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Paper Scott Lash
UK-Nordic Meeting Copenhagen

Scott Lash


How is critical social science, or critical theory or critique possible in the information society? I shall ask the question if it is possible. I shall consider the very strong possibility that it is not possible. And that oppositional thinking in our global information order needs to take a different form than critical theory or critique. Critical theory in Germany in the sixties and seventies and eighties was often and largely understood as ‘Ideologiekritik’. This is critical theory so expanded as to encompass Adorno and Habermas and Marxism. But what happens in an age in which symbolic power is no longer ideological, i.e. an age in which symbolic power no longer takes the forms of the systems of ideas that constitute ideologies. What happens when symbolic power instead is largely informational. Ideologies were extended in time and space. They claimed universality. They were extended often in the temporal form of ‘meta-narratives’. They entailed systems of belief. They incorporated reflection and indeed needed time for reflection. Information is compressed in time and space. It makes no claim to universality but is contained in the immediacy of the particular. Information shrinks or compresses metanarratives to a mere point, a signal, a mere event in time.

There is an immediacy to information that has little in common with systems of belief like Christianity or the Enlightenment. The very speed and ephemerality of information leaves almost no time for reflection. The question then becomes what sort of future for critical theory in an age in which there is little time for reflection? Critical social science grew up in age of Ideologiekritik. What will happen to critical social science in an age of Informationskritik. Indeed is such a thing as informationcritique possible? Can critical thought operate in an information age?



What is Information?

Let me start by discussing what might be the main parameters of the information age. Technological change has influenced me to rethink a lot of what I’ve been writing in social theory. So much so that I now would understand contemporary times very much in terms of the information society, rather than postmodernism or the risk society, late capitalism, etc. Information society is preferable to postmodernism in that the former says what the society’s principle is rather than saying merely what it comes after. Postmodernism primarily in this sense comes after modernism. Second, PM deals largely with disorder, fragmentation, irrationality, whilst the notion of information account for both the (new) order and disorder that we contemporaries experience. Indeed as we will see below the disorder (irrationality) is largely the unintended consequences of the order (rationality). Third, architects such as Venturi understand postmodernism in terms of ‘complexity’ and ‘contradiction’, and in particular from the contradiction of juxtaposition of elements of style, and of the contradiction of decoration and structure. Information is preferable and more powerful as a notion because it operates from a unified principle. Thus an ‘informational architecture’ is an architecture of flows, of movement, encouraging real time relations over distances; it is an architecture of disembedding. Of the compression of time and space.

What is key in how we should understand the information society (in contrast to other ideas of it from say Bell, Touraine and Castells) is a focus on the primary qualities of information itself. Here information must be understood sharply in contradistinction from other, earlier socio-cultural categories such as narrative or discourse or monument or institution. The primary qualities of information are flow, disembeddedness, spatial compression, temporal compression, real time relations. It is not exclusively, but mainly, in this sense that we live in an information age. Some people have called some of these qualities late-modern (Giddens), others post-modern (Harvey), but these concepts are so amorphous. Information is not. In any event the place to go to grasp these qualities of the information age is for me, not so much Giddens and Harvey or Beck or even Castells. But rather Virilio, Deleuze, Haraway, McLuhan, Benjamin and the architect Rem Koolhaas.

I would understand the information society somewhat differently than it usually has been understood by sociologists. (I haven’t yet had the time to benefit from Frank Webster’s new book Theories of the Information Society). The information society has often (say Bell, Touraine, Castells) been understood in terms of knowledge intensive production and a post-industrial array of goods and service that are produced. This needs to be broadened out. First and foremost perhaps is to look at the paradox of the information society. This is how can such highly rational production result in the incredible irrationality of information overloads, misinformation, disinformation and out of control information. This is what Josef Esser calls the ‘desinformierte Informationsgesellschaft’.

