[iDC] Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value
biella at nyu.edu
Fri Oct 30 19:00:47 UTC 2009
A few thoughts below on marginal radical politics and "where" much of
this labor occurs.
Christian Fuchs wrote:
>> 1) If, as you suggest, Internet producers are maximally exploitable
because no wage is paid to them, this begs the question (which has been
discussed on this list and seemed embedded in the term
'playlabor/playbor' itself), why do they engage in these forms of
surplus value creation/exploitation?
> I think one reason is that there are no viable non-commercial
> alternatives to many popular commercial web 2.0 platforms, which is due
> to the fact that much money is needed for organizing storage space for
> something like MySpace, which is not easy to organize on a non-profit,
> non-commercial basis.
It is worth noting few other elements: there are a crop of open source
projects that are trying to provide alternatives to Web 2.0 from micro
blogging (Identica) to video platforms (Kaltura). The judge for their
success and ability to compete with the Big Boys of Web 2.0 will be
time, though I would like to think we can certainly help along the way
and note the positive intervention in this digital landscape given the
uncontrolled, ad nauseum hype that has emerged around web 2.0 in
2004/2005, which I feel some folks are finally starting to puncture in
Then there are work collaboration sites that make use of Web 2.0
features (Crabgrass), which are not meant to be anything but used for
radical politics, organizing, which by definition are somewhat marginal.
But marginal can too often be problematically equated with ineffective
and insignificant, which empirically does not stand in so far as these
groups are effecting change, even if there are moments, such as now
where the landscape seems/is invisible or fragmented.
I use the "seems/is" deliberately for the same was said for much of the
late 1980s and 1990s--that is when a chunk of the left was largely
declaring neoliberal materialism triumphant: it had swept not just the
ruling class but basically everyone in its wake, leaving behind only the
most marginalized of radical groups. And then, at the turn of the
century there was a surprise in the form of counter globalization
protests that spanned the globe and brought visibility to a set of
activities that in fact were many many many years, well over a decade in
the making. Digital technology helped fuel and facilitate some of the
existing organizing and helped to make it visible in new ways as well.
These activities were derailed in ways that were quite profound and
unexpected as well by 9/11 and the subsequent forms of repression and
infiltrations well. But I think Lauren Berlant's question, which she
applied to the protests of 68 can also be brought to bear in this case
“How might political breakdown work as something other than a blot, or a
I am not going to answer here but there are all sorts of ways these last
wave of protests can be seen in terms beyond the blot. This is not meant
to state that things are ok in the current state of affairs, that there
are radical politics brewing in the invisible background that will soon
be visible as nothing but continued political work will make this even
possible, but it is worth keeping in mind that visibility of radical
politics is not a steady state and requires multi-year organizing and
labor to reach a more visible state.
The second element I also want to address concerns the "where" of
digital labor. Digital labor is not just about individuals at home
staring at the screen, typing away, giving their time and labor to
corporations, though it is certainly an integral part of the story. Much
of it, though certainly not all happens during the day when workers of
all sorts and stripes, from high paid system administrators to clerical
worker, are laboring in their office as well,as John Peretti has
addressed in a short piece. There are, to be sure, exceptions, such as
call centers and other highly regulated spheres that do monitor what you
can and cannot do online at work and honestly, given the fact that
computers are tracking, logging machines, I am shocked this monitoring
is not even more pervasive and expect it will be.
So much of this digital chatting, gaming, web site building, photo
sharing, activist rabble rousing labor is poached from paid labor.
Though perhaps a small insignificant detail, it nonetheless needs to be
factored into any discussion of play-labor-factory. Of course, this
poaching can work in ways that make office life bearable, a safety valve
of sorts explored by Michel Anteby in a different context (his
ethnography of steel workers who poach time to make objects meaningful
to them) but it is worth putting on our plate of discussion, especially
if we are posing questions of false/capitalist consciousness,
perception, and affect, which can be should be examined in light of the
reality of what Anteby calls “moral grey zones."
ps-- sorry if someone has raised these issues, I have not had the free
time to go through all of the recent discussions ;-(
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