Are they really learning?

The Vienna Academic Press/Wiener Verlag fuer Sozialforschung, after a complete relaunch, now being under new management, I met yesterday evening in Vienna the new chief manager who took on board the republication of my PhD-thesis – a reprint without changes:

Die Organisation. Eine Analyse der modernen Gesellschaft

The Organisation. Analysis of Modern Society

In the following the forward is published, in German and English language. Thinking back the line of my academic work since then, I have to say that I never did what so many of the colleagues said oder the years: I closed this chapter once and forever. I did not even think this would be tempting

Scroll for English

Die Organisation. Eine Analyse Moderner Gesellschaft – Vorwort zur unveränderten Wiederauflage

Organisationen sind, so wird gesagt, lernende Einheiten. Sicher ist dies in mancher Hinsicht nicht zu bestreiten, aber doch lässt sich auch schnell zögern, denn die Frage ist doch zunächst sehr grundsätzlich, ob denn Organisationen überhaupt als handlungsfähige Einheiten bestehen. Ihnen einen solchen Charakter zuzusprechen bedeutet letztlich, dass man sie als vollständig verselbständigte Einheiten sieht, die Menschen darin im Grunde zu unselbstständigen Ausführungsorganen degradiert, und zugleich die historisch-gesellschaftlichen Bedingungen zu Randglossen verkommen (sind).

Das mag tatsächlich oft durchaus so erscheinen – und die persönliche Erfahrung des Engagements in den fast dreißig Jahren seit der hier unverändert aufgelegten Studie, gesammelt in verschiedenen Bereichen und verschiedenen Ländern, gaben oftmals Anlass zu solchem Gedanken an ein „Vergib Ihnen nicht – sie machen sonst doch nur, was sie selbst wollen“. Zugleich aber ist doch ein Punkt hervorzuheben, der in der Arbeit gemacht wurde – vor allem mit einem Zitat von Antonio Gramsci belegt: bei solchen scheinbaren Detailbetrachtungen wie Parteien, Organisationen etc., muss man die ganze Geschichte der relevanten Länder mitdenken.

Tatsächlich kann daran wohl der Kern gesehen werden, der allen Zweifeln entgegensteht: die damalige Analyse hat sicher manches voreilig verallgemeinert. Aber die grundlegende Unterscheidung der handlungstechnischen Dimension der Aneignung einerseits, der verwertungsmäßigen Dimension andererseits ist eine sinnvolle Handreichung vor alle auch bei der Entwicklung strategisches Handeln und bei Überlegungen, innerhalb von Organisationen ein solches zu entwickeln. Dies gilt es dann eben konkret in den historischen Analysen zu entwickeln. Und wird dann auch schnell deutlich, dass „Verselbstständigungen“ schlicht morbide Erscheinungen sind.

Das ermöglicht auch, Organisationen in einem gesamtgesellschaftlichen Rahmen von doch immer noch modernen kapitalistischen Gesellschaften zu verorten. Intermediär ist ihre Rolle nicht nur als Vermittlungsinstanz verschiedener „Ebenen“ gesellschaftlichen Handelns, sondern auch im Sinne von Vermittlungen zwischen verschiedenen Möglichkeitshorizonten. In diesem Sinn muss man wohl sagen, dass der Sieg der verselbstständigten Organisation nichts anderes ist, als der Sieg der konservativen Kräfte auch in einer Zeit des Interregnum, jener Phase, von der Antonio Gramsci schrieb, dass die Krise darin bestehe, dass das Alte zwar im Sterben liege, aber das Neue noch nicht geboren werden kann. Die morbiden Erscheinungen, die bei dem italienischen Hegemoniekritiker betont wurden, sind eben nicht zuletzt Organisationen, die ein „Heim“ für jene bieten, die den Weg in die Neuzeit verpassen.

Dank gilt dem Wiener Verlag, namentlich Herrn Heribert Renkin. Nunmehr hat der Verlag unter neuer Leitung dieses Projekt übernommen.

