Gigi Roggero: “Five Theses on the Common”

In a similar vein to Michael Hardt, Roggero notes that the current mode of capitalism, which he deems “cognitive capitalism,” relies heavily upon the common as creative potentia that capitalism constantly captures and privatizes, even while the commons resists these totalizing tendencies. His five theses are:

  • The common has a double status.
    The common is not a natural good.
    The common is not the universal, it is a class concept.
    The common is not a Utopia: it is defined by the new temporality of antagonism beyond the dialectic between private and public.
    Institutions of the common as a new theory and practice of communism.
  • Roggero’s conception of the common emphasizes its usefulness, indeed its necessity, to cognitive capitalism. Neoliberalism produces “prosumers,” producer-consumers that essentially act as free labor. That is, the common is essentially productive; we need only think of open source software production, home innovators, online social networking: consumers in networked society are always producers. Cognitive capitalism recognizes and exploits this fact. Central to this process is Intellectual Property, the legal mechanism by which life itself is captured to generate profit. Roggero’s key example here is the patenting of genetics; he notes that it is not the genome itself that is patented, but rather the production of knowledge from the genome. Life itself becomes productive of capital; its translation into knowledge is the site of its becoming property.

    Echoing Hardt, Roggero asks, “how might it be possible to collectively reappropriate the social richness, sources, and forces frozen in the capitalistic dialectic between public and private?” The answer lies in harnessing the common in such a way that it not only resists capitalist capture/appropriation, but in such a way that it mimics finance, turning the tables on the institutions that would turn such production into either private or public property, taking them “hostage” in a reversal of the appropriation process. The question then becomes, how can we harness state and corporate actors in a reinvigoration of common production?

    -ZH

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