Sat 30 Sep 2017 8:29AM

Digital Taylorism: Labour between Passion & Serendipity

DS Danyl Strype Public Seen by 139

CoWorking spaces began with both utopian and pragmatic goals, but like any potentially subversive new trend, its surface appearances (hotdesks, bean bags, pool tables etc) have been used as PR fodder by an increasingly financialized business world. An increasingly precarious gig economy, facilitated by digitization, is being represented as a spontaneous product of workers bringing 'creativity' into workplaces. Sebastian Olma describes this as "Digital Taylorism" in a blog piece published by the Institute of Network Cultures.


Michel Bauwens Sat 30 Sep 2017 8:34AM


haven't read it, but what struck me years ago was the stress of the facilitators of the Impact Hubs,

whille generally sympathetic to social entrepreneurship (I prefer coops but better this than pure extraction), I could not fail to notice the great pressure on them to perform, to bring in new contacts, organize events, etc ...they have to mobilize their full subjectivity/affectivity, ostensibly for social goals, but in the context of extractive venture capital investments in this model,



mike_hales Fri 13 Apr 2018 2:42PM

On Impact Hubs . . . a facilitator at the Brixton Impact Hub has an article in this month's Stir magazine. She clearly has a strong sense of 'real facilitation' (this is in her article's title) and criticises the WeWork centres for not being connected with communities (and thus, not being 'real facilitation'). Maybe things are different in Brixton? There seems to be a food bank there, for example. But I trust Michel's perception of Impact Hubs generally, that the commitment and skills of such facilitators are being exploited and capitalised.

Can anyone explain just how Impact Hubs are funded? Their website maintains a deafening silence on this. But 92 centres, worldwide, don't spring up from nothing, like mushrooms!


Michele Kipiel Sat 30 Sep 2017 6:17PM

I'll read the article ASAP, but from the way you introdued it, I already know it will reflect my feelings on the topic. Namely, that the gig economy is nothing but a step back to the mid XIXc when workers had close to no rights and had to work 12 to 14 hours a day. The only difference is the "cool factor" provided by the shiny new tech...


Simon Grant Tue 3 Oct 2017 2:49PM

What do you see as the positive challenge here, @strypey ? (I see the risks well enough, as do the others here.)

Could we, for example, clarify a model for co-operatively run co-working spaces? Then use this to enable people to move gently between their own self-employed work, with informal collaboration, to work within a co-operative enterprise (ideally commons based) that used the co-working space as a location for the kinds of vital interaction that are harder on line? And, I would say, that particularly includes the kind of distributed care that Enspiral are so positive about.


Michel Bauwens Sat 14 Apr 2018 10:27AM

my general sense is that Impact Hubs are doing good work in helping social entrepreneurs, but that the for-profit investor logic is pushing for extreme 'social productivity', thus my observation that the Impact facilitators, mostly female in my experience, are at the same time very dynamic but also unable to have a balanced life and they seem inordinately stressed, having to put up a good face at all times; it seems to me the socialisation goals are being framed in a business management way, thus commodifying social relationships.

I must admit this observation is only based on a few visits to different impact hubs, but to me it was un-mistakeble that they were under undue stress to 'perform' and make it all work

I believe my friend Indy Johar, also co-founder of Wikihouse, might have an interesting insider perspective, so I have added his email in cc,



Danyl Strype Fri 20 Apr 2018 5:51AM

the Impact facilitators, mostly female in my experience, are at the same time very dynamic but also unable to have a balanced life and they seem inordinately stressed, having to put up a good face at all times; it seems to me the socialisation goals are being framed in a business management way, thus commodifying social relationships.

What I find interesting is that this is also an apt description of many of the Tiimebank coordinators I met. But Timebanks are not organized as enterprises in Aotearoa (some are in the UK), and there are no for-profit investors extracting value, so why should this be?

I think a possible answer is offered by David Graeber in his writings on neo-liberal managerialism, particularly 'Anthropology and the rise of the professional-managerial class', which recounts its corrosive effects on the democratic culture of universities. Like Graeber, it's my observation that corporate managerialism has so infected the organisational culture of whole societies, that regardless of whether an organisation has an extractive structure of ownership or a profit motive or not, it is organised as if it does. At a pre-conscious level, this is now held to be the "professional", "efficient", even "respectable" way to manage anything, even community groups for whom efficiency isn't nearly as important as other organising principles like inclusion and effectiveness.

