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New issue of ephemera on ‘The politics of worker’s inquiry’ released…

The Politics of Worker’s Inquiry
ephemera: theory & politics in organization
Volume 14, Number 3 (August 2014)
Edited by Joanna Figiel, Stevphen Shukaitis, and Abe Walker

This issue brings together a series of commentaries, interventions and projects centred on the theme of workers’ inquiry. Workers’ inquiry is a practice of knowledge production that seeks to understand the changing composition of labour and its potential for revolutionary social transformation. It is a practice of turning the tools of the social sciences into weapons of class struggle. It also seeks to map the continuing imposition of the class relation, not as a disinterested investigation, but rather to deepen and intensify social and political antagonisms.

Workers’ inquiry developed in a context marked by rapid industrialization, mass migration and the use of industrial sociology to discipline the working class. It was formulated within autonomist movements as a sort of parallel sociology based on a radical re-reading of Marx and Weber against the politics of the communist party and the unions. The process of inquiry took the contradictions of the labour process as a starting point and sought to draw out such political antagonisms into the formation of new radical subjectivities. With this issue we seek to rethink workers’ inquiry as a practice and perspective, in order to understand and catalyse emergent moments of political composition.

Including essays from Fabrizio Fasulo, Frederick H. Pitts, Christopher Wellbrook, Anna Curcio, Colectivo Situaciones, Evangelinidis Angelos, Lazaris Dimitris, Jennifer M. Murray, Michał Kozłowski, Bianca Elzenbaumer, Caterina Giuliani, Alan W. Moore, T.L. Cowan, Jasmine Rault, Jamie Woodcock, and Gigi Roggero; an interview with Jon McKenzie; and book reviews by Craig Willse, Stephen Parliament, Christian De Cock, Mathias Skrutkowski, and Orla McGarry.


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Call for Papers for an ephemera Special Issue on:

Consumption of work and the work of consumption
Deadline for submissions: 30 September 2014
Issue editors: Ekaterina Chertkovskaya, Rashné Limki, Bernadette Loacker

Work and consumption have always been intertwined, their interaction shaped by social and historical circumstances. The ‘consumer society’ (Baudrillard, 1998/1970) that we arguably live in is often associated with a fading interest in work. On this view, wage labour is seen simply as a way of funding consumption during leisure time (Berger, 1964; Gorz, 1985). However, the boundaries between consumption and work have become increasingly blurred. Consumption is no longer confined to leisure, having become central to the employment relationship (Korczynski, 2007; Dale, 2012), but also transcending it. At the same time, some consumption has become productive in the circuits of capital (Arvidsson, 2005). While both the themes of work and consumption have been discussed separately (including in ephemera, e.g. Beverungen et al., 2011; Dunne et al., 2013; Egan-Wyer et al., 2014), this special issue aims to bring them together by exploring consumptive aspects of work and productive aspects of consumption within and beyond organizations.

Since the 1990s customer service and corporate branding have become central elements of organizational production processes (du Gay, 1996; Kornberger, 2010). In this context, concepts such as immaterial work and affective labour have gained in importance (Lazzarato, 1996; Virno, 2005; Dowling et al., 2007). Indeed, customer focus and branding tend to spread to all practices within organizations, from training and development to organizational decor and artefacts (Russell, 2011), while employees are encouraged to ‘live the brand’ (Pettinger, 2004; Land and Taylor, 2010). This tells us that consumption now takes place at work. For example, images of work have themselves become objects to be consumed (Dale, 2012; Chertkovskaya, 2013). These consumptive aspects of work are promoted via employer branding practices, which emphasise the symbolic characteristics of work (Backhaus and Tikoo, 2004). For example, skyscrapers often appear on the covers and pages of recruitment brochures in the banking sector, which can be seen as a sign-value of status. Such ‘opportunities’ for consumption are not only created within large organizations with distinctive hierarchies. ‘Fun cultures’ (Butler et al., 2011), self-management (Lopdrup-Hjorth et al., 2011) and the rhetoric of authenticity (Murtola and Fleming, 2011) may also facilitate the consumption of work-related sign-values as well as engagement in hedonist consumption (Campbell, 1987).

While consumption has certainly entered into the heart of the employment relationship (Korczynski, 2007; Dale, 2012), it also goes beyond it as work increasingly happens outside traditional organizational boundaries. For example, the rhetoric of personal branding (Lair et al., 2005) is becoming increasingly prominent and the ability to ‘sell oneself’ is in many cases now a condition for employment (Chertkovskaya et al., 2013). Moreover, when addressing modern modes of consumptive work, we should also reflect on how consumption can inform the meanings of work and work relations. For instance, we cannot lose sight of critiques of the degradation of work as the effect of consuming (other’s) vital capacities (cf. Barrett, 1999; Moten, 2003; Federici, 2004). Indeed, this ‘depletion’ (Rai, 2010) seems to be the condition of possibility not only for contemporary modes of production but also for conspicuous forms of consumption. Given the condition of precarity that increasingly structures global labour markets (Standing, 2010), we are thus asked to also think through the complex of worker/consumer relations and subjectivities; most notably the increasing debasement of selves into commodity forms.

