Unpacking Organization: Cybernetics, Logistics and the Labour of Circulation

2016-06-29 Digital Cultures Research Lab (DCRL) Workshop

9am to 6pm, 29th June 2016

Venue: Wasserturm, Lüneburg



This workshop interrogates and explores the assumption that logistics is a key contemporary terrain on which cybernetic organization plays itself out. Cybernetics is, in Wiener’s (1989) view, concerned with organization as saving us from disorganization and entropy, with organization given as a ‘message’ of cybernetic systems. According to Reinhold Martin (2003), during the 1950s the application of cybernetics in architecture and media produced a corporate ‘organizational complex’ that was home to the famous ‘organization man’ ­– a figure which, for Martin, already had to be understood as ‘one of many “cyborgs” (or cybernetic organisms) produced by postwar technocracy’ (2003, p. 12). The cyborg, as a hybrid figure of human and machine, also served as a key for understanding subjectivities in debates around net cultures in the 1990s, following Donna Haraway’s famous manifesto (1991). Yet how useful is the cyborg today, as a figure for understanding human-machine relations, in light of the becoming ecological of media? As it only ever played a minor part in cybernetic research (Kline 2009), can it account for the general influence of cybernetics; and might it in light of networked computation not simply appear as ‘not networked enough’ (Hayles 2006, p. 159)?


Erich Hörl (2015) suggests that contemporary ubiquitous media partake in an ‘infrastructural revolution’ which produces an ‘ecological unconscious’, displacing the working subject and its relation to tools and machines. Yet at the same time ubiquitous media enable environments thoroughly traversed by algorithmic architectures and logistical media that contain labouring subjects in capitalist circulation (Zehle and Rossiter 2015). Logistics here can be read as ‘an extension of the “organizational paradigm” of cybernetics’ (Rossiter and Zehle 2013, p. 230), and as an imposition of logics of circulation in production and elsewhere (Bernes 2013). Logistics requires bodies that are mobile, responsive and and affectively attuned to the demands of circulating capital. The labour of logistics itself (Cowen 2014) is perhaps emblematic here. An organization man returning under a different guise (Gregg 2012) and new digital workers or ‘massively mediated microlabor’ (Irani 2015) populate these capitalist media ecologies.


What kind of human-machine relations develop here, what fantasies attach to them, and what organizational forms surround them? Does the Mechanical Turk perhaps offer a figure more suitable than the cyborg or organization man for cybernetic labour? How are these figures of labour made to relate in circulation, also with the labour e.g. of financial traders or of migrants? Is there a kind of ‘logisticality’ (Moten and Harney 2013) that can be opposed to logistics, or are these logistical capacities of bodies appropriated by capital? Can we conceive of a counter-logistics, for example in new forms of cooperativism for logistical labour?


This workshop builds on earlier workshops on ‘Logistics of Soft Control’ (2013) and ‘Cybernetics, Management, Organization’ (2014), and takes place as part of the DCRL semester theme ‘Economy, Ecology, Organization’.



Timetable – 29th June 2016


9.00               Welcome and Coffee



Panel I – Preliminaries: Circulation and Ecology

Introduction: Becoming Logistical? – Armin Beverungen

The Automaton of the Anthropocene – Matteo Pasquinelli

Chair/Discussant: Clemens Apprich



Panel II – Others of Logistical Labour: Finance and Migration

Migration, Labour, Mobility: The Logistification of Migration? – Manuela Bojadzijev (with Sandro Mezzadra)

Organizing Circulation: On the Materiality of Labour in High-Frequency Trading – Ann-Christina Lange (with Armin Beverungen)

Chair/Discussant: Timon Beyes


12.30-14.00    Lunch (at DCRL, Am Sande 5)



Panel III: Managing Logistical Labour: Microwork and Infrastructure

Innovators’ Logistics: Attributions of Value and Distributions of Labour in Crowdsourcing – Lilly Irani

Logistical Nightmares: Software, Infrastructure, Labour – Ned Rossiter

Chair/Discussant: Paula Bialski



Panel IV: Organizing Logistical Labour: Platform Cooperativism?

Collective Representation on Collaborative Economy Platforms – Mikko Laamanen (with Marcos Barros and Gazi Islam)

How Platform Cooperativism Can Unleash the Network – Trebor Scholz

Chair/Discussant: Renée Ridgway


17.30-18.00    Closing Discussion


All information on this event can be found at cdc.leuphana.com/events.



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