Thus, cooperatives are not immune to this problem. NZ's dairy mega-coop Fonterra behaves like any corporation, with the ecological and social horror that entails. I've heard of people denied relatively small loans at a credit union because their income was too low, even though they were a couple with a combined income well above benefit level, and they had a budget that showed they could afford the payments. The conditioned urge to return value to shareholders doesn't simply wither away when the ownership model changes, the algorithm for rationalizing penny-pinching, hierarchical, anti-democratic forms of management just swaps out "the shareholders" for "the members", or in the case of the Timebanks (or even crowdfunded commons projects), "the funders".

As I said to a woman from the SemCo Style Institute recently, I think ownership is important. A workplace democracy is never secure if it exists only by the noblesse oblige of a benevolent owner like Ricardo Semler, and can be swept away by the stroke of a pen if that owner sells to a more Taylorist one. But clearly, democratized ownership is not sufficient to achieve democratic culture.

So, to answer the question asked by @asimong :

Could we, for example, clarify a model for co-operatively run co-working spaces?

A model or models, yes, and the focus needs to be on the democratic and collaborative practices and cultures that support this where it succeeds (like Enspiral), not just the structures. I've been involved in setting up co-working spaces since the late 90s, usually "social centres" or "infoshops" with non-commercial goals and structures. Like open source, the VC/ startup machine has only discovered them in the last decades or so, and there are plenty of case studies we can draw on from before that time, as well as during.


mike_hales Fri 20 Apr 2018 9:33AM

This turn of discussion is fascinating, insightful and important, I think. Pardon me for a long post . . .

I think Strypey is right in linking to the historical rise of a professional-managerial class of wage-workers (and self-employed or precarious cooperators too) who are willing to self-exploit intensely - perhaps because of intellectual satisfaction; or the highs of project achievement and ‘creative’ development that arise in typical PMC work; or pay and status in the corporate or academic sphere; or the international networking buzz; etcetera. Strypey notes:

At a pre-conscious level, this is now held to be the "professional", "efficient", even "respectable" way to manage anything, even community groups for whom efficiency isn't nearly as important as other organising principles like inclusion and effectiveness.

As a member of this occupational class myself - working-class kid, university degree, engineering cadre in a global corporation, ‘radical’ academic, corporate organisation-development consultant - and a libertarian socialist, puzzling at this PMC thing from the inside has been part of my lifetime politics, as a politics of alternative skill and making and knowledge-production and -mobilisation. It started in Living Thinkwork in 1980 and continues in Activists and the long march home (2017). These and related things ‘in and against the PMC’ can be found on Lulu.

Ehrenreich & Ehrenreich advanced a strong PMC argument in the 70s - Between labor & capital - and have retracted it recently in the light of subsequent deep attacks on the status and autonomy of these workers in neo-liberalism. But there are strong currents of this 80s/90s managerialist vision embedded even in the open coop field. Take, for example, the widespread adoption of ‘agile’ strategy and technique and the culture of ‘scrumming’ (arising from the catch-up-with-Japan ‘total quality’ competitive setting of the 90s) as an ethos of coproduction, among self-confessed ‘process nerds’ in the hackersphere. I’m not being sniffy about this; I was enmeshed in this sphere in the 90s, working in ‘innovation policy’ and ‘innovation management’. The managerialist stuff runs deep, and both Left- and Right-PMC motivations and styles and assumptions are embedded now in many cultures of ‘organising’ and networking and globalised production. For example, it’s in the very fundable and highly professionalised field of ‘social innovation’.

What’s important, I think, in the present thread - with ‘passion’ in its title - is that it gets us into the emotional drivers of exploitation/self-exploitation and cooperation/competition. This is difficult stuff to conceptualise and to look in the face, and to handle in practice, but it’s at the core of root-and-branch transition beyond extractive-capitalist-corporate-managerialist life and work. As Strypey and Liam both are suggesting, these traits soak right down into our own movements, organisations and co-workers. This is a long march, in human evolutionary terms, only just beginning? As Strypey says, it swings both ways and the instinct to cooperate can often flower. And as @asimong says in this thread, we have to be ‘on the case’ all the time, in every work setting, cultivating cooperation and generative orientation, and sidelining competition and extractive ethos; and figuring out what it is that makes folks do the latter again and again. Is it in the water supply; is it in the genes, is it in ‘professionalism’? Is it just fashionable, a peer-group thing? How to sideline it?