However, consumption is not necessarily destructive but may also have productive elements to it. We can now talk of working consumers, who act according to their own interests and principles, and thereby serve themselves and other customers (Rieder and Voß, 2010). While drawing on co-creation and participation rhetoric, organizations often also build their brands on the ideas, creativity and work of their consumers or ‘brand communities’ (Arvidsson, 2005). Online social media, like ‘Facebook’, is a good example here: while the organization provides a (usually free) online platform for individuals and groups, their communication within it creates market value for the organization, for example via targeted advertising based on online user behaviour. The consuming employees, as long as they consume in line with the image and values of the organizational brand, may also contribute to the maintenance and strengthening of the organization and its brand, with their personal lives being mobilized for it (Land and Taylor, 2010).

In this special issue, we are looking for conceptual and empirical contributions that critically discuss consumptive aspects of work and productive aspects of consumption. We welcome studies that explore these issues within and beyond organizational boundaries, and in various forms and contexts of work. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Forms and meanings of consumptive work/productive consumption
• History of the relationship between consumption and work
• Consumption through work processes within and beyond the employment relationship
• Roles and use of (personal) branding in consumptive work/productive consumption
• Employer branding and the image of work in organizational self-presentations
• Depicting work through consumption
• Marketing and marketization of work
• Commodification of work and working subjects
• Consumption and production of affective/embodied labour
• Value creation/destruction trough consumptive work/productive consumption
• Ethical and political questions associated with consumptive work/productive consumption
• Implications of blurring boundaries between consumption and work for worker-consumer relations and worker/consumer subjectivities
• Work-life (im)balance of consuming employees/producing consumers
• Resisting consumptive work/productive consumption

Deadline for submissions: 30 September 2014

All contributions should be submitted to one of the issue editors:
Ekaterina Chertkovskaya (, Rashné Limki ( or Bernadette Loacker ( Please note that three categories of contributions are invited for the special issue: articles, notes, and reviews. Information about these types of contributions can be found at:

The submissions will undergo a double blind review process. All submissions should follow
ephemera’s submission guidelines, which are available at: For further information, please contact one of the special issue editors.


Arvidsson, A. (2005) ‘Brands: A critical perspective’, Journal of Consumer Culture, 5(2): 235-258.

Backhaus, K. and S. Tikoo (2004) ‘Conceptualizing and researching employer branding’, Career Development International, 9(5): 501-517.

Barrett, L. (1999) Blackness and value: Seeing double, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge UP.

Baudrillard, J. (1998/1970) The consumer society. Myths and structures. London: Sage.

Berger, P. (1964) ‘Some general observations on the problem of work’ in P. Berger (ed.) The Human Shape of Work. New York: Macmillan.

Beverungen, A., B. Otte, S. Spoelstra and K. Kenny (eds.) (2013) ‘Free work’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 13(1).

Butler, N., L. Olaison, M. Sliwa, B. M. Sørensen and S. Spoelstra (eds.) (2011) ‘Work, play and boredom’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 11(4).

Campbell, C. (1987) The romantic ethic and the spirit of modern consumerism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Chertkovskaya, E. (2013) ‘Consuming work and managing employability: Students’ work orientations and the process of contemporary job search’. Unpublished PhD thesis, Loughborough University.

Chertkovskaya, E., P. Watt, S. Tramer and S. Spoelstra (eds.) (2013) ‘Giving notice to employability’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 13(4).

Dale, K. (2012) ‘The employee as “dish of the day”: The ethics of the consuming/consumed self in human resource management’, Journal of Business Ethics, 111(1): 13-24.

Dowling, E., B. Trott and R. Nunes (eds.) (2007) ‘Immaterial and affective labour: Explored’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 7(1).

Du Gay, P. (1998) Consumption and identity at work. London: Sage.

Federici, S. (2004) Caliban and the witch. Autonomedia.

Dunne, S., N. Campbell and A. Bradshaw (eds.) (2013) ʻThe politics of consumptionʼ, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 13(2).

Egan-Wyer, C., S. L. Muhr, A. Pfeiffer and P. Svensson (2014) ‘The ethics of the brand’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 14(1).

Gorz, A. (1985) Paths to paradise: On the liberation from work. London: Pluto.

Korczynski, M. (2007) ‘HRM and the menu society’ in S. Bolton and M. Houlihan (eds.) Searching for the human in human resource management. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kornberger, M. (2010) Brand society: How brands transform management and lifestyle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lair, D. J., K. Sullivan and G. Cheney (2005) ‘Marketization and the recasting of the professional self: The rhetoric and ethics of personal branding’, Management Communication Quarterly, 18(3): 307-343.

Land, C. and S. Taylor (2010) ‘Surf’s up: Life, work, balance and brand in a New Age capitalist organization’, Sociology, 44(3): 395-413.

Lazzarato, M. (1996) ‘Immaterial labor’ in P. Virno and M. Hardt (eds.) Radical thought in Italy: A potential politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lopdrup-Hjorth, T., M. Gudmand-Høyer, P. Bramming and M. Pedersen (eds.) (2011) ‘Governing work through self-management’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 11(2).

Moten, F. (2003) In the break: The aesthetics of the black radical tradition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Murtola, A.-M. and P. Fleming (eds.) (2011) ‘The business of truth: Authenticity, capitalism and the crisis of everyday life’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 11(1).

Patsiaouras, G. and J. Fitchett (2010) ‘The wolf of Wall Street: Re-imagining Veblen for the 21st century’, European Advances in Consumer Research, 9(6): 214-218.

Pettinger, L. (2004) ‘Brand culture and branded workers: Service work and aesthetic labour in fashion retail’, Consumption, Markets and Culture, 7(2): 165-184.

Rai, S. (2010) ‘Depletion and social reproduction’, Working Paper 274/11, Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick.