Łódź/Berlin, March 2019

The Organisation. An Analysis of Modern Society – forword to the republished original work

Organisations are, it is said, learning units. Of course, in some respects this cannot be denied, but one may well hesitate, because the initial question is a different, and a very fundamental one, namely whether organisations do exist at all as units capable of action. To attribute such a character to them ultimately means that they are seen as completely independent units, people being basically degraded to dependent executives, and at the same time the historical and social conditions made to marginalia.

This may indeed often seem to be the case – not least the personal experience of engaging during the almost thirty years since the study had been originally published, experience made in different areas and different countries, often gave rise to he thought “Do not forgive them – they will otherwise only do what they want to do themselves“. At the same time, however, one point should be emphasised – made in the study itself above all by quoting Antonio Gramsci who suggested that in such analysis of detailed phenomena as parties, organisations, etc., one has to think along the line of the entire history of the country in question.

In fact, we can see the core of this demand indeed also in the presented work: while the analysis certainly generalised some issues prematurely, one point proved to be valuable: the fundamental distinction between the technical dimension of appropriation on the one hand, and the exploitative dimension on the other. This is a meaningful help, especially in the development of strategic action and when it comes to considerations of developing change oriented action within organisations. This must then be developed concretely in the historical analyses: it becomes quickly clear that “autonomies” are simply morbid phenomena.

This makes it also possible to locate organisations within the overall social framework of still modern capitalist societies. They are not only intermediaries in their role as mediators of different “levels” of social action and classes; they are so as well in the sense of mediation between different horizons of possibility. In this sense, it must be said that the victory of the independent organisation is nothing else than the victory of the conservative forces even in a time of interregnum, the phase of which Antonio Gramsci wrote that the crisis consists in the fact that the old is dying, but the new cannot yet be born. The morbid phenomena stressed by the Italian critic of hegemony are not least organisations that offer a “home” for those who miss the road to modern times, some kind of zombies.

My thanks go to the Vienna Press, namely Mr. Heribert Renkin; he has taken over this project in the publishing house which is now under a completely new management.

Łódź/Berlin, March 2019

Happy New Year

Or New Years Eve, celebrated those days when it had been linked to the vernal equinox. Some uproar in the BaseCamp because of some mates celebrating NEWRUZ … not worthwhile elaborating on this quarrel in detail (though there is much to learn about this holiday, now also internationally recognised). But I was chatting with Loay about it, and expressed my conviction that we have in general so much nationalism in our thinking, not the extreme but just the apparent need to classify everything and everybody, not least making reference to nationality: “We” (people of the country 1 or 2 or country 148 …) are so different, special, compared with the others … . It may well be about being especially good, but also about especially neglecting, neglected, poor untidy … And “they” are … and yes, so often it is about negative things: “their music”, “their meals and eating habits”, “their law”, “their attitude to work” … and one may even add: though often there is some truth in it, there are too often ridiculous prejudices, stereotypes and unjustified generalisations.

Still, I am wondering why we are so often sticking together – I still remember my time in Brussels:

Les Français avec les Français, Język polski z polskim, Na Gaeilge leis na Gaeilge, Gli italiani con gli italiani, Die Deutschen mit den Deutschen – occasionally one felt alone, not being French, Polish, Irish, German or anything … until one decides for this and other reasons it is Time to Say Good-Bye, moving forward, leaving so many behind

A lot has to do with lack of knowledge, missing opportunity to engage in deep learning. Why are we talking about deep learning for computers and any IT-“self”-driving cars, while we are forgetting over all this the need to have deep learning as part of school and university curricular?

Soon to be published, interesting in this context:

Peter Herrmann: Right to Stay_Right to Move, With a preface by Lorena Ossio
Vienna Academic Press.

An interesting constellation …, or: anything goes

(well, anything though surely no slide-presentation-simplification)

A colleague in Turkey had been

charged with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” (Article No. 7/2 of Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law No. 3713) for signing the Academics for Peace statement “We will not be a party to this crime”. The statement criticized military actions in the Kurdish regions of Turkey and called for international observers to monitor the situation in place.

The colleague had been charged, and confronted with a “choice”: accepting being sentenced, with this admitting that the political activism had been a criminal verdict – then being “gratified” with the suspension of the sentence – the alternative: appealing and going to jail if the appeal is rejected.

