Entry to IBM plant, RTP North Carolina

Corporatization, Flexibilization

and Militarization in the Creative Industries

We’ve heard a lot in recent years from urbanists and economic planners about the ‘creative city’, the ‘creative class’ and the ‘creative industries’. To compare facts with fictions, I decided to take a little tour of one of the urban areas that have been specially designed to put the creativity into industry.

The Research Triangle is an unusually wealthy, unusually brainy metropolitan region of North Carolina, centred around the university towns of Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, and home to about one-and-a-half million people. It owes its name and fame to the establishment in the late 1950s of a state-funded science park, the Research Triangle Park, which is a woodsy retreat for the R&D labs of giant transnational corporations. ‘Where the minds of the world meet’ is the RTP motto.

Long before Silicon Valley or even Northern Italy, Research Triangle Park was the template for the creative industries. At the time, the phrase would have evoked men and women in white coats with test tubes in their hands, bringing you a better tomorrow with chemicals, plastics, nuclear radiation and colour TV, all beneath the umbrella of the US government and its Cold War agendas. The RTP project can easily appear as its own caricature, like other relics of the fifties. But is the present-day picture really that different? As our tour unfolds, we’re going to see that far more intricate private-public partnerships in the universities have taken up where the old-style science park left off, boosting employment and productivity and continually advertising the potential to do more, with the result that the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill technopolis is now being touted as a model for the emerging knowledge dumps of Europe. The question for everyone living downstream of the ‘Triangle model’ is whether we want to throw our minds away in the restricted space of corporatisation, flexibilisation and militarisation – the triple dead-end of the neoliberal knowledge economy.

Entropy and its Discontents

To raise a few doubts, I’m going to try something between thick geographical description and allegorical landscape. The approach has an illustrious predecessor. Some forty years ago and a few hundred miles to the north, the artist Robert Smithson proposed ‘A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey’. He was looking not at majestic beaux-arts sculptures but at freeway projects, or what he thought of as involuntary earthworks: ‘the Bridge Monument’, ‘the Great Pipe Monument’, ‘the Monument with Pontoons’, etc. Smithson saw these infrastructure projects as ruins in reverse: ‘This is the opposite of the “romantic ruin” because the buildings don’t fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built’. [1] Coming of age in the era of peak production and planned obsolescence, Smithson was fascinated with the dark side of the American dream, with what he conceived as the entropic nature of the industrial monuments. Their very construction seemed imbued with an invisible dissolution and decay, a hidden destiny of collapse and disorder, which he brought out graphically in the black-and-white snapshots that illustrate his essay.

The monuments of Passaic, New Jersey, seen by Robert Smithson in 1967

The monuments of the Research Triangle today (click for larger image)

Ours is a more optimistic age. The new monuments of the Research Triangle appear in bright digital colour, like projected images, or life-sized advertisements for someone else’s utopia. As you glide by them in your air-conditioned American car – from the GlaxoSmithKline building and the National Centre for the Humanities at Research Triangle Park, to the Nasher Museum on the Duke University campus, the Lucky Strike Water Tower at the American Tobacco Historic District in Durham, or even the the brand-new County Jail right next door – what’s striking is that here in the South, in cities like Durham or Raleigh with historically important black communities, everything that looks the slightest bit monumental tends toward an increasingly pure, clinical white. Maybe this shade of ‘laboratory white’ signifies a different type of entropic monument, beyond the limits of thermodynamics with its simple laws of energetic decay. And since the knowledge-based economy – with its emphasis on superstructure, not infrastructure – requires such extraordinary rates of data transmission, maybe this new entropy is of the kind that telecommunications engineer Claude Shannon famously ascribed to information.

Shannon is the founder of the ‘mathematical theory of communication’. Recall that for him, ‘meaning’ is irrelevant: all that matters is the quantity of information, the ratio of signal to noise. More signal, less decay, less disorder – less entropy in the usual sense of the word. [2] Shannon’s ideal is maximum order, perfect transmission, i.e. negentropy, which literally means entropy in reverse. Now, negative entropy is held by modern science to be the characteristic of life, of growth. Which obviously has its economic connotations – in biotech for instance, where everyone constantly predicts the next great financial bonanza. [3] The Research Triangle is banking heavily on biotech, as we shall see. Still there comes a point when you have to ask the question: where does all this knowledge-driven growth really lead? When the entire spectrum of human concerns, from knowledge and creativity to democracy, social justice and ecological sustainability, is subsumed under the imperative of economic expansion, then the absolute purity of the informational signal becomes indistinguishable from noise.

In the knowledge-based economy, growth just cranks up the volume of white noise. This is the most basic idea I’m going to offer, inseparable from the pixellated images of the Triangle monuments. The ever-expanding range of digital choice – starting from the 0/1 alternative which is the essence of information – finally culminates in a meaningless blur.


