a, perhaps understandable but still unjustifiable, desire to teach only the best and brightest students with the most time to devote to our subjects. Even where admission to programs needs to be restricted simply because there are not enough classes to meet the student demand, a lottery might be a much better way to apportion those scare seats rather than setting ever higher GPA requirements.

To Market to Market...

I'm declaring a moratorium for awhile on whiny posts like the one below. This blog is my primary outlet for such whines and rants, but even I get tired of them sometimes. And the whine accomplished its therapeutic goal – I'm feeling much happier. So... Onward!

I've been reading some of the posts scattered around lately on the fear and angst generated by the impending job search season. Lumpenprof is basking in his first year in more than a decade of not being either on the market, or up for tenure or contract renewal. That's a long time. So I feel perfectly justified in wanting to cleanse my mind of all things job search related. And then it happens. I get the word that I'm to serve on search committee this year. "Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in. "

However, this will be the first time I've had the opportunity to participate in a job search from this side. I'm a hardened veteran from the other side. And even though I would like a year off from job search related tasks, I find I'm getting interested at the prospect of being involved in a search committee even though I know it's likely to be a stressful process.

This search will be something new for everyone involved. Since it won't be a search for a faculty member in my recently defunct department, we are being charged with finding a faculty member for someone else's department – although we don't really know which department that will be. The flipside is that most of the folks on the search committee won't be searching for a colleague to work with themselves, but to work with me. Plus the committee is going to be super-sized to include all the various stake holders involved. Whee! I get a little rush of vertigo just thinking about it. This is going to be fun...

Sadly, I won't be able to blog much about the process for good reasons of confidentiality. I want this search to go well. And since it's the first of its kind, I also want us to try to set some good precedents for future searches. Wish us luck!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Insult to Injury: Revenge of Bizarro U

There must be some very special gene we academics have that helps us find unerring ways to piss off our colleagues and breed subterranean resentments in ways no one would imagine possible. We really are geniuses at this if nothing else.

From our previous installments, readers may remember that administrators at my Bizarro World University, having worked diligently behind the scenes to discredit and disband my interdisciplinary department, bizarrely decided to create a new interdisciplinary college – all without any substantive faculty input.

Now news comes by way of an inadvertently forwarded email, that a vote has been scheduled on a formal resolution to dissolve my department as a last minute addition to the agenda of our college's curriculum committee. Apart from the fact that the administration has discovered that disbanding an academic department requires a vote by a least some faculty body, the vote was scheduled without notifying anyone in my department that it would be taking place.

This has had the completely predictable result of reminding everyone in the department of just how badly they have been treated throughout these events and further cementing their bitterness, anger and disaffection. Adding this gratuitous bit of insult to injury seems so unnecessary. A simple, courteous notification of the upcoming vote would have been so easy and appropriate. Of course, it also would have been appropriate for the decision to have been made by this faculty committee rather than for it, so perhaps that's the real reason behind the secrecy.

You must excuse me now; I have to go practice my ax grinding. Clearly it's a skill I will need to master as I continue to learn my proper role as tenured faculty.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Guitar Hero

Here's a nice video I found on youtube of one of my very favorite blues guitarists, Mr. Mel Brown.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Free the Jena 6

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Talk Like a Pirate Day

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, here's a song from the late George Harrison.

Or as translated into pirate speak: "Ahoy, in honor o' International Talk Like a Pirate Day, har's a song from the late George Harrison Gar, Where can I find a bottle o'rum?"

You can also celebrate the day by reading this more scholarly discussion of pirates and piracy studies.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

1.2 Million Dead in Iraq

From AlterNet:

According to a new study, 1.2 million Iraqis have met violent deaths since the 2003 invasion, the highest estimate of war-related fatalities yet. The study was done by the British polling firm ORB, which conducted face-to-face interviews with a sample of over 1,700 Iraqi adults in 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Two provinces -- al-Anbar and Karbala -- were too dangerous to canvas, and officials in a third, Irbil, didn't give the researchers a permit to do their work. The study's margin of error was plus-minus 2.4 percent. ...

Americans were asked in an AP poll conducted earlier this year how many Iraqi civilians they thought had been killed as a result of the invasion and occupation, and the median answer they gave was 9,890. That's less than a third of the number of civilian deaths confirmed by U.N. monitors in 2006 alone.

Embedded Angelina

From Writer Response Theory. MyCyberTwin is one of the strangest chatbot sites I have seen yet. I'm speechless. I've embedded a version of Angelina Jolie for you to chat with, but for those masochists out there you can also talk to George.

Book Meme 123.5

By way of Decoys.

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  5. Don't search around and look for the "coolest" book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.
"In both there is a complete lack of sense of time."
Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Avon, 2006.

Feel free to play along in the comments below.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bring 'em On

A recent post from Slaves of Academe on stalking her former grad student peers and colleagues online linked to my post on academic deadwood. Taken along with the post below on the status of women in Philosophy and my own recent involuntary relocation from my interdisciplinary department at Bizarro U back to my disciplinary homeland of Philosophy has occasioned me to do some online prowling of my former academic homes as well. It's been sobering.

I don't actually recognize my graduate program any longer. It is one of those top 20 schools included in Haslanger's statistics below. I'm saddened to see it is well below average even among that dismal company with only two women remaining on its very large faculty, or less than five percent (or put another way, in the last twenty years they have failed to tenure and retain any new women faculty). Almost all of the members of my dissertation committee have either moved on or died. The entire continental program has disappeared and left the field clear for all analytic philosophy all the time.