The key to understanding this is to look at what is produced in information production not as information rich goods and services, but more or less as out of control bytes of information, This is indeed a theory of unintended consequences, but one that is a lot different than Beck and Giddens. For one thing it is not reflexive in their sense. There is little time for reflection. It is perhaps reflexive in an ethnomethodological sense. But in an ethnomethodological sense in which objects too take on powers of indexicality.

Information production involves an important compression, indeed several important compressions. The most important one for me, I’m ashamed to say I’ve learnt from McLuhan, read, of course, as a thinker more of the information than the media age. In this context I think it is useful to understand ‘the medium is the message’ as the paradigmatic cultural form of the information age. Previously the dominant medium was narrative, lyric poetry, discourse, the painting. But now it is the message. The message or the ‘communication’. The medium now is very byte like. It is compressed.

The newspaper already gave us the model for the information age. Only now it has become much more pervasive and has spread to a whole series of mostly machinic interfaces. Unlike say narrative or discourse or painting, the information in newspapers comes in very short messages. It is compressed. Literally compressed. Narrative as in the novel works from a beginning, middle and end. There is intentionality on the part of the protagonist and events follow from one another as causes and effects. Discourse - as in say philosophic or social scientific texts - is comprised of conceptual frameworks, of serious speech acts, of propositional logic, of speech acts backed up by legitimating arguments. Information is none of these. Once the medium becomes the message, or the bite (quite short but of various lengths) of information, we are in a different ball game. The value of a discursive book will last 20 or more years. The informational message in the newspaper will have value for only a day. After a day we throw it in the garbage. The message, as German sociologist of science Knorr-Cetina has shown, for international currency traders, has validity (or value) for a mere twenty seconds, at that point your interlocutor is free to change the price spread on the currency deal at issue.

Discourse or the narrative novel or painting is produced with great time for reflection, say 3-4 years for a social science discursive text. The message, the information bite, the article that is written for The Sun after Manchester United v. Arsenal must be ready for transmission in about ninety minutes. No time for reflection. Produced pretty much in real time, a time contiguous with the event, separable with difficulty indeed from the event, and in this sense indexical. This is another way in which time is compressed in informationalisation. It is very different from narrative or discourse. The bit of information has its effect on you without the sort of legitimating argument that you are presented with in discourse. Information here is outside of a systematic conceptual framework. without propositional logic. But with an immediacy of symbolic violence.


I’ve just alluded to the non-discursive, illegitimate, preconscious nature of informational power. In this sense I think it fair to say that Foucault may have once been right but no longer is. Power was once largely discursive, But it now is largely informational. Power is still very strongly as Foucault suggested tied to knowledge, but informational knowledge is increasingly displacing narrative and discursive knowledge. Power is indeed still very importantly tied to the commodity, in an age that is more than ever capitalist. But in a very important way it may no longer be commodification that is driving informationalization, but instead informationalization that is driving commodification. Information explodes the distinction between use value and exchange value as Mark Poster suggests in The Second Media Age. But then it is recaptured by capital for further commodification. Fast moving consumer goods and branded consumer products are also informational in their quick obsolescence, their global flows, their regulation through intellectual property, their largely immaterial nature in which the work of design and branding assumes centrality, while the actual production is outsourced to Malaysia or Thailand.

Power in the manufacturing age was attached to property as the mechanical means of production. In the information age it is attached to intellectual property. It is intellectual property, especially in the form of patent, copyright and trademark that put a new order on the out of control swirls of bits and bytes of information so that they can be valorised to create profit. For example in biotechnology, patents on genome techniques and forms of genetic modification, allow specific firms exclusive rights to the valorisation of genetic information. (Rabinow, Franklin, Lury and Stacey) In the IT sector itself, copyright (again the right to keep everybody else out) in say operating systems software allows firms to realise super profits. In fast moving consumer goods and designer goods, the trademarking of brands, which are already in the public domain, such as Macdonalds, Nike, but also Versace and Boss establish other monopolies and re-configurations of power around the otherwise anarchy of information.

