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The Documedia Revolution

 

The Calenda plan for Industry 4.0, approved in December 2016, consists of fiscal incentives and initiatives to support venture capital, encouraging the spread of ultra-broadband, and fostering training – from school to university – in order to help companies adapt to the fourth industrial revolution. What is the reason behind this governmental initiative? The hypothesis underlying Scienza Nuova is that today we are dealing with three crucial changes, as a consequence of the digital transformation.

Business

In the field of business, we are witnessing the transition from goods to documents. Firstly, most goods turn out to be documents: they are manufactured by machines based on programs that have the same physical interface used to produce documents (a screen or a keyboard); moreover, even traditional goods come with increasing degrees of documentation (think of the ways to track the production process: when and how an egg was produced, the DOP and DOC classifications, etc.). Secondly, an economy based on the tertiary sector (think of the activities carried out by network providers or online stores such as Amazon) does not consist in producing artifacts, but in generating and circulating documents relating to the services offered and to their users. Thirdly, and above all, documents are the fundamental goods: consider the big data generated through the mobilization of users on the web. This mobilization does not give those users any profit, even though they are their direct producers, nor is it conceptualized as a form of labour.

Labour 

Rather than the disappearance of labour (which was predicted a few decades ago), we are witnessing a metamorphosis and a dissemination of work forms. Far from replacing human activities, new technologies extend the human-machine interaction to every part of life. There is a real division of labour in place: the machine takes over all the dead labour, and leaves humans to deal with residual living labour, namely the bestowal of meaning. This is a new but hidden factor (often condemned as consumerism) that occurs without traditional intermediations: agreements between users to offer services, creation of alternative sources of information, or use of the web as a form of professional self-promotion (fashion blogger, influencer etc.). Above all, the essence of “Onlife” – online life – does not lie in its virtual and electronic nature, but in the lack of any distinction between work time and life time. This transformation involves three fundamental elements: consumerism (interpretable as working from home), production (no longer separated from entertainment, for the loss of the distinction between life and work due to the diffusion of digital interfaces), and recognition, as a fundamental drive to perform unpaid functions not recognized as labour.

Society

If we look at the form of life that takes hold in the documedia revolution, we will realize that it has very little to do with the old world of capital, and very much in common with communism understood in Marx’s ideal form: end of alienation (variety of tasks, prevailing of the relational aspect); classless society (income brackets survive, but classes disappear as catalysts of ideas, habits, forms of thought and behaviour); a society that tends to be stateless (just consider that bitcoin takes away from the state the privilege of issuing currency); dictatorship of the proletariat (growing aversion towards the elites); end of private property (the prevalence of services reduces the convenience of private property – self-driving cars are unlikely to be owned by anyone, and, above all, in the sphere of data ownership the notion of “private property” seems to have completely disappeared); and implementation of the principle “each according to his ability” (unearned income is reduced).

An MIT for the Humanities

Our society is not liquid (in many respects, it is more solid and normative than ever), but it is certainly porous, one where the exchange between science, business and the humanities has become increasingly feasible and necessary. This is the framework behind Scienza Nuova, the MIT for the humanities of the University of Turin. Developed as part of the collaboration between the Laboratory of Ontology (LabOnt) and the University’s “Innovation and Competitiveness” Strategic Project (Picto), the Institute of Advanced Studies “Scienza Nuova” intends to develop the highest level of interdisciplinary collaboration to study the transformation of society, labour, and business.

State of the Art

There are many institutes of advanced studies in Italy. A prime example is the School of Humanistic Studies in Bologna, wanted by Umberto Eco. Scienza Nuova feels particularly close to the latter in terms of culture, although it intends to focus more on the sphere of relations between the humanities and business. Our team has also developed a good relationship with the IMT School for Advanced Studies in Lucca, with the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, and with the IUSS Higher University School in Pavia. Scienza Nuova also has developed collaborations with international schools operating in this sector: for example, the Centre for Ethics and Technology (4TU.Ethics) founded in 2007 by the board of three technical universities in the Netherlands (Delft, Eindhoven, and Twente) to study ethical issues in the development, use and regulation of technology; and the Center for History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Aberdeen.

Vision

The starting point of Scienza Nuova is the obvious observation that the humanities can no longer rely on the automatic and quasi-religious prestige that was reserved for intellectuals in traditional societies (including Italy until not long ago). This was a positive change, which pushed the humanities to learn new languages (English, for example, but taking care not to forget the others, like Italian); to dialogue with the rest of society; and to understand that humanistic culture is not the opposite of science and technology, but rather itself a kind of technology (made of writing, interpretation, archiving and invention) that is particularly powerful and useful also for science. Due to the transformations brought about by the documedia revolution, the conditions are now in place for the emergence of what Jacques Derrida called “the humanities to come”, capable of interacting not only with science, but also with technology and professional life, increasing their inherent interdisciplinarity. It is highly probable that in fifty years university faculties will be organized very differently from the way they traditionally used to be. What is certain is that this restructuring will be all the more effective the more one understands that between science, technology and humanism there is no contrast, but rather an essential connection. We are technological and scientific animals, and this is what makes us human.