As I contemplate what life will be like back as one of the boys in the Philosophy department at my present institution, I find it doesn't fill me with quite as much revulsion as in years past. There is one simple reason for this change... tenure.

Bring 'em on. I'm ready to rumble.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Welcome to my discipline...

I'm glad to see this in Inside Higher Ed. Many of my colleagues think I must be joking when I tell them how under-represented women are in Philosophy departments:

Sally Haslanger’s latest paper won’t appear until next year, in the journal Hypatia, but a version she posted online is attracting considerable attention by pointing out the limits of progress for women in philosophy.

Haslanger studied the gender breakdowns in the top 20 departments (based on The Philosophical Gourmet Report) and found that the percentage of women in tenure track positions was 18.7 percent, with two departments under 10 percent. She also looked at who published in top philosophy journals for the last five years and found that only 12.36 percent of articles were by women. Figures like that might not shock in some disciplines, but they stand out in the humanities. In history, for examples, a 2005 report found women making up 18 percent of full professors and 39 percent of assistant professors. ...

To judge from comments posted about her essay on Crooked Timber and other blogs, many women in graduate school today remain the only women in their programs — and experience variations on what Haslanger described.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Be a Footnote!

Limited, Inc. needs our help. Secure your place as a footnote in intellectual history, by giving generously to help Roger pay his bills. Just follow the convenient PayPal link at the bottom of the page on Limited, Inc. and be a footnote now!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Digital Fetishism

Rough Theory has continued the thread on Marx and digital commodities with a response to my previous post and writes:

I agree with the main point here - I see nothing in digital commodities that is different in terms of the role they play within capitalist reproduction to other sorts of commodities (this doesn’t of course mean that new technologies can’t introduce novel potentials for the development of new forms of subjectivity, embodied relationships, etc., but it does mean that there is nothing intrinsically non-capitalist about the new technologies). I tend, though, to describe Marx’s strategic intention slightly differently (and this may just be a matter of phrasing and emphasis). The emphasis in the passage above seems to be on the fetish as something that hides or obscures - and therefore as something Marx’s critique is trying to strip away, in order to reveal the underlying reality beneath - in this case, the reality that, in spite of the growth of technological potentials, human labour remains central.

I tend - and this difference is somewhat slight, but has some important implications - instead to present Marx’s argument about the fetish as part of an attempt to pose the question of why human labour should remain important, given the hypertrophic development of new technologies and the increases in productivity that are structural tendencies within capitalist development. Rather than simply trying to reveal the centrality of labour, Marx is, I think, trying to foreground precisely how irrational it is that human labour should remain central - trying to nudge us in the direction of realising that there is no material reason for this centrality - that material production could quite comfortably shift to something ever-more technologically mediated, and ever-less dependent on the expenditure of human labour. So: yes, on one level he is drawing attention to the human labour that continues to be required - but with the strategic intent of suggesting that this requirement is essentially bizarre - that it is “social”, that it is arbitrary - and, therefore, that it can be transformed without a regression back to premodern levels of material wealth.

I'm also never very satisfied with pitching the fetishism riff as one of concealment, although that strand is certainly present in Marx. Here's yet another way to shift that emphasis that may be more compatible with the point being pursued above by Rough Theory.

Under capitalism, value takes the form of a single, homogenous, social substance: labor. It is quite literally the only thing that capital can value. Capital lives on a monotonous diet of dead labor unlevened by any other supplemental concerns or desires. And for capital more is always better, so the more dead labor capital can accumulate in the form of either commodities or money the better for capital. However, it is only within capitalism that value takes on such a limited form.

We can imagine a splendid array of things to value: beauty, social justice, clean air, happy children, dance music, baseball, rowdy sex, tasty food, great literature, good booze. For capital, these are only every use-values that become interesting only in so far as they may also be bearers of value. Baseball and booze have been successfully shaped into commodities that have value for capital -- clean air and social justice ... not so much. For Marx, the end of capital would also mean the end of labor as the sole value that trumps all other values.

Marx is certainly a fan of technology as something which sets the stage for capital's end through creating the ability to meet our material needs with ever less necessary labor. This could certainly include digital technologies which currently produce such an embarrassing abundance of music and videos that capital has to try to recreate scarcity through legal and electronic counter-measures. However, this is where our current difficulty lies. Simply because we find many things to value online other than the efficiency of labor, this doesn't mean that capital shares our enthusiasms.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

mmmm... Marx!

Rough Theory has a tasty recent post on Marx, technology, and the labor theory of value. The post begins:

I’ve read several works recently that argue that Marx’s labour theory of value, while appropriate for the period in which it was written, now needs to be updated to account for the role of technology in the production of wealth. I have no problem with the general notion that, in significant respects, Marx’s argument remains bound to the 19th century, but I can’t help but find this particular notion of what is outdated in Marx’s argument somewhat odd.
I share this sense of oddity and I'm often disturbed when I see discussions of the internet and of digital commodity production used as examples of a new mode of production that exceeds the bounds of the labor theory of value described by Marx. I touched on this recently in the exchange on The Labor Theory of Blogging arguing that blogging could be viewed as another form of unwaged labor, like housework or schoolwork, and so still functions as labor for capital.