I do think that this is down there in the guts, and not simply a matter of ‘styles’ being promoted in corporate settings as a form of labour discipline and cynical deception - which is what I think Sebastian Olma more or less claims in his "Digital Taylorism" piece that Strypey posted. For example, as a contract research academic for part of my career, competition (for research grants, for publication outlets) was deep in the texture of my 'precarious' working life, just to stay in the professional game and stay employed and put food in the fridge. But also, many academics clearly get high on the adrenaline and cut-&-thrust and large scale of the competitive globalised networking lifestyle and keynote speaking and elite status within their field. It’s both ‘out-there’ and ’ in-here’. And fundamentally, it’s the stuff in-here that underpins the styles and institutions out-there? Big question mark.

I suggest one field that is central is law. US-legal, corporatist modes of legal practice - as a technocratic, ‘efficient’ approach to ‘winning’ - have been seeded in governments, companies and NGOs all over the world, as part of a very successful 20th-century and neo-liberal mission of globalising extractive, enclosing trade. Comparative-law scholar Ugo Mattei - see this thread - has a major stake in looking for roots for an alternative, generative, community-rooted, anti-managerialist culture and practice of law and jurisprudence, that can serve the commons and the environment. Mattei (with Fritjof Capra) has a really helpful 2015 book on the history of this ethos. I suggest this is important not just for law, and the defence of commons in courts of law, but also as a cultural battlefield against corporatism in all forms, in all professionalised fields. Some of the globalist social-media-based roots activism of today is very ‘professionalist’ and efficiency-addicted, in ways that can’t entirely be trusted. I include myself and my own collaborations and networks in this.

PS: Since we’re talking about ‘passion’ in this thread . . . it’s always worth going back to Ivan Illich on 'conviviality’ and the imprisoning forces of bureaucracy and mandatory ‘rational’ managerialist State institutions including education, welfare and health. Arising from ‘liberation theology’, he was on the tracks of this deep and pernicious ethos a generation ago. Illich’s ideal of vernacular culture is rather retro, medievalist, definitely pre-social media and won’t hold as a simple way forward - any more than EP Thompson’s ‘moral economy of the 18th-century crowd’, faced with the ‘globalisation’ of markets for corn and the enclosure of the commons of bread, can be held up as a progressive model of participative action. But these historical cases need thinking about - not least, because the violence and gut-feel of the 18th-century ‘mob’ (Thompson, with respect, says ‘crowd’) is still at work today, voting for Trump in the rustbelt: for a hormone-fuelled amateur, against the ultra-professionalisation of politics. Even though historians can be a hard read, Thompson’s intro to his book on customs and commons under pressure from enclosure in the 18th century, written nearly 30 years back, is still worth a go?

Illich and Thompson - de-schooling society and re-making the 'new' working class - this is where I came in, as a young uncomfortable turncoat member of the PMC in the 70s! All still to be done!


Simon Carter Sat 14 Apr 2018 11:07AM

They may be shared spaces, but still for people in the main to pursue individual interests. How to break free from that is the challenge. The demands of capital suck us back, consumerism is seductive. What we need is a model that truly rejects those demands, which of course is not an option if we wish some creature comforts that we must buy, so it must be an evolution, a hollowing out of capitalism if you will.


Danyl Strype Fri 20 Apr 2018 6:05AM

Commercially-run "co-working" spaces are just "cloud computing" logic applied to office space; ways to get the most work done, by the most people, with the smallest amount of resources. The lip service paid to "co-working" by these businesses is mostly equivalent to greenwashing or openwashing, a recuperation of subversive forms of cooperative creation as marketing spin for conventional businesses. That said, even in those spaces, I've noticed a tendency for cooperative practices to emerge organically between workers from different companies, just because they run into each other around the water cooler. The question is, how can we encourage more of this kind of collaborative subversion of commodified co-working spaces?


Liam Murphy Fri 20 Apr 2018 6:50AM

Going to this today: Creative Workspace Summit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/creative-workspace-summit-the-role-of-creatives-in-creating-great-places-tickets-43094738523 - with similar reservations. It is very clear that the event did not grow out of the needs of the townsfolk (although this would be denied and there is some call for particular communal spaces/facilities) 'Art-Washing'? Will reserve judgment and feedback... My concern is that this is a focus on developing new COSTS rather than resources or recipients. The costs will be met (are being met) by short term grants - of significant value, without any 'ownership'/ 'participation' issues being addressed. 'For' not 'with': It's essentially priming a money pump for a very limited few who have the collecting pots.... not a network solution for the many but a somewhat masked opportunity to colonise a low rent town with 'new creatives' for 'the place's benefit'...

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