Cultures of Technology Connections

What do university students, knowledge workers, factory farmers and migrant workers have in common? How is a university like a factory farm? What is Biopower? Why should you give a moo about poo? This map traces connections between different cultures of technology that are part of the apparatus of Biopower. Biopower is a form of power that regulates "the production and reproduction of life itself."



1. Connections between Gendered Labor, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies

The gestation, birth, and rearing of children are not considered productive labor—certainly they have never been part of the GNP. Poor and working class women in the US are increasingly being denied subsidies for the necessary production they contribute, essentially giving their labor to the state free of charge. Current welfare 'reform' intensifies this exploitation by forcing poor women to work at jobs that pay wages below what they need to make a living. Affordable child-care is almost nonexistent. Meanwhile (predominantly) white, middle class and wealthy women and couples have become a lucrative consumer market for enhanced fertility and genetic technologies, such as Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) that promise the delivery of perfect babies. Healthy, intelligent, and preferably white, college age women have become prime recruits as [presumably] genetically and eugenically superior egg donors for the ART industry. Sex and reproduction are separated in this assembly line of the technologically replicated labor force. The "affect industry" flourishes here too, as the "natural" desire for children is exploited and controlled by a corporate biotech industry eager to expand its markets. The economic upshot of this system is that parents are now paying even more to have children, while domestic care-giving and child-care are still not acknowledged as productive labor that should be generously compensated. Sources: "Does She or Doesn't She," subRosa pamphlet. "The New Welfare Rights Movement," Color Lines, Fall 2000.

2. Connections between Communications Students, Migrant Workers & Factory Farmers

In the networked society of global pancapital, relations of space and time are warped by the speed of communication. We may, in fact, have the least knowledge about those closest to us. For example, a communications technologies student at BGSU may not know that among her closest neighbors are migrant farm workers who perform the vast majority of the agricultural labor in the US. But she may have an intimate conversation with someone half a world away through the World Wide Web. Many of us feel the loss of local community, but fail to look at the ways in which the separations between us and our neighbors are often tied to socially and economically structured inequities of race, class, gender, nationality and other differences. Yet we are all linked—often invisibly, and not by choice—through the networks of information and communication technologies (ICT) which connect global capital and industrial production sites. Students in universities such as BGSU are being trained to become technocratic knowledge workers of the future, while nearby mega factory farms are producing plant and animal products in a global assembly line. The health and well-being of students, agricultural workers, and cows alike are threatened by factory farming's pollution of local water and air, and by the networked relations of production that drive down both the agricultural and knowledge worker's wages. Source: The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), AFL-CIO [] 1221 Broadway, Toledo OH 43609.

3. US Industrial Farming Connects to Car Industry, and University Agritech

Have you been wondering why you are seeing more and more car assembly plants and other industries in rural and farm belt areas? Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and the Internet have made possible what some call the Network Society—a globally integrated circuit that links our bodies, labor, and lives in previously unimaginable ways. Digital technologies used in every production industry—including industrial farming and automobile production—have enabled corporations to locate just about anywhere. Just-in-time production and assembly methods make it possible to outsource parts production to the cheapest labor pools in the world, and still have assembly completed in the US. How does this play out in everyday life? For example, the growing dominance of corporate capital in agriculture has forced family farmers to turn to other work such as car assembly to make a living and keep their farms going. In the global 'Race to the Bottom,' corporations are free to cross borders in search of lower labor costs, but people in search of work, or higher wages, are not. When workers in Detroit organized and won safer working conditions, higher wages, and decent benefits, corporations like GM and Ford decentralized production and outsourced it to places like Juarez, Mexico, where they could pay workers less. Thousands of American auto workers lost their livelihoods as a result. These new economic systems and values affect workers everywhere, forcing them to compete for the lowest wages. The struggle for better wages and safer working conditions whether in Juarez, Detroit, or Bowling Green, demands that workers unite in solidarity networks globally. Sources, R. C. Lewontin, "Genes in the Food," It Ain't Necessarily So: The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions. "Roger and Me," film by M. Moore.