Marx devotes the longest chapter in Capital, Volume I to the topic of "Machinery" precisely in order to explain capitalism's enthusiasm for large-scale mechanization in terms other than the highly suspect utopian notions of labor-saving devices being used to free workers from the need to toil. For Marx, machinery as used by capital is one of its most ingenious and devious strategies for extracting ever greater quantities of surplus-labor from workers. Digital machines are no different. Capital loves computers because they make workers more productive, cheapening commodities in general, and cheapening the commodity of labor-power in particular. Thus, allowing workers to donate an ever greater share of their labor time to capital for free.

That work resulting in the production of digital commodities strikes us as so different from work that produces other sorts of commodities is perhaps simply the latest version of the ability of the commodity form to dazzle us that Marx describes as the "fetishism of commodities."
A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human labour. It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was.
Digital commodities seem even more clever than wooden tables, and evolve out of their computerized brains ideas yet more grotesque. They seem to take on a life of their own -- they move, grow, replicate, spawn, and evolve -- and so hide and obscure the human labor they embody.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Parents Strongly Cautioned

By way of Professor Zero. Note to self: must strive to use saltier language in the future. "Dead," "hell," and "bastard" were the worst this gizmo could find in my blog.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fire Blogging

July wasn't a very productive month for blogging for the LumpenProf. My attention hasn't been online -- which isn't really a terrible thing. But I've started to miss my online exchanges, so it's time to start back again. August will be a much better month to blog, I think, if for no other reason than that I'll need the distraction from all the other reading and writing I ought to be doing to get ready for the school year.

This afternoon I'm burning a pile of lumber scraps in the front yard. Somehow, blogging on the front porch swing while drinking a beer and listening to the amazingly loud pops and cracks of some of the venerable, but sadly useless and rotting, American Chestnut boards on the bonfire seems like the thing to do.

I haven't really posted since I got tagged by the Combat Philosopher for the 8 things meme. Like the CP, I'm also somewhat ambivalent about these memes, since they seem to be the blog equivalent of chain letters. But since they are mostly harmless and innocuous chain letters, I'll play along. With one proviso. I hereby proclaim that I will accept any and all resulting bad karma for any of the folks I tag who do not wish to play. So, without further ado, here are eight lumpenfacts about the LumpenProf:

  1. I'm currently learning to play clawhammer banjo. It's strangely relaxing. Plus, I have a beautiful old Luscomb banjo from the 1890's that's nice to hold and plunk on.
  2. Another musical factoid, in college I once played guitar with a blues band that played in the bar where the bloody final shootout would be filmed for Robert Rodriguez' Desperado. As I recall, we set up right about where Antonio Banderas leaves the pile of dead bodies.
  3. I once shook hands with the father of the voice of Alvin the Chipmunk.
  4. I went to grad school with Mr. Limited, Inc. who is still the smartest man I know.
  5. I habitually read Catch-22. I don't know why.
  6. Sometimes, when I'm feeling happy, I brew beer. It's pretty good beer too.
  7. Wherever I am, but especially when I'm traveling, strangers stop me on the street to ask me directions. I used to think this happened to everyone. But evidently not. I must look either exceptionally knowledgeable, or exceptionally harmless. Or both.
  8. I can handle a snake whip.
Now I will pass on this dubious honor to the following eight bloggers: Limited, Inc., What in the hell, Wildly Parenthetical, Professor Zero, Genderquake, notes of a neophyte, I think and it is so, and Academic Cog. You are all cordially invited to post eight things about yourselves on your blogs and then tag eight more poor unsuspecting bloggers out there.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

More Net Radio

Machinist: Tech Blog, Tech News, Technology Articles - Salon:

Many Web radio outfits feared closure as their legal fight against staggering new music royalty rates met failure this week. On Thursday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to block the new rates, which are scheduled to go into effect Sunday. But as a result of public outcry -- which, in turn, sparked congressional outcry -- SoundExchange, the recording-industry group that collects royalties, has agreed not to immediately enforce the rates, pending negotiations with webcasters.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Radio Help

Time and options are running out for Internet Radio. Late this afternoon, the court DENIED the emergency stay sought on behalf of webcasters, millions of listeners and the artists and music they support.

UNLESS CONGRESS ACTS BY JULY 15th, the new ruinous royalty rates will be going into effect on Sunday, threatening the future of all internet radio.

We are appealing to the millions of Internet radio listeners out there, the webcasters they support and the artists and labels we treasure to rise up and make your voices heard again before this vibrant medium is silenced. Even if you have already called, we need you to call again.

The situation is grave, but that makes the message all the simpler and more serious.

PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES RIGHT AWAY and urge them to support the Internet Equality Act. Go to http://www.capwiz.com/saveinternetradio/alert_9738601.html to find the phone numbers of your Senators and Representative.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Writing Like a Girl

By way of Genderquake, here's a fascinating web gizmo called Gender Genie that analyzes writing samples and then hazards a guess as to the author's gender. As she notes on her blog, genderquake's own prose is gendered male. By contrast, based on the analysis of my own horror stories post, the LumpenProf's prose is female. How cool is that? I'm intrigued by all this apparent trans-gendered writing and critical cross-dressing that is evidently rampant on academic blogs. I'm also wondering if Gender Genie's results are any more reliable than flipping a coin.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Radio Silence

A Look at Radio Silence: When Copyright Law Reform Goes Terribly Wrong:

This Tuesday, June 26, is a "day of silence" on which webcasters will protest the hike in Internet radio royalty rates, scheduled to become effective July 15, and to apply retroactively to January 1, 2006. Webcasters have also asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for an emergency stay of the rates ruling.

