“The Cybernetic Anthropocene: Surplus Value, Surplus Populations, Surplus Potentials” with Nick Dyer-Witheford

Join us on Friday, November 27, for a discussion with visiting scholar Nick Dyer-Witheford on “The Cybernetic Anthropocene”. 

The Cybernetic Anthropocene: Surplus Value, Surplus Populations, Surplus Potentials

The combination of automation, logistical command and financialization that enabled the mid-twentieth century’s “cybernetic revolution” has raised to a new intensity a fundamental dynamic of capitalism – its drive to simultaneously induct populations into waged labour and expel them as un- or under-employed superfluous to its increasingly machinic systems. Digitization has accelerated this “moving contradiction” (Marx 1973: 106), creating a cyclonic process that, on the one hand, envelopes the globe in networked supply chains and agile production systems, making labour available to capital on a planetary scale, and, on the other, drives towards development of adept automata and algorithmic software that renders such labour redundant. In this whirlwind, the traditional, Euro-centrically conceived, stereotypically male “working class” of the global northwest is disintegrating into both a strata of technology professionals, tending to identification with digital capital, though shot through with hacker proclivities and, a vast pool of un-, under- and vulnerably employed labour, transnational and feminized, living the shadow lands between work and worklessness that has always defined the proletarian condition. Dispossessed labour evicted from the land by ongoing primitive accumulation in Asia, Latin and America and pouring into new industrial enclaves is unevenly combined with workers expelled from an emergent futuristic accumulation based on automated production, software-agentic circulation and algorithmic financialization. Divided across border-policed wage-zones of a world-market, the fractions of this global proletariat are frequently in tension with one another, even though subject to common exploitation by capital: thus, though the technical composition of class is apparent, its political composition rife with contradictions. Nonetheless, the networked, no-future ‘take the square’ risings of 2011-13 may be harbingers of the resistant movements of “universal labour” tasked with working itself out of a job, toiling to develop a system of robots and networks, networked robots and robot networks in which the human is increasingly surplus to requirements.

The New World Anthroposphere: Cities, roads, railways, transmission lines and underwater cables. Image via Globaia.org

Nick Dyer-Witheford is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. He is the author of Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1999) and Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex (London: Pluto Press, 2015). He is also, with Stephen Kline and Greig de Peuter, a co-authors of Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2003), and, with Greig de Peuter, co-author of Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2009) and has also written articles and book chapters on the video and computer game industry, the uses of the Internet by social movements and theories of technology.


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