Rieder, K. and G. Voß (2010) ‘The working customer – an emerging new type of consumer’, Psychology of Everyday Activity, 3 (2): 2-10.

Russell, S. (2011) ‘Internalizing the brand? Identity regulation and resistance at Aqua-Tilt’ in M. Brannan, C. Priola and E. Parsons (eds.) Branded Lives: The production and consumption of identity at work. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Virno, P. (2005) Grammar of the multitude. New York: Semiotext.



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ephemera: theory & politics in organization

CALL FOR PAPERS: 15th February 2014:

Conference organizers: Ole Bjerg, Christian Garmann Johnsen, Bent Meier Sørensen and Lena Olaison

Conference date: 8-9 of May 2014

Conference venue: Copenhagen Business School, Denmark


Perpetual economic growth is an underlying assumption of the contemporary capitalist organization of society. The idea of growth is embedded not only in the corpus of economic thought but also in the institutions of the economy (Binswanger, 2013; Gorz, 2012). More recently, entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity have been seen as possible ways to solve the current economic and environmental crisis as well as to generate growth (Schaper, 2002). This is the case because entrepreneurship and innovation are portrayed as seeds of new initiatives and ideas that will boost economic development while simultaneously reduce its impact on the climate. Such a belief has produced new markets, such as carbon markets, and an emerging ‘climate capitalism’ (Böhm, Murtola and Spoelstra, 2012). At the heart of this logic is a faith in the individual economic actor, not least the entrepreneur, as a gifted individual with unique abilities (Shane, 2003). And it is evident that the current post-crisis discourse keeps its confidence in the emergent socially responsible economic actor who will contribute to the construction of a moral economy’ (Arvidsson, 2013).

This ephemera conference seeks to question the feasibility, moral legitimacy and sustainability of perpetual economic growth. Although contested, current political and popular beliefs tend to hold that the twin crises of economy and ecology are merely temporary, exceptional phenomena and that the global economy will soon bounce back to business as usual. However, others have suggested that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the nature of capitalism (Heinberg, 2011). Instead of using our energies to prevent this shift from happening it may be more fruitful to appreciate the opportunities for reflection that are offered by the crisis. On the one hand, we should learn from history and see that the history of capitalism is indeed the history of revolutions. This suggests that we indeed may be at the brink of a new phase in society where we experience a change in the underlying structures. On the other hand, we can explore new forms of economic organization that do not rest upon the condition of growth (Schumacher, 1973; Latouche, 2009; Eisenstein, 2011). Even though the prerequisite of growth has been subjected to criticism within economic theory (Herrera, 2011), we need to further explore its implications. Taken together, the challenge is, in other words, to imagine what a sustainable post-growth economy might look like (Gorz, 1999; Seidl, 2010; Paech, 2012).

If growth is intrinsic to the current capitalist organization of society, then we need to ask to what extent it is possible to image a system that does not presuppose perpetual growth. Is economy without growth a contradiction in terms? We can approach the seeming paradox of the post-growth economy by rethinking fundamental economic concepts in today’s capitalist society. Since the value of growth seems to be deeply embedded in many of the most basic economic concepts used today, we therefore need to reconsider from the perspective of a post-growth economy: What is a market without growth? What is the role of entrepreneurship? And consumption? What would constitute organization and work? What is money? And most importantly of all, what is economic growth? These questions may be approached theoretically by analysing their implicit assumptions connected with the paradigm of growth-oriented capitalism (e.g. Daly, 1996), or they may be explored empirically by studying actual practices of alternative economic organization (e.g. North, 2010), such as, for example, slow food movements and direct trade.

The aim of a conference on a post-growth economy is not solely or even primarily to produce new knowledge but instead to think about what to do with the knowledge that we already have. Certainly, the problem of growth is nothing new. Since at least the end of the 1960s, it has been known that the expansion of the capitalist economy would eventually run up against the natural boundaries of earth (Carson, 2000; Measows et al., 1972; Georgescu-Roegen, 1971). The most pressing problem today with regards to sustainability is not that we do not know what to do; rather, the problem is that even though we know very well what to do, we are still not doing it. In other words, we know very know that current level of pollution caused by fossil fuels is not sustainable from a long-term point of view. Yet, by maintaining the current level of production and consumption, we behave as if it is. There is therefore an aspect of cynicism, in Sloterdijk’s sense of the term, which needs to be addressed in relation to sustainability and contemporary capitalism.

The ambition of this conference is thus to bring together researchers, practitioners and activists who share an interest in the issue of economic growth and sustainability. We particularly welcome submissions that explore the paradoxes of a post-growth economy and the interrelated themes of sustainability and entrepreneurship, alongside an exploration of the cultural and political context out of which they have emerged.


Possible topics include but are not limited to the following:

* What is post-growth economy?

* What would count as work in a post-growth economy?

* What should management be like in a post-growth economy?

* What is the role of entrepreneurship in a post-growth economy?

* What constitute organization in a post-growth economy?

* What is the role of finance and debt in a post-growth economy?

* What would consumption be like in a post-growth economy?


Deadlines, conference fee and further information

The conference takes place at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, 8-9 of May 2014. The conference is organized by the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy. The conference is associated with the Sustainability platform and the Entrepreneurship platform at CBS.

