Christian Fauré: Ars Industrialis and political interventions in contemporary digital technoculture

[Originally posted on the DCRC website]

On the 18th of April Chirstian Fauré, a technologist and philosopher, visited the DCRC to give an insight into the work of Ars Industrialis, an international association to promote political interventions in the development of contemporary digital technoculture.

Christian Fauré is a French ICT designer and cultural theorist. He is a founding member of Ars Industrialis, the cultural activist association formed by Bernard Stiegler in 2005 to promote an intervention in the development of contemporary digital technoculture. Through his public speaking, writing and involvement in various projects, Fauré has worked towards the association’s goals of fostering a critical and creative reformulation of the potentials of digital media and communications.

As a part of his visit to the DCRC, Fauré gave a public talk in the Pervasive Media Studio concerning the recent work of the Ars Industrialis with the city of Nantes around the redevelopment of former industrial districts of the city with and for the creative industries. This is largely focused on a ‘Quartier de Creativité‘, or cultural quarter, located on the Ile de Nantes, an island in the middle of the Loire river. As has been the case in the post-industrial development of many cities across the world, the development programme in Nantes has been influenced by the ideas of Richard Florida concerning urban redevelopment by preventing the migration of the ‘creative class’. Ars Industrialis were invited to participate in the redevelopment process for Nantes and set their contribution in contrast to Florida’s arguably ‘fair weather’ economic strategy.

The Ars Industrialis contribution to the redevelopment of the Ile de Nantes as a Quartier de Creativité was described by Fauré as an objective to create a research centre on the central island to coordinate institutional efforts to redevelop the city. In a move that apparently caused some uneasiness amongst the elected representatives of the city, the research centre involves not only local authorities, the university, and associations but also schools, entrepreneurs and, importantly, the inhabitant citizenry. Fauré suggested that it is impossible to implement the development of a ‘creative class’, as Florida preaches, because of the financial crisis – a crisis, he suggests, of consumerism and financial capitalism. The constitution, or affirmation, of a creative class is also politically undesirable, according to Fauré, because it requires the ‘helicoptering’ in of a creative class that usually depart without sharing valuable knowledge with the inhabitants of the city (as Patrick Crogan jokingly remarked, an argument reminiscent of The Simpsons episode ‘Marge versus the Monorail‘).

The creation of the research centre, Fauré suggests, has the aim of creating a ‘hyper-learning territory’, that is not only bound to the specific material territory of the Ile de Nantes but forms an ‘associated milieu’, through digital media and other parts of the relational ecology, to facilitate the creation of an economy of contribution. Significant influence is drawn from the open source movement, for example in the creation and ongoing production of Linux, and in novel reciprocal distribution systems like the ‘smart grid’ made possible by home electricity generation (for example: using solar energy). The aim, then, is to refigure business models in an economy of contribution and pose the question ‘how can the consumer participate in production’. The activities of the research centre in Nantes are an attempt to produce trans-disciplinarity. The aim is to form a collective vocabulary from seminar activities. To explain this aim Fauré uses the concept of ‘intersectant objects’, which he briefly outlined as ‘objects that are viewable or conceptualisable from multiple perspectives’.

The central thesis of Ars Industrialis is that we need to generally work towards an economy of contribution, and specifically they are working towards this in Nantes. An ‘economy of contribution‘ is made possible by the new relational ecology of digital media technologies. Whereas analogue technologies ‘deterritorialised’ a specialist workforce in large automated factories, creating an opposition between producers and consumers, digital technologies ‘reterritorialise’ the political economy by creating associated environments of production and consumption.

An open seminar series has been negotiated for the activities of the research centre, to identify the key concepts to inform the post-industrial redevelopment of Nantes, based on eight topics: intellectual property, digital studies, amateurs and appropriation, contributive territory, digital addictions, the economy of cultural and artistic activities, digital infrastructure and digital studies and the brain. Alongside these seminars are contributive prototyping activities that begin to develop tools for the redevelopment process.

On of the aims of the seminars is to refigure the debate around production/work from ’employment’ to ‘work’. Fauré uses the opposition of the ‘speculator’ and the ‘amateur’. Whereas the speculator, particularly in the finance industries, is employed-they work merely for a salary, the amateur works with passion-not only for remuneration. According to Fauré, drawing on the work of Bernard Stiegler, a form of proletarianisation happens with industrial capitalism, i.e. Fordism, whereby the workers are rendered automatons without ‘savoir faire’, that has been furthered in the post-industrial epoch, whereby not only are the (traditional) workforce proletarianised but so too are the consumers, such that even our capacities for living, ‘savoir-vivre’, are sublimated by cpaital. Critically, and following Fauré and Stiegler, this can be somewhat undone by the new forms of associated environments of connectivity facilitated through digital technologies that open out the potential for an economy of contribution. It is these forms of activity that are, for Ars Industrialis, the basis for the potential formation of a new kind of industrial politics.

Importantly, Ars Industrialis do not argue that this is a grand philosophical project, led by high-minded ideals. According to Stiegler, following his conceptual use of the (Greek) mythic figure of Epimetheus, ‘philosophy always comes after’. So, the activities of the research centre in Nantes are not led by avant-garde philosophy, but rather conceptually situated (perhaps ex post facto). It is (ethically and politically) important that everyone can contribute. The research centre seminars are also combined with prototyping workshops, as a form of ‘composition’ (in contrast to ‘opposition’). In the Ars Industrialis model, practice and conceptual activities are mutually complimentary.

Ars Industrialis identifies this form of work, and the work they do in general, as ‘digital studies’. This is first of all an anthropological concern, it is, following Stiegler’s extensive philsophical project, a matter of ‘technics‘-the ways in which the human is mutually co-constituted with technology (neither comes before the other). To this end, it is necessary, according to Fauré and Stiegler, to construct a general ‘organology’ for the contemporary epoch. By this Stiegler means that, just as it is necessary to study what we call the biological organs, it is necessary to identify, and to study, the technical supplements to the biological as organs too – technical organs, psychic/psychological organs and social organs. As Stiegler recently stated in an interview at the International World Wide Web conference: ‘we are living a significant organological change – knowledge instruments are changing and these instruments are not just means but rather shape an epistemic environment, an episteme, as Michel Foucault used to say.’

In composition with the Institut de Recherche d’Inovation, at the Centre Pompidou, also directed by Bernard Stiegler, Ars Industrialis have thus proposed the work of ‘digital studies’ as nothing less than the ‘new unifying and transdisciplinary model of every form of academic knowledge’. The aim in Nantes is therefore, according to Christian Fauré, to ‘put the city at the ‘avant garde’ of the Economy of Contribution through Digital Studies’.

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