The webcasters have an excellent point: Instead of increasing rates enough to properly compensate rights holders and encourage creation, the new rates are so unreasonably high that they are threatening the survival of an entire industry. Unless the new regulations are successfully repealed, the new rates will result in true perpetual "radio silence" for thousands of online radio stations - a loss for rights holders, distributors and consumers alike.

LumpenRadio and the rest of internet radio will be back tomorrow. Visit www.savenetradio.org to help the fight to save internet radio.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Where To Go?

I've probably worked in the sausage factory for too many years now to be the best spokesperson for the product. When I'm asked by friends and family what colleges I would recommend their son or daughter consider, I'm often stumped. I know a few places to stay away from, but I find it difficult to give specific positive recommendations.

One college I often mentioned positively was Antioch. Sadly, with its closing my short list of progressive institutions has shrunk further.

I'm once again being asked for college recommendations and I need some help. What schools do you recommend to bright and creative students who want to make the most of their college experience?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thinkingman's Dead

Steve Gimbel over at Philosophers' Playground has a new edited collection out, The Grateful Dead and Philosophy. In addition to just being way cool, the book also has an essay on the Dead, taping, digital commodities, and intellectual property rights. I'm going to have to get a copy soon.

the question about the relation between authorship and ownership -- which is quite similar to a discussion between Dead guitarist Bob Weir and Dead lyricist and Weir's longtime friend (and partner in crime back in their boarding school days) John Perry Barlow. Barlow has gone on to found the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to protecting on-line access to information. One of the revolutions fomented by the Dead was their approach to intellectual property and McDaniel College philosopher Peter Bradley has a wonderful essay in the book discussing the Dead tapers' ethic and considering whether it should be used as the basis for a new approach to intellectual property.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Magic Sam

I love YouTube. Here's a video of Magic Sam. Magic Sam died in 1969 at the age of 32. I've never seen a video of him playing before, but I've listened to his records a lot. No doubt there's a useful connection to make between the blues and happiness, but I won't spoil the moment for you. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sage Advice

Limited, Inc. has been pursuing a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion of the sage and the fool lately and, most recently, of the conventional gap between wisdom and happiness.

It has occurred to me more than once that this series of posts has more direct bearing than most on the recent discussions of graduate school and other ruminations on the state of the profession in academia.

My usual starting point on the relation between academia and happiness is that there is a certain amount of treason involved in not being happy if one is fortunate enough to occupy such enormously privileged positions as that of graduate student or professor. This line of thought, of course, leads to guilt and yet more unhappiness. However, LI writes:

As societies become more affluent, the pursuit of unhappiness emerges pretty quickly, and not just in fringe cultures. The sullenness of adolescence, the mid-life crises of middle age, the goth music grad student culture, these aren’t accidents. Affluence allows for what you might call different climates of temperament. Unhappiness is the purest response to the very idea that happiness is the ultimate parameter by which to judge one’s life and one’s society.
This resonates with much of the lived experience of academia where unhappiness is produced, cultivated, and distributed in too many subtle ways to be entirely accidental. It seems very plausible to me that this state of affairs is more structural and a direct effect of our economy of happiness rather than an aberration of it. It also tends to underscore one of LI's most recent and disturbing conclusions, "that as a social and individual ideal, happiness is fucked up."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Recent Acquisitions

A stack of new books just arrived. Here's what the LumpenProf will be reading over the rest of the summer:

For my writing project on digital commodities, there's Mark Poster's Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines along with Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life because of an intriguing comment from Sisyphus.

For fun, there's also Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives because of LI's rave review and Dan Simmon's Olympos because I need to keep up my hard earned street cred as an sf geek.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Viral Sicko

Michael Moore is soliciting home videos from folks about their health care horror stories and collecting them together on his Sicko YouTube Group. He plans to take these videos to Congress as part of a lobbying effort for universal health care. There are already a couple of dozen videos posted and I imagine there will be thousands of these painful stories uploaded by the time Sicko is actually in the theaters.

I'm intrigued by this use of YouTube on both the viral marketing and viral activism fronts. We tell these stories to each other so often, people may find a powerful sense of solidarity in sharing what they so often experience as private, individual tragedies in this very public, collective way.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Annual Reports of Yore

I found this amazing document on trillwing's blog. It's the actual sample annual report from her University's Human Resources web site. As she notes, the final EEO/AA section is a particularly fine touch.

Little John Yeomanry

Employee Name Department

This provides an opportunity to reflect upon actual work completed during the evaluation period and ensure good communication of performance between employee and supervisor.

Use of this form is optional, but may be required by ANR Senior Management, Regional and County Director’s, Statewide Program Directors, REC Superintendent’s, Managers, Supervisors, and Advisors.

  1. Accomplishments related to each job function and performance elements.
  2. Accomplishments related to established goals and/or performance expectations
  3. Future goals and/or performance expectations
  4. Training and development needs, if any
  5. Support of ANR HR Human Resources Philosophy, affirmative action performance and job-related commitment to good interpersonal relations).
It's once again time to reflect on my past year's accomplishments. This is my fifth year as a member of the Merry Band.

