Monday, December 9, 2002

"If mobility transcends all critique, then criticism must be anti-mobile: slow down; localise!"

Mobility, Justification, and the City by Niels Albertsen & Bülent Diken. Interesting article on mobility and critique, and tensions between mobility and exploitation in the "connectionist" network society.

[excerpts below]

"In this connectionist world, the most important value is to connect to others. In order to do that one needs the ability to trust others, to know how to communicate, to freely discuss and also how to adapt to others and to new situations. One should be “physically and intellectually mobile”, and be able to answer the call of “a moving world”. Rather than sticking to your own stable skills, you should be flexible and polyvalent, and you should do this on your own responsibility, autonomously. That is, the risk of connecting is yours.

The new grandeur is being at ease everywhere, while at the same time knowing how to be local. The “connectionist man” knows how to be present and personal in differing contexts and how to judge the emotional states of others.

In this reticular world, a stable habitus (Bourdieu) is not desirable. Rather, the grand person is the one who is able to link different domains and fields to one another, and to distance oneself from one’s own environment and immediate circle of relations.

All these competencies can of course be used individually or egoistically. However, this is not justified in the project regime. You should be acting in search of the “common good”, that is, in order to engage with others, inspire confidence, be tolerant, respect differences and pass information to others, so that everyone can increase her/his “employability”.

There is, then, an ethical scheme of evaluation that pertains to the project regime as well. Face-to-face relations, responsibility, trust, confidence, common experiences, mutual aid, keeping your words, co-operation and partnering are the key-words in this context.

But you don’t gain anything without sacrifice in the regimes of justification, which also applies to the project regime. Within the project regime, one has to sacrifice everything that can be a barrier to one’s disposability for another project. “The grand person is mobile. Nothing must disturb his displacements. He is a ‘nomad’”, say Boltanski and Chiapello. This demand for lightness means renunciation of stability, roots, local attachments, pre-established links. One should not distinguish between relations of friendship and professional relations. Neither should one be burdened by one’s own passions and values, nor by attachment to a heritage or property.

So, there seems to be a regime of justification that matches the networks of liquid capitalism. You may travel light in this connectionist world, but you can do it for your own sake or for the common good of the connected in a temporary network. This is not a de-personalised, abstract world; on the contrary, it is, or rather it can be, a mobile world full of relations of trust, friendship and confidence.

What is needed, therefore, seems to be a concept of critique adequate for liquid capitalism. An immanent critique of liquid capitalism. In face of this, Boltanski & Chiapello focus on the concept of exploitation, which is ignored by theorists of the “connectionist” network society.

Interestingly, in their view, exploitation is directly related to mobility. Those “who are exploited in a connectionist world [...] are the immobile, sedentary individuals, who thereby contribute to stabilizing the world in which others move swiftly. They also increase the mobility of their employers to the point of ubiquity by fulfilling the function of ‘stand-ins’ ... who ensure the maintenance of network connections.

Where does this leave us with a mobile critique of mobility? In the tension between travelling light for the common good and light-travelling as control. And regarding this tension, there may still be a Deleuzian line of flight – speed as deviation, exile as “spiritual rather than physical mobility."

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