To summarise, there is a sort of twisting dialectic involved in the information society. It moves from order to disorder to new order. Highly rational and knowledge-intensive production results in a quasi-anarchy of information proliferation and flows. This disorder of immediacy of information produces its own power relations in the immediate power/knowledge of bytes of information on the one hand. and in the re-ordering of information in categories of intellectual property in order to accumulate capital on a world scale in the information age.

Inequality: From Exploitation to Exclusion

In the information order inequality tends to be less and less defined by relations of production between say a German corporation and a production workers in a plant there or an Indian plant owner and the worker in his factory. This is the paradigm for inequality in the industrial order. In the information order central is less exploitation than exclusion. And exclusion is first and foremost something that is defined in conjunction with the information and communication flows, with information and communication structures. What emerges here is a ‘loop’ of relatively disembedded (hence increasingly global) elites. The information order is a society of ‘the and’ connected by networks. These networks have mobile human-machine interfaces for terminals connected by lines of communication. They are relatively disembedded or lifted out. Through these interfaces flow finance, technology, media, culture, information, communications and the like. There is something generic (i.e. not national, a-contextual and non-identity) about being in the loop of such networks. The main machine interfaces at issue here are communication interfaces, including perhaps above all regular air travel for business purposes facilitating the face to face communication that is necessary for trust and recognition. And the occupation of expensive space in the central districts of the increasingly generic global cities, again opening up the array of face-to-face communications and transactions. In the global city you can face-to-face without flying. And partake of one generic network that regularly interfaces with the others.

The consequences here are the emergence of a generic global elite, whose point of identification is the global elite in other such cities. Thus our research at Goldsmiths College into the global culture industries, the elite in Sao Paulo of journalists, TV presenters, curators, architects, film distributors, pay television producers, advertising, pop music sector, etc. have a lot more in common with their counterparts in Tokyo, New York, London, Paris, Milan and LA than they do with their own compatriots in Brazil. Their identification tends to be outward, they compete increasingly in international or transnational labour markets. Now to self-include and self-identify in the context of the global information and communication flows is to self-exclude and dis-identify from the national flows. And the result in say Britain is what Will Hutton calls overclass self-exclusion. Here, where there was social health care, schooling, pensions and security now there is an overwhelming presence of ‘contracting out’ into private schools, health insurance, pensions, and policing. Ulrich Beck calls this ‘Brazilianization’. And everything held equal the closer the country is to the core, say Germany, France, Japan, the less of this self exclusion there will be. The less it will lead to vast inequalities. The greatest inequalities are produced on the periphery.

If what Samir Amin called accumulation on a world scale led to surplus exploitation, then ‘informationalization’ on a world scale leads to a massive surplus of exclusion. In the core, US, UK, Japan, Germany, Holland, especially in highly branded and informationalised firms, the work of design is carried out in the core, the work of production increasingly contracted out to the Indonesia and Thailand. In the core the previously exploited, yet unionised ethnic minority and white working class becomes increasingly irrelevant to informational-accumulation, which now takes place not on their backs but behind their backs. Self-excluding overclass leads to forcibly excluded underclass. Such is the way of the global information order. So power and inequality are if anything nastier and more violent in the global information order and informationcritique must deal with this.