Stealing from the Rich: As you know, 50% of my position is devoted to this job function. I'm pleased to report that I was able to increase highway robberies by 29% (five more than last year's record of 17). I also developed a one-time plan to tell the wicked Earl John that the Sheriff of Nottingham intended to keep King Richard's ransom. My plan was carried out last November, resulting in a loss to the Sheriff of 10,000 pieces of gold. We also planned to begin conducting train robberies in February 1001, but when we met in March, we decided to defer this plan pending the invention of the steam locomotive.

Giving to the Poor: In the other 50% of my position, I made need-based grants to 47 individuals whom we encountered on the road through Sherwood Forest (my assigned area). However, while filling in for Friar Tuck (who was on sabbatical at the Cordon Bleu), I also gave purses of silver to 4 millwrights and 3 cordwainers within his area.

Established Goals: Our Merry Band set a goal of enrolling four stout yeopersons by the end of fiscal 1000-1001. I'm happy to report that I was the one who spotted George o' the Green and Dame Softly looking for work at the Scarborough Fair and as a result of the negotiations with our Personnel Committee, they will probably join our band in July.

Future Goals: I believe that I could be more effective at Giving to the Poor if I could begin working an alternate work schedule, so as to catch the early morning and suppertime passers-by on the Sherwood Forest Road. If we are able to agree on an alternate work schedule, I believe I can increase my need-based grants by 10% during FY 1001-1002.

Training and Development: I am interested in increasing my technology skills and would like to attend "English Longbow for Fun and Profit." I will need the first three Fridays of December 1001 to attend the classes, and one hour per day during these weeks to practice on the Archery Field.

EEO/AA Opportunities: I do not have supervisory responsibilities, but in our campfire discussions I have spoken often about a nation that is neither Saxon nor Norman, but English.

Little John July 17, 1007

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Horror Stories

I've been reading some of the posts on surviving graduate school being collected at To Delight and Instruct and occasioned by a post on Reassigned Time along with a response from Academic Cog. Just as women who are pregnant can rely on friends and strangers to inundate them with every imaginable horror story concerning labor and delivery, so new graduate students can expect to hear every horror story about graduate school. My apologies in advance for scaring any prospective grad students.

One of the first and most shocking revelations for me in my transition from undergraduate to graduate school was the realization that I was no longer loved. My undergraduate professors loved me. I was a bright, enthusiastic, articulate student who looked forward to going to class, did all the reading, participated freely in rowdy class discussions, and sometimes wrote essays that weren't awful. What's not to love? My graduate school career began with a reception for the new graduate students by the faculty complete with sherry served in plastic cups followed by two hours of threats concerning grades, financial aid, due dates, satisfactory progress towards the degree, incompletes, defense deadlines, committee approvals, etc. It was demoralizing. What was even stranger was that these were the very same professors that had loved me just last year. I went to graduate school at my undergraduate institution and yet I felt as if I had fallen down the rabbit hole. It was completely disorienting.

Over time, this is how I've come to think about this change to the higher stress and more combative nature of graduate education as opposed to undergraduate education: it is because their aims and purposes are very different. While producing a broadly educated, articulate, confident, freethinking citizen and life-long learner may be the goal of an undergraduate education; the aim of graduate education is something very different. Graduate school is about training the next generation of college professors. It is about the perpetuation of the species, and questions of paternity and the fidelity of faithful reproduction come to the forefront and often overshadow other concerns about fostering creativity and instilling confidence.

When students ask me if they should go to graduate school my starting advice tends to be "Don't do it." I also often recommend they read these posts on Should I go to graduate school? and How long should I search for an academic position? before they commit themselves to spending a decade of their lives in graduate school.

I do realize how terribly disaffected and bitter I sound. I don't like this part of myself and on most days I do a good job of resisting it. But the fact that I have to resist this bitterness is also part of what should to be considered, because I'm one of the very fortunate few. I finished my dissertation, have tenure, like my students, like my town, have a partner with tenure at the same institution, and have kids too. If even the success stories are this ambivalent about graduate school, then it probably pays to be at least a little cautious.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Colony Collapse Theory #812

There has been a great deal of speculation lately about Colony Collapse Disorder and the disappearance of the honey bee. Theories to explain this freakish phenomenon have run the gamut from mites, pesticides, genetically engineered crops, and global warming to studies linking Colony Collapse Disorder to cell phone usage. However, I now know the truth.

Today I stepped on my second honey bee in as many weeks. I have gone my entire life without ever stepping on a single bee. Now I've stepped on two, and even though I was wearing sandals both times I still managed to get stung on the bottom of my foot. Clearly, this explains Colony Collapse Disorder. Honey bees are now being trampled in record numbers. From my own recent survey of feet, the increase in bee tramplings has been astronomical.

And in addition to now having this vague sense of guilt over treading on a possibly endangered species, it also fucking hurts.

