Massimo is Professor of Political Economy and Development and co-director of the Centre for Social Justice and Change.
Massimo De Angelis is Professor of Political Economy and Development and co-director of the Centre for Social Justice and Change. He has a Laurea in Political Sciences (Universita’ Statale di Milano 1985) and a PhD in Economics (University of Utah). His numerous publications discuss research on values, crisis, the critique of economics, social movements and alternative socio-economic systems. His current research is on commons.
Massimo grew up in Italy during a time of intense social movements and social creativity. Absorbed by the joys and sorrows, the conviviality and the divisions of this social movement wave, he enrolled to study Political Sciences (obtaining a magna cum laude in 1985 discussing a thesis on David Ricardo) and joined reading and discussion groups.
During his university years, Massimo’s preferred subject was Marx and Marxism, the intricacies of what he later discovered was not its “economic” theory, the theory of crisis, of the falling rate of profit, of exploitation, but a social theory of capitalism. On this topic, during the emergency laws in Italy in the early 1980s, he had a classic education from friends who worked in factories, soon to be restructured and exported to other countries. Marx’s central pages of his first volume of Capital came alive to him, not just as a theory, but as a powerful framework that captured life-experience of exploitation and struggle. In 1995 Massimo published an article on value abstract labour as imposed, alienated and boundless in character. He then left Italy in 1987, after winning a scholarship to study for a PhD in economics at the University of Utah, where there was one of few radical departments of economics (He obtained a PhD in 1995, with a thesis on Keynesianism).
In 1989 Massimo met Harry Cleaver, a Texan economics professor in the late forties who wrote one book in 1979 called Reading Capital Politically, and who systematically introduced Massimo to “Autonomist Marxism” literature, with deep roots in the history of Marxism up to the Italian workerist tradition of the 1960s and 1970s, Marxist feminism and global struggles as framed by the Zerowork in the 1970s and the Midnight Notes in the 1980s collectives.
Massimo arrived in London in 1991, in the midst of a privatisation wave, cut in social spending and related protests. He started to work as a lecturer for several universities in the London area (City, Kingston, Middlesex, Soas, Southbank), to finally being offered a lectureship contract in 1994 at the department of economics of the University of East London, teaching political economy in a time dominated by intensification of global restructuring, the fancy world of global “flows”, the fall of the industrial working class in the North, the temples of consumerisms and the incoming “information society” or “cognitive capitalism” and few years later even the world wide web.
Massimo saw all this as tainted with new enclosures through which resources were extracted and labour power was set free to enter the global factory for far cheaper wages and longer hours. This was a theme that Massimo wrote and theorized extensively on.
In August 1995, Massimo participated to ¾ and later wrote about ¾ the first Encuentro for Humanity and against Neoliberalism, organized by the Zapatista’s communities inside the military surrounded Zapatistas autonomous zones. This insight accompanied Massimo’s writing up to his recent theorization of the commons.
Massimo then witnessed and participated in the alter-globalisation movements. He met Indian farmers, communities struggling against dams built along the Narmada Valley and taking away land, sources of fresh water, ancient cemeteries, and forcing people into new shanty towns. At the same time, in the UK the anti-GMOs campain begun to problematise food production. In November 1999 the alter-globalisation movement exploded in Seattle becoming known also by the media. In 2001 the social forum movement begun. Massimo attended several editions, and helped organising the London edition of the European Social Forum in 2004. All these movements were bringing together a diversity of participants to discuss problems, organise in cities, bring together social movements across the world, and starting to develop a language, a pluralism and horizontality in decision making later picked up by new generations of activists in the 2010s (Occupy! In the US and the indignatos in Spain for example).
It is in the context of the alter-globalisation movement that Massimo set up The Commoner web journal. The aim was to bring together an international network of scholars and activists to develop a commons discourse without the field of power relations of contemporary capitalism.
During field work in 2004, Massimo witnessed the mass movement against water and electricity privatization in South Africa turned into a struggle for and through commons, by means of thousands of grassroots reconnections. The relation between commons and social movements became clearer to Massimo few years later in 2010, when he travelled to Latin America and spent three months in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, which he reported in the editor’s blog in The Commoner.
Massimo is currently a module leader of the undergraduate course Global Crises, which discusses and problematises the main crisis of today: the financial/economic crisis, the ecological crisis and the food crisis. He also lead a postgraduate module called Sustainability and the Commons, an innovative post-graduate module that discusses issues of sustainable development through the lens of commons, that is social systems in which resources and their government is shared by communities.