The extended deadline for submitting abstracts is 15 February 2014. The abstracts, of no more than 500 words, should be submitted in the format of a Word document to the mail address: postgrowth2014 AT ephemera encourages contributions in a variety of formats including articles, notes, interviews, book reviews, photo essays and other experimental modes of representation. The conference fee has not been set yet, as it is dependent on the number of participants, but will be kept to a minimum, approximately €100. PhD candidates pay a reduced fee, most likely €50. Further information about the conference can be found on the conference website: If you have any queries, you can also contact one of the conference organizers: Ole Bjerg (ob.mpp AT, Christian Garmann Johnsen (cgj.mpp AT, Bent Meier Sørensen (bem.mpp AT, Lena Olaison (lo.mpp AT Conference participants are encouraged to submit their contributions to the Special Issue on Post-growth economy in ephemera that will be published 2015.



Arvidsson, A. (2013) ‘The potential of consumer publics’, ephemera, 13(2): 367-391.
Binswanger, H.C. (2013) Die Wachstumsspirale: Geld, Energie und Imagination in der Dynamik des Marktprozesses. Marburg: Metropolis-Verlag.
Böhm, S., AM Murtola and S. Spoelstra (2012 eds.) ‘The atmosphere business’, ephemera, 12(1/2): 1-11.
Carson, R. (2000) Silent Spring. London: Penguin.
Daly, H. (1996) Beyond growth: The economics of sustainable development. Boston: Beacon Press.
Eisenstein, C. (2011) Sacred economics: Money, gift, & society in the age of transition. Berkeley, Calif.: Evolver Editions.
Georgescu-Roegen, N. (1971) The entropy law and the economic process. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
Gorz, A. (1999) Reclaiming work: Beyond the wage-based society. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Pressl.
Gorz, A. (2012) Capitalism, socialism, ecology. New York: Verso.
Heinberg, R. (2011) The end of growth: Adapting to our new economic reality. Forest Row: Clairview.
Herrera, R. (2011) ’A critique of mainstream growth theory: Ways out of the neoclassical science (-fiction) and toward marxism’, in P. Zarembka and R. Desai (eds.) Revitalizing marxist theory for today’s capitalism (research in political economy, Vol 27). Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Latouche, S. (2009) Farewell to growth. Cambridge, MA: Polity.
Measows, D., H. Meadows, D.L. Meadows, J. Randers and W.W. Behrens III (1972) The limits to growth: A report for THE CLUB OF ROME’S project on the predicament of mankind. New York: Universe Books.
North, P. (2010) Local money: How to make it happen in your community. Totnes: Transition Books.
Paech, N. (2012) Befreiung vom Überfluss: auf dem Weg in die Postwachstumsökonomie. München: oekom verlag.
Schumacher, E.F. (1973) Small is beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered. London: Vintage.
Shane, S. (2003) A general theory of entrepreneurship. The individual-opportunity nexus, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Seidl, I. (2010) Postwachstumsgesellschaft: neue Konzepte für die Zukunft. Marburg: Metropolis.





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Communism of Capital

Communism of Capital


Ephemera Volume 13 Number 3 (August 2013)

Ephemera is at:

ISBN 9781906948207

Current Issue

The communism of capital? What could this awkward turn of phrase mean, and what might it signify with regards to the state of the world today? Does it merely describe a reality in which communist demands are twisted to become productive of capital, a capitalist realism supplemented by a disarmed communist ideology? Or does the death of the capitalist utopia mean that capital cannot contain the antagonism expressed by Occupy and other movements any more, and therefore must confront communism upfront?

The 12 contributions to this latest issue of ephemera explore the valances of the paradoxical and seemingly incoherent expression that is ‘the communism of capital’. Collectively they stake out new territory for the theorisation and organization of political struggle in a context in which capital has become increasingly aware that its age-old nemesis might today be lurking at its very heart.

You can order a print copy of the whole issue now at your local bookstore!

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The communism of capital?

Armin Beverungen

Anna-Maria Murtola

Gregory Schwartz


Spectre of the commons: Spectrum regulation in the communism of capital

Rachel O’Dwyer


Infecting capitalism with the common: The class process, communication, and surplus

David Carlone


Pro Bono? On philanthrocapitalism as ideological answer to inequality

Mikkel Thorup


Communism, occupy and the question of form

Saroj Giri


Does capital need a commons fix?

Massimo De Angelis



Colin Cremin


Common as silence

Peter Fleming


Recomposing precarity: Notes on the laboured politics of class composition

Stevphen Shukaitis


Theorizing debt for social change

Miranda Joseph


The spectre of anarchism

Thomas Swann


Friendship and counter-conduct in the neoliberal regime of truth

Richard Weiskopf


‘Of luck and leverage’

Joyce Goggin


Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Stagnant’ at: (new remix, and new video, 2012)

‘Cheerful Sin’ – a song by Victor Rikowski:

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

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Communism of Capital

Communism of Capital



ephemera: theory & politics in organization

volume 12, number 1/2


The atmosphere business
Issue editors: Steffen Böhm, Anna-Maria Murtola and Sverre Spoelstra 

The contributions collected in this special issue of ephemera question the underlying ideologies and assumptions of carbon markets, and bring to light many of the contradictions and antagonisms that are currently at the heart of ‘climate capitalism’. They offer a critical assessment of the political economy of carbon trading, and a detailed understanding of how these newly created markets are designed, how they (don’t) work, the various actors that are involved, and how these actors function together to create and contest the ‘atmosphere business’. In 5 notes, 6 articles, 1 interview and 3 book reviews, some of the most prominent critical voices in debates about the atmosphere business are brought together in this special issue. 