Dino Rides

From ars technica: " Last weekend was the first weekend [of] the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY." The picture above is of a saddled triceratops for the kids to ride. Evidently, this is how Adam and Eve used to ride 'em back in the garden. Among the other exhibits:

There were posters explaining just how coal could be formed in a few weeks as opposed to over millions of years and how rapidly the Biblical flood would cover the earth, drowning all but a handful of living creatures. The flood plays a big part in the museum's attempt to explain away what we see as millions of years of natural processes. There was also an explanation as to why, with only one progenitor family, it wasn't considered incest for Adam and Eve's children to marry each other. Apparently there was less sin back then, and therefore fewer mutations in their DNA. Evidently sin, not two copies of the same recessive trait, gives rise to congenital birth defects. As you walk through the museum, the contorted reasoning to explain the formation of the Grand Canyon in hours or the rapid creation of thousands of breeds of dogs in a matter of weeks is augmented by what can only be described as a house of horrors about the dangers of abortion and drugs and the devil's music.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Philosopher Kings

This article on Workplace Blog caught my eye. I found it almost oddly encouraging:


June 4, 2007 -- THE State University has secretly granted the largest pay raise in public payroll history - an eye-popping $141,995-a-year - to a little-known, Ferrari-driving professor who is already the highest-paid official in New York, The Post has learned.

It was revealed earlier that Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, the head of SUNY's state-of-the-art College of Nanoscale Science and Technology in Albany, was earning $525,000-a-year.

Then last week, SUNY officials - without any notice to the public - granted Kaloyeros, 51, the unprecedented raise, bringing his annual state salary to $666,995.

Gov. Spitzer, by contrast, is paid $179,000 a year.

A state where scholars are the highest paid employees and professors and school teachers all drive Ferraris is one I could happily endorse.

Sadly, in this case it's not some hard working Proust scholar who is the recipient of this largess, but the head of a high-tech, grant-getting, public-private, computer-chip manufacturing research consortium with Department of Defense ties aplenty.

This doesn't really match the scenario I've envisioned for philosopher kings, although the salary is about right.

Some Unlikely Searches

Here are some unusual searches that have brought folks to this site:

"pictures of woodland animal sculls"
animation "the animals" polish
mortarboard animation
does deadwood contain nudity (probably this deadwood rather than this deadwood)
tenure process nightmare (ok, so this one is accurate)
salvador dali tattoos (oddly enough, this one is also accurate)
"fuck your war"
deleuze summer camp
Finally, there was this one:
picachu nude

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Fair(y) Use Tale

A discussion of copyright fair use in Disney characters' own words from Eric Fadden at Bucknell. Amazing.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Where Are You?

This grim map of U.S. war dead by home town is from Iraq Coalition Casualties. Iraqi deaths are beyond grim.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


This is by way of Abject Learning. Someone needs to explain this to me: Twitter.

Wikipedia describes it as "a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send ... text-based posts, up to 140 characters long." It's like a minimalist chat room, but with thousands posting all at once. It's very strange. It's very large. And I may be the last person on the internet to know about it.

What do you do with this? What can you do with this? I'm puzzled and intrigued and would love to hear from folks who are using this for academic purposes or for any purpose for that matter. Please. Explain it to me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Desiring Blog Production

This post is in response to a comment below from jreeve as well as to a recent post from Decoys on the continuing discussion of the labor theory of blogging begun on I cite.

jreeve writes:

When I read my kids Sesame Street books, they are also getting an advertisement for Big Bird. This inclusion or citation is a big part of the value of those products: the value of a Big Bird doll as greater than that of a stuffed yellow bird is created not by some inherent goodness of the product but rather by the fact I have developed Big Bird as a significant character for my children.
This seems right to me. It's very hard to avoid participating in the corporate marketing aimed at ourselves and our kids. One of the very first words of my youngest was "Picachu" – which was disturbing for her marxist dad on any number of levels. Asking why kids desire Big Bird or Picachu, though, isn't so far removed from asking Wilhelm Reich's question of why people desire fascism? The question isn't one of value, though, but of use-value. Why do we want the particular things we want? Why do these things come to have a use-value for us? Marx writes:
A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference.
Marx writes very little about how use-value becomes attached to one thing rather than another. The question of why we desire the things we do isn't one that Marx addresses directly since for Marx's discussion of value, the particular use-value involved "makes no difference." This is one reason for so much later interest in various Freudian supplements to Marx as a way to approach this question of desire. From here, it's only a short step to discussions of Deleuze and Guattari's desiring-production or Zizek's Lacanian riffs. The advertising and branding that capital engages in today is focused on shaping and producing consumer desires for what capital is selling.

Decoyist writes:
Should the value of blogging be measured in economic terms? As L.P. shows, it can be, but as L.P.’s links also show, it can be seen in other terms. Blogging is economically highly unprofitable without returns from other quarters; given this, one might look to Hegelian recognition, were this to offer much profitability itself in the small circles it operates in; alternatively, the blogger might seek to resist the global order in statements that represent their subjectivity in performativity.

What is it that gets a blogger out of bed in the morning? All of the above and none of the above! It is a question of priorities, caprice. It is difficult for one motivation alone to overshadow all other others without extraordinary discharge of energy, a wastefulness lurking where economy (of whatever kind) imposes – no expenditure without loss. The blogger, in considering economic imperatives, embraces the uneconomical.
This also seems right to me, except that what the blogger embraces might better be understood as a variety of different use-values for blogging, including even, its uselessness. What a blogger gets out of his or her blog isn't the same thing as what capital gets out of that blog. This is another way to describe the difference between use-value (the thing workers desire) and value (the thing capital desires). Use-value is always very malleable and the production of new and different use-values is always possible within capital. Capital is extremely tolerant of these innovations in use-value. In fact, capital almost never cares what we use something for as long as we still buy it, and the more different use-values the better since each use-value brings along with it the possibility of a new commodity to sell.

