From the recently released book Constituent Imagination: Militant  
Investigations // Collective Theorization, edited by Stevphen  
Shukaitis and David Graeber with Erika Biddle (http://

Fragments on Machinic Intellectuals

Jack Bratich

             There is a common complaint leveled at intellectuals  
today, lobbed from both Left and Right, which says intellectuals are  
holed up in the ivory tower. They are accused of being either elitist  
or reformist liberals, out-of-touch Marxists or armchair activists.  
In each case intellectuals are assumed to be isolated from everyday  
life. Over recent decades this charge has been thrown by the Left  
against that all-purpose brand: theory. Charges of obscurantism,  
jargonism, and armchair strategizing were leveled at  
"posties" (postmodernists, poststructuralists, postcolonialists), yet  
this specter of irrelevance obscures a larger trend taking place in  
the U.S. academy: the growing corporatization of the university.[i]  
According to Maribel Casas-Cortes and Sebastian Cobarrubias, in this  
volume, the ivory tower itself has a mythic function—erasing the  
university's immersion in historical processes. The increasing  
dependence of universities on corporate and federal funding has  
created a set of interlocking institutions that, if anything, makes  
intellectual work extremely relevant to and integrated with pragmatic  
interests. Put simply, we are in an era of embedded intellectuals. 
[ii] What can we make of this new condition?

             I address this question by evaluating recent tendencies  
in the academy, especially in the field of communications studies.  
Using the theoretical lens of autonomist Marxism, I examine  
intellectual labor, or the working of the general intellect, as a  
means to think through these conditions and offer some conceptual  
devices for understanding new potentials for radical subjectivity.  
Given the prominence accorded by autonomists to communication, media  
and information technologies in the new landscape of labor, I will  
highlight the academic disciplines where these processes are being  
studied and developed. Given the significance of communications both  
as growing academic field and infrastructure for the General  
Intellect (GI), as well as my own immersion in it, I concentrate on  
that circuit.

Embedded Intellectuals

             Let's begin with a recent public face of the embedded  
figure: the now almost forgotten practice of embedded journalism.  
Brainchild of Victoria Clarke, then Assistant Secretary of Defense  
for Public Affairs, embedded journalism involves integrating  
reporters into the very machinery of the military (living with  
troops, going out with them on missions, wearing military gear)  
during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. While a few journalists wrung their  
hands in disapproval, mainstream media welcomed this innovation in  
wartime reporting. This new propaganda involved the state merging  
with private sector consultants (the Rendon group, Burston- 
Marstellar, the Bell Pottinger group) and professional journalism to  
form a nexus that Guy Debord once called "networks of influence,  
persuasion and control."[iii]

             As a mix of publicity and secrecy, this form of  
journalism recalls another, older definition of embedded. It has a  
very specific meaning in subliminal psychology research. Embedded  
refers to the hidden symbols, voices, or messages buried in a text.  
The word "SEX" in the Ritz cracker or the skull in the ice cubes of a  
Smirnoff print ad were embedded, according to Wilson Bryan Key  
(author of those 1970s mass market paperbacks on subliminal seduction  
in advertising). Even today, if you take a Neuro-Linguistic  
Programming course or order a subliminal message CD you too can learn  
to drop embedded commands into your speech patterns. But this Tony  
Robbins spectacle of war journalism originally got it backwards:  
rather than have the signifier disappear into the background (à la  
the hidden penis in the Camel cigarette pack), the embedded  
journalists took center stage, making their military handlers vanish  
and exert hidden influence. Only now, as the very practice of  
embedded journalism has become normalized, do we see it disappearing  
as object of scrutiny.

             Another definition of embedded comes from electrical  
engineering and computer architecture, where embedded systems refer  
to special-purpose microprocessors that reside in other devices (like  
wristwatches, antilock brakes, microwaves and cell phones). These are  
the applications that are producing smart appliances, e.g.,  
refrigerators that will tell you when your milk is spoiled or when  
you are running low on beer.

             Combining these notions of embedded we can think of  
journalism as being embedded into an integrated circuit, where it  
becomes a component of a strategic assemblage of vision machines,  
programmed info-flows and material PSYOPS. One does not have to be in  
a desert to be embedded: it can just as easily occur in the White  
House briefing room or at one's own news desk. Modifying  
Baudrillard's assessment of Disney and Watergate, we can say that  
embedded journalism arose to make us think that the rest of  
mainstream journalism is not embedded.

             From smart appliances to smart bombs to smart news, and  
the ultimate dream here is to have embedded audiences who appear to  
speak freely, without a background of handlers. These would be smart  
audiences, capable of interacting continuously via cybernetic  
feedback loops and integrating smoothly in a war/media machine.

             But why limit such a rich concept like embeddedness to  
journalism? As an image of institutions interlocking via their  
knowledge-producers, embeddedness can easily translate to the  
academic world. We could say that journalists themselves are embedded  
intellectuals, and by extension embedded intellectuals exist in many  
fields and disciplines.

The Academy

             As mentioned before, there is an increasing tendency for  
‘network university' scholars to be embedded in a whole host of  
institutions, policies, and organizations.[iv] Among these different  
kinds of academic embeds are the following:

1) Funding. Namely, outside grants to study policy issues and  
corporate strategies.

