[iDC] Critique (?) of immaterial labour

Alex Foti alex.foti at unibocconi.it
Thu Aug 9 10:30:06 UTC 2007

Dear friends,

this is my first idc post. I hope you're all 
doing fine and you ain't either flooded or smoked.

Vulgar marxists like to contend that the 
industrial working class has expanded globally 
and so we don't need to go beyond Das Kapital, 
the theory of value and its tendential laws. By 
doing this, they are blocking the way for a 
non-backward-looking radical left to emerge in 
advanced capitalist economies. The centrality 
accorded to immaterial (affective, precarious, 
cognitive) labor in postindustrial class 
composition and recomposition is a fundamental 
negrian insight that soft-core nostalgics on the 
European left (think of Die Linke or spaghetti 
communism) would do well to heed politically (but 
they won't). Immaterial labor and the social 
production it gives rise to are really what's 
driving innovation and profits today. But unlike 
Schumpeterian capitalists, today's immaterial 
capitalists don't really enterprise and innovate, 
they mostly prey on the social and the common, as 
they simply provide circulating capital and 
enforce artificial scarcity and real domination with state backing.

My question is: immaterial labor is said to be 
hegemonic by H&N, but how are immaterial laborers 
capable of exerting hegemony within the left and 
the rest of society? Or more simply: how can they 
fight back to assert the structural hegemony they 
currently have in production in the economic, political and cultural realms?

Another aspect I would like to surmise to your 
attention is the relation between immaterial 
labor and other more sociological categories lie 
the creative (under)class and informational 
networkers. I'm reading the Ephemera issue on 
this, but do you have other thoughts or references?



At 16.27 04/08/2007, you wrote:
>Hi all -
>Chris Byrne wrote:
> > I stress that I find the critique  wanting, in that it relies too heavily
>on Baudrillard to dismiss  Scholz and Krysa: yet what intrigues is that it
>finds an alternative  source within post-Marxist theory to address the
>question of  'sociable web media' (Scholz).
>The Leisure Arts blog has no substantial discussion, so I get the
>impression of someone finding a clever quote and admiring THEMSELVES in the
>mirror! However, among people who do actually work on these ideas, the
>Marxist category of labor is a major issue. Baudrillard is not necessarily
>the only reference here. Lazzarato who coined the notion of "immaterial
>labor" has more recently proposed to replace the whole concept of
>"production" with that of "invention," so as to recognize the major input
>to the contemporary economy that comes through scientific discovery,
>cultural creation and technological and other kinds of innovation
>(something Schumpeter was suggesting a half-century ago, with his focus on
>the entrepreneur as the inventor of new forms of organization). Hardline
>Marxists insist that physical labor is still the root of value production,
>and that it has just been shifted to sites on the capitalist periphery such
>as China. They also say that the hourly wage still provides the only
>bedrock measure of value, everything else being calculated on the basis of
>what can be extorted from industrial workers. I think the situation is in
>flux, and that expanded role of what you might as well call "invention
>power" really has upset the hierarchy of values: nobody really knows why a
>particular thing is worth what it is, with the dangerous result that people
>can be paid almost nothing for their work, and symbolic attributes (exacly
>what Baudrillard focused on) can become way too valuable. Trebor and Josia
>are probably too quick to use the word labor; what people are providing the
>web 2.0 magnates with is their attention, their desire, their
>inventiveness, their charisma, and above all, their valuations. The
>greatest human capacity is probably that of bestowing value on something or
>someone through the expression of your intimate desire. To hand that over
>to corporations is like consenting to voluntary servitude of your finest
>faculties - something like giving them free labor but maybe worse actually.
>And yet also something very common in our world today.
>freely yours, BH
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