Monday, February 20. 2017
Via It's Nice That
“My feeling is that the Bauhaus being conveniently located before the Second World War makes it safely historical,” says Dr. Peter Kapos. “Its objects have an antique character that is about as threatening as Arts and Crafts, whereas the problem with the Ulm School is that it’s too relevant. The questions raised about industrial design [still apply], and its project failed – its social project being particularly disappointing – which leaves awkward questions about where we are in the present.”
Kapos discovered the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, or Ulm School, through his research into the German manufacturing company Braun, the representation of which is a specialism of his archive, das programm. The industrial design school had developed out of a community college founded by educationalist Inge Scholl and graphic designer Otl Aicher in 1946. It was established, as Kapos writes in the book accompanying the Raven Row exhibition, The Ulm Model, “with the express purpose of curbing what nationalistic and militaristic tendencies still remained [in post-war Germany], and making a progressive contribution to the reconstruction of German social life.”
The Ulm School closed in 1968, having undergone various forms of pedagogy and leadership, crises in structure and personality. Nor the faculty or student-body found resolution to the problems inherent to industrial design’s claim to social legitimacy – “how the designer could be thoroughly integrated within the production process at an operational level and at the same time adopt a critically reflective position on the social process of production.” But while the Ulm School and the Ulm Model collapsed, it remains an important resource, “it’s useful, even if the project can’t be restarted, because it was never going to succeed, the attempt is something worth recovering. Particularly today, under very difficult conditions.”
Foundation Course exercise
Foundation Course exercise
Foundation Course exercise
Max Bill, a graduate of the Bauhaus and then president of the Swiss Werkbund, arrived at Ulm in 1950, having been recruited partly in the hope that his international profile would attract badly needed funding. He tightened the previously broad curriculum, established by Marxist writer Hans Werner Richter, around design, mirroring the practices of his alma mater.
Bill’s rectorship ran from 1955-58, during which “there was no tension between the way he designed and the requirements of the market”. The principle of the designer as artist, a popular notion of the Bauhaus, curbed the “alienating nature of industrial production”. Due perhaps in part to the trauma of WW2, people hadn’t been ready to allow technology into the home that declared itself as technology.
“The result of that was record players and radios smuggled into the home, hidden in what looked like other pieces of furniture, with walnut veneers and golden tassels.” Bill’s way of thinking didn’t necessarily reflect the aesthetic, but it wasn’t at all challenging politically. “So in some ways that’s really straight-forward and unproblematic – and he’s a fantastic designer, an extraordinary architect, an amazing graphic designer, and a great artist – but he wasn’t radical enough. What he was trying to do with industrial design wasn’t taking up the challenge.”
Foundation Course exercise
In 1958 Bill stepped down having failed to “grasp the reality of industrial production simply at a technical and operational level… [or] recognise its emancipatory potential.” The industrial process had grown in complexity, and the prospect of rebuilding socially was too vast for single individuals to manage. It was no longer possible for the artist-designer to sit outside of the production process, because the new requirements were so complex. “You had to be absolutely within the process, and there had to be a team of disciplinary specialists — not only of material, but circulation and consumption, which was also partly sociological. It was a different way of thinking about form and its relation to product.”
After Bill’s departure, Tomás Maldonado, an instructor at the school, “set out the implications for a design education adequate to the realities of professional practice.” Changes were made to the curriculum that reflected a critically reflective design practice, which he referred to as ‘scientific operationalism’ and subjects such as ‘the instruction of colour’, were dropped. Between 1960-62, the Ulm Model was introduced: “a novel form of design pedagogy that combined formal, theoretical and practical instruction with work in so-called ‘Development Groups’ for industrial clients under the direction of lecturers.” And it was during this period that the issue of industrial design’s problematic relationship to industry came to a head.
In 1959, a year prior to the Ulm Model’s formal introduction, Herbert Lindinger, a student from a Development Group working with Braun, designed an audio system. A set of transistor equipment, it made no apologies for its technology, and looked like a piece of engineering. His audio system became the model for Braun’s 1960s audio programme, “but Lindinger didn’t receive any credit for it, and Braun’s most successful designs from the period derived from an implementation of his project. It’s sad for him but it’s also sad for Ulm design because this had been a collective project.”
The history of the Braun audio programme was written as being defined by Dieter Rams, “a single individual — he’s an important designer, and a very good manager of people, he kept the language consistent — but Braun design of the 60s is not a manifestation of his genius, or his vision.” And the project became an indication of why the Ulm project would ultimately fail, “when recalling it, you end up with a singular genius expressing the marvel of their mind, rather than something that was actually a collective project to achieve something social.”