4. Connects Technologies of Solidarity & Resistance with Technologies of Critique

With the increasing divide between technocratic immaterial knowledge workers on the one hand, and a huge service and material (bodily) labor force on the other, it is no longer profitable to provide liberal arts, research science, and humanities-based college education for most American youth. Thousands of students, often those of minority and working class backgrounds and women, are being tracked into business administration, data processing, and low-end computing, manufacturing, and information processing "careers." No wonder so many big corporations are so eager to fund computer labs, sponsor business scholarships and monopolize the higher education market for distribution of their products. Yet many students are restless and dissatisfied. Contrary to corporate media stereotypes, US campuses have not been quiescent in recent decades. Student activists have continued to address issues such as divestment from South Africa, opposition to the draft, the military, sweatshops and globalization. They have pushed for immigrant rights, labor organizing, environmental justice and multi-sexual liberation. Many students use their skills, tools, access, and knowledge to organize and support new forms of activist networks and coalitions between campuses, workers, immigrants, and other marginalized communities. Students everywhere have used the resources of the university to resist oppressive power, including creating opportunities to study radical theory and learn from the histories of minoritarian groups. We should insist on an interdisciplinary and critically based education. Technologies must be studied within a social and political context that examines the values which construct them. Instead of capitulating to the alienation and competition in work and study environments, students and workers can build critical and pleasurable bridges between cultures of technology. We can practice sociality and solidarity that carry in them the seeds of revolt against the society of control. Sources: S. Aronowitz, J. Cutler, eds. Post Work. Progressive Student Network leaflet.

5. Connects Standards-based Education to Producing Citizens for a Technocratic Society

Admission to college in the US for an individual has meant the prospect of increased social mobility, economic opportunity, and the chance to develop technical, cultural, and intellectual skills. However, millions of qualified people from the less privileged strata have been excluded from academia. Since the 1950s, the number of people attending college has risen dramatically, the result of both a rapidly expanding economy requiring large pools of skilled technicians, and the Civil Rights Movement, which opened the doors to higher education by breaking down barriers of race and class. Today as many as 50% of American youth aged 17-24 attend college. Expanded opportunity for higher education became a symbol for many Americans of the ideals of democracy and freedom. During the 1960s however, these democratic ideals clashed with the sharp realities of inequality, injustice, and militarism that continued to permeate American society. Student activists argued that the university was not a servant of the people but a corporate entity designed to meet the increasing demands of business, government and the military for specialized technical and knowledge workers. Much of current rhetoric about the "crisis in education" is fueled and steered by conservative forces pressuring to privatize public education. They argue that if Americans were more technically skilled, better at problem-solving and analytical thinking, the American economy would be more competitive and generate more jobs both domestically and internationally. This crisis in "international competitiveness" has led to establishing national standards for curriculum and achievement, but it ignores the ways in which the loss of manufacturing jobs is linked to changes in the global political economy.

6. Connections between Immaterial Knowledge Work & Factory Farming

In their book Empire, M. Hardt and A. Negri discuss the new nature of productive labor power in the networked society. They describe it as "intellectual, immaterial, and communicative labor power." This new labor power is driven by and dependent on digital information and production technologies and machines. Labor value now depends on the worker's ability to manipulate information and communication technologies — this even includes manual (bodily) and service labor. For example, to be a factory farmer you need a degree in international business communications and marketing more than you need to know about how to raise a cow. However, all immaterial knowledge work is not valued equally and is not the same in terms of creativity, challenge, interest, etc. Immaterial knowledge workers who do problem solving and symbolic/analytical work, such as the corporate "talent" CEOs of Enron—are usually compensated far more for their labor than a data entry worker or a telemarketer whose tasks are routine and repetitive. Artists, web designers, programmers, scientists, researchers, game designers and the like, are highly sought after as "content providers," and as the talent which produces the corporate identity—logos, websites, etc.—so important to today's niche marketing.

7. Connects Technologies of Consciousness with Health & Medical Technologies

The explosion in diagnoses and pharmacological treatment of medicalized conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Bipolar Disorder among children and young adults has led many critics, including doctors, to question whether this phenomenon is in fact a symptom of the increased mainstreaming and standardizing of education. College students, children, youth, and women, are prime targets for pharmacological testing and experiment as they are the populations perceived to be most in need of control and management. With the speed-up of networked labor among the technocratic, managerial, and professional classes, the question of "affect management" of the work force is increasingly central. Excessive emotions and non rational desires can upset the spaces of production and consumption, requiring "smart" drugs that control and neutralize potentially non-productive emotions. You may have heard of the "Prozac advantage" which refers to the use of the anti-depressant, not for 'clinically recognized' depression, but to "give oneself an edge" in the race to success. The drastic increase in the use of legal, supervised high-powered drugs, such as anti-depressants (as opposed to everyday drugs like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, or illegal drugs like cocaine) is no doubt a symptom of intensification of work, lengthening of workdays, decline in real wages, and increase in stress levels. More and more individuals today are in need of drug intervention simply to avoid work and socially-induced illness. Today's university student is under greater pressure than ever to succeed and become a productive citizen in the society of control. Is it any surprise that alcohol consumption on campus is reported to have reached record levels?