Surface Illusions

Let’s begin our tour of the negentropic monuments like any good tourist would, with the new UED or ‘urban entertainment destination’ of the American Tobacco Historic District in Durham, right across the street from the County Jail. Once a factory for poison products, now a veritable leisure campus, still unfinished but already in full swing, it conforms in every way to Richard Florida’s descriptions of successful urban theme parks for the creative class, combining luxurious consumption environments with chic professional interiors, everywhere marked by the presence of art and design. Like any prosumer paradise, it calls out to the intellectual side of you, it offers you informative lectures accompanied with lunch or drinks, it includes an extension of Duke University, and mingles PR firms with perky restaurant ideas – so you can do your corporate duty while having some innocent fun, or vice versa. In short, it’s a perfect architecture for what I call ‘the flexible personality’. [4]

It’s fascinating to go into such a place as it is being built, to see the underside of the façade, the material end of the immaterial labour, and then to follow the workers outside to the ‘ordinary’ city, which now appears as an immense reserve of nostalgia and available space, ripe for gentrification. For your eyes only, every dilapidated building, every vacant lot, can be a Disney-in-waiting, just as the ruined American Tobacco factory once was. The whole seduction of the postmodern lies in its capacity to transform entire urban environments into 3-D images. Your pupils become the cinematic lens, reshaping everything through your own free experience. But back at the Historic District, paradox awaits: because this narcissistic mirror is all under copyright, and if you take out your camera to fulfil your artistic aspirations, you’ll be rapidly hailed by a security guard and required to sign a contract restricting any use of the images.


One could no doubt explore the ways that the exercise of copyrighted creativity gradually turns the open space of experience into a labyrinth of obligation, constraint and submission, subverted but also reinforced by the clandestine pleasures of immaterial piracy. It’s a perversely gratifying sort of game, with which American academics will be all too familiar. This would be perfect material for yet another exercise in what the literati like to call ‘theory’ – after all, we’re at Duke, the stomping grounds of Fred Jameson, who wrote the definitive post-Marxist book on postmodernism. [5] But maybe that would be a bit too much local colour.

What I really think is that in the Triangle all creation of images, and probably every activity subject to copyright, functions primarily as advertising for the region, laying a seductive gloss over a more fundamental vector of wealth production which arises from the patenting of technological inventions. Between the two, copyrighting and patenting, there is a functional division of what has been called ‘immaterial labour’. That is, the creation of images still helps you to forget what’s really going on – even if today, in the new version of the spectacle society, it will as often as not be yourself doing the creating. And so it might be possible to say, in a very general vein, that there can be no critical approach to the creative industries without a dissolution of the commodity veil that both conceals and reinforces the relation between copyrighted image and patented technology.

But this kind of ultra-Leftist pronouncement is ultimately void without an examination of concrete situations, which always evolve in time, following their intrinsic trajectories. So now we’re gonna have to put some history in our postmodern geography.

Back to the Future

Research Triangle Park, or RTP, is a separated, isolated space designed specifically for patent production. It was officially founded in 1959 as a non-profit foundation, charged with developing, managing and gradually selling off a strip of unincorporated land four kilometres wide and fifteen kilometres long, close to the airport, well served by freeways and theoretically just a twenty-minute drive from all the major universities of the metropolitan area. This is the place that brought you Astroturf and the Universal Product Code – but also 3-D ultrasound technology and AZT, the Aids treatment.

Initially it was conceived as a private venture, promoted by corporate officers of Wachovia bank and a local building contractor with the benevolent support of the governor’s office, Duke University and the University of North Carolina. [6] The loftier goals were to stem the tide of unemployment in a state dominated by low-wage manufacturing and small-scale agriculture, and to halt the brain drain of educated youth. However, its backers soon realised that only clear commitments from the state and the universities would give corporations the confidence to locate their labs in a relatively unknown area of the American South. Public money was therefore raised for the Foundation, and the non-profit Research Triangle Institute (RTI) was installed alongside it, to perform contract research for government, business and industry. The aim of RTI was to spark interest in the park from social-science faculty who might like to try their hand at the messy practicalities of governance, while at the same time setting the example of a functioning business, in the hopes of attracting private investors. IBM led the way, with the decision to build a 600,000 square-foot research facility in 1965. Today there are some 137 corporate landowners in the park. In addition to IBM, residents include Nortel Networks, GlaxoSmithKline, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, BASF, Eisai, Biogen, Credit Suisse and Syngenta, as well as a host of federal agencies. With its nearly fifty-year history, RTP claims to be the premier science park in the world.