Looking at it as matter of human rights, the case grasps attention on this/such case as it is the state who hinders the citizen to express a personal opinion – other issues may be raised.The human rights issue is about the fact, that HR emerged especially (if not only) as matter of protecting citizens (thought as being  “global”, though implicitly “private”) against arbitrariness of the state.

So far, so good. Only now comes the interesting part.The message – and call for action – came from the UK, currently also known as BREXITUK and had been sent by a colleague, using the university office mail at the

University of [… ] which is a charity and company limited by guarantee, registered in England ( …)

Hesitation: First, I simply thought “a university”

Second thought (not the first time though): uni as charity sounds strange – education as charity, doing good. Doing so but to and for whom in whose name?

charity (n.)
late Old English, “benevolence for the poor,” also “Christian love in its highest manifestation,” from Old French charité “(Christian) charity, mercy, compassion; alms ….caritas by ‘charity.’ But the 16th c. Eng. versions from …

Doesn’t it say in Mathew 5.3.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Well, this opening for other field . I will have a go for that in another occasion …


For here and now, adding to the puzzlement: does it mean a private body, engaging something like “spirit of general interest”, benevolent to society by providing education. This is actually a tricky one (yes, sloooooooooww reading, more thinking): it easily entails

  • the public, commonly understood as “statutory”, provided by the state, is not providing what it should provide, thus some other instance has to do it


  • The public cannot look after itself, thus an “instance from outside”, e.g. a benevolent “private”

Or it is

  • possibly “benevolence” itself the public and finally becoming true (well, for the philosophers, of course, a bit of Hegel’s cunning of reason and the absolute idea)?

Now, down to earth, nearly trivial, my question was and is: are (those) universities public institutions or not. Later I met Jeremy, how is fearing about the future of his home [he is European] as the Brexiters want to take it off him [well, their name does not say it clearly: they are Brits = they do not want to leave Britain but that want Britain to leave]) and asked him –  he confirmed that nearly all British universities are public.
Part of the exact definition of these universities is then, institutionally and legally that in this case we are dealing with a body that is

“registered as a higher education provider with the Office for Students (OfS) and is subject to the OfS Regulatory Framework. The OfS is also the University’s principal regulator for charity law purposes on behalf of the Charity Commission for England and Wales.”

Is then the OfS the public and who/what is it? Possibly a kind of council, or “soviet” to use another term?

So, coming back to the HR-issue: Having stated

The human rights issue is about the fact, that HR emerged especially (if not only) as matter of protecting citizens (thought as being  “global”, though implicitly “private”) against arbitrariness of the state.

it now means that one state (to be more precise: an institution from one state, or even more precise: somebody working in a representative position of one institution of one state has to stand ups against one the breach of HR by another state.Did I say by another state? Well, more precision would suggestBreach of HR by one person (Erdogan) who claims that he represents the state – as the public – and can thus oblige every citizen to accept those rules, even if they are finally private rules in the sense of the rules an individual defines …

Still to be added: representing in the one case means “speaking for”, in the other case it claims to mean “to be”. ‘L’État, c’est moi’

At the end it surely still remains a lot to be clarified, and even to be formulated as question. I suppose it is a challenge I may pass on to my new students, when commencing teaching next week

Company, business, work

at the Berlin School of Economics and Law.

five years ago

“It’s indisputable that there’s a real pay gap. People can argue about how big, but that’s almost besides the point, The point is that every woman, every girl deserves to get paid what they’re worth.”

These are words by Sheryl Sandberg, taken from the Huffington Post, looking only on the year, not day, it had been five years ago. I am wondering if this is about a modern form of slavery and trafficking? Is payment about worth, even value of people in monetarised form? The difference is today’s deference of women: in old slave societies “owners”, the previous slave owner had been paid; Sandberg proposes to pay the slaves themselves. Hummmm, enslave yourself as alternative to wage work? Or is it just the same?

Surely an interesting question, most appropriate for the 8th of March, the International Women’s day.

