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Every Participant’s Dream of Violence

By Pedro Neves Marques, 25 September 2013
Image: Fred Perry Storefront in Paris France Spring 2013

2012 was a great year for the hoodie


In May Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg visits Wall Street; a rare occasion. His flight from the West Coast to New York City is justified by the imminent launch of Facebook’s IPO in the financial markets, opening up the social network company to thirsty shareholders in one of the most anticipated, and then flopped, of events at the New York Stock Exchange. To the surprise of shareholders and the general etiquette at the NYSE, the entrepreneur millionaire wears none other than his iconic hoodie — in the colour of mourning. For a week or so, in the Financial Times and other economic press there is fuss aplenty surrounding the situation, and an uncommon interest in matters of clothing. While some commentators acknowledged the right of the millionaire to dress in whatever way pleased him, others decried Zuckerberg’s immaturity, calling the gesture an unnecessary act of ‘violence’. In any case, Wall Street felt violated.1 The discussion highlighted the gap between West Coast and East Coast entrepreneurship and business. One thing is Silicon Valley, another Wall Street. The sportiness of the Pacific does not play in New York, much less at the NYSE, yet differences between formal and informal labour tend to fade once in the financial market. Or rather, once faced with a generalised financialisation of life.


In culture there are particular objects, words, pieces of clothing even, which end up gaining a figurative role: of labor, of class, of economics. Take the blue collar/ white collar divide. Notwithstanding the issue of sweatshops, the white collar has mostly tended to overshadow its blueish counterpart. However, both collars seem somewhat outdated in regards to labour regimes in the early 21st century. If not outdated, certainly insufficiently descriptive of the biopolitical management of life capitalism has twisted itself into in the last decades: a generalised corporatisation of life and the psychological rooting of precarity masked as the necessary virtue of entrepreneurship. If on-demand, on-time and online strategies are redistributing market sites and the temporality of labour, the rising 3D printing revolution, for example, will personalise production further and anchor outsourcing to one’s home. This will bring further tension to the ambiguity of technology and the care of the self, leading either to the intensification of the rate of production via the subsumption of private life or the possibility of new political escape routes. 2


How then does the hoodie, as a cultural signifier, relate to contemporary labour forms? I would propose it as the figuration of the contemporary labour itself. Banal and drearily commonplace, the hoodie is used by everyone without discrimination — in 2012 even Queen Elizabeth of England was photographed using it— and, accordingly, its price range can go from that of a cheap chinese manufactured item to that of fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton or Gucci.3 In the universality of its use, the hoodie manages to coexist informality and violence: the efficacy of a quotidian without qualities (the middle class) and those on the margin and apparently exterior to the economy. Sociologically though, it is mostly attached to the underclass. To the underclass it brings a racial connotation to blackness (even when talking about Chavs in the UK); to the middle class an association with sportiness and leisure quality time.


In February of 2012 young Trayvon Martin was killed in the state of Florida, USA. The killer’s justification: a confusion between colour and clothing. Trayvon was wearing a hoodie the night he was shot. The case reignited the issue of race (and of class) associated with the hoodie, and although not the first killing of such kind, millions took to the streets in protest and solidarity in what was called ‘the million hoodie march’. Almost one year and half later, the trial ended in the shocking acquittal of the killer [George Zimmerman], who was, paradoxically, found not innocent but also not guilty, triggering a new wave of protests.4 In the UK solidarity is more feeble, and David Cameron no longer even refers to the piece of clothing; the opinion of the PM is well known: ‘Youth, avoid the hoodie.’ But while of the London riots in the summer of 2011, who actually saw the face of the marginalised while they, from the fires in Hackney to the looting in South London, took hold of the city? During the London riots the hoodie was everywhere on the streets, yet who’s to say that it hid only the youth mob of the lower class, the blacks of Peckham or Brixton? The riots pushed all ages to the streets either in the act of looting or of spectatorship, and why not the middle class also — a class said without morals besides the desire for commodities and well being, and, until the recent uprisings, blamed for a generalised depoliticisation of Western democracies. There is a striking relation between the hooded leisure time of the middle class and the love of the suburban unemployed for the hooded piece of clothing. The hoodie is not only a piece of clothing for those without work, but also for the time outside of work. It is the garment for the time dedicated to oneself, for one’s own self-production, be it in the physical exercising of one’s body or in the practice of a menacing attitude assumed while roaming social housing blocks.


Image: Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

In the April 9, 2012 edition of The New Yorker, illustrator R. Kikuo Johnson contributed a series of drawings to the magazine. These depicted people of all social classes and age groups wearing hoodies — again in the colour of mourning, but also of protest. A gesture of solidarity with the death of Trayvon Martin, it was a reflection, intended by The New Yorker magazine, on the persistence of racism and alienation in the USA. Inadvertently though, it portrayed a splintered projection, psychoanalytically speaking, on the hoodie: the pettiness of bourgeois solidarity; but also the acknowledgement of a potential mutual identification and solidarity between financialised workers in their differences; even that the threat of violence and revolution is endogenous — could it be that everyone is potentially a Black Bloc? Everyone wears a hoodie nowadays, but its apparent classlessness, or its transversality across classes, is also a threat to the specificity of struggles.