2) Winging door relations between university faculty and outside  
institutions (e.g., corporations, government agencies, public  
relations firms). Examples include partnership agreements in which  
corporations fund research budgets in exchange for exclusive access  
to raw data (and often the right to delay publication, or to review  
and change manuscripts before publication).

3) Semi-autonomous mechanisms that establish and maintain these  
links. Examples include lablets leadership training institutes,  
entire degree granting units, and industry-university cooperative  
research centers, even whole industrial parks.

4) Media relations units (linking scholars to media outlets). A  
double function: It works as PR for the particular university and  
contributes to a wider circulation of knowledge that shapes public  

University faculty are increasingly going out and interlocking with  
other institutions. With all of these recent developments,  
intellectuals are less and less housed solely in the academy. More  
importantly, intellectual work is not necessarily even being  
primarily produced in the academy.

             Scholars who still wish to link themselves to  
progressive struggles are finding themselves in a bind. For many,  
interlocking the institutions of knowledge-power signals a corruption  
of thought, as it undermines the essential autonomy of research. And  
there is much to be concerned about here. Links between academia and  
other institutions are not open connections. These pathways are  
highly circumscribed, routed tightly to a range of legitimate (and  
legitimizing) discourses.

             More than that, these interlocks influence the standard  
for scholarly work. In other words, instrumental thought and research  
is gaining currency. The criteria for what counts as legitimate  
research is now closely tied to the utility of the results. The  
fundability of research is becoming a standard of judgment  
(explicitly acknowledged or not), and career advancement (and  
security) is dependent on the ability of the researcher to obtain  
external funding.

            Take the case of professional associations (e.g., the  
Modern Language Association, the American Sociological Association,  
the American History Association): While professional associations  
have historically functioned as gatekeepers within their respective  
fields, now they gate-keep between the field and state/corporate  
institutions. Publishing in association-affiliated journals enhances  
professional status, especially in contrast to the proliferation of  
non-association journals (where more experimental and critical work  
can take place). The invocation of standards in the field has the  
potential to further marginalize innovative and critical work. It is  
not that cutting-edge work can't appear in the association-sponsored  
journals; it often does. But more and more the assumption is that the  
only innovative work that matters appears in the official organs.   
This fetishizes the field's own filters, which is by definition a  
conservative maneuver.

             The subtle interlocks above are part of how academic  
intellectuals are embedded in other institutions. There are much more  
explicit, long-standing ties worth mentioning. Obviously, large  
grants are given to the hard sciences by state agencies for weapon  
development. During the Cold War, scholars were funded, published,  
and promoted by U.S. clandestine services in order to foster a  
dominant consensus in fields like political science, sociology, and  
history.[v] Anthropology has publicly confronted its legacy of  
studying the Other as a kind of knowledge-gathering to make  
colonialism and neocolonialism persist. Communication studies has  
recently begun to outpace these disciplines in terms of funding and  
administrative expansion. With this in mind, I want to explore the  
current state of the field, as it crystallizes the new evolution in  
embedded intellectuals.

Communication Scholars as Embedded Intellectuals

             In the Fall of 2005 the National Communication  
Association (NCA) announced that the keynote speaker for their annual  
convention would be Judee Burgoon, and her talk titled "Truth,  
Deception, and Virtual Worlds." Burgoon, it was noted, "has received  
funding in excess of $6 million from several federal agencies,  
including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland  
Security, and intelligence agencies to study human deception,  
nonverbal communication and detection technologies."[vi] In a time of  
Terror/War, NCA had selected someone who was actively engaged in  
research explicitly funded by, and supporting, the state's war  
machine.[vii] The major disciplinary association was making public  
its declaration that the new research agenda is a solidly statist one. 

The history of communication studies is bound up with state and  
corporate interests. It is no accident that communication studies  
originated in public universities.[ix] Ronald Greene and Darren Hicks  
have convincingly argued that the field of rhetoric and public  
speaking was a part of the domestic "civilizing" mission.[x]  
Fashioning well-spoken and articulate citizens, especially in the  
early 20th-century rural Midwest and South, was a governing strategy  
whereby subjects would be trained to become functioning members of  
the emergent mass society.

             In the case of mass communications the relation to the  
state is more explicit. Christopher Simpson's Science of Coercion  
details this history, noting that the field of mass communications  
essentially arose in the aftermath of World War I.[xi] Wartime use  
and study of propaganda needed further development. The upsurge of  
Mass Communications university departments in the interwar period  
became the home for this research, with plenty of federal funding.  
Armand Mattelart adds to this critical historical analysis by placing  
communications in the context of cold war social science.[xii] The  
mission of mass communications was to manage the multitudes,  
developing informational weapons to use against official enemies as  
well as discipline the U.S. populace. Communications was developed  
through counterinsurgency analysis, whereby war planners understood  
the importance of studying guerrilla innovations in information  
warfare. As late as 1973, the explicit naming of PSYOPS in relation  
to communication was in effect, evidenced by the collection "Art and  
Science of Psychological Operations." This U.S. Army pamphlet  
contains analysis by Pentagon PSYOPS specialists, advertising  
professors, filmmakers, etc.[xiii]

             This history can be summed up in the social science  
distinction between administrative research and critical research.  
The difference refers to a split between Paul Lazarsfeld and Theodor  
Adorno in the 1930s. As Lazarsfeld defined it, administrative  
research is "carried through in the service of some kind of  
administrative agency of public or private character."[xiv] Whether  
or not explicitly commissioned by a specific agency the research is  
instrumentalized within the established parameters of already  
existing institutions. Critical research sought to question the very  
foundation and power relations that infused those institutions,  
connecting them to larger political and economic contexts. This  
tradition is associated with the Frankfurt School.

             Administrative research seeks to make Western  
institutions run more smoothly while critical research challenges the  
very legitimacy of those institutions. Even today, communication  
studies finds itself embedded in this legacy.

             This history is important to remember as the field of  
communication studies is propelled into a conspicuous future. While  
some disciplines are waning, even disappearing, others are increasing  
their dominion. The placement of communications PhDs into tenure- 
track jobs is high compared to other fields within the social  
sciences and the humanities.

             This growth is a double-edged sword. On the one hand,  
for those in the academy there are new opportunities for a secure  
future. I encourage grad students that I know in traditional  
disciplines (e.g., sociology, history, even English) to add media or  
new information technologies to their projects as a way of expanding  
their chances of getting an academic position. On the other hand, the  
quality of the future of the discipline is not heartening. The hard  
science model is gaining dominance in determining the field's  
standards. One need only look at the simultaneous growth of  
telecommunications with the diminution of humanities-oriented  

             If you ask subscribers to this model why, they'll say  
it's because it produces the most methodologically rigorous research.  
But they forget their own legacy in the administrative vs. critical  
debate. Their scholarship is valued because it produces easily  
digestible and usable results as administrative research. In other  
words, the growth of communication studies research is tied to  
fundable research. Grad students, for example, are not always funded  
internally by a university; many are expected to get funding by  
latching onto a faculty member's external grant money. "Growth,"  
then, moves through particularly constrained avenues.

             Embedded intellectuals seem to be holding sway in the  
field of communications. What does this mean for critical and  
politically inflected communications studies? Should we think of  
academics as embedded in universities? Is being employed somewhere  
the same as being embedded? It is certainly the case that the  
professionalization of research has occurred, and in the U.S. that  
means being housed in the academy, or, when non-academic, being  
embedded in think-tanks or public policy institutions.

             So what is a potential counterpractice to the embedded  
intellectual? The independent thinker? This is too individualistic,  
and would of course confirm the criticisms against the ivory tower  
intellectual. But the embedded intellectual does not need to be  
greeted with dystopic surrender. These new conditions create both new  
intolerables and new potentials: antidotes "can be tracked down only  
in what for the moment appears to be poison."[xv]

             I want to argue here that the embedded intellectual is a  
figure not to be denounced, but reappropriated. At first this may  
seem regressive. But while what most intellectuals are embedded in  
needs challenging, the very fact of being integrated into social  
circuits and knowledge-producing networks is a figure that can  
undergo elaboration and ultimately transmutation.

General Intellect and Commmunication

             The General Intellect (GI) is extracted from a single  
reference in Marx's "Fragment on Machines" within the Grundrisse. 
[xvi] Essentially, it refers to the "general productive forces of the  
social brain."[xvii] For Marx, the GI was primarily concretized in  
machines and technology. It was a scientific, objective capacity. The  
technological fix here resulted in automation, as well as a  
socialized network of linkages (transportation and communication).  
The tradition of autonomist Marxism stressed the subjective side of  
the GI; namely that it involved above all the capacity of living labor.

             GI ultimately addressed not just the classic point of  
production: it involves educational and cultural components.[xviii]  
Analyses moved from strictly economic spheres to the production and  
reproduction of the social and the increasing merger of the two.  
Labor was increasingly becoming intellectualized in terms of: 1) the  
contents produced (information, symbols, affect); 2) the  
technologization of industrial forms and most importantly 3) the  
collaborative informational networks implemented to produce new and  
old commodities. This last component is most relevant here, as it  
begins to retool the traditional notion of the intellectual.

             Intellectual work is therefore not a specialized  
erudition: it refers to the most generic aptitudes of the mind. As  
Paolo Virno puts it, the General Intellect is less about the products  
of thought than the faculty of thought. It is this faculty that  
begins to connect diverse sectors through diffuse language.[xix]  
Thought ceases to be an invisible, private activity and becomes  
something exterior, "public," as it breaks into the productive  

              The General Intellect has communication as one of its  
key characteristics.[xxi] Immaterial labor, for instance, refers to  
work composed of the manipulation of symbols and knowledge- 
production, and information transmissions. New information  
technologies have been indispensable to new configurations of  
capital. But to this more objective, mechanical side of  
communications in the GI we need to emphasize the subjective  
(affective) component.

             Within the employ of a corporation, communication has a  
crucial place. Workers are given a certain amount of creative  
autonomy and self-direction in their operations, as long as they are  
directing their freedom toward the corporation's goals:  
"Participation schemes, wherein workers decide how to accomplish the  
businesses mission, but, crucially, not what the mission is."[xxii]  
Communication within the workplace (and across workplaces) thus  
becomes key to the socialized labor of GI. With a heavy concentration  
of capital into marketing, communication also becomes increasingly  
crucial for the management of social relationships with the consumer  
as well as within commodity production. Interaction, cooperation,  
communication: these are the material subjective processes composing  
networks of production and reproduction today. Communication and  
information transmission are constitutive of the General Intellect.


             Given this description of the General Intellect, what is  
the place/role for the academy? As mentioned above, the intellect  
does not belong to the realm of the private or the individual. With  
the traditional intellectual, the ivory tower operated as this  
attempt at seclusion and segregation. Now, in order to remain viable  
as an institution, the academy cannot serve as the repository of  
private intellects.

             Perhaps no institution is more indicative of the changes  
in intellectual labor than the university. According to Negri and  
Lazzarato, "no site could be more vital to capital's harnessing of  
collective intelligence than academia."[xxiii] As industry becomes  
more intellectualized, intellectual sites become more industrialized. 
[xxiv] A brief look, then, of how academia operates in the General  
Intellect is in order:

1) Knowledge. The most apparent thing that the academy produces is  
knowledge. Increasingly knowledge is produced in collaboration with  
state and corporate institutions. The research is then simultaneously  
used by those institutions in a varying range of proprietary claims,  
as well as published in academic journals to maintain its scholarly  
legitimacy (if not hegemony). In addition, the preferred forms of  
knowledge (quantitative, instrumental research) are geared towards  
use by these state and corporate interests. The recent controversies  
concerning the conversion of academic research into intellectual  
property is a key flashpoint here. For Dyer-Witheford, the virtual  
university is a key development in intellectual labor.[xxv]As a labor- 
cutting measure, universities have increasingly looked into and  
developed online courses, even e-degrees. Students don't have to live  
on campus, or even leave their homes to get a degree.[xxvi] Pretty  
soon we may be seeing ghost campuses, monuments to an era of  
spatially socialized education. Among its many results, the virtual  
university produces a commodification of teaching itself: even non- 
research-based intellectual activity becomes intellectual property of  
the university, or of the course-management software companies.

2) Students. Perhaps the main product of universities is a student  
population trained for the future labor pool. The academy has become  
a provider of the skills needed for a new generation of General  
Intellect. The ability to negotiate the fusion of work and leisure  
has been a part of the university for some time now. More attention  
has recently been paid to time management and study skills (or as my  
university called their recent massive overhaul of undergraduate  
curriculum, "Life and Learning"). These enterprises recognize the  
need to ensure students are able to juggle various obligations and  
desires. In addition, educational tools like collaborative projects,  
using new technologies (online communication, symbolic manipulation),  
social interaction (with each other in discussions, or with a  
supervisor), critical-thinking skills, life-long learning, creative  
problem solving, and independent work are all means of training  
future immaterial laborers. Even study abroad programs (now seemingly  
taken over by business schools) are ways of preparing the future  
global labor force in international social relations.

3) Academics. Finally, there is the question of how academic  
intellectuals are produced. In addition to communication scholars  
collaborating with state and private industry, even critical and  
cultural studies scholars have been encouraged to go out. This  
typically entails entering the media sphere, either as a public  
intellectual à la the 1960s New York ‘men of letters,' or updated to  
TV news and popular culture appearances as ‘experts.' Beyond this  
intellectual work outside of the university, academic characteristics  
of the General Intellect include: being mobile and flexible (moving  
around to different positions, being able to teach a wide range of  
necessary courses) and time-managing work vs. leisure. Pedagogical re- 
skilling, self-governance, technological upgrading and collaborative  
work all comprise academic labor that puts them in common with other  
academic intellectual laborers.

             Perhaps the most pernicious effect of the  
corporatization of academic subjects is the way its workers, along  
with many sectors of the labor force, have been precaritized.  
Precarity refers to the conditions of labor in post-Fordism; namely,  
as part-time or flex-time work, as being without job security or  
benefits, or as being easily replaced. Essentially, precarious labor  
is at the whim of capital. Within the academy, precariousness  
accurately describes most of the teaching force at universities. The  
increasing reliance on graduate student TAs (already a transient  
population) has put the burden on students to carry the bulk of  
teaching chores, while their attempts to unionize are blocked by  
employers. In addition, the swelling pool of adjunct teachers (hired  
on a course-by-course basis for low wages and given no benefits),  
often staffed by recently minted PhDs, has added to the multi-tier  
system of academic labor. Even the more secure faculty, the ones on  
tenure track, are often so filled with fear at the prospect of not  
getting tenure that they live in a continual state of anxiety and  

             With all of these developments, it should be clear that  
what was once the ivory tower now becomes fully integrated into  
networks of production and reproduction. Given that the General  
Intellect is so dependent on communication (or as Jodi Dean calls it,  
"communicative capitalism"[xxvii]) it seems appropriate to return to  
communication studies here. The many strains of communication studies  
are relevant here, especially linguistic, technological,  
organizational and media. Currently the field is delirious with its  
own relevance and service to the state/corporate sector. Research on  
techno-competencies, life-long learning, mobile communications,  
public relations, and other topics prevail. Even the study of  
rhetoric plays a role in this field. Ronald W. Greene has powerfully  
argued that rhetorical studies, rather than continue to act as moral  
and political exemplar, would benefit from recognizing rhetorical  
agency as a component of living labor crucial to capitalism.[xxviii]  
Essentially, communication studies as a research area is making a  
denser and more self-reflexive web of connections.

             Hegemonic communication studies also co-opts critical  
work for its own purposes. For example, there is much ado now in  
communication studies about dialogue and interaction. These concepts  
get defined as being related to freedom, being audience-centered,  
even being critical. But this two-way is contained within production  
imperatives. As Lazzarato argues, communication is performed within  
narrow limits: it is the "relay of codification and decodification,  
within the context that has been completely normalized by the  
firm."[xxix] Instead of freedom, there is a totalitarian exhortation  
to express oneself, to communicate. A subject becomes a simple  
relayer of codification and decodification, whose transmitted  
messages must be ‘clear and free of ambiguity,' within a  
communications context that has been completely normalized by  
management.[xxx] Dialogue is cybernetic feedback, as the means to  
increase productivity and reduce friction. Value within production is  
increased through more information and communication. Communication  
studies is poised to be this value-adding discipline.

             The gleeful sentiments that fuel this kind of  
administrative research are as deluded as the corporations they shill  
for. The giddiness with which interaction and dialogic communication  
are applied assumes a set of communicators who are all too eager to  
be included in the process, to feel like they are made to matter.  
This hoodwinked approach depends on a deep, mystified worker loyalty  
and docility. The cynicism of workers regarding their firm's PR  
babble is lost on these cheerleaders for global capitalism. The  
snickering mockery of, and outright hostility towards, corporate  
reaching out is a much more honest sentiment. Currently relegated to  
popular culture (The Office, for example), these sentiments are where  
critical communication studies can begin defining itself in an age of  
the General Intellect.

Communicating Otherwise: The Machinic Intellectuals

             The refusal of workers to comply with communication  
imperatives (even work itself) is a disembedding that produces new  
potentials for the General Intellect. According to Virno, the General  
Intellect becomes politicized when it detaches from its capitalist  
actualization and moves elsewhere: a radical break turning into a  
union with a political community.[xxxi] For Virno, this New Alliance  
of Intellect/Political Action means civil disobedience and exit. The  
GI defects in an autonomous withdrawal based on wealth: the exuberant  
and self-valorizing productive capacities of living labor.[xxxii]  
What is needed is a circuit that moves as a "dramatic, autonomous,  
and affirmative expression of this surplus."[xxxiii] What are the  
potentials for intellectuals in interlocking with struggles and  
antagonisms, in producing new common bodies that refuse subordination  
to capital and seek out autonomous destinies?

             What could this mean for academics and communication  
scholars? Given the conditions of the General Intellect, the logical  
choice would be the General Intellectual. However, this term might  
end up being too confusing and vague. In common parlance, ‘general'  
has associations with abstraction, transcendence, the ahistorical,  
isolation and comprehensiveness. It also carries the connotations of  
a representative (think here of the General Will). For these reasons  
we need a different figure for the General Intellect.

             Academia, as a site that embodies both the GI and its  
potential subversion, offers a possibility: not a representative but  
one intellectual circuit among many circuits. Circuit should be  
explained more here: a circuit provides a path for electrical current  
to flow. In telecommunications a circuit is a specific path between  
two or more points along which signals can be carried. Many believe  
the digital revolution was birthed from the invention of the  
integrated circuit, which essentially connects semiconductor devices.  
The valuable characteristics of the IC are its dense connections in a  
small space (chip), its reliability, fast switching speeds, low power  
consumption, mass production capability, and ease of adding  
complexity. A circuit can be dedicated or application-specific, but  
can also be part of an emergent structure (a circuit of circuits, or  
network). For those who find this emphasis on circuitry too  
technophilic let's remember that the properties of these circuits and  
networks have been found in bios as well, from brains to ant colonies.

             This emphasis on circuitry should remind us of the  
opening discussion about embedded intellectuals. The academic's role  
in providing the factory of immaterial laborers and in developing new  
knowledges, skills, and competencies define its specificity in this  
general circuitry. Academics now can be reconfigured as embedded, but  
no longer within already existing institutions. A circuit, routing a  
flow-conduction, can just as easily be in an emergent network that  
withdraws from these institutions. To embed with an exodus and with  
antagonisms: how is this embedded intellectual possible?

             Given the circumstances detailed above, I propose  
thinking of the embedded intellectual as a machinic intellectual  
(MI). This would dispel the romantic and overly humanistic notion of  
Gramsci's organic intellectual. It would also acknowledge the role of  
technology in the General Intellect. Unlike the passive connotations  
of embedded, machinic has an active and productive sense. The  
Machinic Intellectual also does not represent: it is not an external  
synthesizing mechanism determining the true interests of a people.  
Rather it is more of an immanent translator, an exchanger as Foucault  
puts it, and attractor.[xxxiv] Keeping with the circuitry concept, we  
could also add: conductor, amplifier, resistor, insulator,  
capacitator, incapacitator, integrator, modulator, even circuit  
breaker. Finally, drawing from Guattari and Deleuze, machinic has an  
affective component that addresses the role of desire and  
transversals. Collectives are produced "not through representation  
but through affective contamination."[xxxv]

             According to Negri and Lazzarato there are new  
conditions for relations between dissenting academics and  
oppositional social movements.[xxxvi] Academics get paid to think,  
analyze, teach, research and write. The various disciplines each have  
their particular abilities and skills to offer: historians can give  
needed background on events, political philosophers can locate the  
nuanced arguments for various political projects, sociologists come  
equipped with detailed knowledge of social processes. Given the  
conditions of mobility and interconnectivity academics are also in  
good position to form what Nicholas Dyer-Witheford calls "networks of  
counterresearch and pools of shared experience."[xxxvii] One possible  
means is to think of academics as conceptual technicians. At least  
for the theoretically inclined machinic intellectuals, tinkering with  
concepts can open up new relations and imaginings.

             Having the time and resource access to fine-tune and  
develop concepts puts MIs in a position of communicating  
transversals. As David Graeber puts it, academics provide conceptual  
tools, "not as prescriptions, but as contributions, possibilities—as  
gifts."[xxxviii] For Guattari this means "intellectuals and artists  
have nothing to teach anyone… they produce toolkits composed of  
concepts, percepts and affects, which diverse publics will use at  
their convenience."[xxxix]

             Once again, given media and communication's special role  
in the GI, the work of academics in this field should also be  
highlighted. The annual Union for Democratic Communications  
conference attempts to aggregate Leftist communication studies folks.  
More recently the Media Reform conferences sponsored by Free Press  
have brought together academics, activists, and media producers to  
collaboratively work on the major obstacles facing media justice.  
Supporting the radical components within professional conferences is  
an obvious strategy. Beyond the academy, there are also conferences  
like Allied Media, and various one-off grassroots and Indymedia- 
oriented gatherings that communications scholars can attend.

             Faculty can conduct research on various streams of  
alternative communication culture and Indymedia, ranging from the  
topics chosen to the theoretical frameworks employed in  
communications studies (see Ronald Greene, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Mark  
Cote, Alison Hearn, Ron Day, Enda Brophy, Stephen Kline and Greig de  
Peuter).[xl] Even critical communication studies is often fixated on  
the operations of dominant communications from corporate media  
consolidation to mainstream journalism's ideological machinations.  
While it is important to have evidence of how hegemony works, it is  
easy to fall victim to the seductive lore about how powerful these  
molar institutions are. Why not disembed from this symbolic  
dependency and re-embed with molecular communications and micro- 
media? A circuit of exit would involve breaking from the central  
concepts and assumptions about what counts as critical work.

Within the classroom, teachers can obviously make the GI and its  
potential a part of the curriculum. This might include giving  
assignments that deal with these issues, even using these research  
results in the service of local or wider communications struggles.  
The porosity of the classroom (and the university overall) can be  
used to bring in guest speakers and lecturers.

Finally media scholars can go out in a number of ways. While  
conservative elements of communication studies encourage faculty to  
perform outreach outside the university, this is often defined as  
service to the state.

             Communication scholars can be the media by writing for  
independent papers or producing alternative cultural products. More  
importantly, communication MIs can lend whatever skills and resources  
they have to media activism groups. As Jonathan Sterne argues,  
leftist scholars should perform academic pro bono work like other  
professions.[xli] This would mean listening to the needs of  
activists, and offering services to concrete struggles. With these  
initial steps which are already occurring, we can see forming a  
"network of researchers engaged in the participatory study of  
emergent forms of struggle."[xlii]

             Attending a variety of conferences and speaking to  
graduate students, one finds that the next generation of media  
scholars is tuning in to new political and social potentials (and not  
always relying on theory). Post-Seattle, a new crop of communications  
PhD students have emerged, with research projects involving  
independent and micro-media, virtual and cellular resistance,  
contestational robotics, network-centric activism, technologized  
collectives, and other experiments in the contemporary activist  
laboratory. These are not naïve technophiles seeking a cover shot on  
Wired magazine, they are apprentices in resistance-metallurgy:  
testing amalgams, doing trial runs on compounds, probing new  
syntheses, and assaying the results and potentials. To ignore (or  
worse yet, to misrecognize) these emergent networks of scholars- 
activists in favor of command centers, agenda-setting leaders, and  
recognizable institutions is akin to boarding up the exit door.

             And these new scholarly projects are not the only  
theoretical experimenters. This rich tapestry of activist research  
includes the drift-work of the 3 Cups-Counter Cartographies  
Collective at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (see Cosas- 
Cortes and Cobarrubias in this volume), and the research militancy  
projects of Colectivo Situaciones, Precarias a la Deriva, and Bureau  
d'Etudes/Universite Tangente. Maybe these innovators are in contact  
with some good theory translators, but maybe they just aren't relying  
so much on intermediaries. The future of critical media studies seems  
to be populated with machinic intellectuals who are already  
collaborating with nonacademic machinic intellectuals. Together, they  
are producing new circuits of exit.


             The point here is that MI does not belong to the  
academy, but academics are a type of MI. The academic MI is an  
interface, embedded as a specific intellectual in its professional  
and disciplinarian skirmishes which themselves are now embedded in a  
larger circuit. These larger circuits are mostly state and corporate  
systems, but could also be lines of flight and circuits of exit. The  
academics, recognizing their positions as embedded intellectuals must  
ask which will to enhance and which to diminish: as machinic  
intellectuals, which circuits will they assist in immanentizing? When  
these circuits of escape and exuberant production coalesce new  
historical subjects are not far behind. This subject's destiny is  
generated elsewhere but the future of academy is bound to it.

             The machinic intellectual as described here is  
admittedly optimistic, even too smooth. There are obviously bumps and  
short-circuits at work that hamper radical possibilities. Some  
involve external blockages, including reactionary counter-dissent on  
campuses that have taken the form of a crackdown on Left professors.  
Internally the precariousness of academic labor detailed earlier can  
prevent transversals as can the standardization of knowledge around  
instrumental research. Finally, there are still ivory tower-like  
effects where the machinic intellectual becomes more absorbed by the  
rewards and punishments of the academy proper, ultimately withdrawing  
into its sectoral demands. In other words, machinic intellectuals  
don't always work smoothly, but this is no reason to eliminate their  
potential, or worse yet, to retreat to the comfortable numbness of  
the tried and true paths. As an open source conceptual figure, the  
machinic intellectual needs collaborative retooling. As an  
experiment, the concept may even fail, but this would simply mean  
devising new ones!

             In a world of symbolic and affective labor, machinic  
intellectuals become less a model than an experimental prototype.  
Regardless of their origins, machinic intellectuals produce relations  
and at the same time are seized by them. A kind of strange attractor,  
you might say—not visible as center or causal force, but nonetheless  
effective in gathering and distributing other forces. If this is  
still too self-important we can abandon our own strangeness as  
attractors and become one of the forces drawn to a strange attractor  
we cannot even name yet.

[i] See Henry Giroux, Impure Acts: The Practical Politics of Cultural  
Studies (New York: Routledge, 2000); Jennifer Washburn, University,  
Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education (New York: Basic  
Books, 2005); Henry Giroux and Kostas Myrsiades, eds., Beyond the  
Corporate University: Culture and Pedagogy in the New Millennium  
(Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001); Stanley Aronowitz, The  
Knowledge Factory (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000)), Michael Gibbons,  
Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott,  
Martin Trow., The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of  
Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (London: Sage, 1994);  
Robert Ovetz, "Turning Resistance into Rebellion: Student Movements  
and the Entrepreneurialization of the Universities," Capital and  
Class 58 (1996): 113-152. Alan Liu, The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work  
and the Culture of Information, (Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 2004).
[ii] The term is taken from "Empire's embedded intellectuals," a  
speech given by Prof. Hatem Bazian of UC Berkeley in early 2005. He  
refers mainly to explicit academic supporters of U.S. imperialism  
(like Samuel Huntington, Bernard Lewis, and Alan Dershowitz. As I  
retool it, it involves the very condition of being in the academic  
institution nowadays, regardless of one's direct ideological support.  
For a report on Bazian's speech, see 

[iii] Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, (London:  
Verso, 1998).

[iv] John Pruett and Nick Schwellenbach, "The Rise of the Network  
Universities: Higher Education in the Knowledge Economy." Available  
at Paper presented at the Education,  
Participation, and Globalization Prague 2004 Conference. The most  
succinct summary of the effects of this can be found in Jennifer  
Washburn's article "University Inc.: 10 Things you Should Know about  
Corporate Corruption on Campus." Available at  http://

[v] See Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and  
the World of Arts and Letters (New York: New Press, 1999);  
Christopher Simpson, Science of coercion: Communication research and  
psychological warfare 1945-1960 (New York: Oxford University Press,  
1994); Christopher Simpson, ed., Universities and Empire: Money and  
Politics in the Social Sciences During the Cold War (New York: The  
New Press, 1998; Robin W. Winks, Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the  
Secret War, 1939-1961 (New York: William Morrow, 1987).

[vi] NCA is the major professional organization for U.S. academic  
communication researchers, with convention attendance of  
approximately 5,000. Its choice of speaker (for many conferences)  
indicates an exemplar in the field. From the NCA website: http://

[vii] In addition, in my own School of Communication, Library, and  
Information Studies, Homeland Security Initiative money was regularly  
available, and faculty members were encouraged to apply for it. A  
former colleague of mine received millions of dollars to develop  
digital deception detection technology. Also, the original poster on  
the cultstud listserv revealed that his department received large  
grants to monitor the effects of military recruitment games on  
players. A whole study is hopefully in the works right now that  
traces these funding sources and their impact on the communications  

[viii] The nonchalance of announcing this part of her research agenda  
caused a brief but intense controversy on the premiere listserv for  
international cultural studies. Message posted by Dr. Jeremy S.  
Packer, from the Dept. of Communications at Penn State University.  
([cultstud-l] NCA and "Homeland security?" June 7, 2005). Within the  
NCA, Critical/Cultural Studies is among the most popular divisions,  
with the fastest growing membership of any division in the association.