But a critical theory in the information age must also be affirmative and not just negative. This is the nub of post-colonial theory. Post-colonialism goes beyond the simple dualism of earlier notions of world system and development. At issue is never simple ‘roots’, on the one side versus domination on the other. Instead these roots are at the same time ‘routes’. (Gilroy, Clifford) At issue in post-colonial theory are ‘third spaces’ (Bhabha, Spivak, Soja) that are diasporas, of performativity and not pedagogy, whether this is a pedagogy of simple domination or a counter-pedagogy of resistance. Yet there is something fixed to these ideas of a third space, something that has to do too much with a culture perhaps without origins, but that is still a sort of static layering. It is this sort of ‘layering’ at issue in the layering of ethnicities that we are given in US-American multiculturalism. (Stuart Hall) Even if these layered ethnicities occupy a third frontier or border space of hybridity, and are performing this space, we still have a layering of hybrid ethnicities. The problem is the fixedness, the staticness. This is much more representative of the third space of critique of the older critical theory, of ideologycritique not informationcritique. Informationcritique is much more based on movement. On diapsora rather than hybridity, because the latter entails movement. But a radicalised diapsora where terminus is not fixed, which is shot through with contingency, with accident, with spaces to dis-identify as well as re-identify, for multiculturalism as radical individualism. This is the postcolonialism of informationcritique. It is a postcolonialism of movement, of contingency, of flows (Appadurai), disjunctures and junctures, of objects as well as subjects, of communications. Hence the booming ‘phone card business in London in areas of recent immigration of black Africans, Turks and North Africans. It is an information order which is at the same time disordering, a chronic dialectic of disordering, re-ordering and again dis-ordering. Of the violence of Kosovo, but the emergent new international regimes of human (but also non human) rights (Santos) - cf. Pinochet, Bosnia and the like. Regimes which not only are increasingly conventionalised, but also legitimated by a large public on a world scale.



The Universal or the Transcendental?

Critique is surely something that happens in thought. It integrates theory and practice. but it is something that somehow primarily involves the dimension of thought. Critique has normally taken two forms. One is the critique of the particular through the universal. This is the sort of critique that is involved in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Or in the late Marx, in which capitalism is seen as a particular criticised from the universalism of Marxian theory. This is also the idea of critique we have in the later Habermas, in which the particularism of ‘strategic rationality’ is criticised from the universalism of communicative rationality. Habermas’s proffers critique through discourse. Through the legitimation of speech acts that are at the same time validity claims, through set of legitimating arguments. This I think is difficult in the information age because of the very speed and immediacy of socio-cultural processes. Universalism involves very much the opposite of the information age’s space-time compression. It involves instead the furthest possible spatiotemporal, not compression, but extension, taking the form inter alia of metanarratives. The information age compresses even narratives, which have some temporal extension, let alone metanaratives.

The more widespread notion of critique is not of the particular by the universal. It is the critique of the universal-particular couple itself. Here reason or thought becomes something that evades the logic of universal and particular, i.e. that moves outside of propositional logic. It rejects propositional logic as the space of ‘the same’, and operates instead from a critical space of ‘the other’. Thus Kantian critique most importantly establishes limits for the operation of pure reason. The sphere of pure reason, of logic, is the sphere of necessity. It is here that we have understanding of nature. Outside of the limits of this realm and the condition for its possibility is the realm of practical reason, the sphere of freedom. Its rules are not at all the rules of logic. Inside the sphere of pure reason, the laws of nature, of necessity - cause, effect, syllogism, identity are operative. Outside there is the unknowabiity of the moral law, of freedom, of God, infinity and of things in themselves. We can know things, said Kant, according to the above stated laws of nature, but we cannot know them as they are in themselves. We cannot know things according to their own ontological structures. All this takes place in the sphere not of the understanding but of praxis, of practical reason.

This is the dominant notion of critique from which the critical social and human sciences come. The logic of necessity, of pure reason is also for Kant and later Hegel, the logic of instrumental reason, in which nature becomes a means not an end. It is also positivism, hence the uncomfortable positivist echoes in the late Marx and late Habermas, something not present in the Habermas of Theory and Practice or Marx’s earlier writings. Thus basically for Hegel, reason is only in its first beginnings identified with the sort of knowledge from maths and physics of Kantian pure reason. For Kant the concepts of the understanding (Verstand) had to do with such maths and physics knowledge of nature, while the ideas of reason (Vernunft) were the ungraspables through the logic of freedom, infinity, and things themselves. Hegel started his Encyclopaedia thus with nature (i.e. the understanding and pure reason) before moving to mind, which needs to be otherwise explored and finally on to the state, religion , art and philosophy. Reason thus ultimately points less to science than the critique of science.

