The Feminization of Labour in Cognitive Capitalism

Cristina Morini, 2007. The Feminization of Labour in Cognitive Capitalism. Feminist Review 40–59.
Women from the world’s under-developed countries have been transformed into salaried substitutes of the reproduction of women from the developed countries, at the expense of their own capacity or wish for reproduction; women in the developed countries are driven towards production or indeed towards a future where life is artificial and/or sterile.

Both in the case of migrants who move from their country of origin to work in the First World, and that of their ever-growing employment in the service industries in Western countries, women seem to represent a model that contemporary capitalism looks at with growing interest both in terms of the forms of the administration of labour (precariousness, mobility, fragmentary nature, low salaries) and in term of the contents, given the new anthropological focus that work claims to assume through the intensive exploitation of quality, abilities and individual skills (capacities for relationships, emotional aspects, linguistic aspects, propensity for care).
Capitalism has aimed, in general terms, to appropriate for itself, polyvalence, multi-activity and the ability of female labour, exploiting thereby the experience brought by women which stems from their historic function in the realm of reproduction and domestic work.
Following this interpretation, the Deleuzian concept of ‘becoming a woman of work’ points to the biopolitical nature of current labour relations, taken as a whole.
We should note the performing character – in its meaning of one of ‘modelling relaity’ – of contemporary labour, its marked individualization and division and its de-intellectualisation. The body ends up de-subjectified, disciplined: ‘the relations of power have an immediate effect on it, they take it over, they make their stamp on it, they train it, they torment it, they restrict it to certain types of work, to certain ceremonies and demand signs from it’ [Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 1976]
In this sense, it can be maintained that the figure of social precariousness today is woman: in cognitive capitalism precariousness, mobility and fragmentation become constituent elements of the work of all persons, irrespective of gender.
The model advanced is pliable, hyper-flexible and in this sense it draws on the baggage of female experience.
To speak of ‘women’ and their ‘experience’, thus, does not mean thinking along only one line, but rather is intended as a simplification that remains conceptually distant from theories that make reference to a fixed heterosexual and eurocentric nomenclature.
On the contrary it is the very presences of person from different origins ad different sexualities and the observation of the tendency towards absorption by capitalising on all the differences and all the forms of life that help us to note, with even more force, how a model of the body which is totally and traditionally subjected to the pwer of capitalist organization draws on a sexual and racial paradigm: ‘the black person, the woman in a junior position, the migrant and the exile, are all under the spotlight’. [Puwar, 2003]
The family, the city and relations between humans are progressively being transformed into an economic space.
Our daily work patterns features deeply embedded linguistic-emotional components. In this sense, care work provided by women fits perfectly nto a far wider mechanism that also includes relationships and these in turn become an economic asset.
The predominance of individual contracting in the labour market has the effct of fostering the denial of any social corporeality or of any corporeality ‘of class’.
Georgio Agamgen [1990] highlights the risk that all this will be translated into an ordinary singularity, composed of individuals ‘who community is not linked by any condition of belonging or by the simple absence of conditions (…). They cannot form any societas because they do not possess any identity to put forward, any link of belonging that can be recognised.’
Cognitive capitalism touches on the individual spheres of the experiences f mean and women, both native and migrant, but at the same time seeks to impose a unique and homogenous command mechanism for work: it is these very differences and the exploitation of them that translate into surplus value.
From this point of view, the simple and binary dichotomies of production / reproduction, male work/female work lose their meaning to the point of pushing us to hypothesise a gradual process of the degendering of work.
When we say ‘work’ in contemporary capitalism we mean less and less a precise and circumscribed part of our life, and more and more a comprehensive action.
A characteristic peculiar to current production is indeed the use of our ability for creation, reaction and relationships. These are the linguistic and cooperative exchanges: the precarious person becomes part of a network of relationships and in fact has no sense of consistency outside of these.
Today, cognitive capitalism combines archaic and innovative forms of work and brings them all together as current forms of work. On the one hand, we are witnessing a partial process of the re-Taylorisation of intellectual work and, on the other, the transformation of social and human activities into directly productive work.