[ix] While plenty of private schools have communications programs  
now, it was originally the provenance of major public universities.  
Even today the top programs are in the Big 10, while the Ivy Leagues  
are grumblingly beginning to even acknowledge communications as a  
scholarly pursuit.

[x] R.W. Greene and D. Hicks (2005). "Lost Convictions: Debating Both  
Sides and the Ethical Self-Fashioning of Liberal Citizens," Cultural  
Studies 19.1(January)): 100-126.

[xi] Simpson, Science of coercion.

[xii] Armand Mattelart, Mapping World Communication: War Progress  
Culture, Trans. Susan Emanuel and James Cohen. (Minneapolis:  
University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

[xiii] This U.S. Army pamphlet (a two-volume, 1100-page hardbound  
set) contains analysis by Pentagon PSYOPS specialists, advertisers,  
political scientists and sociologists, theater professors and  
filmmakers. Art and Science of Psychological Operations. United  
States Army Pamphlet, 1973.

[xiv] Paul Lazarsfeld, "Remarks on Administrative and Critical  
Communications Research." Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9,  
(1941): 2-16.

[xv] Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, (Los Angeles, CA:  
Semiotext(e), 2004), 84.

[xvi] Critics have argued that the attempt to found entirely new  
historical analyses and materialist theories out of such a marginal  
moment is making mountains out of molehills. However, this  
"overproduction" is itself an autonomist performance, I would argue.  
The ability to elaborate and create new horizons with limited  
resources is an interpretive vis viva, demonstrating the abundant  
wealth that results from collaborative capacities.

[xvii] Cited in Nicholas Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and  
struggles in high technology capitalism, (Urbana: University of  
Illinois Press, 1999): 220.

[xviii] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 222.

[xix] Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, 108.

[xx] Ibid, 64.

[xxi] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 227.

[xxii] Chris Carlsson, "The Shape of Truth to Come." In James Brook &  
Iain Boal, eds., Resisting the Virtual Life, (San Francisco: City  
Lights, 1995), 242; cited in Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 228.

[xxiii] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 233.

[xxiv] This is not to say GI is universal, even within the  
university. Contrary to the typical notion that academic work is a  
disembodied endeavor, the bodies of academics matter (as one of my  
professors astutely observed, every academic gets a signature  
ailment). Universities also do not run without the symbolic and  
manual labor of its staff (from administrative assistants to  
maintenance operations).

[xxv] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 233-5.

[xxvi] Interestingly, the annual Renewing the Anarchist Tradition  
conference takes place at such a ghost campus in Vermont. Having  
shifted much of their curriculum online, the campus was deserted  
except for a skeletal service staff. If these ghost campuses become  
home to swarms of radical conferences, then maybe this effect of GI  
isn't so bad!

[xxvii] Jodi Dean, "The networked empire: Communicative capitalism  
and the hope for politics," In Paul Passavant and Jodi Dean, eds.,  
Empire's new Clothes: Reading Hardt and Negri (New York: Routledge,  
2004): 265-88.

[xxviii] Ronald Walter Greene, "Rhetoric and Capitalism: Rhetorical  
Agency as Communicative Labor," Philosophy and Rhetoric 37, no. 3,  
(2004): 188-206.

[xxix] Maurizio Lazzarato, "General Intellect: Towards an Inquiry  
into Immaterial Labour," Immaterial Labour: Mass Intellectuality, New  
Constitution, Post Fordism, and All That. (London: Red Notes, 1994):  
1-14; cited in Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 224.

[xxx] Maurizio Lazzarato, "Immaterial Labor," In Paolo Virno &  
Michael Hardt, eds., Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics.  
(Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota Press): 135.

[xxxi] Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, 68.

[xxxii] Ibid, 70.

[xxxiii] Ibid, 71.

[xxxiv] Michel Foucault, "Truth and Power," 127. in Power/Knowledge.  
C. Gordon Ed., (New York: Pantheon, 1980): 109-133.

[xxxv] Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana  
University Press, 1995): 92.

[xxxvi] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 234.

[xxxvii] Ibid, 227.

[xxxviii] David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology  
(Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004.).

[xxxix] Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis, 129.

[xl] And this is just limited to the North American context. For a  
more global autonomist perspective on communications and media, see  
the work of Bifo, Tiziana Terranova. Network Culture: Politics and  
the Information Age (London: Pluto Books, 2004), Brian Holmes, and  
many of the researchers associated with Nettime (including the recent  
special issue of Fibreculture called "Multitudes, Creative  
Organisation and the Precarious Condition of New Media Labour" at

[xli] Sterne, Jonathan. "Academic Pro Bono" Cultural Studies <=>  
Critical Methodologies, Vol. 4, No. 2, 219-222 (2004).

[xlii] Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 233.

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