He is currently supervising three PhD students and has a long experience in external examining doctoral theses. He also has a long experience of teaching. During his career, he taught several modules in economics (Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Political Economy, History of Economic Thought, Finance and Economics, Economics of Europe), statistics and econometrics, International Development (Development theory, Food Hunger and Development, NGO project).
Massimo’s research has covered several areas in the political economy of capitalism. Although his approach has evolved and has dealt with diverse areas, a key theme running though his research is the conflicted nature of economic and social relations and corresponding categories.
His early work on abstract labour as a substance of value (1995), highlight the imposed, alienated and boundless character of work vis-à-vis patterns of resistance and struggles in capitalism. His paper on commodity- fetishism (1996), reinterpreted the Marxian category’s of commodity fetishism to highlight the tension between opposing cognitive apprehension of capitalist social relations. His book on Keynesianism (2000) studied the history and theoretical development of Keynesianism from the Great Depression of the 1930s to the Keynesian orthodoxy in the economic policies of the post war years and its final demise as orthodoxy in the late 1970s. Massimo showed firstly, that the rise and fall of economic orthodoxy co-evolve with the waves of working class struggles, and secondly, that the distributive institutions of Keynesianism (the welfare state, the acceptance of the principle of wage increases institutionalised as wage rounds) depended on productivity deals with particular sections of unionized working class, thus guaranteeing the maintenance of the profit share through the system. Massimo was able to show this not only by tracing the historical development, but also by algebraically deconstructing the fundamental multiplier model at the heart of the Keynesian system to reveal, in the thus formed social multiplier, that Keynesian was dependent on stable class relations.
In the 1990s, Massimo started to develop the tools to understand neoliberalism, studies that came to fruition in the 2000s. Three important lines of enquiry were: the study of market discipline, of governance and enclosures. The study of discipline was important to highlight the fact that although neoliberalism relied heavily on control strategies ¾ aimed at channelling subjectivities into circuit of production ¾ discipline and its creation of the subject (subjectification) does not disappear, rather it becomes more pervasive. In a study first appeared in 2002 he is able to compare Hayek’s conceptualisation of the Market with Jeremy Bentham’s understanding of prison (the Panocticon), revealing how the two prima facie opposing conceptualisations had some important constituent common features. In the study of governance (2005) Massimo highlights the conflicted nature of governance as a new strategic discourse to manage social conflict. While the two studies above borrow freely from Foucault’s discussion on discipline and governance, the framework provided by Massimo interpolates these through Marx insights of the class relations in capitalism and Autonomist Marxist enlarged notion of class to include also the unwaged.
The third category developed by Massimo in this period is that of enclosures, which reinterprets Marx’s concept of Original or Primitive Accumulation developing theoretically the 1990s analysis of the North American group Midnight Notes, which noticed how the neoliberal restructuring during the 1980s could be considered as a wave of new enclosures. The term “enclosures” short handily refers to the XV-XVII century enclosure movement in England, which destroyed land commons and created the preconditions for the industrial revolution there.
His theoretical paper on the “continuous character” of primitive accumulation, was finally published online, in 2001 and an improved version in 2004 by the journal Historical Materialism, after several academic journals rejected it in the late 1990s. It was then published in different languages. Here Massimo made his case reinterpreting Marx’s writing and illustrating with examples from the North and the South how enclosures are always part of the driving engine of capital’s accumulation. In particular, he identified two objects of enclosures. First, those commons that have not been commodified yet, some virgin ground of accumulation that capital needs to enclose as a moment of its expansion. Second, those commons (even imperfect or distorted) that have been created by past struggles: a system of welfare, health and education; libraries, and even workers spaces of autorganization inside the capitalist factories. Thus, “enclosures” or primitive accumulation (whether actually practiced or as immanent threat by capital), could not be understood without the notion of “struggle” and of “commons”.
His 2007 book The Beginning of History brings together these three lines of thought by also developing a system-theoretical framework to problematise contemporary globalised capital and social movements. This framework is grounded on the category of struggle among value-practices, a concept that both captures the incessant conatus of self-preservation of capital ¾ based on the metamorphosis of life activity into monetary value through abstract labour ¾ and the constitution of alternative systems of production and reproduction founded on other values. Massimo therefore is able to identify a self-constituting outside of capital – even if often a transient one – against contemporary theorisation of networked society as lacking any outside. Also, while capital is a social force that aims at enclosing existing commons to expands the scale of accumulation, the working class (including the unwaged) always struggles through commons, i.e. through some form of sharing resources that requires other values for their management (time in the first place, but also all other resources that any social movement always require).