We are witnessing the creation of a blending of the two categories of ‘creation’ and ‘production’, the point where it would become necessary to work in a detailed manner, and even subjectively, on these two concepts in the light of new processes. We now need to understand archaic and new forms where exploitation, reification, alienation and pathology are apparent. And at the same time, we need to analyse the places and times when invention, creation and action are generated.
Computer technology has completely changed the connection between conception and execution and thus the connection between intellectual content and its material execution. [Berardi, 2001]
To bring into play emotions, sentiments, the whole of one’s life outside work as well as territorial and social networks means, in fact, to make the whole person productive. What has to be thoroughly examined therefore is this new nature of work, being part of active life rather than ‘just work’, clearly separated from the biological-reproductive-emotive sphere.
Two macro-environments show how the characteristics of work today are closely linked with what has been argued and draw upon the female experience of space and time.
(1) Spatial reorganization
Private life and working life are combined inside domestic spaces and the two environments are mutually transformed into hybrids.
They become an explicitly money-related space, where economic subjects can be found (people who use their own house as an office and also cleaners, baby sitters, carers).
(2) The reorganization of time
Working hours are changing, which eliminates the difference between time spent at work and free time, even to the point of altering the time between waking up and going to sleep.
Cognitive captialism pushes ahead because double and triple work roles are taken on and it introduces the idea of infinite adaptability and flexibility, which are realities well-known to women.
Work can claim to be a living body that constantly needs every care, word and action. If life enters the economic arena (bioeconomic accumulation), women are encouraged to divert all their time, care, words and attention towards the ‘company-living body’.
In the ‘work-and-spend cycle’ of contemporary Western societies, we can see the trend – which Galbraith identified as early as 1967 – to desire more consumer goods and less free time. But we can also note and stress how, behind the impetus of the spectre of precariousness, people bend towards an adaptable/sacrificial/oblative position which is a cultural feature in the history of female experience.
What conclusions can we draw about the feminization of work at this point in the discussion?
(1) The organizational model of current work – insecure, adaptable, spasmodic, nomadic work in the nomadic office or the provision of services from home but with new machines (computers), the autocrats of the conteporary era – presents itself, in its salient features, as a historical modality of female work. […]
(2) To illuminate this aspect of incessant work (in terms of time and meaning), of nomadic work and domestic work means understanding the essence of the feminization of work, or rather why women represent an extraordinary paradigm for the aims of contemporary capitalism.
(3) We can consider being on the cusp of an inflexible flexibility. [cites workers demands in the 1970s in Italy to gain greater flexibility at work]. Today the reality with which we are faced, for all the reasons given above, is not configured as a form of true flexibility but presents itself rather as a form of a growing link between existence and intelligence at work. […]
(4) Rampant precariousness implies, apparently only for women, the risk of a wide crystallization of social figures, an idea suggested by the fact that the informalization of the working relationship also operates at the level of social organisation.
Conversely, it is possible to maintain that precariousness contributes, down the line, to the de/reconstruction of identity and the degendering of work. In this respect it can be notes that precariousness, for the purposes of the new processes of flexible accumulation, triggers and matches the process of the feminization of work, dominating a transformative aspect of the person and leading to a gradual giving into the Fordist man/woman, production/reproduction dichotomy.
Today, more obviously than ever, the difference are all becoming the object of the extraction of value in capitalist terms.
If Fordism represents the era of the tangible production of goods and, to that end, uses the strength of the body, cognitive capitalism embodies the era of the production of knowledge through making proper of the cognitive faculties to form relationships and communicate effectively.
However, these faculties are always more subject to a tendency towards standardization and control. Its primary protagonist is knowledge which, in order to use it properly, is codified and turned into an object, to be reduced to something immediately transmittable, in other words into a simple object of consumption.
The process whereby work becomes precarious affects the substance of these professions, where the individual being, the person, the player – with his/her own quite personal cognitive skills, capacities, knowledge and experiences – has a determining role and is the root of forms of self-exploitation.