Descartes bequeathed to us - in place of religion and the ancien regime - the centrality of the subject, of subject-object thinking. The Enlightenment extended this to the moral and political realm in which science - on a natural science model - would be the universalist motor of history on the way towards the good society, morally and politically. For his part, Kant, an Aufklarer, was as importantly a critic of the Enlightenment. He wanted to preserve a very important place for reason. Kantian critique is a critique in the first instance of the ancien regime, speculative reason, and of Humean scepticism to establish a sphere of reason as knowledge on the model of physics, maths and logic. But more importantly critique established the critique of instrumental reason. The morality and politics involved here, unlike the Enlightenment (and the late Marx, Durkheim, etc.) do not have to do with the application of science to existing particulars. But with the moral law, something that lies outside of the knowable, of the understanding, outside of the relationship at all of universal to particular.

Aporetics and Dialectics

Subsequently we have had two traditions of critique. One of dialectics and the second of aporetics. Dialectics comprises most of the German tradition from Hegel to early Marx to Lukacs to Adorno, Marcuse and the young Habermas and now for example Seyla Benhabib. Aporetics comes from Kant and informs Heidegger and most of the French post-structuralist tradition. Aporetics speaks of an ‘aporia of reason’. This pertains to Kant’s distinction between two types of reason. One is pure reason, meaning the understanding, science and logic. The other is ‘pure practical reason’, focusing on the moral law, the condition of possibility of moral action. The first, sphere is the sphere of ‘the same’ and instrumental rationality. And the second, the ‘outside’, though it governs the sphere of practice and relations between humans, is more than just this. It includes God (religion), noumena (i.e. the knowing of things, not according to the principles of science (nature) , but in-themselves, according to their own ontological structures, infinity (including death) and finally the aesthetic. Some critical theorists have understood this ‘sphere of freedom’ in terms of not instrumental but substantive rationality. In any event, not just the inside is reason, but so is the outside. The outside, the realm of practical/substantive reason is somehow more fundamental (more ‘primordial’) than the inside. (Heidegger, Levinas) It is the condition of possibility of the inside. Enlightenment as distinct from the Enlightenment and surely critique begin to be primarily identified with this ‘outside’. These two types of reason underlie the subsequent battles between positivism and hermeneutics (interpretative social science) in sociology. where critical sociology is always a sort of ‘left hermeneutics’.

This Kantian distinction between the two spheres of reason, in which the second is defined by a major dimension of unknowability underlies both dialectic and aporetic traditions of critique. The ‘aporetic’ tradition speaks of irreconcilables, whereas in ‘dialectics’ there is either a resolution or at least an interpenetration of the two spheres. The best of dialectics, has little to do with the resolution of the particular into the absolute, whether the latter is the Prussian state or Philosophy. And a lot more to do with a correction of the unhappy abstraction of aporetics. The best of dialectics is not about reconciliation or absolutes but a recognition that the way we lead our lives - cultural experience, ethical activities, social relations, relations to place, the way that we live our bodies - cannot be approached through such abstraction. Hence most of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right is addressed not to resolution in the absolute, but to the necessary appearance of the moral law (i.e. the sphere of ‘the other’, of freedom, of substantive reason) in the grain of social life in ‘the same’. This is not a relation between universal and particular, but between the transcendental and the particular. Between the way that the Other (or Being) manifests itself in the particular.

Kantian aporetics would have ontology, on the one hand and things, on the other, as unbridgeable antinomies. Thus if Husserl and Heidegger can talk of the ontological structure of things, in this sense they are on the side of dialectics. Heidegger has no notion of ultimate resolution. Similarly Adorno’s negative dialectics, wants to understand the aesthetic in a much more grounded way than Kantian aesthetics, in terms of the materiality of art. Yet for Adorno too this transcendental moment grounded in the particular does not lead to any kind of reconciliation. Thus should be understood also Gillian Rose’s and Seyla Benhabib’s excursions into critical theory. Again there is no necessary reconciliation. But the transcendental moment of reason or ‘being’ is manifested in the conventions of everyday moral practice (Benhabib) or in the law, love and religion (Rose).



