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Invention and Resistance: FabLabs against Proletarianization

Mazzilli-Daechsel, Stefano (2018) Invention and Resistance: FabLabs against Proletarianization. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent, Universität Hamburg. (KAR id:71693)


The contemporary philosopher Bernard Stiegler has reopened the debate on the historically Marxist concept of proletarianization. Whereas Marx and Engels define the term as the continued expansion of an economic class that must sell their labour to the owners of the means of production, Stiegler argues that proletarianization is better understood as the gradual erosion of know-how (savoir). He attributes this erosion to a societal mismanagement of technological change. Starting from the premise that technological objects are material externalizations of capacities that previously inhered in the human, Stiegler asserts that we have systematically failed to compensate for these technological externalizations with the acquisition of new capacities, specifically those that would allow us to participate in technology's continuous evolution. As a consequence, this new technologically illiterate proletariat must constantly react to technological changes that are always developed elsewhere.

This thesis contributes to the debate on proletarianization by investigating a network of digital fabrication workshops called Fabrication Laboratories, or FabLabs. Part of the broader 'maker' movement, an international community of people who make their own things and electronics, FabLabs are committed to democratizing access to the means of digital fabrication. Unlike other community-based workshops or shared machine shops, their goal is to build a global network of local labs that share similar capacities. Similar to the free and open source software movement, the FabLabs promote decentralized organizational structures and horizontal hierarchies both within and between labs.

My aim is to investigate the extent to which the FabLabs can be considered sites of de-proletarianization. In so doing, I build on Stiegler's work to propose my own definition of proletarianization as a process that weakens our individual and collective abilities to pose and respond to political, social, and economic problems. This process has been driven by an acceleration in the rate of technological change that has not been matched with a commensurate cultivation and distribution of the capacities that would allow people to problematize and participate in the technological evolution of their societies. As a result, the problems we face as individuals, collectives, and as a species, are increasingly conditioned by technological artifacts that we grasp inadequately as users and consumers.

Based on an ethnographic study of grassroots labs in France, Germany, and Hungary, I argue that FabLabs have a significant de-proletarianizing potential because they encourage people to problematize the technological conditions of society and develop the capacities necessary to change those conditions. However, FabLabs have thus far had a minimal de-proletarianizing effect on the societies in which they operate, largely due to their limited, and relatively homogeneous, membership base. They have also struggled to apply their principles of decentralization and flat hierarchies to the political structuring of the labs themselves, thereby undermining the abilities of their members to pose problems that are not just technological, but political as well.

Underlying this investigation is an ontological framework that is capacities-based, pluralist, and non-anthropocentric. Inspired by the works of Gilles Deleuze and the object-oriented ontologist Levi Bryant, I argue that all beings, humans and nonhumans, are defined by their capacities to affect, to be affected, and to resist. This ontological framework allows me to develop different concepts of invention and resistance that are integral to both my theorization of proletarianization and my assessment of the FabLabs as sites of de-proletarianization.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Miller, Vince
Thesis advisor: Carney, Phil
Uncontrolled keywords: fabrication laboratories, FabLab, proletarianization, capacity-based ontology, Bernard Stiegler, Gilles Deleuze, Gilbert Simondon
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2019 13:10 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 11:12 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Mazzilli-Daechsel, Stefano.

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