Sean Dockray - archive / The Public School / A Glossary of Subsumption

A Glossary of Subsumption

a two-day seminar building a common vocabulary of the present, Berlin, 2013

Associates of the Post-Media Lab will work with invited guests to present, discuss and develop a glossary of terms relating to subsumption with a particular focus on recent developments in Information and Computation, Energy, Environment, Land/Physical Space Health, Reproductive Labour, Education and Creativity.

Inherited from idealist philosophy (Kant, Schelling, Hegel) and used by Karl Marx to theorise the development of the capitalist mode of production, subsumption has emerged as an important term for contemporary theorists attempting to describe and periodise the development of technologies, knowledges and class relations under capital. These categories of human activity and society can be described as ‘under capital’ since ‘subsumption’, which can be translated as submission, domination or subordination, describes a process by which the particular (concrete labour) is subsumed by a universal (value or capital’s process of valorisation).

Marx theorises subsumption as a two-stage process by which capital takes hold of a existing process (formal subsumption) and begins to shape and transform it to its own ends (real subsumption). The shift from ‘formal subsumption’ to that of ‘real subsumption’ in our present moment is characterised by the profound separation of human needs from capitalist production, self-reproduction and expansion. Labour remains central to capital’s self-augmentation and socialisation, but under such naturalised domination it appears only increasingly marginal. Capital is no longer content to merely encompass existing forms of production in its pursuit of value, but must convert and transform all of life (production and reproduction) into capitalist forms. Through this ceaseless deterritorialisation, it finds ways to extract value across all forms of social, material and biological activity, radically altering them in its wake. Within this, our ways of relating, caring and of expression, of communicating and collaborating, are enclosed, templated and optimised. As ICT is folded into this process the creation of new forms of sociality, new edges, speeds and channels of communicating, and an endless wake of data are produced by and for subjects. ICT accelerates capitalist subsumption but also changes the nature of struggle against its domination, forcing it, and us, into more bound and arguably intimate confrontations.

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