Table of Contents:

The atmosphere business  
Steffen Böhm, Anna-Maria Murtola and Sverre Spoelstra 


Privatising the atmosphere: A solution or dangerous con? 
Mike Childs 
Carbon markets after Durban 
Oscar Reyes 
A dark art: Field notes on carbon capture and storage policy negotiations at COP17 
Gökçe Günel 
Durban’s conference of polluters, market failure and critic failure 
Patrick Bond 
The people’s climate summit in Cochabamba: A tragedy in three acts 
Tadzio Mueller 


Critiquing carbon markets: A conversation 
Larry Lohmann and Steffen Böhm 

Capitalizing on chaos: Climate change and disaster capitalism 
Robert Fletcher 
The prey of uncertainty: Climate change as opportunity 
Jerome Whitington 
Carbon classified? Unpacking heterogeneous relations inscribed  into corporate carbon emissions 
Ingmar Lippert 
A colonial mechanism to enclose lands: A critical review of two  REDD+-focused special issues 
Joanna Cabello and Tamra Gilbertson 
Mapping REDD in the Asia-Pacific: Governance, marketisation  and contention 
Rebecca Pearse 
Planting trees through the Clean Development Mechanism:  A critical assessment 
Esteve Corbera and Charlotte Friedli 
The ‘third way’ for climate action 
Siddhartha Dabhi 
Carbon trading in South Africa: Plus ça change?   
Peter Newell 
Can capitalism survive climate change?
David L. Levy






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Call for Oapers for an ephemera issue on: ‘Workers, Despite Themselves’
Issue Editors: Stevphen Shukaitis and Abe Walker

Deadline for submissions: November 30th, 2012.

Workers’ inquiry is an approach to and practice of knowledge production that seeks to understand the changing composition of labor and its potential for revolutionary social transformation. It is the practice of turning the tools of the social sciences into weapons of class struggle. Workers’ inquiry seeks to map the continuing imposition of the class relation, not as a disinterested investigation, but rather to deepen and intensify social and political antagonisms.

The autonomist political theorist Mario Tronti argues that weapons for working class revolt have always been taken from the bosses’ arsenal (1966: 18). But, has not it often been suggested, to use feminist writer Audre Lorde’s phrasing (1984), that it is not possible to take apart the master’s house with the master’s tools? While not forgetting Lorde’s question, it is clear that Tronti said this with good reason, for he was writing from a context where this is precisely what was taking place. Italian autonomous politics greatly benefited from borrowing from sociology and industrial relations – and by using these tools proceeded to build massive cycles of struggle transforming the grounds of politics (Wright, 2003; Berardi, 2009).

Of these adaptations the most important for autonomist politics and class composition analysis is workers’ inquiry. Workers’ inquiry developed in a context marked by rapid industrialization, mass migration, and the use industrial sociology to discipline the working class. Workers’ inquiry was formulated within autonomist movements as a sort of parallel sociology, one based on a radical re-reading of Marx (and Weber) against the politics of the communist party and the unions (Farris, 2011). While the practitioners of workers’ inquiry were often professionally-trained academics – especially sociologists – its proponents argued their research differs in important ways from ‘engaged’ social science, and all varieties of industrial sociology, even if it there are similarities. If bourgeois sociology sought to smooth over conflicts, and ‘critical’ sociology to expose these same conflicts, workers’ inquiry takes the contradictions of the labor process as a starting point and seeks to draw out these antagonisms into the formation of new radical subjectivities.

This is not to say that workers’ inquiry is an unproblematic endeavor. We remain skeptical that the weapons of managerial control can be cleanly re-appropriated without reproducing the very social world they were designed to take apart. For as Steve Wright argues, “the uncritical use of such tools has frequently produced a register of subjective perceptions which do no more than mirror the surface of capitalist social relations” (2003: 24). As the legacy of analytical Marxism reveals, imitation is never far removed from flattery, and at its worst moments, workers’ inquiry risks becoming its object of critique. To be fair there are disagreements among the proponents of workers’ inquiry over the limitations of drawing from the social sciences. But to continue the metaphor, like any potentially dangerous ‘weapon’, sociological techniques must be carefully examined, and when necessary, disabled.

Today we find ourselves at a moment when co-research, participatory action research, and other heterodox methods have been adopted by the academic mainstream, while managerial styles like TQM carry a faint echo of workers’ inquiry. In the contemporary firm workers are already engaged in self-monitoring, peer interviews, and the creation of quasi-autonomous ‘research’ units, all sanctioned by management (Boltankski and Chiapello, 2005). Workers’ inquiry is now part of the accepted social science repertoire: its techniques no longer seem dangerous, but familiar, at least at the methodological level. The bosses’ arsenal now includes weapons mimicking the style, if not the substance, of workers’ inquiry. And as George Steinmetz (2005) has suggested, while blatantly positivistic research styles have fallen out of favor, this obscures the ‘positivist unconscious’ that continues to interpellate even apparently anti-positivist methodologies.

The pioneers of workers’ inquiry argued researchers must work through/against the ambivalent relations of (social) science; now, there may be no other option. Wherever there are movements organizing and addressing the horrors of capitalist exploitation and oppression, the specter of recuperation is never far behind. The point is not to deny these risks, but to the degree such dynamics confront all social movements achieving any measure of success. It is by working against and through them that recomposing radical politics becomes possible (Shukaitis, 2009). Today workers’ inquiry remains, as Raniero Panzieri claimed (2006 [1959]), a permanent reference point for autonomist politics, one that informs continuing inquiries into class composition. With this issue we seek to rethink workers’ inquiry as a practice and perspective, and through that to understand and catalyze emergent moments of political composition.

