"The Class of the New", Richard Barbrook

Rosemary Bechler
23 July 2006


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"The Class of the New"
by Richard Barbrook
OpenMute | January 2006 | ISBN 0955066476

Recommended by Rosemary Bechler: This is a small book that packs a big punch. In it, Richard Barbrook has assembled a revealing selection of quotations from authors who, since Adam Smith singled out the inventors of machinery in the late 18th century, have claimed to have discovered who the true innovators in our society are. By a judicious choice of the most potent yet wide-ranging predictions of influential rumour-mongerers over two centuries, Barbrook tells a series of stories which shed illumination on the new social class emerging from the networked workplace of our times – variously described in this volume as netizens, elancers, cognitarians, swarm-capitalists, hackers, produsumers, knowledge workers, pro-ams ... and so forth.

Barbrook's thought-provoking commentary, "The makers of the future", traces the intertwined fortunes of two contrasting conceptions of "the class of the new" – the New Ruling Class, and the New Working Class – through to the present day. His own interest is in assessing Ken Livingstone's plans for London as a world city, and in particular the Mayor's conviction that it is the creative industries which hold the future in their hands and require the restructuring of the city's economy to give them the support they need.

Showing the long pedigree of this kind of talent-spotting gives us a new approach to the politics that result. It casts light on the battle over Intellectual Property Rights, and why this is so central to London as a global financial centre. Like the pioneering critique of the politics of Wired magazine that Barbrook co-authored with Andy Cameron in 1995, here he offers a similarly far-reaching critique of Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class.

But it is the seventy-plus quotations themselves that make this book an unforgettable reading experience. Barbrook cites the great Walter Benjamin and Humphrey Jennings as his precursors in the calculated use of quotation to allow the past to shed its light on the present. He wants us to remain optimistic about the tendency of networked, cooperative and "live-work" forms of production to overturn hierarchies and reduce inequalities. It is therefore superbly fitting that in less than a hundred pages, he should do more to reveal the full subversive force of what it can mean to stand on the shoulders of the giants who preceded us than countless far weightier recent tomes.

The reader is encouraged to attempt his or her own acrobatics and to enjoy the bracing air and long view at the top of the pile. In its form, therefore, this brief book cleverly exemplifies Barbrook's own wish for the future: that the new class this time around break with its forbears and become inclusive of "the mass creativity of all Londoners. Political democracy requires cultural democracy. If everyone is a voter, then everyone is also a creator."


About the author: Richard Barbrook is a senior lecturer at the School of Media, Art & Design at the University of Westminster.

Educated at Cambridge, Essex and Kent universities Richard was involved in pirate and community radio broadcasting in the early-1980s before working for a research institute at the University of Westminster on media regulation within the EU. Between 1995 and 2005, Richard was coordinator of the Hypermedia Research Centre at the University of Westminster and course leader of its MA in Hypermedia Studies. In 1997, he was one of the founders of cybersalon.org and is now one of the directors of the Cybersalon trust.

Among his writings are The Californian Ideology, a pioneering critique of the neo-liberal politics of Wired magazine with Andy Cameron, and a series of articles exploring the impact of the sharing of information over the internet. Recently, Richard helped to set up the Creative Workers in a World City group and wrote its first publication,The Class of the New (OpenMute, London 2006).

His new book, Imaginary Futures explores how ideas from the 1950s and 1960s shape our early-twenty-first century conception of artificial intelligence and the information society. Published in English by Pluto Press and in Russian by Ultra.Cultura in early-2007, a foretaste can be read at www.imaginaryfutures.net. A selection of Richard's writings is also available on: www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk and www.theclassofthenew.net.

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