What you see on the tour is forest, parking lots, curving driveways, stop signs, heterogeneous buildings and omnipresent warnings prohibiting photography – this time for reasons of corporate secrecy. The architecture has a boxy, outdated look, recalling the shoddy modernist designs and Formica interiors of the postwar era. There is no housing anywhere on the grounds, as the whole point was to avoid incorporation into a municipality, and thus be able to offer tax-free status to the businesses. The original guidelines called for no industrial production, but these were eased to permit ‘approximately 20%’ manufacturing activity – a figure which no one suspects the sprawling IBM plant of having ever respected. Still the mainstay of the park is scientific innovation, recognised from the 1950s onward as the major driver of advanced economies. The sylvan landscaping, vast green lawns and endless jogging trails evoke the Apollonian imaginary of research in the fifties and sixties.

A building with the intriguing inscription of ‘Cape Fear’ – the name of a North Carolina river – revealed nothing of any particular interest. Nonetheless, fear has a certain tacit currency at the RTP Foundation these days. A graph entitled ‘Expected Results’, distributed to visitors, shows the sharpest-ever decline in jobs in the park since 2001, as well as a pronounced flattening in the curve of R&D firms moving in. While biotech and pharmaceutical companies remain strong, IBM has sold its manufacturing to the Chinese firm Lenovo, Nortel remains mired in the scandals of the new-economy bubble and Cisco has seriously cut back operations. The major upswing shown for the next six years, in dark black, is entirely hypothetical.

A regional report, entitled ‘Staying on Top’, notes further job loss in the rest of the Triangle area. [7] Yet another one analyses critical weaknesses with respect to comparable regions in the US: failure to meet the needs of start-up companies, less opportunities for social interaction, a lower level of popular brand-name recognition, an absence of networking and awareness-raising mechanisms to encourage the creation of spin-offs. [8] To that can be added the transport crisis: freeway bottlenecks at quitting time, when 40,000 employees all simultaneously get behind the wheel.

To be sure, the last few open plots in the south of the park have recently been sold to massive financial institutions such as Fidelity and Crédit Suisse, looking to install backup facilities in the woods, in case New York is ever bombed again. But a bunker mentality is hardly a key resource for the overwhelming priority that now obsesses corporate execs: namely, achieving the highest possible rank in global competitiveness. The hope seems to be that solutions will come from elsewhere.

Great Expectations

Don’t forget you’re still on tour. Take the time for a leisurely stroll around the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: admire the tree-covered grounds, the stately classical buildings. A blue banner stretched between the columns of the School of Information and Library Science proudly reads: ‘Ranked 1st in the Nation by U.S. News and World Report’. Make no mistake, that ranking is all-important. A little further on you’ll find what students call ‘the Pit’: a sunken plaza reserved for democratic expression, where a volunteer sandwich man gesticulates and vociferates, his personal billboard reading ‘Trust Jesus, Fear God’. The link between an ostentatious quest for the highest economic rank and an intimate desire for salvation was revealed long ago by Max Weber. [9] It has found an extraordinary new field of expression in neoconservative America, where public mores were decisively influenced in the 1990s by religiously oriented technophiles such as George Gilder. [10] All this has had its consequences on education. The real ‘ruin in reverse’ in the USA today is the university, and the minds it manufactures. The campus is the ultimate negentropic monument – the key resource on which the entire Triangle concept was based.


The effort to restructure the educational system for a vastly more intensive production of patented technologies dates from the late 1970s, when US corporations were perceived as losing technological leadership to Japan. The problem, according to sociologists Walter Powell and Jason Owen-Smith, was that at the cutting edges of industrial development, ‘research breakthroughs were distributed so broadly across both disciplines and institutions that no single firm had the necessary capabilities to keep pace’. [11] The solution has been to engineer a fusion between corporate appetites for technical innovation and the university’s capacity to span the most diverse domains of fundamental research – often at enormous capital expense, paid for by the public.

Two things were required for the transition from in-park secrecy to open cooperation between state, corporations and civil society. The first was a way to keep the technologies acquired functionally private, reserved for exploitation by a single licensee. The patenting of material formerly in the public domain accomplishes this, with worldwide profits, thanks to the extension of intellectual property treaties under the WTO. The second thing was a maximum of social legitimacy, a pure and unquestionable ideology of direct benefits for everyone, to maintain an unruffled equilibrium among all the minds that are destined to meet, even those still tempted to believe in utopias of technological progress for the whole planet. This could be provided by the touchy-feely side of the new technologies, or what are now called ‘the creative industries’. Yet if you look around the world, what mets your eyes is really an updated version of classical imperialism, where intellectual property laws and IMF-guaranteed loans are used to extract profits from a global ‘South of the Border’. Is it too much to speak of a white ideology?

