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Maurizio Lazzarato: The Production of Subjectivity
The Production of Subjectivity
(p. 165 – 174)

The endless array of merchandise

Maurizio Lazzarato

The Production of Subjectivity

PDF, 10 pages


In contemporary capitalism, subjectivity is the product of a mass industry organized on a global level. For Félix Guattari this is actually the first and most important of capitalist productions, because it preconditions and is part of production in all other forms of merchandise. Subjectivity is a ‘key merchandise,’ which in its ‘nature’ is put together, developed and manufactured in the same way as a car, electricity, or a washing machine. Capitalism organizes the production and control of subjectivity through two different systems, which weave together the manufacture of the individuated subject (“social subjection”) and what seems to be the opposite, de-subjectification (“machinic enslavement”). Therefore capitalism exercises a twofold hold over subjectivity.

Social subjection involves techniques of government, which pass by way of, and mobilize, representation (political and linguistic), areas of knowledge, discursive visual practices, etc., and produce ‘subjects of rights,’ ‘political subjects,’ in short: ‘subjects’ of ‘I’s,’ of individuals. By producing us as individuated subjects, social subjection assigns an identity to us, a sex, a profession, a nationality, and so on. It is a signifying and representative semiotic trap which no one escapes. In contemporary capitalism, these processes and techniques find their realization in the “human capital” which makes each one of us a subject responsible for and guilty of his own actions and patterns of behaviour. The ‘free subject’ – in the sense of ‘delivered’ from all personal subordination – is realized in the figure of the self-entrepreneur and in the figure of the consumer who, in an entirely sovereign manner, chooses from an endless array of merchandise.

Machinic enslavement, on the other hand, refers to non-representative, operational and diagrammatic techniques, which explore partial, modular and sub-individual subjectivities. This enslavement works and produces what Gilles Deleuze calls the “dividual.” Capitalism is the permanent reconstruction of such a state of enslavement in which people function similar to mechanical pieces, by forming components and ‘human’ elements of mechanization. For companies specializing in social networks (Facebook) and search engines (Google), for polling institutes, for databanks, for market studies, for marketing firms and so on, humans are not perceived as a ‘subject,’ but rather as a source of exchange and information processing. Human functions, like those of technical elements, are restricted to making the machine work, providing it with the raw material of information. Representations, psychology, consciousness, inwardness, etc. are, in principle, not required. Social subjection functions on the basis of...

  • government technologies
  • algorithms
  • data
  • identity
  • human-computer-system
  • Post-Fordism
  • Governmentality
  • capitalism
  • subjectivity
  • subjectification

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Maurizio Lazzarato

is a Paris-based sociologist and philosopher. During the 1970s Lazzarato studied in Padua. His involvement in the workerist movement and his politically enforced move to Paris remained crucial for his theoretical work as well as for his film co-operations with the artist Angela Melitopolous. During the 1990s Lazzarato was a founding protagonist of the post-workerist discourse concerning the change towards ‘immaterial’ and ‘cognitive’ labour as a paradigm of post-Fordist Western society. His essays have been included in numerous anthologies relating to post-structuralist philosophy as well as to political and economic theory of the present.
Other texts by Maurizio Lazzarato for DIAPHANES
Kerstin Stakemeier (ed.), Susanne Witzgall (ed.): Fragile Identities

What is the current state of the subject and what about the status of its self-image? In contemporary discourses we encounter more and more “fragile identities,” in artistic works as well as in scientific theories, and those are today much less referring to a critique of the concept of identity, but much rather to the relationship those concepts of identity entertain with the overall precarious state of the subject in current social conditions that are characterized by political upheaval and change.
The book Fragile Identities investigates among other things the chances and also the possible endangerments of such a fragile self and asks for the resurging urgency of a contemporary concept of subjectivity. The publication combines international artistic and scholarly contributions, discussions and project documentations in relation to the second annual theme of the cx centre for interdisciplinary studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich.