A Digital Age Without Proletarians


Mariano Zukerfeld, Knowledge in the Age of Digital Capitalism, University of Westminster Press

Has the digital economy definitively made the main tools of Marxist analysis obsolete? This is Mariano Zukerfeld’s argument, in a lively essay that suggests rethinking the critique of capitalism around the question of knowledge rather than labour. However, his demonstration lacks a convincing theory of value.
Knowledge in the Age of Digital Capitalism presents as an ambitious and iconoclastic study in critical social theory drawing on a range of sources from philosophy and sociology to economics and Science and Technology Studies. In this book, Mariano Zukerfeld, a researcher at the CONICET, [1] addresses the social and economic issues raised by the development of digital capitalism through an analysis of information and knowledge. So far, this is nothing new. However, the novelty resides in his emphasis on the material embodiment of all forms of knowledge. Distancing himself from ‘immaterial’ approaches to information and knowledge, the author instead devises his own theory which he labels ‘cognitive materialism’. In doing so, he offers a new way of thinking about exploitation in the digital economy, emphasising the role of knowledge and breaking both with Marxist orthodoxy and with certain contemporary approaches, such as the notion of ‘digital labour’. [2]
Physical matter and knowledge matter
According to M. Zukerfeld, in capitalism most goods are subject to a double regulation. They are apprehended both as physical property and as intellectual property. These two dimensions act together and simultaneously. A table is framed in law as a physical object (it is my table, your table, the school’s table, etc.) and as an intellectual object (its design can be under patent or not). Similarly, a novel is considered a physical object (it is my book, your book, etc.) and an intellectual one (it can be protected by copyright or out of copyright).
According to M. Zukerfeld, this double regulation is grounded on the difference between two forms of matter, understood here as the group of entities that are changeable. The author makes a distinction between physical matter and knowledge matter:

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