Education, Autonomy, and Off-Shoring

story © Michael Betancourt, October 16, 2011 all rights reserved.


The shift of responsibility for education onto the individual shows the middle and lower classes who aspire to change social position have adopted the ideology of “autonomous achievement,” through a myopic denial of the governmental role in their social uplift, producing a situation where the shift from public good to private improvement mirrors the self-serving ideology employed by the nineteenth century upper class: it enacts the premise that success was produced through individual labor without assistance. This ideology of personal responsibility for education coupled with an increase in the number of highly skilled, college educated workers both inside and outside the United States has helped create the current liquidity of immaterial labor evident in the rise of off-shoring and globalization.

A paradigm shift in the conception of immaterial labor—from human activity to modular commodity—is demonstrated by corporations off-shoring immaterial labor. Immaterial labor is inventing its own obsolescence through “smart” digital automation for tasks previously requiring human thought and oversight. Central to the ability of corporations to off-shore that labor is the appearance of global, digital communications networks that enable oversight-at-a-distance. Without this communications network, there could be no off-shoring of immaterial labor. The development and dominance of the ideology called “globalization” follows this historical arc, visible in lowered taxes for the wealthy CEOs who head corporations.

By rejecting the government’s role in their elevation, the middle class has collectively participated in the dismantling of those factors which would have protected them against their economic and political liquidation by the upper classes. At the same time, the belief that any form of government involvement is necessarily bad served to enable the deregulation of corporate activity beginning in the 1980s.

Globalization attacks public institutions and replaces them with private interests. The groups effected by this transformation of government are the historically “lower” (“blue collar”) classes—those who could be termed “proletarian.” These workers survive based on their labor rather than through the direction of other’s labor. In this regard, the middle class (“white collar”) labor is no different that that of the “blue collar” workers: both groups are directed by the upper classes who employ them. The immaterial labor performed by the “white collar” employees now being off-shored is only different in kind from their “blue collar” brethren who work in manufacturing. The ideology of “autonomous achievement” these workers—both “white color” and “blue collar”—adopted is a result of their position as the “petit” bourgeoisie who aspire to become fully bourgeois by emulating the beliefs, customs and culture of the upper class.

The transformation of creativity into a commodity is a new phase of industrial production contained in the idea of an “information economy”—that the manipulation of old data and creation of new data, in parallel to manufacturing, becomes a portable “industrial process” with the data in itself becoming an “object” (intellectual property) that parallels the role of raw materials used in other kinds of manufacturing. The rise of transformative, immaterial production is only possible with digital technology.

As automation replaces human intellectual labor there will logically be additional waves of ‘off-shoring’ as workers and the globalized corporations again need to cut costs through reduced labor expenses, both direct in the form of salaries and indirectly through the collateral of “benefits.” ‘Autonomous achievement’ finds a link to digital technology through this emergent “information economy” where education becomes the “knowledge industry” in a reification of the ‘productive’ metaphor used in transformation of intellectual labor to immaterial commodity. What began with off-shoring of physical production in the 1980s, and continues with the off-shoring of immaterial labor, presents the possibility for a cycle of downsizing within the United States that periodically will remove the lowest level of employment from the US labor market in preparation for those tasks being automated.

See Also: Educational Debt as Social Control

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  October 16, 2011  all rights reserved.

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