This sends us back to Zuckerberg’s gesture at the NYSE. It was as if the CEO said: Wall Street is ours, or better yet, it is us. Zuckerberg’s so-called violent act in Wall Street highlights the reproduction of capital out of an investment in free time, subverted into the practices of entrepreneurship and constant availability in an epoch of intense value destruction, namely of the worker. One should be reminded that although a boy-genius Zuckerberg was not a prime example of an Ivy League student — nor, for that matter, were a substantial amount of software and prosumer technology CEO’s. His wealth and the engine for value creation associated with it — not really Facebook the platform, but rather the idea of instant access and sociability and the transformation of everyone’s free time into active productivity with or against, but always inside, capital — was made outside of class hours and was the result of the most basic of social instincts: recognition and insurrection (even if only in the microcosmos of Harvard’s class structure). This is why Zuckerberg is an idol of capital and the hoodie it figuration. But this is also what makes the universality of the hoodie misleading. Zuckerberg would never be shot because he will never walk the same streets as Trayvon Martin, will not be caught in the same spiral of prejudice as those in the ‘neighbourhoods’. The multifaceted banality of the hoodie may characterise financialised workers, but it also hides the complexity of financialised life. It obscures the bodies that wear it. The hoodie is signified only in its relation to an environment, and that of Trayvon is radically other to that of Zuckerberg.


But what is this outside of the subjectifying entrepreneurship now presiding over free time? And what of its implications to the reshaping of social and labour forms found at the margins of value production? Andrew Ross’s book No-Collar pays a visit to several Silicon Valley emerging companies, narrating the modulation of working conditions into a ‘good time’ for which, for example, Google has become famous.5 Such restructuring makes of the working environment a space of recreation, a site where the workers are free to invest [personalise] with their lifestyle, rhythm and taste. The aim is to create familiarity, in the belief that creativity emerges as much out of stimulus as out of boredom. Just as the long-tail of niche markets relies on the dissolution between producer and consumer, these new forms of environmental working space management follow the same logic of personalisation and customisation, now directed at the worker himself taken as a commodity. Under the blue collar and white collar regimes, the working space was made into one’s home, but only due to the lifetime occupied there under working hours. Out of this time and space rose friendly attachments and social relations, political unions and mechanisms of resistance or devices of negotiation between capitalists and workers. Today, not only is one given the capability to make of one’s home a working space, but also the spaces of work are transformed into one’s home. Physically, the worker could literally sleep in the working space; in his mind though, he already does. One may lose the worker’s union, but one will always have basketball in the mornings or ping-pong in the evenings. The collar button which used to strangle workers’ necks is finally being unbuttoned. Yet, comfort camouflages the intensification of work and the perpetuation of the credo of exponential growth. Such environmental reshaping of the working space spreads well beyond corporate walls. Environmentalism ceases to be simply the management of space and becomes the psychological condition of work: ontopower.6 Set loose by 2.0 technology, capitalism extends across the globe in its viral form, reterritorialised only at the level of the subject.


I have mentioned unemployment in relation to the outside of work, and it is perhaps the role of unemployment within the current hierarchy of value production that points to the reconfiguration of work (from the collar to the hoodie) under contemporary capitalism. Unemployment is a necessity of the revolutions of the capitalist mode of production; a reserve army of labour displaced by technological innovation (or automation), ready to be rewired and exploited in another parcel of the system. But the end of industrial growth has past, leaving us only with the riches of financial virtuality. In contrast to the unemployment crises of the 1970s, unemployment is now structural. That is why the moribund claim of the institutional Left for the creation of jobs is wrong; we don’t need more work, we need less work. But we still want the money. Unemployment, today, defines not only those dispossessed and unnecessary to capitalism, but more importantly it defines the battlefield for the struggle between new rights of citizenship (rather than workers’ rights) and new market tendencies and capitalist prosumer modes.


Unemployment rates in the EU (and elsewhere) keep on rising. This is a whole mass of people without jobs, subsumed under the bureaucratic term of the unemployed. A term without depth beyond the statistical segmentation into age or sex; a term with no respect for the complexity of its constituents and incapable of the personalisation of labour that, in contrast, capitalism is pushing forth; a term that reduces subjects to bare life, to numbers, increasingly abandoning them to unknown means of survival now that welfare, the social state and even solidarity is being broken down and traditional employment agencies are filling up. The traditional view has it that unemployment is a weight on government. Benefits for the unemployed create huge expenses for governments increasingly faced with exponential debt, fleeing workers, and a structural incapacity for growth. As such, the unemployed are traditionally measured in units of cost only, are of little or no value production and contribute only to national deficits. For the economy, the unemployed are reduced to the waste variable in the statistico-algorithmic construct. However abandoned though, the unemployed still clings to the old mode of production, desperately investing in himself through a psychotic cocktail of self-improvement and anti-depressants, corporatising their lives and, inadvertently, the social space. It is in this way that the term and category of unemployment hides the attribution of economical value to the outside. Today, the unemployed are the target of exploitative corporate stimulus as such, rather than governmental aid or welfare.