8. Connections between Industrial Farms, the Fast Food Industry & Cafeteria Work

How does industrial food production and distribution directly affect your health and well-being? Food is global power; food production policies are used to control people worldwide. Industrial farming, factory farming, mega farming, agritech, and biotech pharming are the result of a US federal government program introduced in the 1960s to reduce the number of farmers by increasing the size of farms and mechanizing them. Presently less than 2% of Americašs population are farmers. Industrial farming is bad for humans, animals, and plants. Confined indoors and practically immobile, animals are fed highly concentrated feed laced with hormones and antibiotics to speed their growth and enhance productivity. Plants are genetically modified, grown with vast amounts of petroleum-based fertilizer and pesticides. Crops tend to be more and more standardized, altered to fit consumer tastes for appearance and convenience. Seeds have become a monopoly patented and controlled by corporate agritech companies rather than farmers. Farm labor is reduced to running machines, or the most routine, backbreaking, and repetitive manual tasks. The bottom line in this kind of farming is control and maximization of profits, not crop, animal, or human health, pleasure in fresh, wholesome food, or consideration of the quality of life of animals, plants, farmers, farm laborers, and consumers. The food in university cafeterias is likely to be highly processed, trucked in from distant locations, chock full of artificial ingredients and flavors, and concentrated in the fat, sugar, and starch blocks of the food pyramid. Cafeteria workers are part of the global industrial food assembly line: over-worked, low paid, non-unionized, mostly women and minority workers. Source: From "Dirt to Dinner Plate" [].

9. Connects Technologies of Warfare with Domination, Surveillance, and Control

Warfare and building the war machine have been mandated courses of study at many public universities and land grant colleges in the US since their founding. When campuses erupted in student revolt in the late 1960s one of the first demands was to abolish compulsory ROTC. Since then student groups everywhere have organized against university complicity with the war machine, Pentagon research funding, and US capital and military investment in countries waging war against their own people. Just as the networks of interstate highways were developed to facilitate movement of military vehicles and troops throughout the US, so the nodes of the Internet and the networked society were developed to provide a control and surveillance information highway for the military and corporations. Gargantuan defense budgets and Homeland Security investment assure that the military can afford its cutting-edge research and development activities — many of which underwrite computer, robotics, and hi-tech research departments at universities. Military technologies, whether medical, weapons, communication, or scientific, are usually developed with lucrative civilian applications in mind. For example, some military technologies affecting women's health are ultrasound pregnancy monitoring, telesurgery, robotic medical monitoring, and invasive imaging techniques. Military technologies of surveillance and control now pervade all of society including the Internet and outer space.

10. US Car Culture Connects to Maquiladora Workers in Juarez, Mexico

Many parts of the cars in this parking lot—and of the computers in the Technology College—were produced with the labor of thousands of (mostly) young women who work in highly unsafe and unhealthy conditions in maquiladoras (assembly plants) situated along the US/Mexico border. Jobs in maquilas are repetitive, non-unionized, low paid, and there is no job security. Multinational corporations that pay no taxes to the Mexican government own the maquiladoras. The maquila industry currently is being used by 70% of the Fortune 500 companies—including leading American automobile companies such as Ford, General Motors and DuPont. There are currently 340 maquiladoras in the Mexican border town of Juarez that employ over 220,000 people. Over the last decade more than 450 women have disappeared and 284 women have been found murdered in Juarez. "The murdered and missing women were, for the most part, migrants, but they also had other characteristics that made them especially vulnerable. They were also poor women who lived in high-risk areas with little or no access to basic services such as running water, plumbing, streetlights and very little police protection." Source: Open Letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Supporters Worldwide, by the Mothers of the Disappeared of Juarez, August 14, 2002. []

11. Connections between the Affect Industry, Liberal Arts & the Sex Industry

Conviviality and pleasure are vital to a satisfying life, and most people are good at creating their own technologies of pleasure. However, producing and manipulating affect — that is, emotions and feelings of various kinds—has now become a profitable job in the mass culture entertainment industries. Many university departments are dedicated to preparing students to work in the "affect industry" which includes everything from art and literature, the movie, television, music and communications industries, museums, theme parks, travel and leisure business, and sports and sex industries. It involves millions of workers and a great variety of machines, technologies, and skills. It is in the interest of global capital to control the affect industry partly because it is so profitable. Services and entertainment industries play upon affect—the social glue which keeps the networks of the society of control running smoothly. How is it possible to turn people's desire for pleasure into a productive part of the economy? Take the sex industry for example: Masturbation, non-reproductive heterosexual sex, gay, lesbian, and 'perverted' sex, are essentially nonproductive in terms of keeping the labor force replenished—they are distracting and produce and consume nothing. "Useless, uncommodifiable sexuality is only rewarded in state-sanctioned monogamous heterosexuality, or in the spectacle. If you can buy it or passively watch it on screen, safely out of the material world, you can avoid punishment." (CAE, Flesh Machine) Thus the commodification of affect makes money (a lot of it!) while at the same time the exercise of non-rational, non productive pleasure can be controlled.


This Cultures of Technology Map is part of BIOPOWER UNLIMITED! a subRosa tactical media project. For more information: Presented at Bowling Green State University as part of Ghosts in the Wiring, New Music & Art Festival 23, October 16-19, 2002