• Precarisation and Financialisation

  • By Marina Gržinić | 22 Oct 09 | Posted under: Theory
  • I would like to develop two theses suggested by Rosa Reitsamer – precarisation and financialisation – in order to examine their consequences for the way we act, work and – last but not least – live.

    The first thesis is that precarisation is one of the consequences of the so-called “Great Transformation” that started in the 1970s and had at its core the decomposition of the working class as formed by the Fordist mode of production. The decomposition was followed by a recomposition known as the post-Fordist mode of production and precarisation, though both have to be seen as the result of the major recent event of capitalism – the “unleashing of capital”. I am developing the connection recently developed by Santiago López Petit in his book La movilización global. Breve tratado para atacar la realidad [Global Mobilisation. A Brief Treatise for Attacking Reality] Barcelona, 2009). The decomposition of the working class that appeared in the 1970s went through a process of its recomposition within the post-Fordist mode of production that has imposed an “order” better said a major disorder, namely the process of precarisation which means forced insecurity, mobility, instability, etc. Though, as Petit argues, we should add to all this the fact that global capitalism has reached the stage which can be called financial capitalism (at least this is how it was known before the crisis, but it is also possible that the name will vanish, which doesn’t necessarily mean, as I develop in my second thesis, that this will do away with financialisation as a paradigm of how contemporary capitalist societies and global capitalism function). Contrary to conventional histories of catastrophes in relation to the crisis, Petit proposes that the most internal logic of capitalism is its constant repetition, and that therefore capitalism is repeating its major event, that is “the unleashing of capital”. Precarisation is only one of the outcomes of this unleashing of capital.

    The second thesis is that though we are perhaps seeing the slight and optimistic recovery of neoliberal global capitalism, intellectuals in the West are discussing communism (strangely enough, as it has not been dealt with for almost twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall), although the consequences of the financialisation of capital are for the time being deeply embedded in every level of contemporary society. Maybe it is just, as Petit said, the end of blatant neoliberal ideology, though the practices, rituals and theories of financialisation, as the major logic of neoliberal global capitalism that has brought us to the current situation, is, in the present moment, not only alive but deeply incorporated into every layer of society: in our work, beliefs and life.

    Part 1

    The outcome of the Great Transformation that began in the 1970s is in today’s global capitalism, as Petit says, in its final phase, and is characterised, on the one hand, by the free circulation of capital, the downfall of the communist states and the new media and digital-technologies “revolution”, and, on the other hand, the explosion of inequalities, Fortress Europe, immigrants in Europe regarded as an underclass, etc. The unleashing of capital creates a paradoxical spatialisation that requires two repetitions. Petit argues that on the one side there is a founding repetition that will establish a hierarchy, that will repeatedly construct a centre (the capitalist First World) and a periphery, and, on the other, there is the counter-foundational move, so to say, that is expressed in dispersion and multiplicity. The multicultural matrix in the 1990s is also an outcome of this latter process. In his book On the Postcolony (2001), Achille Mbembe already notes these processes in his analysis of Africa. I can sum up what Mbembe developed a decade ago as a shift from post-colonialism toward the post-colony. On the one hand, Mbembe writes about persisting hierarchies established with sheer force because of the brutal naturalised and normalised history of colonialism, which is today not part of a “resolution of the capitalist First World’s resolution of its past colonial exploitation and expropriation”; on the contrary, this past colonialism is today exploited through what is called “ethno”-marketing1. On the other hand, in 2009 the EU adopted a resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism that will express respect for all victims of totalitarian and undemocratic regimes in Europe and will pay tribute to those who fought against tyranny and oppression. Of course, one of the processes will also be to “cleanse” the former Eastern European countries of their communist past, at the same time as communism, erased from history, is launched by Western intellectuals as the project for the future.

    To borrow from Petit again, for the unleashing of capital to deal with the conflicts that are inherent in it, it needs a formal frame – democracy. Democracy articulates two models: the war-state and post-modern fascism. They work in turn as a grid of vertical and horizontal forces, and in order to escape Fredric Jameson’s old mapping, I propose that we can think of their working together as in computerised tomography. This also means, as I already said, that it is not possible to understand global capitalism if we do not include new media technology in its functional logic. Computerised tomography (CT) scanning is an X-ray imaging technique. It may be performed “plain“ or with the injection of a “contrast dye”. This provides a perfect metaphor for our analysis. It is used plain in Africa, Kosovo, Chechnya, on the workers from the former ex-Yugoslavia in Slovenia, or when exploiting immigrants without papers in the EU. Plain means with sheer force. Nobody cares anyway. Or it can be used with the “contrast agent” as in Iraq or Afghanistan. For there are major economic interests, such as oil and heroin, at stake, and therefore to pursue this it is necessary to have agents. CT creates the image by using an array of individual small X-Ray sensors and a computer. By spinning the X-Ray source, data is collected from multiple angles. A computer then processes this information to create an image on the video screen.