What gets lost, in the meeting of minds under the aegis of a search for excellence, is exactly that sense of utopian separation and critical reserve that campus architecture – and the whole concept of the modern university – was designed to foster. The appearance of religiously backed neoconservativism as the major US political actor in the post-bubble era, with its continuous injunction to ‘fear God’, has served above all as a distraction from the psychic consequences of the vast social overhaul carried out by neoliberal policy over the past thirty years, spurred on by a more basic narcissistic fear of competition from a distant, abstract other – no longer Japan, but now the strangely Americanized clone of communist neoliberal China.

Intellectual Incubators

The money’s the thing, where you’ll catch the conscience of the postmodern king. The same goes for educational reform as for genetic engineering. The archaeology of the public university’s ruin goes way back to the invention of the Cohen-Boyer gene-splicing technique in 1973, and its privatisation by Stanford’s patent administrator, Niels Reimers. A significant event because it involved not an application but a primary research technique. And even more because of the enormous profits it netted: some $300 million in the 17 years before the patent’s expiration. [12] This is the figure that made the University Patent Office inevitable.

The privatisation of research formerly held in the public domain has been a long process, whose major phases have only recently been retraced. But there is a landmark piece of legislation in this story, something like the genetic code of the corporate university: the Bayh-Dole act of 1980. [13] Passed in a context of rising international competition and declining federal funding for education, it served to codify the increasingly prevalent practice of patenting and commercialising publicly funded research. Exclusive licensing of inventions would be legal, even encouraged; and the inventors would be allowed and even required to take a cut of the profits. The keyword here is technology transfer, or the process of moving ideas as quickly as possible from laboratory to industry. This transfer has spawned two new identities: the professor as small-time entrepreneur, and the university as big-time business.

A glance at one of the University of North Carolina websites reveals the basic procedure: ‘The Office of Technology Development (OTD) manages inventions resulting from research conducted at UNC-Chapel Hill. OTD evaluates and markets UNC technologies, obtains intellectual property protection where appropriate, and licenses these technologies to industry. OTD also assists faculty in obtaining research support from corporate sponsors. OTD is dedicated to serving its faculty and helping corporations gain access to UNC’s technological resources. This process works best when companies first identify specific areas of scientific interest, OTD can then bring inventions to a company’s attention which specifically match those areas of interest. We invite companies to get to know us and hope you will think of us as a guide to the technology and collaborative opportunities available at UNC-Chapel Hill.’ [14]

In short, the university itself now takes charge, not only of the mechanics of licensing, but also of the functions of what is known in business circles as an ‘incubator’, providing support to fledging businesses in the start-up phase before they attain commercial success – or, more commonly, before they’re snapped up by a major corporation.

To do all this has required a change in the institutional nexus that guides the activity of scientists, but also a deep-running change in what Michel Foucault theorised as ‘governmentality’, i.e. the underlying logic or common sense that structures individual modes of self-evaluation, of public expression, of relation to others and to the future. [15] Nigel Thrift catches this imbrication of policy and individual subjectivity very well, in his book Knowing Capitalism: ‘Nearly all western states nowadays subscribe to a rhetoric and metric of modernisation based on fashioning a citizen who can become an actively seeking factor of production…. And that rhetoric, in turn, has hinged on a few key management tropes – globalisation, knowledge, learning, network, flexibility, information technology, urgency – which are meant to come together in a new kind of self-willed subject whose industry will boost the powers of the state to compete’. [16] The disinterested university becomes the active incubator of homo economicus.

In the case of a teaching school like UNC Chapel Hill, the payoff may appear slim: a measly $2 million in 2005, with a peak of around $4 million in 2004, sums still dwarfed by federal and state contributions. Consider, however, how far the process of corporatisation has gone in nearby Duke University, an elite private school which boasts the most romantic faux-Gothic architecture in the region. Duke is currently on a building spree, thanks to the $2.3 billion it raised in an eight-year campaign; it leads all other American universities in industry funding for R&D, obtaining approximately a quarter of its research budget from corporate sponsorship ($135 million in 2005). [17] What’s more, it is now partnering with Singapore on a seven-year, $350 million project to install a new graduate medical school in the Asian city-state, ‘as part of a national strategy [for Singapore] to become a leading centre for medical research and education’. ‘They told us, you hire the faculty, you admit the students, but we’ll build it and give you total control’, says a Duke spokesman. ‘It’s a very cool deal’. [18]

Little wonder that the theoretical infinity of biological growth – negative entropy – has fascinated corporate capital for the last ten years. Given the way that American universities such as Duke are now run – as incubators – deals like this could proliferate into the greatest exportation of governance that the world has ever seen. Nigel Thrift lists no less than fourteen universities – including one each from France, Holland, Germany, Sweden and India – which have agreed to similar contracts with Singapore (even if one, John Hopkins University, has since proved unable to uphold its end of the bargain). Thrift describes the strategy of the Singapore Economic Development Board as consisting in: ‘the creation of a “world-class” education sector which would import “foreign talent”, both to expose Singaporean educational institutions to competition (thereby forcing them to upgrade), and also to produce a diverse global education hub attractive to students from around the Asia-Pacific region. In theory this cluster of educational institutions would produce and disseminate knowledge at a range of scales, supporting local and foreign firms in Singapore, state institutions in Singapore, and firms and states in the South East, East and South Asian regions’. [19] The big prize here is the China market, followed by India. The question is apparently not whether Asians will get American-style neoliberal governmentality, but instead, whether they will get it directly, or through a Singaporean relay.