Image: Benetton advert 2012


In its 2012 campaign United Colors of Benetton searched for the unemployee of the year; a social networked strategy which asked for public participation from the jobless in order to select, ‘curate’ and kickstart their ideal businesses in ways neither banks nor state funding will.7 If the brand is so inclined it is because there is a niche to explore here, and along the ‘long tail’ an economically affordable truth to it. Benneton may be exploiting the unemployed as such, but, fundamentally, it is fomenting the ideology of entrepreneurial competition. There is value in externalities. This is what emerging companies the world over are learning from the 2.0 curve.8 As unemployment grows, companies at the tip of the on-demand, prosumer technology and web distribution commerce are inclining towards new company organograms with curating at its centre. In doing so they empty themselves of product creation while fomenting entrepreneurship from the outside. Apple is dedicated to the optimisation of ‘consumer concepts’ already in circulation. Social networking sites such as Facebook build upon the input of users to generate value and ever expand their corporate sphere of influence. Start-ups such as Quirky however, a consumer product company based in New York, have no inside products at all, opting instead to open up via social networking to ideas generated by amateurs and outside decision makers who either back or deny the development of concepts.9 Software is the best and worst ally of the unemployed. Companies no longer need to create desire. Rather, bottom-up practices form the basis of corporate curating. Rather than committing exclusively to control over a given territory of production and to industrial distribution networks, companies build themselves inclusively via the ‘other’, stimulating inner circuits of distribution within the consumer sphere. This gives new meaning to Ashby’s cybernetic approach that “only variety can absorb variety.”10


Will such a condition be the engine for the intensification of exploitative labour or will it inspire the production of lifestyles beyond their styling in the biopolitical market? What the unemployed and the precarious must confront is a generalised crisis (and reinvention) of their own role vis-a-vis work. Ours is a crisis of economic potential and imaginary, which can only be answered back by the creation of fairer, more ecosophical, systems of value production and exchange. The decoupling of incomes from wage is a goal we should agree on.11 But one must go beyond the ideology of entrepreneurship and the obligation to maximise one’s own market value as the goal of a life corporatised, and build such ecology at the limit at which capitalism eats its own frontiers: unemployment itself is one such limit. In a moment when higher-education students see no future prospects, and when middle-aged workers cannot reenter the labour market (when they cannot return to the past), one hears the sound of defiance, a shakiness found only in those with nothing else to lose. When one falls one need not stand up again, if standing up means only to reenter the credo of competition. The unemployed may be waste, but waste is unpredictable and unpredictably solidary. It is time to confront the ideology that one must one, unique, and alone. If this need be a violent process so be it, we all have our hoodies.




1 See, Sengupta, Somini, “Why is Everyone Focused on Zuckerberg’s Hoodie” in The New York Times Bits blog [], 05-11-2012. Last accessed 11-25-2012. Also, Blodget, Henry, “MARK ZUCKERBERG'S HOODIE: So, Wall Street, Do You Get It Now?--He Doesn't Give A Crap About You!” in Business Insider [], 05-09-2012. Last accessed 11-25-2012.

2 See DEFCAD ( and the issues around the homemade production the Liberator 3D printed gun by Cody Wilson. The production of 3D guns goes to the heart of the 3D printing revolution, in other words, if it will indeed be a revolution where the means of production are free and available from monopoly or if the technology will be immediately preempted under capital and the safeguarding of the technology for corporate interest.

3 Misener, Jessica, “Queen Elizabeth II wears a hoodie while driving a range rover” in The Huffington Post [], 08-28-2012. Last accessed 11-25-2012.

4 The case has correctly been seen from the perspective of racial discrimination and abuse against black people in the USA. Unfortunately, this seems to have sidestepped it from the matter of gun control and individual freedom (in this case in the shape of neighborhood patrol). These are two of the most problematically engrained issues in the USA, unresolved and continuously repeating.

5 Andrew Ross, No-Collar: The Human Workplace and its Hidden Costs (Temple University Press; 2004).

6 The term was coined by Brian Massumi. See “National Emergency Enterprise: Steps Toward an Ecology of Powers” in Theory Culture Society 26 (Sage Publications, 2009).

7 United Colours of Benetton/ Unhate Foundation, “Unemployee of the year” [], 2012. Last accessed 11-25-2012.

8 The trend parallels the way venture capitalism edges and profits from climate change and its catastrophes. At the end of the industrial growth paradigm capitalism can only but morph into disaster capitalism.

9 Quirky is one of many emerging 3D printing consumer products companies. For further info see

10 W. Ross Ashby, An Introduction to Cybernetics (Minneapolis, Filiquarian Legacy Publishing, 1957/ 2012).

11 The universal or unconditional guaranteed income, for example, is an option ready for implementation followed by debate (the proposal has its problems vis-a-vis neoliberalism) rather than the reverse.