    The war-state is one face of democracy and facilitates [provides] domination. The other is postmodern fascism. It facilitates the dissolution of the democratic state into a multi-reality of social technologies. Postmodern fascism is constructed on the basis of each individual’s autonomy. And as such, it is a govermentality that is based on the self-management of proper autonomy. The war-state produces coherence. It homogenises. Its action is propaganda. Think of the mobilisation of the masses against terrorism, for example. Postmodern fascism, on the other hand, is informal, not coherent, as it is based on the autonomy of differences. It produces differences. Its action is communication. All this is brilliantly described in Petit’s book.

    The war-state definitely does have elements of classical fascism: a sovereign leader, the people, death as the management of life. While on the other side there is the neoliberal context of individuals’ autonomy, appropriately called postmodern fascism. As Petit says, postmodern fascism sterilises the other, empties out conflict from public space and neutralises the political. Thus, as is often noted, global capitalism is about depoliticisation. Postmodern fascism works through constant self-mobilisation. The last world tour of U2 comes to my mind.

    Part 2

    Today we can identify a form of intensified biopolitics that I would call, after Achille Mbembe, necropolitics. Biopolitics is a horizon of articulating contemporary capitalist societies from the so-called politics of life, where life (following Agamben, it does not matter if it is bare/naked life or life in specific social and cultural forms is seen as zero intervention of each and every politics in contemporary societies. But today surplus-value is based on capitalising death-worlds. In his text “Necropolitics”, (2003) Achille Mbembe discusses this new logic of capital and its processes of geopolitical demarcation of world zones based on the mobilisation of the war machine. Mbembe claimed that the concept of biopolitics due to the war machine and the state of emergency, being one of the major logics of contemporary societies, might be better replaced with that of necropolitics. Necropolitics is linked to the concept of necrocapitalism, i.e., contemporary capitalism, which organises its forms of capital accumulation such that they involve dispossession and the subjugation of life to the power of death. The necrocapitalist capture of the social implies new modes of governmentality that are informed by the norms of corporate rationality and are deployed in managing violence, social conflicts and the multitude. No conflict is to be tolerated if it challenges the supreme requirements of capitalist rationalisation – economic growth, profit maximisation, productivity, efficiency and the like.

    Necropolitics is not reserved only for the Third World, but is operative also in First World capitalist societies. Today in the EU and USA the logic of organisation of life and the division of labour provides the minimum for living and sometimes not even this. It is such (necropolitical) logic that organises the contemporary neoliberal global capitalist social body. This minimum can be clearly seen in all the battles that are now going on at in Europe for the preservation of the social state, the once guaranteed social security and healthcare (won by means of labour struggles). The necropolitical is also clearly seen in the control measures (seclusion, deportation and ferocious anti-immigrant EU legal policy) within and at the borders of the Schengen area.

    The contemporary practices of art and culture are part of a very powerful institution in which a new generation depends terminally on old power structures. Through multinationals, banks, insurance companies and powerful family businesses, they decide who will be part of the core and, from time to time, who among the younger generation will be chosen to refresh the art scene. The reasons are very simple; the contemporary institution of art depends on money, and the market and collectors will not jeopardise this power; what all of them have in common is the ideology of neoliberal capitalism and its good life. As Suely Rolnik said, they are all caught in the vicious circle of “luxury subjectivity production”, of being part of the middle-class elite, travelling between art festivals, eating and drinking well, and having fun.

    We should also add to necropolitics two other major processes of fundamental neoliberal modes of functioning today: the privatisation and deregulation of each and every stratum of society; of its institutions and the social, political, economic, cultural and artistic practices.

    I am specifically interested in the analysis of institutions, and more particularly, in the field of art and culture. Why? It seems that deregulation and privatisation are specific; they powerfully present themselves in the field of art and culture today, where they are ferociously shielded from critique and analysis. This is not a special case of Slovenia, but something that is happening throughout the EU and beyond. The case of Slovenia thus demonstrates a structural development that shows similar traits throughout the European area, though deftly hidden in some places, and clearly envisioned and even more advanced on other levels.

    The most important point is to understand that neoliberal necrocapitalism lives from the intensification of its two primary conditions of reproduction: deregulation and privatisation.

