Autonomy as Empowering Dependence

Lately I’ve been giving some thought to the notion of autonomy, and in particular to its paradoxical relationship with dependence and interdependence. It looks that the closer you look at forms of autonomy, the more they appear as systems of interdependence. My thinking originates in the entrepreneurial instrumentalization of autonomy and freedom, which results in a more subtle form of subjugation; and is inspired by the work of Constant in bringing together a glossary of interdependencies.

We understand autonomy as “the condition of self-government”. This definition implies a corollary feature of autonomy, that is “freedom from external control or influence”. In this sense, we conceptualize autonomy as an antonym of dependence. Here, I would like to reinterpret autonomy as a peculiar form of dependence instead, a form of dependence that is relatively empowering, a dependence that grants agency. Thus, autonomy as empowering dependence or as “agential” dependence.

Let me explain what I mean by focusing on media in McLuhanian sense, that is, extensions of human faculties such as tools, instruments, technologies. We tend to consider walking an autonomous activity, a self-governed activity as it doesn’t depend on any external system or apparatus. But if we look at walking from the perspective of disability, we are inclined to see it as an activity dependent on a pair of functioning legs. We might say that a person constrained into a wheelchair is dependent on that wheelchair, but then we can say that same for the able-bodied person. If we ask the able-bodied person to use the wheelchair, they will find it disempowering, because it limits their self-governing capacity, whereas it is empowering for the disabled person as it enhance their agency, that is, their capacity to act. This example shows us that dependence is unavoidable, indelible and that autonomy is the spectrum of agency determined by such dependence.

Let’s extend the range of means of transportation. We might say that the car enhances one’s autonomy because it is faster than walking and it allows to cover longer distances. But if we consider that cars have themselves produced those longer distances in big cities, for example to go to work, we might say that our relationship with the car is not one of empowering dependence, because it limits our freedom to walk. Indeed, Wikipedia states that “Automobile dependency is the concept that some city layouts cause automobiles to be favored over alternate forms of transportation”. Furthermore, driving a car means limiting or even locking some other faculties, such as the use of arms and eyes. From this perspective the train is a more autonomous means of transportation.


On Life Hacks

I’m reposting here the introductory text to the Piet Zwart Instituut’s XPUB’s Special Issue #7, which I had the honor to guest-edit. I take this chance to thank the PZI for inviting me and the PZI students for their enthusiasm during the whole trimester. You can find out more about process, bibliography, and outcomes here.

While technology promises to speed up and simplify what we do, our workload increases and diversifies. Why is that? Is it because we are tirelessly entrepreneurial beings, so that as soon as a new horizon opens up, we can’t wait to move towards it? Or is it that the efficiency required by the systems we inhabit imposes the toll of adapting to them? Or rather is it their very inefficiency that we have to make for?

Read the rest


A Behavioral Definition of Design – Notes on Self-Design

Our goal here is to develop a framework that can encompass both the design of things and the design of beings. In order to do so, we need a working definition of design. For this purpose let us consider an unlikely source, Karl Marx’s Capital:

A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement.

For Marx, the ability to imagine denotes a fundamental difference between man and animal: both fabricate more or less complex objects and structures, but only humans imagine, or more precisely prefigure, these structures before fabricating them. Here we understand design as prefiguration (therefore not the final output, which might differ) and the designer as the one who prefigures. The designer doesn’t need to be a human being since several machines, for instance, are capable of prefiguration. This coincides with Oxford Dictionary‘s definition of design, which is “the art or action of conceiving of and producing a plan or drawing of something before it is made”. Imagination is the initial stage of a plan and uses the mind as a canvas, as an inscription device. Prefiguration can go from the stage of a mere mental image to the stage of a calculated and documented plan.

Read the rest


The Poverty of Praxis and the Web

I’m jotting down some quick notes on what seems to have become an obsessive thought: the relationship between poiesis and praxis, as understood by Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition. In broad strokes: poiesis means fabrication, it is the activity of the homo faber, the craftman (be them an engineer or a sculptor); praxis means acting politically, taking initiative, while being seen by other human beings. Poiesis implies a shared world of things, praxis implies a public sphere.

The latter was originally considered the highest human activity but nowadays this is not the case anymore. And here I would like to argue, or at least to suggest, that praxis functions today as a surrogate for a poiesis that is hardly achievable by the most. In other words, people act politically (in a broad sense) because they are unable to make (design + fabricate) things or find gratification in this making.

Read the rest


Entreprecariat – Siamo tutti imprenditori. Nessuno è al sicuro.

ENTREPRECARIAT – Siamo tutti imprenditori. Nessuno è al sicuro.

