Digital Labor

Richard Gilman-Opalsky


Richard Gilman-Opalsky, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Political Philosophy in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois, Springfield. Dr. Gilman-Opalsky’s research and teaching specializes in the history of political philosophy, Continental and contemporary social theory, Marxism, autonomist politics, critical theory, social movements and the public sphere. Dr. Gilman-Opalsky is the author of three books:Unbounded Publics: Transgressive Public Spheres, Zapatismo, and Political Theory (Lexington Books, 2008), Spectacular Capitalism: Guy Debord and the Practice of Radical Philosophy (Autonomedia, 2011), and Precarious Communism: Manifest Mutations, Manifesto Detourned (Autonomedia, 2014). Dr. Gilman-Opalsky has published numerous articles on social theory and political philosophy, especially on theories of revolution, contentious politics, capitalist crisis and culture. He has lectured widely throughout the U.S. and Europe, including at Goldsmiths University of London, Loughboro University, and University of Essex. Dr. Gilman-Opalsky’s undergraduate and MA degrees are in Philosophy and his Ph.D. is in Political Science from The New School for Social Research.

On the Capitalist Dream for a World without Bodies: Digital Labor and Technontology
I discuss the emergence of a new mind-body split in the evolving contexts of cognitive labor. I argue that capitalism has brought about a peculiar revival of Cartesian dualism at precisely the time when cognitive science and neuropsychology have supposedly hammered the final nails into the coffin of the disembodied mind/spirit/ghost, or Geist. The eight-hour workday has been replaced by a maximal-length workday, the workday of the wakeful state. The conscious energy of workers is increasingly available for extraction, while from the perspective of capital, the body is an impediment best left behind. The new regime moves beyond the Foucauldian model of brains controlling bodies, toward a system of disembodied brain activity, which relegates the body to a kind of sensory-sexual apparatus that only requires basic maintenance. Capitalism has managed to get brain activity to go mobile, to travel freely and fast, in real time, without the costly mass of the body itself. I argue that this disembodiment defines current and dangerous developments in education, work, and social life. Thus, we have moved from the question of what the body can do, to the question of what to do with the body.

But, can we handle a disembodied life? Thinkers like Zygmunt Bauman, Paul Virilio, and Franco “Bifo” Berardi have been worried about the consequences. The situation recalls, and seems to vindicate, Eric Hobsbawm’s famous declaration: “Human beings are not efficiently designed for a capitalist system of production.” Meanwhile, performance needs bodies. Bodies occupy parks and administrative buildings, bodies block traffic, and the death of the body extinguishes brain activity. In this presentation, I explore how new expropriations of brains from bodies intersect with the politics of labor and life.

Algorithmic Hegemony & the Droning of Labor
Sat, November 15
10:00 AM - 12:30 PM