An advantage of Bill’s teaching model had been the space outside of the industrial process, “which is the space that offers the possibility of criticality. Not that he exercised it. But by relinquishing that space, [the Ulm School] ended up so integrated in the process that they couldn’t criticise it.” They realised the contradiction between Ulm design and consumer capitalism, which had been developing along the same timeline. “Those at the school became dissatisfied with the idea of design furnishing market positions, constantly producing cycles of consumptive acts, and they struggled to resolve it.”
The school’s project had been to make the world rational and complete, industrially-based and free. “Instead they were producing something prison-like, individuals were becoming increasingly separate from each other and unable to see over their horizon.” In the Ulm Journal, the school’s sporadic, tactically published magazine that covered happenings at, and the evolving thinking and pedagogical approach of Ulm, Marxist thinking had become an increasingly important reference. “It was key to their understanding the context they were acting in, and if that thinking had been developed it would have led to an interesting and different kind of design, which they never got round to filling in. But they created a space for it.”
Foundation Course exercise
Foundation Course exercise (detail)
“[A Marxian approach] would inevitably lead you out of design in some way. And the Ulm Model, the title of the Raven Row exhibition, is slightly ironic because it isn’t really a model for anything, and I think they understood that towards the end. They started to consider critical design as something that had to not resemble design in its recognised form. It would be nominally designed, the categories by which it was generally intelligible would need to be dismantled.”
The school’s funding was equally problematic, while their independence from the state facilitated their ability to validate their social purpose, the private foundation that provided their income was funded by industry commissions and indirect government funding from the regional legislator. “Although they were only partially dependent on government money, they accrued so much debt that in the end they were entirely dependent on it. The school was becoming increasingly radical politically, and the more radical it became, the more its own relation to capitalism became problematic. Their industry commissions tied them to the market, the Ulm Model didn’t work out, and their numbers didn’t add up.”
The Ulm School closed in 1968, when state funding was entirely withdrawn, and its functionalist ideals were in crisis. Abraham Moles, an instructor at the school, had previously asserted the inconsistency arising from the practice of functionalism under the conditions of ‘the affluent society’, “which for the sake of ever expanding production requires that needs remain unsatisfied.” And although he had encouraged the school to anticipate and respond to the problem, so as to be the “subject instead of the object of a crisis”; he hadn’t offered concrete ideas on how that might be achieved.
But correcting the course of capitalist infrastructure isn’t something the Ulm School could have been expected to achieve, “and although the project was ill-construed, it is productive as a resource for thinking about what a critical design practice could be in relation to capitalism.” What’s interesting about the Ulm Model today is their consideration of the purpose of education, and their questioning of whether it should merely reflect the current state of things – “preparing a workforce for essentially increasing the GDP; and establishing the efficiency of contributing sectors in a kind of diabolical utilitarianism.”
Ulm Journal of the Hochschule für Gestaltung
Foundation Course exercise (detail)
Foundation Course exercise
Foundation Course exercise (detail)
Foundation Course exercise
Foundation Course exercise (detail)
Tuesday, August 02. 2016
By fabric | ch
As we continue to lack a decent search engine on this blog and as we don't use a "tag cloud" ... This post could help navigate through the updated content on | rblg (as of 07.2016), via all its tags!
HERE ARE ALL THE CURRENT TAGS TO NAVIGATE ON | RBLG BLOG:
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Posted by Patrick Keller in fabric | ch at 16:58
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Monday, April 04. 2016
On Algorithmic Communism - Ian Lowrie on Inventing the Future : Postcapitalism and a World Without Work | #algorithms #future #postcapitalism
Note: in a time when we'll soon have for the first time a national vote in Switzeralnd about the Revenu de Base Inconditionnel ("Universal Basic Income") --next June, with a low chance of success this time, let's face it--, when people start to speak about the fact that they should get incomes to fuel global corporations with digital data and content of all sorts, when some new technologies could modify the current digital deal, this is a manifesto that is certainly more than interesting to consider. So as its criticism in this paper, as it appears truly complementary.
More generally, thinking the Future in different terms than liberalism is an absolute necessity. Especially in a context where, also as stated, "Automation and unemployment are the future, regardless of any human intervention".
By Ian Lowrie
January 8th, 2016
IN THE NEXT FEW DECADES, your job is likely to be automated out of existence. If things keep going at this pace, it will be great news for capitalism. You’ll join the floating global surplus population, used as a threat and cudgel against those “lucky” enough to still be working in one of the few increasingly low-paying roles requiring human input. Existing racial and geographical disparities in standards of living will intensify as high-skill, high-wage, low-control jobs become more rarified and centralized, while the global financial class shrinks and consolidates its power. National borders will continue to be used to control the flow of populations and place migrant workers outside of the law. The environment will continue to be the object of vicious extraction and the dumping ground for the negative externalities of capitalist modes of production.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. While neoliberal capitalism has been remarkably successful at laying claim to the future, it used to belong to the left — to the party of utopia. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future argues that the contemporary left must revive its historically central mission of imaginative engagement with futurity. It must refuse the all-too-easy trap of dismissing visions of technological and social progress as neoliberal fantasies. It must seize the contemporary moment of increasing technological sophistication to demand a post-scarcity future where people are no longer obliged to be workers; where production and distribution are democratically delegated to a largely automated infrastructure; where people are free to fish in the afternoon and criticize after dinner. It must combine a utopian imagination with the patient organizational work necessary to wrest the future from the clutches of hegemonic neoliberalism.
