2. Towards an economy of contribution

As an alternative to the exploitation of otium, Stiegler argues that a priority of the future university should be the creation of a new ‘economy of contribution’ as a ‘concrete expression of de-proletarianisation’. This would entail an independent technical system developing retentions outside the material economy, ending the current toxic dependence upon capitalist industry (Stiegler 2015a:173). Anamnesic projection could be created through new ‘infinite protentions’ as part of long circuits of trans-individuation, determining disciplinary knowledge to rethink itself as it is by de-fault (at fault of forgetting) (2015a:165; 2011b:157). Inasmuch as spirit emerges and elevates itself through technics, by creating a new industry and economy of contribution concerned with philia, Stiegler hopes for a spiritual awakening – one that is not religious (or institutionalised) but that would hold ground against the consumerism which permeates our souls, bodies, desires, imaginations and relationships (2011b).

Reproductive work and gendered care in Stiegler’s conception of savoir-vivre

As we have seen previously, Stiegler laments consumers’ loss of savoir-vivre as a manifestation of proletarianisation through consumerism and automation. He defines savoir-vivre as:

to know how to cook, drive one’s car, know how to orient yourself in a landscape without having a GPS system, know how to bring up your children, to know, to bake your bread etc. (2010:9)

Stiegler does not make a distinction, however, between reproductive work and anamnesic knowledge in general, and how they have been gendered historically. Put simply, cooking, child-rearing and baking have been traditionally delegated and imposed upon the ‘weak’ body within the patriarchal family and other institutions, as non- or poorly remunerated work (of the servant, wife, children). In Taking Care, Stiegler states:

inasmuch as it is the age of culture, and the origin of civilisation as sedentarisation, agriculture is a care taken of the world: it is a therapeutic. (Stiegler 2006:2)

Here, Stiegler discusses savoir-vivre and care in general terms, without looking at how the general organology is shaped by systems of oppression such as patriarchy and white supremacy which condition bodies, desire, and the social relations involved in the production of care. As we will see later, he neglects the gendered, classed and racialised aspects of the toxic pharmacology of care for he does not address the question of how performativity, sensibility and desire are implicated within it. Notwithstanding, Stiegler is right to point that industrial technologies deprive societies of knowledge and reconfigure their valuing and relationship with anamnesis, but he omits the role of patriarchal control to facilitate this occurrence. By implication, the distinct lack of discussion of patriarchy renders his analysis of otium incomplete. So, we must first pay attention to the process of surviving and resisting the disindividuating tendency of adaptation-as-oppression and the transformation of desire into drives within the civil society and its university, to then be able to create an economy of spirit.

Therapeutic transitional objects emerge through the practice of otium, which creates the conditions for their possibility – this is precisely what anti-oppression social movements are concerned with. Albeit Stiegler cherishes and benefits from their outcomes, and certain feminist ideas may be implicit in his work, he does not explore them explicitly. However, his account of the university with conditions does allow us to challenge essentialist notions of the feminine and the masculine, and the idea that the latter is more prone to self-individuation (as it would follow from the originary technicity thesis). If we are to follow Stiegler’s originary technicity, we must necessarily rethink the essentialised gendered roles implied within his work and critique his overlooking of the sexist implications of the role of Pandora in the Myth of Prometheus, as narrated by Hesiod – i.e. ‘the woman’ as the one who brings all the ills upon ‘men’ and society.  Although Stiegler’s theoretical framework opens up a particular way of looking at otium, there is a negligence in his work insofar as it emerges from it that men may be better suited for otium. This is so because the otium he cherishes is generally accessible to those who already have privileges granted through systems of oppression and domination. Thus, although Stiegler’s conceptualisation of otium includes the social transformations in society created through feminist praxis, he fails to address patriarchal structures, thus becoming inevitably complicit with them.

Stiegler’s call for intergenerational care and a new ethics of spirit for a re-enchantment of society, together with his pharmacological approach are the most commendable aspects of his work. However, the immediate questions which arise but remain unaddressed are related to who would undertake all forms of care (as otium), under what conditions, and how we can think the reconfiguration of gendered expectations and the dismantling of essentialism. We may ask, alongside anti-racist and anti-capitalist feminists: in the new society, who would contribute what? Academic disciplines and social movements against oppression discuss the ethics of contribution, highlighting the incompatibility between domination and philia/otium (contribution). Feminism, for instance, solicits attention to the idea that the question of care is inseparable from the questions of work, identity, performativity and domination, as they are all part of the general organology. They also work with, and imagine desire as part of an ethics of love.

Who can contribute to otium?

Through a feminist analysis we can see that under capitalist patriarchy, reproductive work (cleaning, cooking, listening, caring) is ‘posited as a natural force of social labour, which, while appearing as a personal service, is in fact indirectly waged labor engaged in the reproduction of labor power’ (Fortunati 1995:8). It is undertaken everywhere as otium, desire and care (of oneself or others) which is silenced. Fortunati observes aptly: ‘under capitalism, reproduction is separated off from production’ which leads to the creation of ‘non-value’; although reproduction creates value, ‘it appears otherwise’, thus having a ‘dual character’ (1995:8; 11). It follows that reproductive ‘non-value’ (waged or unwaged) is value in disguise (non-waged otium or negotium) without which ‘productive’ work (for exchange-value) would not exist as such. So, affective and emotional labour (resting on desire) are the basis for the possibility of the production of value which, under white supremacist, patriarchal capitalism is split into otium and negotium.