A different point – as matter of a different chapter in the same book. In a brief note, titled

Was Studenten im Job wollen (What students are expecting in their job)

(even) the IWD (Institute of the German Economy) contends that inequality is going far beyond the gender pay gap, engraved in the entity and the expectations:

Although an attractive basic salary is at the top of the employers’ wish lists for both sexes, women in the various disciplines have on average significantly lower expectations than men in this respect.


While my perspective on some of these questions concerned with the

Value Theory – is there still any value in it? – is it still worthwhile to talk about it? 

is still waiting for final publication (just looking at the proofs), Amit Bhaduri’s

On the Significance of Recent Controversies on Capital Theory: A Marxian View

may be of interest.

Plans – struggling ….

The plan for the weekend is concluding the final touch – the topic a huge one – and the aim to put struggle on the human rights agenda, understanding these rights not as matter of achieving global harmony but als permanent contest about self-determination in a world without borders – obviously an oxymoron.

The subtitle of the present intro, well, actually the title of the book will be

The Right to Stay – the Right to Move

Aren’t we living in a world of abundance?


The present two contributions emerged in rather different contexts than being immediately concerned with what the title suggests: first, the topic employs my thinking for several years – background had been discussions with a former student, Lucey O’Leary, a while back, when I had been teaching in Ireland. She did have a degree in law and discussions emerged from my teaching: social policy, which in my understanding included political economy and also law (social law, philosophy and sociology of law). My background in Political Economy is that of Marx(ism), that of law the learning experience and work at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Social Law/Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Munich. Over the years, it never worked out to elaborate the reflections which had been nevertheless engaging my mind, guided by the idea of the need of a ‘fourth generation of human rights’.

These considetations moved back towards the top of the agenda while working more recently on economic issues: digitisation and the subsequent hollowing out of social protection systems, but more importantly the far-reaching, though often not sufficiently reflected changes of the mode of production.[1] Leaving the many aspects aside (technology and economics, composition of capital, investment of otherwise overaccumulated capital, shift of and between sectors to name but a few – and considering also that some of the legal issues are very ‘simple’, i.e. issues of blocking social-protection-flight as subspecies of capital flight, applying labour (protection), employment law and (re-)establishing collective bargaining (law) or even more ordinary the criminal offenses of bullying and (sexual) harassment, there are others that require revisiting fudamental issues of law and even further issues around the meaning of justice in a world that is at the very same time shaped by two tensions that are increasingly meaningful and also increasingly interwoven:

  • it is the tension between globalisation, accompanied by standardisation on the one hand and processes of diversification on the other hand.
  • the other trend is about the possibilities of overcoming poverty;[2]but this is just one side of the coin, the other being about an increasing impoverishment, the quasi-destitution of the middle-classes, the shift of impoverishment to the countries that are still the countries of the north and not least the re-establishment of the concurrency of public poverty and private wealth 

Against this background, quesitons of human rights, universality and not least the meaning of socio-economic developments gain new importance, not least demanding overcoming even the standard criteria, or we may also say the standards of criteria. If the present volume had been successful in pursuing this goal is, remains to be decided by the reader.

For me as author remains to thank too many people to list them by their names. There are the many discussants; and there are – two exceptions may be allowed to be personally mentioned: Dorota Borkowska from the Faculty of Economics and Sociology at the University of Łódź, looking after the many students who come every year, diving into what is even today an adventure: studying in a foreign country; and still finding time to support me. The second is Peter Kube, yes, a priest, aus Halle – still, appreciated as discussant and friend to laugh with. Talking with and to him means so much about listening to oneself and I can only hope that it does not mean that he has to go one day a similar way as a person from whom he apparently learned – that person was finally condemned to drinking the hemlock, then price for saying the truth.

Not least, I am grateful for the generous support by The EKSOC Visiting Fellowship Programme at the University of Łódź, Poland (2018/2019) and the preceeding support by the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Munich, Germany (2017/2018).

[1]     I see thisas core of the entire process while I am admittedly still not entirely sure about the range and wider meaning – the standard answers: (i) nothing really changed, (ii) we witness fundamental changes but they are limited to niches, possibly only temporary outlayers and finally (iii) we are already at the doorsteps of a new mode of production are not really satisfying.