Strategies and Tactics
In making such claims, Srnicek and Williams are definitely preaching to the leftist choir, rather than trying to convert the masses. However, this choir is not just the audience for, but also the object of, their most vituperative criticism. Indeed, they spend a great deal of the book arguing that the contemporary left has abandoned strategy, universalism, abstraction, and the hard work of building workable, global alternatives to capitalism. Somewhat condescendingly, they group together the highly variegated field of contemporary leftist tactics and organizational forms under the rubric of “folk politics,” which they argue characterizes a commitment to local, horizontal, and immediate actions. The essentially affective, gestural, and experimental politics of movements such as Occupy, for them, are a retreat from the tradition of serious militant politics, to something like “politics-as-drug-experience.”
Whatever their problems with the psychodynamics of such actions, Srnicek and Williams argue convincingly that localism and small-scale, prefigurative politics are simply inadequate to challenging the ideological dominance of neoliberalism — they are out of step with the actualities of the global capitalist system. While they admire the contemporary left’s commitment to self-interrogation, and its micropolitical dedication to the “complete removal of all forms of oppression,” Srnicek and Williams are ultimately neo-Marxists, committed to the view that “[t]he reality of complex, globalised capitalism is that small interventions consisting of relatively non-scalable actions are highly unlikely to ever be able to reorganise our socioeconomic system.” The antidote to this slow localism, however, is decidedly not fast revolution.
Instead, Inventing the Future insists that the left must learn from the strategies that ushered in the currently ascendant neoliberal hegemony. Inventing the Future doesn’t spend a great deal of time luxuriating in pathos, preferring to learn from their enemies’ successes rather than lament their excesses. Indeed, the most empirically interesting chunk of their book is its careful chronicle of the gradual, stepwise movement of neoliberalism from the “fringe theory” of a small group of radicals to the dominant ideological consensus of contemporary capitalism. They trace the roots of the “neoliberal thought collective” to a diverse range of trends in pre–World War II economic thought, which came together in the establishment of a broad publishing and advocacy network in the 1950s, with the explicit strategic aim of winning the hearts and minds of economists, politicians, and journalists. Ultimately, this strategy paid off in the bloodless neoliberal revolutions during the international crises of Keynesianism that emerged in the 1980s.
What made these putsches successful was not just the neoliberal thought collective’s ability to represent political centrism, rational universalism, and scientific abstraction, but also its commitment to organizational hierarchy, internal secrecy, strategic planning, and the establishment of an infrastructure for ideological diffusion. Indeed, the former is in large part an effect of the latter: by the 1980s, neoliberals had already spent decades engaged in the “long-term redefinition of the possible,” ensuring that the institutional and ideological architecture of neoliberalism was already well in place when the economic crises opened the space for swift, expedient action.
Srnicek and Williams argue that the left must abandon its naïve-Marxist hopes that, somehow, crisis itself will provide the space for direct action to seize the hegemonic position. Instead, it must learn to play the long game as well. It must concentrate on building institutional frameworks and strategic vision, cultivating its own populist universalism to oppose the elite universalism of neoliberal capital. It must also abandon, in so doing, its fear of organizational closure, hierarchy, and rationality, learning instead to embrace them as critical tactical components of universal politics.
There’s nothing particularly new about Srnicek and Williams’s analysis here, however new the problems they identify with the collapse of the left into particularism and localism may be. For the most part, in their vituperations, they are acting as rather straightforward, if somewhat vernacular, followers of the Italian politician and Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci. As was Gramsci’s, their political vision is one of slow, organizationally sophisticated, passive revolution against the ideological, political, and economic hegemony of capitalism. The gradual war against neoliberalism they envision involves critique and direct action, but will ultimately be won by the establishment of a post-work counterhegemony.
In putting forward their vision of this organization, they strive to articulate demands that would allow for the integration of a wide range of leftist orientations under one populist framework. Most explicitly, they call for the automation of production and the provision of a basic universal income that would provide each person the opportunity to decide how they want to spend their free time: in short, they are calling for the end of work, and for the ideological architecture that supports it. This demand is both utopian and practical; they more or less convincingly argue that a populist, anti-work, pro-automation platform might allow feminist, antiracist, anticapitalist, environmental, anarchist, and postcolonial struggles to become organized together and reinforce one another. Their demands are universal, but designed to reflect a rational universalism that “integrates difference rather than erasing it.” The universal struggle for the future is a struggle for and around “an empty placeholder that is impossible to fill definitively” or finally: the beginning, not the end, of a conversation.
