Sebastian Sevignani is Assistant Professor at the Department for General Sociology and Sociological Theory, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany. Sebastian is based at WIAS from 2 May to 31 July 2017. During his fellowship, he will be working on a two-fold project that explores how we might reformulate the critique that capitalism subsumes need-development to profits and cuts off potentials for human flourishing under current circumstances of informatisation and social media.
What is your research project about?
The first part of my research will describe systematically how changes of society towards an informational phase of capitalism affects the human need structure. The systematisation will be done on behalf of an expanded model of capital accumulation that considers the interplay between economy (relation between the spheres of (re-)production, circulation, and consumption) and wider society (regime of accumulation and regime of political and cultural regulation). Based on an answer to the abstract question ‘How does the informatisation of capitalism modify the roles and the development of human needs?’, my project aims to then elaborate on a concrete case.
The second part of my research will study the dialectics of the political economy of ‘smart’ advertising and the acceleration of consumption and the potentials of ICTs for social association beyond the market. My aim here is to assess the thesis of whether capital, by developingproductive forces to deal with structural uncertainty to realise profits in market societies, provides indications for social association beyond the market that is oriented to (true) human needs.
My research project relates to a broader project at my home university that aims at a re-actualisation of a critical theory of needs. Such a theory had its conjuncture in the aftermath of the '68s (e.g. Marcuse, Heller) but is currently underdeveloped although the reference to human needs and the motivation of subjects remain foundational for critical social theory. The project encompasses first a social-theoretical conceptualisation of human needs, referring to different strands of critical theory. The theoretical place of needs necessitates a precise determination of the relationship between nature, the unconscious and conscious aspects of the individual and society.
What are you looking forward to during your stay at WIAS?
The fellowship provides me with the opportunity to work, on the one hand, on the general implication of informatisation on a critical theory of needs; on the other hand, it allows me to elaborate on the planned case studies. I am looking forward to profiting from discussions with other fellows at WIAS and local students and staff.