Peculiarities

In this context, the inspiring principle of Scienza Nuova is twofold. Firstly, the contribution of the humanities to the three spheres of business, labour and society must not adapt to transformations occurring outside the university, but rather anticipate and invent new forms of collaboration and intervention in which the humanities can unfold their peculiarity and originality. Secondly, Scienza Nuova aims at working together with the Polytechnic University of Turin at all three levels of teaching: Bachelor, Master, and PhD. Scienza Nuova has three main goals: the establishment of a research incubator to enhance the international competitiveness of the University; the implementation of a three-level inter-university education, aimed at improving the synergy between the University and the Polytechnic; the accomplishment of the third mission to better represent the function and the field of the humanities within the framework of the documedia revolution.

Research Incubator

At this level, the goal is to create a training structure not only for individual research, but for cooperation in competitive projects and for the presentation of findings in prestigious publications. There are four initiatives conceived to achieve this goal: Acamedia, Acanext, Acaweb and Acadigit.

Acamedia

For the past two years, Collegio Carlo Alberto and LabOnt have coordinated Acamedia (https://www.acamedia.unito.it), a system to improve the quality of research. It is a pilot project in the humanities, in collaboration with the Department of Philosophy and Education Sciences, the Department of Psychology, and Collegio Carlo Alberto. The project is financed by Compagnia di San Paolo, which aims to provide the tools for the internationalization of research activities to UniTo researchers, and eventually to all Italian universities.

Acanext

Acanext has three objectives: training competent staff to support the drafting of European projects; attracting young researchers to work on Erc or Marie Curie projects (Scienza Nuova supports promising scholars with the commitment that they will stay at the University of Turin if the funding application is successful); attracting senior researchers through research incentives (structures, connections with professional services, research awards, fellowships).

Acaweb

Acaweb consists in the creation of several international academic networks focused on objectives and aimed at the circulation of PhD students (through the assignment of ad hoc scholarships), as well as junior and senior fellows (through the establishment of fellowships). For example, one can mention:

  • Spazio europeo della ricerca (European Research Area). This circuit, coordinated by Emanuele Conte, comprises the following international institutes in Rome: École française de Rome, Germanic Historical Institute, Germanic Archaeological Institute, Hertziana Library (Max Planck Institute for Art History), British Institute, American Academy in Rome, Danish Institute in Rome, Swedish Institute in Rome, Academia Belgica, Finnish Institute, Dutch Institute, Swiss Institute, Austrian Institute. These Institutes will be asked to advertise some of their PhD positions on shared research networks. Scienza Nuova, as the Italian coordinator of the European Research Area, is responsible for offering high-level seminars in each line of research, to encourage the interaction between PhD students from the various institutions.
  • Spazio filosofico europeo (European Philosophical Area), in collaboration with Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. Center for Advanced Studies South East Europe (Rijeka); Internationales Zentrum für Philosophie Nordrhein-Westfalen (Bonn); Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (München); Université de Paris I; University College Cork.
  • Law and Humanities. Käte Hamburger Kolleg „Recht als Kultur“ (Bonn); Università di Roma Tre: Winter school in Law and humanities; Cardozo Law School, McGill University Montreal, Birkbeck, London.
  • Humanities for Europe. Center for European Modernist Studies (Perugia); University of Utrecht, Ghent University: Humanities for Europe (conferences and doctoral schools); Luiss Guido Carli: research on Europe and global justice (research on intergenerationality); Université Paris Nanterre; European Movement; Economic and Social Committee (EU):
  • Work, mobilization, society. St. Mary’s University, London; Saint Petersburg State University.
  • Emerging media. Department for emerging media, Boston University; Collège d’études mondiales (Paris, FMSH): post-truth, documediality, social science.

Acadigit

For some years the “Innovation and Competitiveness” Strategic Project of the University has developed a new relationship between University and Territories, based on the overcoming of the Technology Transfer in favor of the Knowledge Interchange model, which recognizes the Academy as a junction between different local actors (Researchers Network, Entrepreneurs Network, Funders Network, Citizens Network). Acadigit aims to develop interdisciplinary research paths on the impact of the digital transformation on society, on individual users, on markets and on companies, with reference to the development of research in the field of technology and, specifically, of Artificial Intelligence.

Headquarters

The temporary headquarters of Scienza Nuova is the LabOnt office at the Luigi Einaudi Campus, and the organizational structure is provided by the staff of LabOnt. The research will be carried out within the infrastructure “HSSH with and for Industry 4.0” of the “Innovation and Competitiveness” Project (https://innovazione.unito.it/hssh-with-and-for-industry-4-0). We will also introduce a site for research, conferences and residential seminars at the Turin University Center in Savigliano (https://www.unito.it/media-gallery/detail/2142/4439). We are evaluating other solutions for the central headquarters of the institute, which will be used by staff – local and visiting -, fellows and PhD students.