We invite papers that update the practices of workers’ inquiry for the present moment of class de-/recomposition. Can we develop, taking up Matteo Pasquinelli’s suggestion (2008: 138), a form of workers’ inquiry applied to cognitive and biopolitical production? The very possibility of a *workers* inquiry begs reconsideration when official unemployment figures drift toward 50% among sectors of the industrial working class.

This issue picks up themes that developed in previous issues of ephemera inquiring into affective and immaterial labor (2007), digital labor (2010), militant research (2005), and the politics of the multitude (2004). We encourage submissions that draw upon this previous work, particularly on the politics of social reproduction.

Recently, workers’ inquiry has proven its versatility through new applications and reconfigurations. Groups like Colectivo Situaciones (2011) and have used the practice of workers’ inquiry to analyze popular uprisings. Scholars have drawn from class composition analysis to explore areas such as cognitive labor (Brophy, 2011; Peters & Bulut, 2011), citizenship and migration (Papadopoulos et al, 2008; Barchiesi, 2011), and finance (Marazzi, 2008; Mezzadra and Fumagalli, 2010). Militant research collectives such as Kolinko (2002), Team Colors (2010), and the Precarious Workers Brigade (2011) have employed workers’ inquiry to intervene composition of social movements and labor politics.

We are particularly interested in research that expands and/or deconstructs the project of workers’ inquiry, or that transposes workers’ inquiry onto unconventional terrain such as archival research and cultural studies. Additionally, we encourage contributors to include a substantial reflection on method, possibly addressing some of the tensions outlined above and engaging with recent debates about method and measure.

Deadline for submissions: November 30th, 2012.

Please send your submissions to the editors. All contributions should follow ephemera guidelines – see In addition to full papers, we also invite notes, reviews, and other kinds and media forms of contributions – please get in touch to discuss how you would like to contribute. We highly encourage authors to send us abstracts (of 500 words) outlining their plans. The ephemera conference in May 2013 will focus on a related theme, with contributors for this issue invited to present their work.

Stevphen Shukaitis:
Abe Walker:

We’re also interested in putting together a panel on this theme for the Historical Materialism conference in London in November (information here:, particularly with people who plan to submit a piece for this issue. If you are interested in this please contact Stevphen by April 20th.

Barchiesi, F. (2011) Precarious liberation: workers, the state, and contested social citizenship in postapartheid South Africa. Albany: SUNY Press.
Berardi, F. (2009) Precarious rhapsody: semiocapitalism and the pathologies of the post-alpha generation. London: Minor Compositions.
Boltanski, L. and E. Chiapello (2005) The new spirit of capitalism. London: Verso.
Brophy, E. (2011) “Language put to work: cognitive capitalism, call center labor, and workers inquiry,” Journal of Communication Inquiry. Volume 35 Number 4: 410-416.
Colectivo Situaciones (2011) 19&20: notes on a new social protagonism. Brooklyn / Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions.
Farris, S. (2011) “Workerism’s inimical incursions: on Mario Tronti’s Weberianism,” Historical Materialism Volume 19 Number 3: 29-62.
Kolinko (2002) Hotlines. Berlin: Kolinko. Available at
Lorde, A. (1984) “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” Sister outsider: essays and speeches. Berkeley: The Crossing Press: 110-114.
Marazzi, C. (2008) Capital & language: from new economy to war economy. New York: Semiotexte.
Mezzadra, S. and A. Fumagalli (Eds.) (2010) Crisis in the global economy: financial markets, social struggles, and new political scenarios. Los Angeles: Semiotexte.
Panzieri, R. (2006 [1959]) “Socialist uses of workers’ inquiry.” Available at
Papadopoulos, D., N. Stephenson, and V. Tsianos (2008) Escape routes: control and subversion in the 21st century. London: Pluto Press.
Pasquinelli, M. (2008) Animal spirits: a bestiary of the commons. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers.
Peters, M. & E. Bulut, Eds. (2011) Cognitive capitalism, education and digital labor. New York: Peter Lang.
Precarious Workers Brigade (2011) Surviving internships: a counter guide to free labor in the arts. London: Hato Press.
Shukaitis, S. (2009) Imaginal machines: autonomy & self-organization in the revolutions of everyday life. Brooklyn: Autonomedia.
Steinmetz, G. (2005) “The genealogy of a positivist haunting: comparing pre-war and post-war U.S. sociology” boundary 2 Volume 32 Number 2: 109-135
Team Colors (Eds.) (2010) Uses of a whirlwind: movement, movements, and contemporary radical currents in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.
Tronti, M. (1966) Operai e capitale. Torino: Einaud.
Wright, S. (2003) Storming heaven: class composition and struggle in Italian autonomist marxism.London: Pluto Press.


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Politics of Consumption


Dublin, Ireland, 9-11 May, 2012.

Ephemera: theory & politics in organization:

This conference explores the relationships between consumption, accumulation, production, reproduction and politics today. Taking the apparent generalisation of conditions of austerity as an opportunity to re-visit longer ongoing debates surrounding the extra-economic nature of commodity consumption, and its complex relationship to commodity production, the conference asks whether traditional conceptualisations of the politics of consumption require revision. What empirical developments have become crucial? What theories remain helpful? What political mobilisations have become inevitable?