In any case, there is now a huge market for the education of the flexible knowledge-worker. Such an education is an export product for its chief supplier, the United States, with a profitable role left for all kinds of intermediaries. One could make similar remarks about the role of Britain – the great promoter of the creative industries – as a major relay in the transmission of ‘white noise’ from the USA to Europe.

The Final Frontier

Meanwhile, back in the metropolitan region where so many basic tenets of contemporary societal planning were born, the problems that confronted the 1950s-vintage RTP science park are well on their way to being solved. The driving force this time appears most nakedly at the third corner of the Triangle, North Carolina State University at Raleigh. NCSU Raleigh is in the process of executing a full-fledged vision of the future: the Centennial Campus, a perfectly integrated private-public partnership, explicitly described as a ‘knowledge enterprise zone’, making the best of all corporate, governmental, leisure and academic worlds. Every lesson from the long history of neoliberal planning, including the fluffier ones more recently offered by Richard Florida, seems to have been applied. I quote from the project description: ‘This “technopolis” consists of multi-disciplinary R&D neighbourhoods, with university, corporate, and government facilities intertwined. A middle school, residential housing, executive conference centre and hotel, golf course, town centre and recreational amenities will weave the campus into a true interactive community…. The unique master plan for this environmentally sensitive, mixed-use, academic village responds to the professional, educational and recreational needs of the University’s faculty, staff and student body, as well as those of corporate and government affiliates whose presence on Centennial Campus adds to its vigour and effectiveness’. [20]


No longer an isolated, secluded activity, R&D is now proposed as a whole way of life, able to extract the full spectrum of value from every creative person engaged in it. It seems that the final frontier of knowledge-based capitalism – or the last natural reserve of energy to be exploited by the state and its corporations – is you, your body, your intelligence, your imagination. The question is, what will you be used for? Some inkling of the innovative possibilities that lie in wait at Centennial Campus can be gained from the first completed facilities: not one but two Biosafety Level 3 laboratories, built with federal subsidies as part of an effort to increase America’s readiness in the ever more likely event of bioterrorism. [21] You guessed it, the growth market is potentially tremendous. It’s worth noting that this effort also serves to bail out the failing biotech industry, which US economic planners have slated to replace networked computer technologies as the new benchmark of technological superiority on the world market. Indeed, Defence Department funding is an essential piece of the puzzle. [22] The ‘third leg’ of the triangle that defines the meeting place of minds in the knowledge-based economy is militarisation, which alone can provide the massive influx of subsidies on which private-public partnerships depend. But the question of whether this kind of military-driven economic growth is viable, in the face of rising hostility abroad and deepening inequality at home, does not seem to get asked in the US anymore.

While waiting to judge the lifesaving capacities of NCSU Raleigh’s unfinished biomedical campus, we can get a whiff of the creative-industrial future from a news item on the NCSU Engineering website: ‘Sponsored by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Grand Challenge competition was created to answer a congressional mandate to convert one-third of military vehicles to driverless, computer-driven mode by 2015′. [23] This is a nationwide program, conceived to mobilise an entire population, from amateur computer geeks and small-town racing aficionados to corporate project teams and university engineering labs. The Raleigh campus has been thoroughly hooked in. Already the road tests of a lushly designed and specially modified Lotus Elise sports car are generating enormous excitement, at least if you believe the PR campaign. But what this kind of remote-controlled creativity conceals is a deepening militarisation of society, heralding not only the advent of robotised battles in foreign countries (the only way to escape the shortfalls of a mercenary army), but also an increasing regimentation of life on local streets. As the rhetoric continues: ‘The technology that will guide the Elise through city streets may one day revolutionise not only the way the military performs missions but also the way that commuters drive to work each day’. In other words, someday the steering wheel of your car may be connected to a centralised computer, in the name of rush-hour efficiency. But by that point, what else will be hooked in? The silver lining is that such an invention would finally solve the bedevilling RTP traffic problems, and allow the would-be visionaries of North Carolina to make it back in less than twenty minutes to the Research Triangle Institute – which as early as March of 2003 had won its largest-ever contract, worth over $400 million dollars, for the redesign of local governments in the fledgling democracy of Iraq. [24]

