Capital, infrastructure, revolution

This is a side-thread, for further thoughts around the kinds of matters highlighted by @nolski in

That thread itself is for responses on the practical question: Do we want to organise a series of commons.hour specials on this kind of issue?

I would love to participate in this and help make it happen. I think it is particularly relevant due to the nature of this sort of “siloed” nature of activist communities.

Your points in the other thread run quite deep @nolski, thanks, and bear directly on the strategic challenges that is facing: as an ‘ethical’ coop, a coop that means to develop multistakeholder governance, and an organisation that provisions digital infrastructure. See commons.hour

I found that what I was writing as a response was getting quite long, and so far I’ve only addressed the first of your four comments, on ‘human centred’ design being quite widely available and practicable. Here’s a link to what I wrote. My main drift as regards human centred design seems to be:

  • ‘Human centred design’ has a 50-year history, and that history doesn’t give reason for a whole lot of optimism. Looking at the 70s and the 90s brings some perspective and tempers expectations somewhat.
  • The game shifted in quite real ways in the 90s: much more complex now as a ‘design’ reality.
  • I find I need to look at a whole history of ‘the professional-managerial class’ in Fordist capitalism, which has been going a looong time now. In its own locations (where its wage-worker members have occupational licence to work) the class seems to have little capacity for real change: it’s a creature of ‘the Fordisms’.
  • The hegemonic cultural and economic order has managed to very effectively incorporate PMC members as wage-workers, whose merely ethical and aesthetic values (‘good’ design, ‘better’ specifications, etc) lack muscle - and anyway, they’re easily suckered and distracted by tools and techniques: mere style politics (deckchairs on the Titanic, etc).
  • Strategically alternative locations for alternative designing seem to matter - as distinct from altered styles of design in existing locations.
  • As a member myself by occupation and training, I’ve felt it necessary all my working life to work in-and-against the professional-managerial class.

It’s pretty grumpy-old-man stuff, and I’m a bit shocked to see how negative I am. But I’ve seen 70s’ and 90s’ ‘human centred’ radicalism absorbed into the mainstream or sidelined, just as previous generations’ tech radicalism has been, and feel a much harder look at the tacit politics is called for, as a ‘professionalist’ politics.

I feel horrible about this but I realized I made a typo in my original comment :man_facepalming:.

“I don’t think Human Centered Design (HCD) is that unheard of in design communities. I think the structure and economic relations of most organizations that utilize design is in such a way that employing HCD techniques is UNfeasible.”

I imagine that typo was pretty key to a lot of the (incredibly valid) points you were making and I really apologize for that.

That said, I am really honored that you took the time to write up so comprehensively your thoughts on this.

Now I know I am scratching at the surface of a great bit of theory and history here. Theory and history that, I suspect, you have been personally developing much longer than I. However, I’d like to point out how coordinated this attack was. From Alfred Chandler first theorizing this “management revolution[0]” and first theorizing this sort of Professional Managerial Class (PMC) to acolytes like Shoshana Zuboff carrying and evangelizing that theory forward into a modern context with Surveillance Capitalism[1], there has been a concerted effort to not just forcibly stamp out labor resistance through disciplining those who break a defined set of rules but rather creating systems of control which pre-empt any ability for resistance to coalesce [2].

I think your critiques are correct and despite the sort of depressing nature of them, I believe the purpose of these sort of commons.hour talks are really to discuss what there is to do about it all. I’d like to refer to my last point that I made in the previous thread:

Infrastructure cannot be radical or a part of any sort of revolutionary change without explicitly tying itself to some sort of organization whose mission is to carry out that change. In this sense, I don’t think technology co-operatives are radical or revolutionary

I think when we discuss the impotence of radical tech or radical design movements of the past, I believe this stems from a disconnection with the greater class struggle. This seems to align with what you’re saying here:

When we consider the role of organizations like, where do we view it in relation to this larger struggle? Lately, I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of material about Ned Ludd and the Luddites and what those struggles might mean in the context of modern technology [3]. I think there’s a fair bit of reason in not only considering how the technology we build can empower folks but also thinking about how the technology we build can dismantle oppressive systems. As Gilles Deleuze says [2]:

There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons

[0] The Visible Hand - Wikipedia
[1] The Age of Surveillance Capitalism - Wikipedia
[2] - 778828.pdf (584.0 KB)
[3] Obnoxious Machines - the prospects for Luddism in the era of AI - YouTube

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Lots to rerspond to again. But just a quicky . .

I realized I made a typo in my original comment

It does make quite a difference :wink: But then, not such a lot . . bcos, either way, this stuff is a contradictory tangle. Back in the 80s there was already a sense in which ‘straight’ businesses and corporate organisations were better-able to do some of the ‘obvious’ things that progressives were proposing; in the field of design and broader participation, and do them more neatly. So there really is a question: how do radicals make the practice different? My hunch is, it’s choice of locations for engagement, rather than in methods/techniques.

But I think this may be hard to see, for younger folks, brought up within developed career-fields of professionalised design practice, like UX design? The struggle 30 years back has become invisible in the welter of technique?

More anon. Thanks @nolski

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Sounds interesting to me. I would be interesting in taking part.

It is very easy to latch onto on aspect of a new digital infrastructure and think it is the answer to everything. I think the new digital infrastructure needs to be understood in the context of a new social model, and ways of growing that.