In this sense, the control mechanisms are truly becoming immanent in the social field and we find them spread around people’s bodies and brains. We are being confronted with independently chosen forms of alienation, which stem, precisely and incredibly, from the desire for creativity by the people themselves.
[description of research undertaken into labour of researchers in Italy (2006)]
The survival strategies that precarious workers have to adopt glaringly complicate women’s existence, making it, objectively, even more difficult to manage both their private and public selves. From this perspective we can see just how much, work ends up contaminating other planes of existence and assuming a central role in a person’s thinking both in terms of the present and the outlook for the future.
[referring to research in which female respondents cited ‘autonomy’ as the primary factor in their career choice]
It is not difficult to infer from these assessments, the existence – still there, in spite of everything – of a desire, an outlook that encourages women to choose autonomous employment.
Conversely, the theme of autonomy in itself  and that of possible mobility, variation, experience and pleasure which hides behind the theme, is, for all that, valued and recognised.
[…in comparison to male respondents…]
[…] women appear more focused on the future and less dependent on visions that are more traditionally tied to a work ethic based on Fordist principles.
(1) […] The ability to use language and mental resources: these are the instruments on which the current capitalist assessment in cognitive capitalism is based. What already seems evident is the non-existence of any possibility whatsoever of a distinction between intention and instrument: thanks to new technologies, knowledge is no longer incorporated in machines, materials or finished products but in the cognitive work itself. Codes and languages allow the knowledge to circulate on its own, irrespective of the fixed capital.
[…] Moreover, precariousness of conditions, as has been said, makes work more powerful in respect of the individual, reverberating its orthodoxy over life schoices, blending production and reproduction, in other words generalizing sentiment, perception and transience  to the whole of existence.
(2)  The feminization of work can bring with it a traditionally segregational aspect.
The responses from the female sample at Rcs […] sing an interesting ‘different tune’: the request for autonomy, the value which is attributed to variation and experience, mobility and therefore infidelity understood as perennial dynamicity, as an infinite tension within a person.
[…] women have a greater capacity for moving on shifting sand […]
They could be assumed to have a greater capacity to adapt, brought about by their greater powers of determination which, in turn, makes them more resistant and more reactive. Men  because of the historical and social conditions in place, including a sex-based social construction – find it harder to adapt to the new polyvalent and qualitative dimensions required by new enterprises in the new world.
(3) The force of contemporary cognitive capital is in combining the various individual essences of experience to meet the needs of production.
(4) A gendered perspective and women’s perspective can reveal more clearly the internal contradictions in the process that tend towards the overall reification of humans, in accordance with a complete remake of the human being, by dint of an experience long embedded in the past. What has not be sufficiently emphasized, especially in Europe, is that women have always worked and nearly always in the worst possible conditions.
(5) The real problem, these days, is that of politically highlighting the link between paid and unpaid work.
We are having to face a particular way of thinking about merchandise, of forced entry into a market economy  or a mercantile economy – based on exchange value and commercial value – in a whole range of areas, which, until very recently, were less affected by such processes. The overall, intimate, individual and different capacities of humans and even emotional and sexual relationships are beginning to become part of the framework of businesses and economic relationships, both individually and collectively.
In this picture, it is vital that we force ourselves to change our outlook, introducing new concepts of interrelations, inventing and imposing new value indicators, new mechanisms to assess social wealth (and the real questions to ask would be: is there and what is a fair value? What value can possibly be given or calculated as a payment that would be vaguely commensurate to something as huge as the essence of the person.
It then becomes avoidable not to ask a serious question of redistribution, of updating the welfare system, which would definitely have as its centre the minimum wage, the minimal form of economic rebalancing in relation to what we are asked to spend daily in the current labour market.
The gender paradigm can provide an instructive point of observation and knowledge about these attempts at the complete reification of humankind.
[Jane Jacobs] makes reference to essential, interpersonal and informal relationships, especially within societies that are complex, highly organized and technologically advanced where the extraction of surplus value is done through the use of knowledge networks in the broad sense. One would need to assess whether, down the line, it would not be possible to put leverage on the networks of informal participation for the purpose of opening up areas to construct economic alternatives and other types of political action.