The conference gathers together leading figures for the sake of debating and contesting such issues. The conference also forms the basis of a special issue of ephemera: theory and politics in organization – please read the call for papers for more information.

Venue and getting there
The conference will take place at the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 63 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 (see Google Map). Conveniently located at the heart of Georgian Dublin, this is a fitting venue for the conference theme, both because Ireland has taken centre stage within contemporary debates concerning compulsive excessiveness and retributive austerity, and also by virtue of the fact that cultural and historical nationalism has become a principal foundation of the contemporary politics of consumption. Visit the Society’s website for more information (

Dublin’s City Centre is a 30-45 minute bus ride from Dublinairport. The easiest way of getting there is to take the 747 bus to the city centre (€6): alternative routes exist, some cheaper, others more expensive. The conference venue is about a five minute walk from famous central landmarks such as Trinity College Dublin and St Stephen’s Green. The nearest DART stations to the venue are Pearse Streetand Grand Canal Dock – the area is also well served by a variety of Dublin Bus Services. Further details can be found at (Trains) and (Buses).

Submission deadline
The special issue deadline is on or before the 30th of November, 2011, and has already been widely publicised. Conference submissions are to be received before the 23rd of January, 2012. On time of submission, please be clear whether you would like your work to be considered for inclusion in the special issue, the conference, or both.

Conference fee
Fees will be determined in the New Year. The intention is to maintain keep costs as close to free as possible, as has been the case with previous ephemera conferences. If fees are required, attendees can expect these not to exceed £100. Non wage-earners can expect to be exempt from fees.

Further information
For queries, you can contact one of the conference organizers:

Alan Bradshaw (
Norah Campbell (
Stephen Dunne (


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Digitisation Perspectives


The Digital Labour Group in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario and /ephemera: theory and politics in organization/ are pleased to announce the arrival of Volume 10: 3-4:

*** Digital Labour: Workers, Authors, Citizens ***

Edited by Jonathan Burston, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Alison Hearn


Born out of the conference of the same name held in the fall of 2009 at the University of Western Ontario, this special double issue of / ephemera / addresses the implications of digital labour as they are emerging in practice, politics, policy, culture, and theoretical enquiry. As workers, as authors, and as citizens, we are increasingly summoned and disciplined by new digital technologies that define the workplace and produce ever more complex regimes of surveillance and control. At the same time, new possibilities for agency and new spaces for collectivity are borne from these multiplying digital innovations.

This volume explores this social dialectic, with a specific focus on new forms of labour. Papers examine the histories and theories of digital capitalism, foundational assumptions in debates about digital labour, issues of intellectual property and copyright, material changes in the digital workplace, transnational perspectives on digital labour, the issue of free labour and new definitions of work, and struggles and contests on the scene of digital production.

Contributors include Brian Holmes, Andrea Fumagalli and Cristina Morini, David Hesmondhalgh, Ursula Huws, Barry King, Jack Bratich, Enda Brophy and many others.

This issue also contains vital contributions from union and guild activists hailing from the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the American  Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

The Digital Labour Group: Jonathan Burston, Edward Comor, James Compton, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Alison Hearn, Ajit Pyati, Sandra Smeltzer, Matt Stahl, Samuel E. Trosow.


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Capitalist Crisis


Business and management theorists have so far responded to the financial crisis by centring on the notion of finance as an object of study. The inference here has been that the responsibility for the crisis lies with the flaws of individual managers, and, consequentially, that a sprinkling of Business Ethics (Wayne, 2009) and/or Critique (Currie et al, 2010) to the MBA curriculum is a suitable panacea for the recent excesses. From this we get the characterisation of the crisis as a product of individual misbehaviours in the financial sector: a regression onto the already decisively discredited “bad apple” thesis (e.g. Bakan, 2005). A different but related set of responses has sought to de-emphasize this traditional role of the business school as handmaiden to capitalism and thereby widen the curriculum to include politics, philosophy and cultural studies (e.g. HBR, 2009; Schmidt, 2008).

The questions raised in this special issue attempt to push the debate within the university in general, and the business school in particular, on from this concern with finance as an object of study and on towards a concern with finance as a condition of study. This focus upon the notion of finance as condition of study considers the various ways in which students and teachers alike have long been induced to view study through a purely financial logic: as surplus value without underlying production, as “knowledge transfer” without work. Within this special issue, our contributors therefore consider not so much how the curriculum might be changed in light of the crisis. Instead, they consider how the very study of finance as a condition of study might itself form the basis for a collective resistance to the ongoing financial conditioning of study.


Volume 9, Number 4 (November 2009)


Armin Beverungen, Stephen Dunne and Casper Hoedemaekers: The University of Finance


Morgan Adamson: The Human Capital Strategy

Dick Forslund and Thomas Bay: The Eve of Critical Finance Studies

Ishani Chandrasekara: Why is Finance Critical? A dialogue with a women’s community in Sri Lanka

Stefano Harney: Extreme Neo-liberalism: An introduction


Dick Bryan and Michael Rafferty: Sydney Forum on the financial crisis: an introduction

John Roberts: Faith in the numbers

Randy Martin: Whose crisis is that? Thinking finance otherwise

Martijn Konings: The ups and downs of a liberal conciousness, or, why Paul Krugman should learn to tarry with the negative

Dick Bryan and Michael Rafferty: Homemade Financial Crisis

Melinda Cooper and Angela Mitropoulos: The Household Frontier

Fiona Allon: The Futility of Extrapolation: Reflections on crisis, continuity and culture in the ‘Great Recession’


Elizabeth Johnson and Eli Meyerhoff: Toward a global autonomous university

Francesca Bria: A crisis of finance

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High Finance

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Call for Papers on ‘Work, Play & Boredom’ for an ephemera Conference at University of St. Andrews, 5-7 May 2010. Deadline for abstracts: 31 January 2010.