But what I am arguing is that both German dialectics and French post-structuralism are legitimate heirs to the mantel of critical theory. Both aporetics and dialectics are legitimate critique. What is clear is that both dialectics and aporetics, both forms of critical theory are based in a fundamental dualism, a fundamental binary, of the two types of reason. One speaks of grounding and reconciliation, the other of unbridgeability. But both speak in terms of such a fundamental dualism. Both presume a sphere of transcendence. Now as sociologists, we need to be able to situate these philosophers. We need to understand this dualism as socially or socio-culturally constituted. We need to notice that it has to do with the rise, challenge (by the working class and intellectuals) and then decline of the national manufacturing society.

In critique, what is compelling is that it is thought, whether, philosophic, sociological/hermeneutic, whether manifested in art, cinema the novel that occupies this transcendental realm. But as long as we have a transcendental realm of thought, and this transcendental realm is identified with truth, being, the primordial and the like we are still (and this goes for Heidegger as well as Marx, for Gadamer as well as Habermas) we are still in the realm of Ideologiekritik. For his part Derrida too works in the medium of a transcendental space of ‘differance’. This ideologycritique has been incredibly effective. But it is suited much better to the constitutive dualisms of the era of the national manufacturing society. The problem is that the global information culture tends to destroy these dualisms, tends to erase the possibility of a transcendental realm. Informationcritique must be critique without transcendentals. It tends to destroy the fibre of the ground as we are lifted out from the grain of social relations into networks. It tends to erase main differences between the same and the other, as national boundaries are questioned and the boundaries between humans and non humans challenged. Win an age of general informationalization of not just culture but nature.

Ideologiekritik and Informationcritique are both first and foremost questions of thought. And what happens to thought in the information society? As transcendentals disappear, thought is swept up into the general plane of immanence with everything else. In the information age. cultural experience is transformed from the previously existing transcendental dualism’s of the reader and the book, the concerto and the audience, the painting and the spectator. Cultural is displaced into an immanent plane of actors attached or interfaced with machines. Now we experience cultural things not as transcendental representations, but instead as immanent things: as objects, as technologies. In this generalised immanence superstructures collapse as the economy is culturalised, informationalised.

The older manufacturing capitalism was very much driven by the contradiction between use-value and exchange value, in which use-value occupied the space of ‘the transcendental’ (substantive/practical reason) and exchange value the space of ‘the empirical’ (instrumental rationality). The couple use-value/exchange value is the instantiation of the transcendental/empirical pair in goods. Manufacturing capitalism was driven by the logic of commodification (exchange-value) and its critique (use-value). Sometimes it looked like commodificaton would completely subsume critique (Marcuse) and sometimes not. But the logic of informationalization is altogether different. Unlike the logic of commodification it is not dualist. It is an immanentist logic. It explodes and partly marginalises the exchange value/use value couple. In its place is an immanent plane of actor networks: of humans and non humans of cultural objects and material objects, that are generally disembedded and not at all necessarily re-embedded. The actors, the networks the non humans, the interface of humans and machines are disembedded. The information is disembedded. This is a society of the ‘and’, not a society of ‘the there’. A society of the ‘conjunction’, not of the ‘adverb’. Ideologiekritik, as Cartesian critique of the ancien regime foregrounded a problematics of the ‘I’, of the substantive, of the subject on the one hand and object on the other. This was a problematics of beings, of the noun. Ideologiekritik as critique, not of the ancien regime, but of instrumental reason, posits a problematics of ‘the there’, (world or life-world), of the adverbial. But now we have the network society, the society of the ‘and’, defined as Deleuze noted by neither noun, nor adverb but the conjunction. How can critical theory work here?

