[iDC] Critique (?) of immaterial labour

Alan Clinton reconstruction.submissions at gmail.com
Sat Aug 11 16:24:17 UTC 2007

The problem with "immaterial" versus "material" labor as categories is that
they express differences of degree rather than kind.  It makes no sense to
say that thought/ideas/etc are somehow lacking in materiality.  Or
that there is no labor in sitting in a chair and thinking.  Even if such
labor were immaterial at the outset (an idea with which cognitive
scientists/neurologists, etc. would beg to differ), its instantiation in the
social world automatically renders it material.

The same is true with the labor theory of value.  How much is a thing, or
labor, worth?  This is a question that only makes sense in a capitalist
economy, which is what Marx was analyzing in Das Kapital.  Marx demonstrates
that "value" is inherently fetishistic--commodity fetishism is the
equivalent of saying "imaginative fantasy."  In a capitalist society, for a
Marxist or post-Marxist scholar to talk about _proper_ value is really only
"valuable" as a tactical move within the existing social structure.  It only
has meaning in a culture where people exploit others in an attempt to obtain
"value."  In a truly communist/socialist/gift economy type society, value
would be the aberration rather than the rule as the sharing of material
resources and _material_ ideas becomes the norm rather than the attempt to
capitalize on such things at the expense of others.

And the fact that people are willing to give away their "immaterial" labor
for free to large corporations?  Well, that's a two-sided coin.  On the one
hand you could view this as one of the most insidious instantiations of
false consciousness in some time.  On the other hand, one might view it in
more Debordian terms, as the expression of an unarticulated and unrealized
desire that is exploited in a capitalist economy by corporations, but which
also reminds us of an inherent desire to share and be sociable without
asking preliminary and often stifling questions about the end results of
that imaginative interaction--in aother words a desire that is both social
and experimental in nature.  The problem, in the final instance, is not
people's willingness to share for free, but the hegemony that corporations
currently have over this desire to give.

Alan Clinton

On 8/4/07, brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr <brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr> 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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