In recent years, play has become an abiding concern in the popular business literature and a crucial aspect of organizational culture. While managerial interest in play has certainly been with us for some time, there is a sense that organizations are becoming ever-more receptive to incorporating fun and frivolity into everyday working life. Team-building exercises, simulation games, puzzle-solving activities, office parties, themed dress-down days, and colourful, aesthetically-stimulating workplaces are notable examples of this trend. Through play, employees are encouraged to express themselves and their capabilities, thus enhancing job satisfaction, motivation, and commitment. Play also serves to unleash an untapped creative potential in management thinking that will supposedly result in innovative product design, imaginative marketing strategies and, ultimately, superior organizational performance. Play, it seems, is a very serious business indeed.

But this has not always been the case. Until very recently, play was seen as the antithesis of work. Classical industrial theory, for examples, hinges on a fundamental distinction between waged labour and recreation. Play at work is thought to pose a threat not only to labour discipline, but also to the very basis of the wage bargain: in exchange for a day’s pay, workers are expected to leave their pleasures at home. Given this context, we can well understand Adorno’s (1978: 228) comment that the purposeless play of children – completely detached from selling one’s labour to earn a living – unconsciously rehearses the ‘right life’. But play no longer holds the promise of life after capitalism, as it once did for Adorno; today, the ‘unreality of games’ is fully incorporated within the reality of  
organizations. When employees are urged to reach out to their ‘inner child’ (Miller, 1997: 255), it becomes clear that the traditional boundary between work and play is in the process of being demolished.

A certain utopianism underpins contemporary debates about play at work, evoking the pre-Lapsarian ideal of a happy life without hard work. In this respect, organizations seem to have taken notice of Burke’s (1971: 47) compelling vision of paradise: ‘My formula for utopia is simple: it is a community in which everyone plays at work and works at play. Anything less would fail to satisfy me for long’. But such idealism is not necessarily desirable. For while play promises to relieve the monotony and boredom of work, it is intimately connected to new forms of management control: it is part of the panoply of techniques that seek to align the personal desires of workers with bottom-line corporate objectives. We should not be surprised, then, when an overbearing emphasis on fun in the workplace leads to cynicism, alienation, and resentment from employees (Fleming, 2005).

While play at work has been extensively discussed in the popular and academic literature, the role of boredom in organisations has been somewhat neglected. It seems that boredom is destined to share the fate of other ‘negative emotions’, such as anger and contempt, which have generally been silenced in organization studies (Pelzer 2005). But boredom remains an important part of organisational life. As Walter Benjamin (1999: 105) observes, ‘we are bored when we don’t know what we are waiting for’. Boredom thus contains a sense of anticipation, even promise: ‘Boredom is the threshold to great deeds’ (ibid.). Since capitalism is preoccupied with fun and games, perhaps it is boredom rather than play that now serves unconsciously to rehearse the ‘right life’ in contemporary times.

This ephemera conference and special issue ask its participants to explore the interrelated themes of work, play, and boredom alongside an exploration of the cultural and political context out of which they have emerged.

Possible topics include:
–    The politics of play
–    Play and reality
–    Anthropology of play
–    Play and utopia
–    The boredom of play
–    Boredom as resistance
–    Identity and authenticity when played
–    The blurring of work and play
–    Playfulness at work
–    Creativity and play
–    Experience economy
–    Management games
–    Cultures of fun
–    Play and pedagogy
–    Seriousness and indifference
–    Foolishness and fooling around
–    Tedium and repetition
–    Humour, jokes, and cynicism
–    Childishness and management
–    Invention and innovation through play
–    Organizing spontaneity

The best papers of the conference will be published in a special issue of ephemera.

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:
Professor Niels Åkerstrøm Andersen, Professor at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. Author of many books, including his recent Power at Play: The Relationship between Play, Work and Governance (2009, Palgrave Macmillan).

Professor René ten Bos, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. His many books include Fashion and Utopia in Management Thinking (John Benjamins, 2000).

Dates and Location:

5-7 May 2010 at School of Management, University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK.

Deadline, Conference Website, and Further Information:

The deadline for abstracts is 31 January 2010. The abstracts should be submitted as a Word document to Martyna Sliwa at  The conference fee has not been set yet, as it is dependent on the number of participants, but will be kept to a minimum. PhD candidates pay a reduced fee.

Further information about the conference can be found on the conference website: With queries, you can also contact one of the conference organizers: Bent Meier Sørensen (, Lena Olaison (, Martyna Sliwa (, Nick Butler (, Stephen Dunne (, Sverre Spoelstra (


Adorno, T. (1978) Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. London and New York: Verso.
Benjamin, W. (1999) The Arcades Project. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press.
Burke, R. (1971) ‘“Work” and “play”’, Ethics, 82(1): 33-47.
Fleming, P. (2005) ‘Workers’ playtime? Boundaries and cynicism in a “culture of fun” programme’, Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, 41(3): 285-303.
Miller, J. (1997) ‘All work and no play may be harming your business’, Management Development Review, 10(6/7): 254-255.
Pelzer, P. (2005) ‘Contempt and organization: Present in practice – Ignored by research?’ Organization Studies, 26(8): 1217-1227.

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