Imprenditore o precario? Sono questi i termini di una dissonanza cognitiva in cui tutto pare una mastodontica startup. Silvio Lorusso ci guida alla scoperta dell’”imprendicariato”, un universo fatto di strumenti per la produttività, di poster motivazionali e di tecniche di auto-aiuto per risultare ottimisti. Non solo: un mix di ideologia imprenditoriale e precarietà diffusa è ciò che regola social media, mercati online per il lavoro autonomo e piattaforme di crowdfunding. Il risultato? Una vita in beta permanente, dai risvolti talora tragici.

Dal 24 novembre “ENTREPRECARIAT – Siamo tutti imprenditori. Nessuno è al sicuro.” di Silvio Lorusso, con prefazione di Geert Lovink e postfazione di Raffaele Alberto Ventura, è disponibile online e in libreria.

10,5 x 21 cm
carta lucida / carta usomano
228 pagine

Read the rest


Sei mesi di astinenza da Facebook

Sei mesi di astinenza da Facebook. Nel senso che per sei mesi non ho pubblicato nulla, se non in maniera per così dire omeopatica, ovvero attraverso la pagina che gestisco (i cui follower si contano sulle dita e il cui unico commentatore è un mio amico d’infanzia). A dire il vero avevo già sfrondato radicalmente i miei contatti e smesso di mettere Mi piace: se davvero ho qualcosa da dire, mi tocca commentare. La cosa più difficile? Resistere all’urgenza promozionale: ehi, ho fatto una collaborazioncina qui, ho scritto una cosina lì, sono bravo no? Ti prego, dimmi che lo sono… E magari contattami, ché il lavoro non è mai abbastanza. A cosa è servito tutto ciò? Non a molto. Forse, data la mia tendenza a inveire, mi sono fatto qualche nemico in meno, però non sono certo riuscito a intervenire sulle mie nevrosi da timeline. Continuo a scrollare e scrollare come facevo prima con la sola differenza che se mi viene in mente qualcosa lo tengo per me o lo dico altrove (ad esempio su Mastodon, che è proprio un bel progetto ma ci stanno tre italiani in croce). A detta degli scienziati di Facebook consumare contenuti senza produrne di propri rende gli utenti tristi. Ma la cosa veramente triste è che a nulla hanno portato gli schiamazzi intorno a Cambridge Analytica, i vari #deletefacebook, i rimbrotti dei pionieri del web che ci esortano a cancellare i nostri account. Siamo ancora tutti qui, immersi in questo tedio digitale, a ballare e cantare come si faceva durante i giorni più bui della Peste nera.


“A CV that Never Sleeps” – On LinkedIn

The writing of this essay, which was originally published on Modes of Criticism 3 under the title “LinkedIn Society”,  was concluded just before a quite drastic redesign of LinkedIn’s interface. In its conclusions I somehow predicted the elimination of the anomalous functionalities that made LinkedIn peculiar in comparison to the standards of other generalist social media platforms like Facebook. As I argued, these now obsolete functionalities illustrate a utilitarian transparency more genuinely adherent to the ideology and the aims driving the design of the platform than the full “rhetorical turn toward conviviality” (Davies 2016) that characterize other dominant social media and guided the current redesign of LinkedIn. Instead of updating the essay according to the new design, I decided to preserve my original analysis in order to provide a chronicle of  the recent history of social media and a proof of the difficulty to formulate a timely critique in a medial ecosystem that is in “permanent beta”, just like contemporary workers must be according to LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman (2013).

 “Linkedin is a Waste of Time”

In  the last years, much has been written on the Facebook Like Economy, on the grassroots genealogy of the Twitter hashtag, on the formation of a narcissistic subjectivity on Instagram. During this period, LinkedIn has been almost completely ignored. In the Social Media Reader, published in 2012, it is not even mentioned once. In the Unlike Us Reader, published the year after and focused on possible alternatives, LinkedIn appears five times, but only as a fleeting example. Unlike generalist social media, LinkedIn has a specific focus, the world of professionals. IHowever, it is a platform where it’s possible to identify , both in its interface, its communication and its origins, some latent dynamicsthat presently orient social media and, therefore, society at large. This is what makes it  unique and therefore valuable in the current social media landscape. In this essay, I discuss LinkedIn’s unique functionalities, rhetorics and principles.

Read the rest


Fake It till You Make It – Genesis of the Entrepreneurial Precariat

Originally published on Pagina99 under the title “Vi racconto gioie (poche) e dolori dell’imprecariato“. Illustration by Krisis Publishing

At first glance, the main common denominator for the large demographic segment that goes by the name of Millennials is technology. Those born between 1980 and 2000 are the first to have fully experienced the digital revolution, and already nostalgically commemorate its beginnings. Yet there is another aspect that distinguishes this generation from the previous ones. While the baby boomers have been able to count on a stable career and Generation X has complained about the limitations, for Millennials, a path deprived of detours is unrealistic if not outdated. It’s the very idea of a career that falters against a shared horizon characterized by constant uncertainty.

Read the rest