So our tour comes full circle, back to its point of origin, just when the illusions of the creative industries finally come to coincide with the meaningless economy of war. And it all works so smoothly, so perfectly. Who knows? With the help of defence, academic and corporate contracts, along with a dash of aesthetics and a few computer-piloted automobiles, the declining science park might still contribute to a future World Government. Unless some more radically creative class finds the way to disconnect the dots of this hell machine.

click the crystal ball to peer into the future


These reflections were inspired by an in-depth introduction to the Triangle region, offered generously by the 3Cs Counter-Cartography Collective at UNC Chapel Hill. 3Cs is about permeability and difference: students, professors, community members, political groups, distant interlocutors; labour, leisure, professionalism, amateurism, discipline, organising, satire, statistics, subversion… They’ve created a ‘disorientation guide‘ to the school, with a definition of precarious labour on the back, and a cartographic image stating that the university is both a ‘functioning body’ and ‘a factory producing your world’. [25] It’s my belief that an extended network of such personal-political partnerships could throw the ruined future of the world-factory into reverse, by dissolving the surface images and uncovering the triple program of corporatisation, flexibilisation and militarisation that increasingly defines the shapes and destinies of the knowledge-based economy. But to do so means establishing priorities that aren’t fixed by an ideal of unsustainable and ultimately meaningless economic growth, and that aren’t pictured through the seductive lens of PR and advertising. To do so, in other words, requires a kind of revolution.

The public universities – not only in the US, but everywhere – are the places to begin imagining an entirely different future, a turn away from war and ecological collapse. And if it’s impossible to use them for anything but intellectual property production and self-fetishization, then it’s time to start up free ones, where there’s some room to think among the debris of the future. Every step through the postmodern mirror offers our still-functioning bodies another chance to cut the signal, click off the automatic pilot, give away the dots and open our minds to other possible worlds.

( Thanks to Claire Pentecost for the constructive critique. )


1. Robert Smithson, ‘A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey’ (1967), in Jack Flam (ed.), Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, Berkeley, U.C. Press, 1996; p. 72.

2. Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949), University of Illinois Press, 1998. ‘Entropy’ is a strange word to describe the quantity of information, which is obviously ordered. Von Neumann apparently made this remark to Shannon: ‘You should call it entropy, for two reasons. In the first place your uncertainty function has been used in statistical mechanics under that name, so it already has a name. In the second place, and more important, no one really knows what entropy really is, so in a debate you will always have the advantage.’ Scientific American 1971 , volume 225 , page 180; cited at en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_von_Neumann.

3. ‘Negative entropy’ was theorized as the characteristic of life by Erwin Shrödinger, What Is Life? (1944), Cambridge University Press, 1992. Shannon entropy was identified as ‘negentropy’ by Léon Brillouin, Science and Information Theory (1956), New York, Academic Press, 1962. For a full discussion of the relations between information, negentropy and biotech, see Tiziana Terranova, Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age, London, Pluto Press, 2004, chaps 1 and 4.

4. Brian Holmes, ‘The Flexible Personality’, in Hieroglyphs of the Future, Zagreb, Arkzin/WHW, 2002; online at http://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/1106.

5. Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, 1992.

6. Albert Link and John Scott, ‘The Growth of Research Triangle Park’, in Small Business Economics 20/2 (2003); at www.dartmouth.edu/~jtscott/Papers/00-22.pdf.

7. Future Cluster Competitiveness Task Force, ‘Staying on Top: Winning the Job Wars of the Future’, Research Triangle Regional Partnership, 2004, www.researchtriangle.org/uploads/Reports/StayingOnTop.pdf.

8. Research Triangle Foundation, ‘Triangle Innovation Project: Preparing for the Next 50 Years’, 2005, www.rtp.org/files/final.pdf.

9. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958. [The whole book is online here.]

10. Cf. Thomas Frank, One Market Under God, New York, Doubleday, 2001, pp. 79-83.

11. Walter Powell and Jason Owen-Smith, ‘Universities and the Market for Intellectual Property in the Life Sciences’, in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 17/2, 1998, p. 257; quoted in Jennifer Washburn, University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education, New York, Basic Books, 2005, p. 59.

12. Cf. Jennifer Washburn, University Inc., ibid. pp. 49-54; and Niels Riemers, ‘Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing and the Cohen/Boyer Cloning Patents’, interview by Sally Smith Hughes, 1997, http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=kt4b69n6sc&brand=calisphere.

13. Bayh-Dole act, United States Congress, 1980, www.cctec.cornell.edu/bayh-dole.html.

14. Office of Technology Development, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, ‘Overview for Companies’, http://research.unc.edu/otd/industry/overview.html

15. Cf. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, Peter Miller (eds), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, University of Chicago Press, 1991; and Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne, Nikolas Rose (eds), Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, neo-liberalism and rationalities of government, University of Chicago Press, 1996.

