Understanding Neurocapitalism: Gramsci Does HumanComputerInteraction

Below is the introduction to a plenary talk I’m giving at the Streams of Consciousness conference at Warwick University next week (21-22nd). It will draw on chapter three from the forthcoming book The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, Jan 2017).

Full programme, including a keynote by Nigel Thrift, is here: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/cim/research/interrogating-the-dashboard/conference/


This talk maps the brain’s relation to recent trends in the management of efficiency in the digital workplace and sites of consumption.

The discussion is set against the backdrop of an ostensibly familiar discourse concerning a shift from Taylorist to post-Taylorist factory models; that is to say, an ongoing efficiency analysis caught in a transition from material to so-called immaterial labor.

The subsequent discussion is organized around three paradigms of computer work, which are re-appropriated from the study of human computer interaction (HCI).

The aim is to draw attention to the ways in which workplace and consumer cultures have converged in a complex, circuitous and exploitative mode of capitalism, which increasingly makes use of the brain sciences to root out the evils of inefficiency.

It must be noted that this is a distinctly political rendition of HCI; a discipline not usually renowned for its critical interventions into unscrupulous modes of workplace management. Indeed, HCI is more often than not complicit in initiatives directly linked to Taylorism.

This talk observes, as such, the many continuities and discontinuities associated with a shift from the muscular rhythmic entrainments of industrialized labor (analysed according to ergonomic, social and psychological factors), to the introduction of cognitive, and more recently, neurological models, which have coincided with the digitalization of work and consumption.

I will argue that despite a considerable shifting of ground, mainly brought about by changes in technology and scientific approaches to brain-body coupling, the goals of the efficiency management — to combat and conform bodies, minds and brains to the quickening rhythm of capitalism — remain consistent.

Indeed, as ergonomics and cognitive science give ground to the neurosciences, and digital technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the efforts made to exorcise inefficiency and nonconformity from computer work also becomes more intensified.

This is a manifestation of neurocapitalism in which brain activity, assumed to relate to emotions, affect, feelings and decision-making processes, are put to work in the fight against inefficiency.


About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. He has a PhD in social-cultural-digital contagion theory from the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. He is a former art student who re-entered higher education in the UK as a mature student in the mid-1990s after a long stint as a gigging musician. His career in education has moved through various disciplines and departments, including a maths and computing faculty, sociology department and school of digital media and design His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, July 2018) and The Sleepwalker's Guide to Social Media (due 2020 with Polity Press). Tony is the organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK (see archive on this blog). As a co-founder and co-director of the public engagement initiatives, Club Critical Theory (CCT) and the Cultural Engine Research Group (CERG), Tony has been project lead on a number of funded projects that bring impactful critical theories into the community and local political sphere to approach. These activities have included large conferences, symposia and informal lectures/workshops in pubs and community centres, co-organized with community groups and local authorities. Tony occasionally blogs at: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/ Full academic profile: https://www.uel.ac.uk/Staff/s/tony-sampson
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