The emotional and reproductive work of care has been socialised as devalued and imposed upon feminised bodies as the ‘natural’ duty of the ‘feminine’ (based upon a sexist notion of femininity) throughout patriarchal public and private spheres. As a result, regardless of their gender, those engaging with this work are silenced and exploited through the maintenance of the hierarchical distinction between ‘productive’ (characteristic to masculine work which produces profit) and ‘unproductive’ work (characteristic of feminine work which is unwaged and invisible) (Duffy 2007). While the social value of reproductive work cannot be contested (for maintains the possibility of savoir-vivre), the conditions within which this work is conducted lead to either individuation or disindividuation for the workers. This is so because despite apparently benefitting society, this work is in effect toxic otium when it is imposed upon particular bodies only, for allows others (the masculine) to dispense from undertaking this work, while benefitting from it. The conflict over values between material and spiritual economies is manifested through gender binary and essentialism.

On the one hand, reproductive work may be experienced as a disindividuating imposition upon gendered bodies forced to adapt to oppressive conditions: the migrant woman caring for a white, middle-class family’s child; the divorced parent; the overworked minoritised academic to whom students disclose painful experiences, expecting guidance and re-assurance. Even if negotium could also be a ‘ticket’ which later enables one to engage with otium, the violent, toxic dimensions of negotium are unjustifiable, for they are based on domination. To create hope, we need commitment to an ethics of love. Conversely, one may experience reproductive work as therapeutic: an individuating experience undertaken as an autonomous, self-actualising decision to maintain and form attachments as part of a commitment to an ethic of love (hooks 2000a:142).

The liberal, white, middle-class feminist ‘gain’ of accessing economic and rights-based privileges translates into an increased ability (through patriarchal technics) to shift the burden of work of care upon other groups. With the development of new technologies, this burden is also outsourced to industrial technologies, leading to an increase in unemployment and a drop in wages for these groups. For these feminists, ‘empowerment’ takes a patriarchal dimension, for they reproduce sexism, classism and racism, leaving patriarchy intact. As such, a society in which ‘care’ is outsourced through an adherence to domineering convictions reproduces a transmogrified care: a type of careless, patriarchal care deprived of love, demanding adaptation, short-circuiting and bypassing of thought, leading to disindividuation. The apparent co-existence of care and domination annihilates care-as-love (therapeutic) and functionalises it, turning it into a ‘finite thing’, rather than an infinite, incommensurable immaterial object (Stiegler 2013:2).

Accordingly, the committed professor invoked in Derrida’s work may be able to practice their commitment to truth and otium due to their position of domination within the hierarchical structures and social relations of society and the university. Privilege, an ‘energy saving device’ (Ahmed 2016e), grants the professor favourable conditions for work, maintained through lower-ranked scholars and administrators’ labour, as well as the care within society and the institution. Directly or indirectly, the professor can, if they so wish, appropriate and use it for individual benefits. With Stiegler and hooks, we can argue that the academic otium that has no concern with the spirit of the civil society only serves to diminish the academy’s ethical responsibility. For otium to be therapeutic, it is not enough to individuate its author. It needs to individuate all those whose work and existence maintain the conditions of possibility for the author to undertake it. When reproductive and emotional work is exploited, the academic work which emerges from this exploitation is toxic, this being negotium whose role is to preserve privilege at the expense of others’ suffering. Individuation occurs as co-individuation: toxic care and compulsive drives cannot create therapeutic otium and desire, nor can the reverse be possible.

As we have seen in Derrida’s work, pedagogy has traditionally been a constative performance whose aim was to transmit knowledge as facts, that is, to stultify. However, pedagogy can also open up protensive possibilities. hooks shows that critical knowledge can be cultivated when teachers and students regard ‘one another as “whole” human beings, striving not just for knowledge in books, but knowledge about how to live in the world’ (1994:14-15). However, in the corporate university, she faces a compartmentalisation of the individual which ‘reinforces the dualistic separation of public and private’ (1994:16) and maintains the appearance of isolation from society. The expectation is that upon entering the classroom, the self is ‘presumably emptied out’ as an effort towards adopting an ‘objective mind – free of experiences and biases’ (1994:16-17). The presumption of neutrality only serves to hide ‘biased pedagogical strategies’ (1994:180) and the pharmakon, for it seeks to transform desire into (patriarchal, capitalist) drives.

Within the corporate university, students are required to disregard their own ethical contribution and responsibility thereof, inasmuch as self-reflection and (auto)critique threaten the sovereignty of the institution. This amounts to a toxic atmosphere which leads to disengagement and an adherence to patriarchal, white supremacist, bourgeois and consumerist values and practices. The classroom, thus, demands students to be dependent upon imposed values, assimilation being rewarded and resistance leading to estrangement (hooks 1994:182). Within this context, the university course becomes a means to reaching a living standard which allows for addictive consumption. These expectations ‘create psychic turmoil’ which often amounts to passivity and a feeling of defeat (1994:183). Importantly, active estrangement from feelings is interlinked with patriarchal notions of toxic power, strength and domination (2000a:38-39). As a result, the university becomes a space in which domination is reproduced. One way to make this matter public and to link it to the wider society is through the act of resignation as feminist refusal to comply with patriarchal technics.