In demanding full automation of production and a universal basic income, Srnicek and Williams are not being millenarian, not calling for a complete rupture with the present, for a complete dismantling and reconfiguration of contemporary political economy. On the contrary, they argue that “it is imperative […] that [the left’s] vision of a new future be grounded upon actually existing tendencies.” Automation and unemployment are the future, regardless of any human intervention; the momentum may be too great to stop the train, but they argue that we can change tracks, can change the meaning of a future without work. In demanding something like fully automated luxury communism, Srnicek and Williams are ultimately asserting the rights of humanity as a whole to share in the spoils of capitalism.
Inventing the Future emerged to a relatively high level of fanfare from leftist social media. Given the publicity, it is unsurprising that other more “engagé” readers have already advanced trenchant and substantive critiques of the future imagined by Srnicek and Williams. More than a few of these critics have pointed out that, despite their repeated insistence that their post-work future is an ecologically sound one, Srnicek and Williams evince roughly zero self-reflection with respect either to the imbrication of microelectronics with brutally extractive regimes of production, or to their own decidedly antiquated, doctrinaire Marxist understanding of humanity’s relationship towards the nonhuman world. Similarly, the question of what the future might mean in the Anthropocene goes largely unexamined.
More damningly, however, others have pointed out that despite the acknowledged counterintuitiveness of their insistence that we must reclaim European universalism against the proliferation of leftist particularisms, their discussions of postcolonial struggle and critique are incredibly shallow. They are keen to insist that their universalism will embrace rather than flatten difference, that it will be somehow less brutal and oppressive than other forms of European univeralism, but do little of the hard argumentative work necessary to support these claims. While we see the start of an answer in their assertion that the rejection of universal access to discourses of science, progress, and rationality might actually function to cement certain subject-positions’ particularity, this — unfortunately — remains only an assertion. At best, they are being uncharitable to potential allies in refusing to take their arguments seriously; at worst, they are unreflexively replicating the form if not the content of patriarchal, racist, and neocolonial capitalist rationality.
For my part, while I find their aggressive and unapologetic presentation of their universalism somewhat off-putting, their project is somewhat harder to criticize than their book — especially as someone acutely aware of the need for more serious forms of organized thinking about the future if we’re trying to push beyond the horizons offered by the neoliberal consensus.
However, as an anthropologist of the computer and data sciences, it’s hard for me to ignore a curious and rather serious lacuna in their thinking about automaticity, algorithms, and computation. Beyond the automation of work itself, they are keen to argue that with contemporary advances in machine intelligence, the time has come to revisit the planned economy. However, in so doing, they curiously seem to ignore how this form of planning threatens to hive off economic activity from political intervention. Instead of fearing a repeat of the privations that poor planning produced in earlier decades, the left should be more concerned with the forms of control and dispossession successful planning produced. The past decade has seen a wealth of social-theoretical research into contemporary forms of algorithmic rationality and control, which has rather convincingly demonstrated the inescapable partiality of such systems and their tendency to be employed as decidedly undemocratic forms of technocratic management.
Srnicek and Williams, however, seem more or less unaware of, or perhaps uninterested in, such research. At the very least, they are extremely overoptimistic about the democratization and diffusion of expertise that would be required for informed mass control over an economy planned by machine intelligence. I agree with their assertion that “any future left must be as technically fluent as it is politically fluent.” However, their definition of technical fluency is exceptionally narrow, confined to an understanding of the affordances and internal dynamics of technical systems rather than a comprehensive analysis of their ramifications within other social structures and processes. I do not mean to suggest that the democratic application of machine learning and complex systems management is somehow a priori impossible, but rather that Srnicek and Williams do not even seem to see how such systems might pose a challenge to human control over the means of production.
In a very real sense, though, my criticisms should be viewed as a part of the very project proposed in the book. Inventing the Future is unapologetically a manifesto, and a much-overdue clarion call to a seriously disorganized metropolitan left to get its shit together, to start thinking — and arguing — seriously about what is to be done. Manifestos, like demands, need to be pointed enough to inspire, while being vague enough to promote dialogue, argument, dissent, and ultimately action. It’s a hard tightrope to walk, and Srnicek and Williams are not always successful. However, Inventing the Future points towards an altogether more coherent and mature project than does their #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO. It is hard to deny the persuasiveness with which the book puts forward the positive contents of a new and vigorous populism; in demanding full automation and universal basic income from the world system, they also demand the return of utopian thinking and serious organization from the left.
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fabric | rblg
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