16. Nigel Thrift, Knowing Capitalism, London, Sage, 2005, p. 98.

17. Ella Powers, ‘Corporate Research Support Rebounds’, Inside Higher Ed, Feb. 1, 2007, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/02/01/r_d.

18. Michael Wagner, ‘Duke on track with $100M Singapore medical school’, Triangle Business Journal, August 11, 2006, http://triangle.bizjournals.com/triangle/stories/2006/08/14/story9.html.

19. Nigel Thrift, Knowing Capitalism, op. cit., p. 100.

20. ‘Vision of the Future’, Centennial Campus, http://centennial.ncsu.edu/overview/index.html.

21. ‘NC State College of Veterinary Medicine Dedicates Research Building’, Media Advisory, NC State University, April 27, 2005, http://www.ncsu.edu/news/press_releases/05_04/103.htm. Duke University also operates two Biosafety Level 3 labs, one of them installed in 2003; see http://dukenews.duke.edu/2003/10/20031003-4.html.

22. Cf. Vernon Ruttan, Is War Necessary for Economic Growth? Military Procurement and Technology Development, New York, Oxford UP, 2006. Ruttan studies the role of US military R&D in the development of ‘six general-purpose technologies: (1) interchangeable parts and mass-production, (2) military and commercial aircraft, (3) nuclear energy and electric power, (4) computers and semi-conductors, (5) the Internet, and (6) the space industries’ (p. 7). These major civilian technologies are ‘spin-offs’ from previous military research, which thus acts as a planning instrument, following the notion of the ‘permanent war economy’ advocated in 1944 by Charles Erwin Wilson (CEO of General Motors, later Secretary of Defence under Eisenhower). However, Ruttan suggests that recent military investment in biotech is a ‘spin-on’ approach, which involves ‘weaponizing’ basic discoveries made with non-military funding (pp. 178-181). Note that so-called ‘biodefence’ always involves the creation of new bioweapons, considered the only way of knowing whether there is a potential threat!

23. ‘NC State Unveils New DARPA Urban Challenge Driverless Vehicle’, NC State University News, Nov. 15, 2006, http://news.ncsu.edu/releases/2006/nov/203.html.

24. Brooke Williams, ‘Windfalls of War: Research Triangle Institute’, Center for Public Integrity, Washington D.C, http://www.public-i.org/wow/bio.aspx?act=pro&ddlC=49.



  1. Michael Bacon Says:

    A wonderful piece. I will likely write something more extensive in response on my own blog and trackback it, but I wanted to leave a couple of quick notes here.

    First, some basic edits: You name the school in Chapel Hill in its first introduction as “North Carolina University,’ and in the Epilogue as “NCSU Chapel Hill.” Neither are correct, although the first was used as an alternate name long ago. The strict name is the “University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” although it’s commonly known simply as “UNC.” NCSU refers to its counterpart in Raleigh, which was originally North Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical University, but hasn’t been for nearly a century.

    Secondly, describing both Durham and Raleigh as “historically black cities” misses the mark by a bit. Raleigh, to my knowledge, has never even approached being a majority black city. I can’t remember who coined the phrase, but at one point it was described as “a state capital surrounded by mayonaise.” Its reputation has long been one of a staid, buttoned-down government town. Durham, on the other hand, was for a period a majority black city, but never by overwhelming majorities (56% I believe was the peak), and that was largely due to white flight to the suburbs, of course. I believe the current percentages are around 48% black, 42% white, and the remainder a growing Latino population with a smattering of various Asian populations.

    I’ll hopefully have a chance to respond to more of the substance of the piece later, rather than just editorial comments. In particular, are you familiar, or possibly interested, in a recent fight between local neighborhoods and Duke University over its plan to install a large, tax-free retail installation on its campus? The text from neighborhood activists centered largely around the narative that Duke wanted to exploit its non-profit status into a money-making venture, in which it would align with corporate chains and gain an unfair advantage over a largely locally-owned business district nearby.

  2. David Rollins Says:

    One correction — the park was not “promoted by the president of Wachovia bank”, but rather by George Watts Hill, who founded Central Carolina Bank (now known as Suntrust). The other chief promoter was Terry Sanford, who was NC senator, governor, and president of Duke Univ.