    To refer to these two conditions means to refer to a situation of psychosis or to what was at first a situation of exceptionalism that is soon seen to be completely normalised and accepted. Privatisation means that the state withdraws from social, cultural and public life step by step, and leaves these public sectors to struggle for private money. But privatisation also implies a format of private property or of a private instrumentalisation of the public institution by those who run it. To precisely understand these processes and neoliberalism, let me refer to the short, but extremely precise vocabulary of terms published in Area Chicago, no. 6:

    Neoliberalism is a project of radical institutional transformation. This term refers to a unique period in capitalism in which some economic elites of some countries have encouraged a free-market fundamentalism that is unprecedented since before the Great Depression. This fundamentalist ideology has promoted a reversal of much of the regulation that has protected local and national economies from foreign competition, in addition to much of the social and political gains of social movements (including organized labor). Much of this transformation occurs through the privatization of industries and services previously monopolized by the state, and many of the social programs associated with welfare. This period is also marked by the opening up of new markets in sectors of life previously untapped for profit-making potential – including those basic services provided by the state, as well as the growing importance of industries like culture, health, environmentalism, and education (to name but a few). The concepts grow out of a “liberal” tradition, dating back to the theorists of early capitalism in the late 1800s, who were compelled by pure concepts of freedom. For the liberal, “freedom” was the ideal. For the neoliberal, the “free market” undisturbed by any state intervention is the ideal. What must be constantly kept in mind is that the ideal is far from the truth, and current so-called neoliberal policies require massive state intervention – only this time around it is exclusively on behalf of economic elites with no attempt to promote policies of economic redistribution, equal opportunity or civic participation.”2

    In neoliberal necrocapitalism, the whole of society has been transformed into one big investment sector that provides for a capitalisation of capital. I want to emphasise that the days of the particularisation of levels of society (e.g. culture and art being “outside” the processes that are going on in the wider economic, social and political contexts, so to speak) are over. There was always a firm relationship of interdependency between the superstructure (art, culture, the social field, etc.) and the economic base. The difference is that in the past this logic was hidden, but in neoliberalism these connections are clearly visible. 

    What we see is that these artistic, cultural, social, health and public sectors, which before were primarily used for ideological reproduction of the mode of production and its labour force, are vital for the direct capitalisation of capital today. Therefore, when we speak of the radical neoliberal necrocapitalist deregulation of each and every institution in society, whether institution of art, culture, politics, health, social security, public, law or religion, etc., we mean it affects not only its (dis-)investment policy, but its histories, strategies of interventions, ideologies, rituals and forms of organisation.

    In neoliberalism, as the Area Chicago team formulates, four processes apply: financialisation of capital, speculative movements of financial capital, interspatial competition and place-marketing. I propose not only to see the processes that are occurring in the field of art and culture as overtly restructured and deregulated, but also to perceive a radical process not only of the financialisation of capital, but of the financialisation of (cultural) institutions as such, with speculative, interspatial competitive and place-marketing as highly visible characteristics as well. In neoliberal necrocapitalism, a process of over-determination that is definitely financialisation affects not only every level of society but is also highly operative in contemporary art and culture.

    Financialisation of capital means that surplus-value as the only driver of capital is produced with a bubble mechanism of “virtual” money movements, investments, etc. This is no longer rooted in “production”, so to speak, as was the case of the direct expropriation of people, regions and territories in the not-so-distant, clearly capitalist colonial past. Even though such a process is still active if we think about oil, financialisation makes money from money (virtually) without the so-called background of production.

    What does this tell us? If the financialisation of capital means the domination of financial markets (foreign-exchange trading, futures, debt trading, US government securities trading and other forms of speculative investment) over industrial economies in contemporary capitalism, as the Area Chicago puts it, I therefore propose the financialisation of institutions as a paradigm parallel to the financialisation of capital, meaning the over-empowerment of institutions, but only and solely through performative speculative processes that have no basis in anything other than the institutions themselves. These speculative processes are becoming more important than any art and cultural production, more important than any art work, more important than any artist or artistic group position, etc. What is bought and sold here is information itself, devoid of any content, as it were.

    There is, in addition, a process of “cleansing the terrain”, as we learned from the Balkan Wars. Practices and theories that disturb the flow of incessant production of information have to be erased and must vanish. Very similar processes were and still are implemented not only in the context of the brutality of the 1990 Balkan Wars and in Chechnya, etc. but in the case the obliterated people in Slovenia. Therefore, to summarise, what is taking place is a twofold process; on the one hand, speculations are the outcome of a hyper-activity, not of (art or cultural) production, but of a hyper-production of information itself, and on the other, institutions are activated as incubators of the constant production of information – about themselves. The outcome, to put it simply, is a daily bombardment of an unbelievable quantity of information about projects and activities that nobody can follow anymore. A glut is created through the infinite speculative sending out and distributing of anything whatsoever. On the other hand, we see a completely psychotic process of total evacuation.