[2]     Evidence may be taken from the success in combatting poverty in China, and also the increasing number of people from the so-called emerging economies joining e.g. the club of the superrich (e.g. Mc Carthy, Niall, 9/2018: Where Super Rich Populations Are Growing Fastest [Infographic])

Uncertainty as the highest state of insecurity

The following gives an outlook on a new publication, contributing to the work at the HIGHER SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC SCHOOL IN GDAŃSK (WSSE) on Security issues in education and management, selected aspects of social security

Discussing increasing populism and right-wing political movements and social law together is commonly – and without any doubt importantly – dealing with issues of social legislation, employability and emphasising the importance of ‘honesty and reliability’ from the political side. And while globalisation is not condemned, it is at least in tendency suggested to be a centre piece of the present quarrels; migration, low-wage policies, capital-flight and tax competition are then highlighted as major issues. The present contribution aims on taking a wider approach, arguing that one of the major problems is the aggravation of a secular process that may be called – alluding to Karl Polanyi’s work – disembedding of law.

alternative reading

Recently I had been proofreading an article I wrote, looking at

The Particular and the Universal – Indigenous Sports for the Integrity of the Global Village

Though too often this work is the annoying part – but in this case I actually enjoyed it, thinking that there could be other criteria for peer reviewing etc.

  • How often does one interrupt reading to thing, reflect deeply on what had been written
  • How often does one detect connections that are unusual, though showing uo as being interesting
  • How often does one find new knowledge instead of new information confirming what one knows
  • How often is something written with which one does not agree, while one feels nevertheless stimulated by it and is provoked to think about the own ideas and the own standard arguments
  • Is there anything in the text that really provokes looking something up in order to gain some deeper insight, especially is there any “strange cat” – equally alive and dead – mentioned: something that one may have vaguely come across but one is now keen to recap, or study more in detail though it has nothing to do with one’s usual focus (e.g. Schroedinger’s cat – if it is alive of dead is not centrally a matter of [animal] welfare but still may of interest for everybody)

Recently, after having given a presentation, I received a mail by the Dean who was actually hosting the event, He said

…. I thought about a few explanations you shared with us. Nice job. Inspiring …

Leaving aside that there had been some interesting discussion at the end, a line as the one quoted may be the “highest praise” one can get after giving a presentation or writing something. A kind of “slow listening”.

For journal reviews (and reading, of course), it may be good to revisit the usual “comments to the editor”/”comments to the author”.

I remember once about an author, let’s call her A. A’s submission to a journal had been rejected by the review (anonymised process on all sides). The reason, brought forward:

The author did not make any reference to the work that had been undertaken by A.

Again, mind, the reviewer did not know that A had been actually the author of the reviewed article.

And the moral of an amoral academia: Never say anything new, always repeat what you said … – with a wee bit of change, possible just put in the new data: instead of 2xyz, the new article has the data of 2xyz+5. Interesting …

pay for part-time jobs

What is the pay for a part-time job on call?

The other day, booking a flight, I was browsing a bit, also looking at the options of seat-reservation. Another time that I was thinking about this strange construct of today’s economy, reading

The passenger named above has chosen a seat in an emergency exit row. In the unlikely event of an evacuation they will be expected to assist in the opening of the emergency door.

One interpretation is that one pays for some extra space – for more comfort, for medical reasons – or perhaps even to force oneself to store the hand-luggage properly in the overhead bin.

Another interpretation: I see myself as part-time casual worker, serving the airline on demand (sure, in the unlikely event they stress), actually even giving up the extra comfort) … – and I pay for it.

Now, a silly remark you may say – but is it really silly? As far as it is known some airlines “offer the opportunity to fly as co-pilot”, the payment being the hours needed to secure the validity of the license.

This “pay-to-fly” principle is sometimes applied at the Irish low-cost airline Ryanair too, according to insiders. Young pilots are not paid for flying, but have to pay for the pleasure of sitting in the cockpit, making flying one of the only jobs you actually have to buy.