How does critical theory work in this general informational immanence in which there is no outside any more. In which nothing is the primordial or transcendent condition of possibility of anything else. This general immanence of informationalization is not the old ‘same’ of instrumental rationality and the commodity. As it erodes the transcendent is also erodes the instrumental (empirical). It is instead something else entirely. The old ‘same’ presumed the ‘other’ of critique and practical reason. All this disappears now. Without an other there is no same. Everything that used to be in the other is now part and parcel of this informationalised and networked general immanence. Even death. Even what Max Weber called theodicy. And for that matter ‘life’.

So which way for informationcritique, for critical social science in the information age? First it is only us, i.e. critical social science who will even think the information age. While the philosophers, anthropologists and aestheticians will speak in absolutes, ignoring the centrality of socio-cultural change. The understanding of social change, and the transition to the global information culture is the proper study of sociologists. Second, we need to break with the dualist notions of critique. And here, we might turn for inspiration to Nietzsche. To Nietzsche’s idea of amor fati. This means embrace your fate. This means to no longer deal with the dualism of necessity and freedom, but to the much more primordial fate. It is not to live fate like habit, but to seize it and run with it. For Nietszche all dualisms (from Plato to Christian spirit and matter to Kant’s aporia and logically on to Adorno, Hegel’s and Marx’s dialectics as well as Heidegger’s unbridgeable ‘ontological difference’ of beings and being) are constitutively ‘slave moralities’. Truth on the other hand is immanent. Truth is neither ‘out there’ nor ‘in here’. but the ‘out there’ and ‘in here’ no longer make sense in such a Nietzschean problematics of immanence. Of generalised immanence of the actor-network society of the information age.

The information age opens up a new problematics of power and inequality, alluded to above. It opens up as well infinite opportunities for a whole array of innovations and creativities. Any critical theory, which will have more in common with amor fati, than with traditional notions of critique in the information age must deal with these emergent constellations of power and inequality. But perhaps most important is that in the age of general informationalization, critique itself must become informational. There must necessarily be an informationalization of critique. This is a lot different than the older Ideologiekritik. Ideology critique had to be somehow outside of ideology. With the disappearance of a constitutive outside, informationcritique must be inside of information. Hence it must be a question of amor fati. There is no outside any more. Critique, and the texts of critical theory must be part and parcel of this general informationalization. Here the critical theory text becomes just another object, just another cultural object, consumed less reflectively than in the past, written (and often not just written, as CD-ROM, installation and Web presentation become increasingly prevalent) under conditions of time and budget constraint much more than in the past. Informationcritique itself is branded, another object of intellectual property, machinically mediated. Through your laptop, palm pilot, your movement from interface with auto and mobile phone to aeroplane to television to pager to the new ‘worn technologies’ on your set top box and refrigerator. Texts of informationcritique are part and parcel of the flows, the ‘economies of signs and space’. Perhaps with a bit more duration, a bit more time for reflection, but nonetheless part of the global information and media ‘scapes’. To be anything less would render critical theory all too irrelevant in the information age.

A final caveat however. One that leads us back to today’s most influential Critical Theorist, not Adorno or Marcuse, and surely not Habermas, and not even Foucault but of course Walter Benjamin. Benjamin’s work was always double edged. On the one hand he embraced (amor fati) the age of mechanical reproduction. He discerned the cutting edge in commodified and popular culture, the importance of information age in the newspapers. He knew that there was no going back. That there was no separate space for critique. But Benjamin’s angel of history, while being dragged forward at a tremendous speed while at the same time facing backwards. Facing the past, he was always and necessarily a melancholic. In a similar fashion it seems to me informationcritique itself must be melancholic. While realising the inescapability from the information and communication flows, it must remember to bury its dead. It must live with the ghosts of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Adorno, Heidegger and for that matter Max Weber. It must live with, mourn and not forget the ghosts of ideology critique. Though informationcritique of necessity occupies the new ‘scapes’ and flows of intellectual property, post-national rights, objectual and installation art, multimedia, the proliferation of interfaces and the like, it must not forget that it stands on the shoulders of giants.


Scott Lash


9 April 1999




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