    Additionally, in this whole process other less visible procedures are occurring, so that the financialised institution can maintain its power at any cost. We think of processes in which the institution declares “war”, provoking a state of emergency, in order to hide its own irresponsibility. This means to display a space of art and culture that surrounds the official art institution as being fragmented, problematic and corrupted. For contemporary deregulated and speculative art institutions it is difficult to grasp the space as being a space of alliances. Through their lenses, marginalised groups and practices are presented as those with maximal power, while marginalised positions are made the equivalent of state institutional power positions. It is a process of obfuscation that results in a situation in which everybody is engaged, so to speak, in mutually destructive place-marketing strategies against others. At the same time the official art institution is exempted from any responsibility, and presents itself only as a victim of the system.

    What does it mean to provoke a state of emergency as a strategy for obfuscating a proper position in order to preserve power? For surviving and for reproducing its power in the national realm, the institution needs a total war or a state of opposition. It is produced through a process that delegates its incitement through somebody else and in a format that hides the institution’s responsibility. To delegate means to find an (art) format or completely unscrupulous individual, on one side, or even an international institution, on the other, that is willing to accept financially supporting the whole (dirty) “art business” on the presupposition that it takes part in another cultural (national) space. Though in a proper national context, such an international institution is far from “implementing” the same “measures”, as they are implemented only in countries that are seen from the international “supporting” institution as not being civilised enough. Actually, the international supporting institution turns a state of disorder and power games, which are known as Balkanisation, to its advantage. It presents itself as being “subversive” and completely “autonomous.”

    As a result of these processes, the categories of public space, public money and the public as such have been totally instrumentalised and privatised.

    In short, neoliberal necrocapitalism is continually being produced and reproduced, not only economically and politically, but, most obviously, institutionally. All these processes have an effect that is totally and straightforwardly socially “dysfunctional”. They generate consequences that are very difficult fully to understand. Nowadays it is necessary to de-link ourselves from a war of all against all, ex/changing everything with everything, everyone with everyone; we need to be able to draw this line of differentiation, while building local and international alliances. These are the only possible ways of changing the present deregulated and privatised economic, social, and institutional spheres of our life and work.

    It is important to add that the present situation will give a free hand to capital’s most urgent task and this is the intensification of collapse and /or of a complete de/re/structuring of the working class within the described trajectory of intensified precarisation of life from the biopolitical to the necropolitical. This will be conducted through an intensification that is already taking place and can be named, according to Ignacio Ramonet3, as four great principles of rationalisation:
    1) Reducing the number of employees
    2) Reducing wages
    3) Introducing more and more work duties
    4) Restructuring companies and the redistribution of goods and resources.

    These processes will be performed in many different situations by capital: in executing control over life, pushing war on terrorism or civilising those who are not yet civilised enough!



    Giorgio Agamben, State of exception, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2005

    Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2001.

    Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics”, in Public Culture, 15 (1), 2003, pp 11-40.

    Marina Grz?ini´c and Rosa Reitsamer (eds.), New Feminism: Worlds of Feminism, Queer and Networking Conditions, Löcker Verlag, Vienna 2008

    Santiago López Petit, La movilización global. Breve tratado para atacar la realidad, Editorial Traficantes de Sueños, Barcelona, 2009.

    Reartikulacija, Artistic-Political-Theoretical-Discursive-Platform and Journal, www.reartikulacija.org



    1. The ethno-marketing that is becoming more and more prevalent in the capitalist First World and the EU was recently a topic in a debate among students, professors and young scholars in the class on Post-Conceptual Art Practices at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. The debate’s participants reported on one of the latest cases of ethno-marketing that veils pure racism, and this became visible when on August 26, 2009 two screenshots of an ad from one of Microsoft’s sites began circulating in internet forums and blogs. One depicted a conference table with a couple of happy employees: an Asian man, a black man, and a white woman. The other image was from the Polish version of the same site, and it is identical to the first one, except that the head of the black man was replaced with a head of a white man. mashable.com/2009/08/26/microsoft-photoshop-trainwreck/
    2. See Daniel Tucker’s editorial text “Inheriting the Grid” and Nik Theodore, Jamie Peck and Neil Brenner’s text “The City as Policy Lab”, both published in Area Chicago (ART/RESEARCH/EDUCATION/ACTIVISM), no. 6, August 2008. 
    3. https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/76/vulture_funds.htm

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