Capital makes no such concessions when it comes to value. While you and I may be able to imagine finding value in many different things – beauty, love, wit, recognition, or cool – capital can only ever value a single thing: labor. The more labor something takes to produce, the more value it has. Capital is not subtle or flexible on this point and capital's hunger for value can't be sated by offering up some substitute source of value. Capital lives on a steady and monotonous diet of dead labor alone. And while you and I may find many different and wondrous use-values for a commodity, capital sees every commodity through its monochromatic lens of labor-time only. Thus, from capital's perspective the value of blogging lays not in the variety of uses the consumers and producers find for their blogs. For capital, blogs can only have value in that the labor put into them helps to produce and reproduce a commodity, in this case, the commodity of labor-power itself. Even the dreams discussed by Decoyist have a place in this production of labor-power. One can't escape working for capital even in sleep, and in so far as our dreams are part of the production and reproduction of ourselves as labor-power for capital they also have value for capital.

jreeve continues:
To push this onto blogging, can't the same be true about the mechanism behind discussing some film or book? Isn't a blog about the films 300 an ad for the film?Is it possible to think of the labor of blogging as creating that kind of value, or are these narratives foreign to Marxism as it stands now?
This also fits with capital's more recent focus on marketing and advertising as ways of shaping and producing consumer desires. Blogs function as consumer produced advertisements for movies and books and certainly capital benefits. This would be yet another facet of the link between blogs and the production of labor-power as desiring-consumers.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Class War in Iraq

Be sure to read Limited Inc.'s posts on class and the Iraq war. Recommended Memorial Day reading.

One of the things that is most striking about this war – and striking about post-Cold War kultcha in general – is the lack of any reference to class. When Marx analyzed the civil war in France, after the French defeat in 1870, he naturally turned to class analysis. Somehow, this handy and hardy tool has become obsolete. Googling for some reference to class analysis of the situation in Iraq, I found zip.

So let me take it out of my ass here.

I could make a joke, and say that the sectarianism really is a big problem in the Iraq war – sectarianism in the U.S. of A.., that is. But that would be inexact. More coldly, the class segmented structure of Iraq has been shattered by the war, and that shattering has been the prerequisite to sectarianism. ...

In essence, the U.S. underwrote the expropriation of the upper class in Iraq without even knowing it. Contra those who think that every mistake that the U.S. makes is part of some devilish, conspiratorial plan, this unleashing of forces is precisely the kind of thing that upsets the plutocratic vision of Iraq.

Lightnin' Hopkins

Here are two wonderful Lightnin' Hopkins videos unearthed from youtube by Professor Zero. Trying to pick along with Lightnin' Hopkins tunes on Larry Monroe's Blue Monday radio show was one of my formative musical experiences. The closest connection I can claim to this Texas blues legend is through a friend who had the presence of mind to go pay his respects to this bluesman in his Houston hospital room shortly before his death in 1982. I never got to see him play though. I'm glad there are a few videos of him for us to enjoy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Blue Books, Ink and Minutemen

Here is a wonderful end-of-the-semester video by jreeve. It was left as a comment on a post below on tattoos, but it's just too good not to share. I hope one day I'm this cool in class.

Minutemen, Corona.
The people will survive
In their environment
The dirt, scarcity, and the emptiness
Of our South
The injustice of our greed
The practice we inherit
The dirt, scarcity and the emptiness
Of our South
There on the beach
I could see it in her eyes
I only had a Corona
Five cent deposit

Now Blogging at 2.16 GHz

I just got a new computer! I had asked for a modest software upgrade for my old one, but during the end of the fiscal year budget spending bonanza, I ended up with a brand new iMac. It's way cool, but the screen is so big I have the urge to eat popcorn while I check my email. From now on, I will be blogging at 2.16 GHz, although, I will try to type s l o w l y for those of you with less fearsome machines.

And just for grins... according to the labor theory of blogging I've been pursuing, the new computer would constitute an increase in constant capital aimed at making me a more productive blogger, thus further decreasing the socially necessary labor-time needed for blogging and so decreasing, ever so slightly, the value of labor-power for capital resulting in an increase in the rate of surplus-value.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Use-Value of Blogging

I've argued in two previous posts that most blogs are not commodities themselves, but that they are part of the process for producing the commodity labor-power.

Perhaps an example will help.

Consider a parent telling a bedtime story to their child. The bedtime story itself isn't a commodity. No matter how much enjoyment they find in it, no matter how instructive, no matter how much the kid smiles, or how much time and creativity the parent invests in crafting it, the story is not a commodity. It is not produced for exchange and is not a source of surplus-value for capital. However, in so far as the bedtime story is part of the means of subsistence for the child – like breakfast, t-shirts, school, and cable-tv – then the bedtime story too can be understood as part of the useful labor that goes into producing this next generation of labor-power.

Blogs are like bedtime stories. Blogs are most often not commodities produced for exchange, but they are still part of the useful labor that goes into producing and reproducing the commodity of labor-power. And currently, the vast majority of blogging labor pays just as poorly as telling bedtime stories.

This is one story about the relationship between blogging and capital that can be told, but there are certainly others – stories about immaterial labor, attention economies, or Baudrillard and sign-value. And there may be digital commodities other than blogging that require some new and different kinds of stories be told as well.

