The Common Sense and Affective Capitalism

cultural analysis research paper close reading
affective capitalism cognitive capitalism technology scifi crisis ordinary

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I analyze the concept of affective capitalism with the not-so-science fiction future of Melanie Gilligan’s 3-phase video installation The Common Sense, in which an affective technology called the Patch becomes ubiquitous in work and social environments. Stabilized crisis ensues as equally precarious actors of the techno-economic paradigm maximize productivity and efficiency through affect. What makes affective capitalism as “emerging” in comparison to its earlier analyses is its presence within the third wave of capitalism’s socio-technological system of cognitive capitalism: “...founded on the accumulation of immaterial capital” in the form of knowledge and data. 1 Through engagement with the narratives and installation productions of the 15-episode sci-fi narrative drama mini-series, I articulate how The Common Sense’s speculative capitalist system subsumes and employs affect that is void of trust. The resulting social conditions formulate subjectivities that cripple characters’ capability to conceive of any form of or hope for an alternative world. While I remain critical of the work’s heavy hand, I analyze the performativity and self-reflexivity of the installation’s production and viewer experience. I argue that in combination with the video narratives, the work exposes how affective capitalism may be (even) further embodied through technology as a device of this deep bridge. I also contend through the exhibition how we might climb through this form of affective capitalism if its acute sites of effect are treated as opportunities to develop with the technology, independent to its capitalist inventor.


I conduct a close reading of the video’s storylines and installation across three different art institutions. I integrate concepts of affective capitalism, cognitive capitalism, precarity, the multitude, crisis ordinary, and P2P infrastructures by way of Yann Moulier Boutang, Judith Butler, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Lauren Berlant, and Michael Bauwens.


  • Crisis ordinary imbued in the affective technology in an era
    of cognitive capitalism turns all relations into an economic exchange and results in a void of trust (as understood as the ability to believe in the reliability and assurance of something and/or someone beyond what you are able to know).
  • I propose a paradox of proximity, as the technology makes possible the manifestation of a new moment of collective living and connectivity, but one that is is articulated by subjectivities made from a sustained threatened and isolated state (as all relations have become an economic ex- change, for all individuals despite their different livelihoods).
  • I argue that every transmission and reception through the Patch, in addition to this paradox, reinforces the void of trust and creates an ontological insecurity and severe isolation of individuals by only being able to exist as an economic exchange, and eventually their bodies as economic objects.
  • While Gilligan’s video narratives fail to offer a strong political initiative on being an economic object within a world of affective capitalism, the experience of the project creatively engages proximity between viewers’ bodies with each other and the installation’s technology, making use of affective capitalism for the effectiveness of her artwork.

Concluding Question

How might the role of trust in Gilligan’s work be used to analyze accountability in P2P networks; different scenes of technology becoming affective; or deep learning technology making different affective scenes (like Deep Stereo); as developing the phase of capitalism likely to come?🝏