31/05/2020 – CFP: (De)automating the Future

Call for Papers
Tentative Title: (De)automating the Future Technology, it often seems, is our fate. Not only has capitalism’s fossil fuel-based industrialization led to global warming; for many on both sides of the political spectrum the only solution to climate change and other societal problems, such as world hunger and poverty, appears in the form of further technological “innovation.” The future—if there is to be one— seems to belong to technological systems that delegate collective political responsibility to machines and to a class alliance of capitalists and engineers.

The leftist commitment to technological progress, on the other hand, draws on the legacy of a Promethean strain in the Marxist tradition. Regimes claiming to represent the Marxian heritage have often acted as ruthless modernizers, attempting to create the material conditions for an emancipated society whose realization was forever deferred. As Lenin infamously put it: communism is soviet power plus electrification. The recent rise of socialist visions of automation, expressed in books such as Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism (2015), Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s Inventing the Future (2015), Peter Frase’s Four Futures (2016), and Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism (2019), suggests that the dream of “accelerating” the development of the forces of production, or repurposing existing technologies to alleviate inequality, is making a comeback. At the same time, heterodox readers of Marx remain skeptical. There is, after all, a long tradition of seeing technology as a materialization of capitalism’s logic of abstract domination that only serves the accumulation of capital. Thus, these thinkers claim, technology cannot be easily separated from the antagonistic forces that give rise to it. In Inhuman Power (2019), Nick Dyer-Witheford, Atle Mikkola Kjøsen, and James Steinhoff offer a dystopian vision in which full automation does not abolish capitalism but supplies the technical means to literalize Marx’s claim that capitalism is an “automatic subject.” Moreover, Jason Smith (2017) has recently rediscovered radical auto worker James Boggs’ prophetic claim that automation creates a “surplus people” no longer able to find steady employment. This might have debilitating consequences for the workers’ movement since it exacerbates the fragmentation of those forced to rely on wage labor in order to have access to the means of life.
We are seeking chapters that critically investigate automation’s ambivalences from interdisciplinary Marxist perspectives. The publishing format will be an essay collection (to be submitted to Brill’s Historical Materialism book series or other international press). Collectively we hope to raise questions about the automation of manual and mental labor, technology’s affordances for postcapitalism or the transformation and intensification of class antagonisms and capitalist exploitation, and the consequences automation will have for the natural environment. The prophets of technology have only automated the future in various ways; the point remains to change it.

Contributions should be generally oriented around one or more of the following (or thematically similar) questions:
Is automation the key to postcapitalism or a dubious iteration of technological determinism and Prometheanism?
How should Marxists assess capitalist concepts like the “rise of the robots”, “industry 4.0”, and the “second machine age”? Is it true that we are currently undergoing a radical new stage of automation or are other forces behind the long downturn?
Is full automation compatible with the production and realization of surplus value? Can machines create value?
Where do new technologies stand between opening up spaces of resistance that can lead to meaningful political transformations (or revolution) and transforming or intensifying class antagonisms and the disciplining of laboring minds and bodies?
How does automation affect the working class, particularly in terms of the categories that potentially divide the class, such as race, gender, nationality, ability, etc.?
How does contemporary automation fit into Marxist debates around deskilling and the work process?
Combined and uneven automation? Where do different societies and working classes stand in the global transformation of technology? How have Marxisms outside the United States and Europe approached automation?
Does the idea of automation have to be reevaluated in the face of the climate crisis? Can there be a long-term, global, and sustainable “green automation” based on renewable energies? Or is the idea of automation and capital accumulation inextricably linked to a paradigm of growth that will continue to require more resources whose extraction and processing will result in environmental destruction (possibly in parts of the world that do not themselves benefit from automation)?
What are artistic and cultural responses to automation? Have there been formal innovations responding to the increasing automation of tasks? What about artistic labor itself? Does it constitute a last stronghold against the destruction of specifically human skills or has it already been altered by the same processes that have transformed working conditions in the sphere of (re)production?

What do socialist feminist, xenofeminist, and social reproduction theories bring to the automation debate? What are the stakes of automation for care, domestic labor, and other gendered work?
Send an abstract of 500 words to jesse.ramirez@unisg.ch, lieber@anglistik.uni-kiel.de, and johannes.fehrle@unibas.ch by 30 November 2019. Full-length articles (around 8000 words) will be due by 31 May 2020.

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