On the Peculiarity of Standards: A Reply to Thompson
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As Paul B. Thompson suggests in his recent seminal paper, “‘There’s an App for That’: Technical Standards and Commodification by Technological Means,” technical standards restructure property (and other social) relations. He concludes with the claim that the development of technical standards of commodification can serve purposes with bad effects such as “the rise of the factory system and the deskilling of work” or progressive effects such as how “technical standards for animal welfare… discipline the unwanted consequences of market forces.” In this reply, we want to append several points to his argument and suggest that he rightly points out that standards can promote various goods; however, there are peculiar powers wielded by standardization processes that might profitably be unpacked more systematically than Thompson's article seems to suggest. First, the concealment of the technopolitics around standards is largely due to their peculiar ontological status as recipes for reality. Second, technical standards can and do commit violence against persons, but such violence is often suffered not in the formation of class consciousness, as Marx might have put it, but as a failure to conform to the laws of nature.