  3. brianholmes Says:

    Thanks for this comment, David, but I have what seems like a pretty good source, by Albert Link and John Scott, who tell the story differently. In fact, I realize when going back over it that they mention not one but 2 corporate officers of Wachovia Bank, one of whom, Archie Davis, ends up being the guy who did most to promote the whole thing. Davis’ portrait hangs in the RTP Foundation entryway. Wachovia still seems to be closely associated (I noticed cars marked Wachovia in the parking lot of the RTP Foundation when I visited). So I’d be curious about these other people you mention. I quote from the Link/Scott text and give the references below:

    “In early 1954, Brandon Hodges, the state treasurer of North Carolina, Robert Hanes, the president of Wachovia Bank and Trust Company, and Romeo Guest, a Greensboro building contractor who some say gave birth to the idea of a research park in the triangle area, met to discuss North Carolina’s need for industrial growth. Hanes, an extremely influential citizen, was not immediately sold on the idea. In the fall of 1954, Hodges and Guest enlisted the support of key deans and faculty at North Carolina State, and in December 1954, the group convinced Chancellor Carey Bostian to take the triangle idea to Governor Luther Hodges. While the governor, like Hanes, did not immediately see the potential of the idea for North Carolina, he was willing to commission a concept report. The 10-page document, written by William Newell, director of the Textile Research Center at North Carolina State, was delivered to the governor on January 27, 1955, and soon thereafter the triangle idea became known as the “Governor’s Research Triangle” (Link 1995, p. 20).
    “In April 1955, having solicited the support of Gordon Gray, president of the University of North Carolina, and Hollis Edens, president of Duke University, Governor Hodges organized the Research Triangle Development Council with Hanes as chairman…
    “In August 1958, Governor Hodges and Hanes approached Archibald (Archie) Davis, also of Wachovia Bank and Trust, to help attract North Carolina investors for the Pinelands Company. Davis recognized that the Research Triangle had the potential to be extremely important for the future economic direction of the state, and he realized that if the Triangle was designed for public service rather than for private gain it would be much easier to raise money from corporations and institutions that were interested in serving the state of North Carolina. Thus, he agreed to raise contributions, as opposed to solicit financial investments, under the condition that the pledged funds would be used to pay the Pinelands Company’s borrowed debt ($415,000), to finance the establishment of a research institute ($500,000 estimated), and to construct a building ($250,000 estimated). In October, Davis presented this proposal to the Committee and it was accepted. He began his fund raising efforts on December 1, and on January 9, 1959, Governor Hodges announced that Davis had raised $1.425 million and that these funds would be used to acquire the land assembled by Pinelands and to pass control of this enterprise to the recently constituted nonprofit Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina.”

    Albert Link and John Scott, “The Growth of Research Triangle Park,” in Small Business Economics 20/2 (2003); at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~jtscott/Papers/00-22.pdf.

  4. The Bull in Full Says:

    The geographic critique of RTP-style public investment and economic development

    In the past couple of weeks, I got into a bit of an online spat with my neighbor Chris Sevick in the comments section of Kevin’s blog, particularly following this post and this post. I have to confess, this is

  5. brianholmes Says:

    The Bull in Full wrote:

    “I have to confess, this is….”

    …the most interesting reaction to this article I have yet gotten!

    Particularly the parts about this text being an “external geography,” in other words, a fly-in, fly-out job as opposed to a perception built on long familiarity and involvement. Of course, that’s absolutely right and one of the things I’m always hoping for is for people to call me on that and offer another perception.

    Check it out at:

  6. hiutopor Says:


    Very interesting information! Thanks!


  7. Ruud Orlagh Says:

    and i don’t know, how to make it better. Ruud Orlagh.

  8. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

    –Very interesting remark, but a little short on the content!
    Brian Holmes

  9. Creative Class » Blog Archive » Deconstructing the Research Triangle - Creative Class Says:

    […] var gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”);document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “google-analytics.com/ga.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(“UA-4767732-1″);pageTracker._initData();pageTracker._trackPageview();Join the Creative Classsearch:go >owacreative class exchangeRichard Floridacreative class groupcreative class communitiesWho’s YOUR City?Creative ClassThe source on how we live, work and play« Understanding the Creative CommunityGoogle Goes New York »by Richard FloridaMon Feb 26th 2007 at 3:19pm ESTDeconstructing the Research Triangle Brian Holmes who describes himself as interested in “geopolitics and geopoetics”  has an interesting essay on the Research Triangle and its general model of high-tech development.“We’ve heard a lot in recent years from urbanists and economicplanners about the ‘creative city’, the ‘creative class’ and the‘creative industries’. To compare facts with fictions, I decided totake a little tour of one of the urban areas that have been speciallydesigned to put the creativity into industry.”The concepts and writing are at times dense. And while there are things I might want to debate, there’s no doubt that he’s providing a different and useful window into the cutting-edge of global capitalism. The full essay is here. […]

  10. UC System – The Business « Continental Drift Says:

    […] few years ago I wrote an article on flexibilization, corporatization and militarization in the universities of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. What the investigation revealed […]

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