This line of research has led Massimo to critically engage in more detail with the economic characterisation of globalisation as skewed in the countries of the global North when measured in terms of Foreign Direct Investment (GDP). With the collaboration of economist David Harvie (2008) Massimo has rescued a classical political economy measure of the power of capital understood as the power to command labour (Adam Smith). He has thus proposed a different measure of globalisation by normalising the FDI in terms of labour commanded, revealing a far more striking picture of the impact of globalization, with lower monetary FDI in the global South, but a greater impact in terms of the power to mobilise labour given the lower wage level.
The processes of market competition and its disciplinary mechanisms do not overlook spatial and urban design and planning. In 2008, taking as a case the regeneration of the East End in view of the incoming 2012 Olympic games, Massimo develop his system theoretical framework to engage with the problematic of "sustainable communities,” the name given by the bodies overlooking urban regeneration of the East End to the final end of the planning. Massimo interpret this as an oxymoron, since “communities” are conceived within the competitive prerogatives of contemporary global cities.
Another key publication in this period (also in collaboration with David Harvie) is the critique of modern literature on cognitive capitalism that understands contemporary immaterial labour as being "beyond measure". Taking as example academic labour in the UK, and building on the framework of the Beginning of History, the argument here is that a regime of contemporary immaterial work is subject to ongoing disciplinary mechanisms, systemically analogue to the classic ones used by capital in the factory.
Finally, another key publication in this period, is a paper on the "explosion of the Middle Class" written to problematise the extent to which a Middle Class subjectified to the value practices of capital can participate in processes of radical transformation of society and the economy. Massimo's view is that regardless of the recent trends of proletarisation, the Middle Class must engage in a social process of sudden release of creative energies, which is for example indicated in some important contemporary movements.
In the last few years, Massimo has been increasingly working on the problematic of radical transformation of the present through the framework of the commons. Some publications outlines the emergence of a Plan C (C = commons) counterposed to neoliberal capital (plan A) and a return to a greenwashed Keynesian orthodoxy. Other works include a review of Marx's approach to revolution which give primacy to Social, rather than, Political revolution. Massimo is now writing his new book, entirely on the social theory of the commons understood as social systems with shared resources and activity of doing in commons (commoning) that embed different values and measures than capital. The uniqueness of this developing approach is not only the system-like theorisation of the commons (meshing together Marx, Luhmann, Ostrom, Melucci and others) but also their location in fields of power relations that include capital as an enclosing, disciplining or co-opting force.
The Beginning of History. Value Struggles and Global Capital. London: Pluto Press. 2007.
Keynesianism, Social Conflict and Political Economy. London: Macmillan 2000.
The Beginning of History. Value Struggles and Global Capital. London: Pluto Press. 2007.
Social Revolutions and the Commons, South Atlantic Quarterly, Forthcoming
Crisis and commons today. In Shannon Brincat (ed.), Communism in the 21st Century, 3 Volumes, Santa Barbara: Praeger,Vol. 3. 2014.
The Commons (with David Harvie). In M. Parker, G. Cheney, V. Fournier and C. Land (eds), The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organizations, Abington: Routledge, pp. 280-294. 2013.
Does Capital Needs a Commons Fix?. Ephemera, Theory and Politics in Organisations, August, N. 3, 2013, http://www.ephemerajournal.org/contribution/does- capital-need-commons-fix.
Plan C&D: Commons and Democracy in: Marc Angélil, Rainer Hehl (Ed.), Collectivize! Essays on the Political Economy of Urban Form, Ruby Press, Berlin 2013
Crises, Movements and Commons. Borderlands e-journal. 11(2), 2012, 1-22. http://www.borderlands.net.au/issues/vol11no2.html
The Production of Commons and the “Explosion” of the Middle Class. Antipode, 42(4), 2010, 954-977.
(With David Harvie). ‘Cognitive capitalism’ and the rat race:
how capital measures immaterial labour in British universities. In Historical Materialism. Volume 17, Number 3, 2009 , pp. 3-30(28).
(With David Harvie). “Globalization no questions! Labour commanded and Foreign Direct Investment.” Review of Radical Political Economics, Fall 2008, Volume 40, No. 4: 429-444.
“Thames Gateway oxymorons: some reflections on 'sustainable communities' and neoliberal governance”. In Phil Cohen and Mike Rustin, (eds), London’s Turning. The Prospect of Thames Gateway. Oxon: Ashgate, 2008.