To which extent is all this part of a wider move towards something new, i.e. a new capitalism? Surely this will also come up as part of the presentations I had been asked to give in the near future, the first of them next Wednesday.

bit of work done

and finally even available – the recent “products” now out:

Recording of the Presentation in Łódź (29/11/2018)

Digitisation, AI and the need of another economy


Recording of the presentation in Ostrava (5/12/2018)

Bubble Economies Bullshit Jobs Shredding Paintings


Recording of the Deans Lecture in Łódź (5/12/2018)

Bullshit jobs – but the problem is the stable


Publication in the Journal “Economy of the Region”

an article titled

Two-Criterion Model of the Russian Society Stratification by Income and Housing Security, 

Authored by V. N. Bobkov, P. Herrmann, I. B. Kolmakov, E. V. Odintsova,

Another article with the mystery-title 😉

About You – Nur frage nicht, ob du überhaupt bist

in: Tarantel, 12/2018.

Zeitschrift der Ökologische Plattform bei DER LINKEN

Published with some delay, though not out of date the Social Law Report 6/2017 of the MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR SOCIAL LAW AND SOCIAL POLICY

Entwicklungen der sozialen Sicherheit und des Sozialschutzes in Irland. Juli 2016 – Juli 2017

(These are regular reports and the 17/18 report is already waiting for being uploaded)

Now as recording – im German language:

Becoming Socially Acceptable ?

Public lectures are scheduled for the 5th and the 12th December.

After last week’s special lecture to a group of PhD-students, looking at
the upcoming lectures are linking to the recent book “Bullshit Jobs – A Theory”. [1] So is it finally socially acceptable to use such term as Bullshit in academic parlance?
It surely is a catchy phrase, and it also is surely a topic that allows to think abut all the Kafkaesk patterns and requirements …But as glad as I am to take up on the catchiness and as much as I appreciate that Graeber is interested in a very specific point, namely
to understand the psychological, social, and political effects of the fact that so many of us labor under the secret belief that our jobs lack social utility or social value
I am wondering if it is not also a danger of distracting from rather complex issues, linked to more or less fundamental shifts in economic structures.
The honour to give the reputable Deans Lecture at the Faculty of Economics and Sociology in Łódź on the 12th of December provides the opportunity to look at

Bullshit Jobs? suggesting that the Problem is the Stable

The aim is to show that – leaving some general aspects of squander, disrespect and ignorance aside – the underlying problem is an ongoing shift of capitalist accumulation that requires the increasing segregation and fragmentation: The fact that use value and exchange value are juxtaposed results necessarily in the fact that human relationships are systematically torn apart: to relate humans to each other they first have to – speaking systematically – separated by the process of commodification. On the market of commodities they are becoming equal and can – then, ex post – relate to each other. Not least it means that the increasing mediatisation – indeed Graeber points out that most of the relevant jobs occur in IT-related sectors – is necessary condition for making society economically possible. However, it also means that content doesn’t count – as much as capital SEEMINGLY generates capital as much is the sole presence of people considered to be a job, even if it is

a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.

– this is Graeber’s definition.

For the week before, on the 5th of December, the sociology department of the Ostravská univerzita in the Czech Republic organised a special lecture, the title of which is
In addition to the Graeber-book another reference is the more or less recent auto-shredding of Bansky’s Painting “Girl With Balloon” – the latter again giving the opportunity discuss the problems of hegemony and counter-hegemony – the link is given by reflecting on a statement by Hannah Arendt. She contends that
(n)ot cruelty is the attribute of tyranny, but the destruction of the public political realm, monopolised by the despot by claiming ‘wisdom’ … or based on thirst for power, i.e. insisting on citizens looking after their private concerns, leaving it to him, the ‘ruler, to take of the public matters’.[2]
Surely something marking a demarcation we face – be it in the shopping centres or academic institutions or political space.
[1] David Graeber, 2018: Bullshit Jobs – A Theory; New York et altera Simon&Schuster
[2] Arendt, Hannah, 1958: Vita Activa oder Vom Tätigen Leben; München/Zuerich: Piper, 1981, new edition: 215; translated from the German edition; with reference to Aristotle: Athenische Verfassung; XV, 5 – the available English edition did not contain the statement in this clarity.