However, I'm wary of any story that encourages intellectuals see what they do as something other than, or more important than, labor. As a group, we are too susceptible to the flattery. If nothing else, the story told here has the virtue of connecting blogging and intellectual labor with the much less glamorous economy of unpaid housework and childcare.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Productive vs. Unproductive Blogging

This is a continuation of yesterday's post. More on this topic can also be found here, here and here on I cite as well as here on Foucault Is Dead.

Yesterday, in The Labor Theory of Blogging, I argued that most blogs are not themselves commodities because the vast majority of blogs are not produced for exchange. They are not sold on the market. (Let's ignore the possibility for now that I may be working for free for Google and producing this blog as a commodity for them to sell.) However, even given that most blogs aren't themselves commodities, I think it would be a mistake to conclude that commodity production is not still taking place here in the blogosphere as we work together on the collaborative production and distribution of rants, raves, snark, and other useful information.

In the second half of Jodi Dean's post on Productive Labor, she writes:

The early Marx was concerned with alienated labor. Blogging may be unalienated labor. Even when we are sick of it, we chose to blog. We chose to link, to post, to read, to comment. Blogging's value, then, may escape or elude, at least in part, the commodity form. Capitalists don't want us to know this, so they provide us with indicators that point to possibilities of monetarization: page hits, visits, counts, neighborhoods, stats, referrers, totals. Somehow these numbers give us a sense of value. But this is misleading because, again, a different kind of value is produced.

What sort of value? Is it a value of self-knowledge or self-display or even just a momentary sense of self? Is it a value of connection, of hope, or possibility, of the positing others who read and react? How might we best conceive the value of blogging?
I think the claim that "Blogging may be unalienated labor" is perhaps overly optimistic. Alienated labor for Marx describes the process by which capital separates the worker from both the products and process of his or her own labor, from other workers, and even from human life itself. This discussion of alienation is closely tied to Marx's analysis of the commodity form and most importantly to the imposition of that commodity form on ourselves. We are produced as the commodity labor-power and we must then sell ourselves as workers for capital's use. Labor-power is habitually produced and reproduced in order to be alienated and sold for a wage. This brings us back to the question of blogging and commodity production.

The commodity that blogs help to produce and reproduce is that singularly useful and important commodity, labor-power. But to see why this is, we need to look at one of the more unsavory passages in Marx on productive versus unproductive consumption.

In the first section of Chapter 7 in Capital, Volume I, Marx writes:
Labour uses up its material factors, its subject and its instruments, consumes them, and is therefore a process of consumption. Such productive consumption is distinguished from individual consumption by this, that the latter uses up products, as means of subsistence for the living individual; the former, as means whereby alone, labour, the labour-power of the living individual, is enabled to act. The product, therefore, of individual consumption, is the consumer himself; the result of productive consumption, is a product distinct from the consumer.
The distinction Marx introduces here between the productive consumption of capitalist commodity production versus the unproductive consumption of workers and their means of subsistence has been the source of a number of frustrating debates within Marxism. The trouble is that Marx needs to be able to talk about labor-power as itself a commodity that is bought and sold and that has its own distinct process of production – namely, the consumption of the "means of subsistence for the living individual." He seems to undercut this possibility in the passage above.

Be that as it may, if blogging is to be described as a form of productive consumption of labor, then blogging ought to result in the production of a commodity "distinct from the consumer." If blogs themselves were a commodity produced for exchange, then this might be the case. But as we've seen, blogs tend not to fit in this category. There are a few commercially successful blogs out there that are the result of this sort of productive consumption of labor-power that results in the production and sale of a commodity. For the vast majority of us, though, blogging may be more like the unproductive "individual consumption" described by Marx that results in the "consumer himself." That is, we are what blogs help to produce.

On this view, blogging is like all those other so-called unproductive activities we do such as cooking, cleaning, child care, sleeping, reading, dancing, yard work, bowling, therapy, and sex that help to produce and reproduce us as the living, breathing, thinking commodity of labor-power that we are. Blogs that bitch and moan and rant provide a release that allows us as workers to go to work another day. Blogs can also inform, entertain, enlighten, confound, confuse, anger, soothe, and bore. Blogs about cats and hobbies do this. Academic blogs do this too (with perhaps a heavier dose of 'bore' thrown in). They all help produce people who are then ready and willing to alienate the rest of their lives as wage labor. This is why I think the claim for blogging as unalienated labor is too strong. It's not easy to escape the mode of production. And if blogging has become part of our social, cultural and intellectual means of subsistence, then blogging is also part of that individual consumption that produces us as alienated labor.

This is, of course, the negative moment of capitalist production where everything produced by capital functions only for capital. Fortunately, resistance and struggle also always happens. This is where the "value of connection, of hope, or possibility" that Dean writes about can gain a foothold. Here's one formulation of the relationship between blogging and capital I can endorse: blogs are also a site where class struggle occurs. People are very creative at resisting the alienating destinies planned for them by capital. Blogs may be another place where this resistance can grow and spread. And this is not just true of anti-war blogs and academic blogs. Cat blogging too is a part of that struggle over finding new ways to carve out some unalienated space of one's own and craft new strategies against commodification.

I don't think the blogosphere has any special resistance to being colonized and commodified by capital just like so many other areas of our life have been. It's important not to overestimate the radical potential of blogging. But there is also no reason to think that blogging is any more susceptible to capital either. And revolutions always surprise.