“Primitive accumulation.” In International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences. New York: MacMillan, 2007.
“Enclosures, commons and the ‘outside.’” In Patrick Bond, Horman Chitonge and Arndt Hopfmann (eds), The Accumulation of Capital in Southern Africa, Centre for Civil Society’s Colloquium on Economy, Society and Nature, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, 2007, pp. 59-74.
The Political Economy of Neoliberal Global Governance. In Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 28(3) pp. 229-257, 2005.
How?!?! An Essay on John Holloway’s Change the World without Taking Power. In Historical Materialism 13(4) pp. 233-249, 2005.
PR like PRocess! Strategy from the Bottom-Up. Theory and politics in organization. In Ephemera, 5(2) pp.193-204, 2005, http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/5-2/5-2deangelis.pdf
The New Commons in Practice: Strategy, Process and Alternatives. In Development, Volume 48 (2) pp. 48-52, 2005.
The Political Economy of Neoliberal Global Governance. In Review (Fernand Braudel Center), 28(3) pp. 229-257, 2005.
Zapatismo and Globalization as Social Relations in Humboldt Journal of Social Relations. Volume 29(1) pp. 179-203, 2005. Also translated into Turkish as "Zapatismo" ve Toplumsal İlişki Olarak Küreselleşme, Conatus N.5, pp. 177-189, April-July 2006.
’Opposing Fetishism by Reclaiming our Powers’. The Social Forum Movement, Capitalist Markets and the Politics of Alternatives” International Social Science Journal, N. 1882, pp. 591-604, 2004. Also translated into Italian as Social Forum, capitale e common, In as Nicola Montagna, I movimenti sociali e le mobilitazioni globali. Temi, processi e strutture organizzative (Franco Angeli, Milano), pp. 153-172, 2007.
Separating the Doing and the Deed: Capital and the Continuous Character of Enclosures. Historical Materialism. 12(2) pp. 57-87, 2004.
The Market as a Disciplinary Order: a Comparative Analysis of Hayek and Bentham. In Research in Political Economy, N.20, pp. 293-317, 2002.
Hayek, Bentham and the Global Work Machine: the Emergence of the Fractal-Panopticon In Ana Dinestern and Michael Neary (eds). The Labour Debate. An Investigation into the Theory and Reality of Capitalist Work. Aldershot: Ashgate 2002, pp 108-134.
Marx and primitive accumulation: The continuous character of capital’s ‘enclosures.’ In The Commoner, Volume 2, 2001 http://www.commoner.org.uk/02deangelis.pdf
Primitive Accumulation. Entry for Philip O’Hara (ed), Encyclopedia of Political Economy. London: Routledge 1999, pp. 905-907.
Capital Movements, Tobin Tax, and Permanent Fire Prevention: a Critical Note. In Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. 22(2), pp. 187-195, Winter 1999-2000.
Social Relations and the Keynesian Multiplier. In Review of Radical Political Economics. 32(1) pp. 80-103, 2000.
Globalisation, New Internationalism and the Zapatistas. In Capital and Class, N. 70, pp. 9-36, Spring 2000. Translated in Portuguese as Globalição, novo internacionalismo e os Zapatistas. In Novos Rumos. Instituto Astrojildo Pereira, Instituto de projetos e pesquisas sociais e tecnologicas, 20(44) pp. 15-29, 2004.
Introduction to the report on the 2nd Encounter for Humanity and against Neoliberalism. In Capital and Class. N. 65, pp. 135-142, Summer 1998,.
Class Struggle and Economics: the Case of Keynesianism. In Research in Political Economy. Vol. 16, pp. 3-54, 1997.
La Realidad in Europe:an account of the first European meeting against neoliberalism and for humanity, Berlin 30 May - 2 June 1996. In Common Sense (Journal of the Edinburgh Conference of Socialist Economists). N 20, pp. 49-58, 1997.
Social Relations, Commodity-Fetishism and Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. In Review of Radical Political Economics. 29(4), pp. 1-29, 199.
Beyond the Technological and the Social Paradigm: a Political Reading of Abstract Labour as substance of Value. In Capital and Class. 57, pp. 107-135, Autumn 1995.
Intervista teorico/politica a prof. Harry Cleaver. In Vis à Vis. N. 1, pp. 79-100, Bologna, Autumn 1993. Translated into English and published in Reconstruction, N. 9, Melbourne, Summer 1993.
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