[iDC] 1. Some notes on value...

Michael Bauwens michelsub2003 at yahoo.com
Sat Feb 23 03:31:37 UTC 2008

Thanks Johan for that perspective, and for tying the value of user communities to the existing wages labour. I do tend to find that a reductionist, capitalist-centric perspective though, to say that the value of user-communities is derived from the wages of microsoft employees, and when you say that this explains IP expansion, but how does it explain IP subversion, including the one's of capitalist groups themselves, such as the very pragmatic embrace of netarchical capitalists like Google, YouTube et al, which are basing their whole value creation strategies on the lack of IP, even as they are legally obliged to take some actions to respect the current regime.

Unlike you perhaps, though I'm not sure what your take on it is exactly, I can see a capitalism that does not rely on IP (though that does not mean I wish for it), I can imagine an evolution in which capitalism accepts open content/software/design ... I'm not sure how viable it is, but you can see large sections embracing the trend. At least, they're going to try it. (historically, sectors of the ruling class rejected IP, so they can culturally see it as not an absolute necessity, it's only necessary for certain sectors, and I will post an article showing that it is the sector which is most endangered by current developments).

So the key issue for me is this: the system is increasingly dependent on positive social externalities, and as Adam observes, the third circuit of ethical value is one of the means to monetize and fund that value creation. But it is a very dysfunctional way in which most of the monetary value is captured by them, and large scale precarity is the result.

I would put it that way: use value is being created exponentially, creating a circuit that is ethically satisfying for the social world, but does not insure its social reproduction, as exchange value is only created linearly out of it, creating an increasing gap between the two. What Adam is addressing in my mind, the last part, is can we invent separate and new value circuits, which do directly benefit the user value communities, and ensure the social reproduction of the effort.

The analogy of domestic work is interesting. We did find a solution, generalized wage labour for women, which brought certain advantages, but at the same time, is itself a large part of the unraveling of family and relational life. In this case, the social world did not find a means of social reproduction that was optimal for social intimacy. We can similarly imagine solutions to social innovation, which will be on capital's terms, and will not solve the needs for full human emancipation.

Passionate peer production is what humanity always wanted, the autonomous-in-relation unfolding of the need for work creation with others, we have subverted the existing system to allow an unprecedented opening for it, but its force is so huge, that it is in the end, not containable within the framework of the old system.

----- Original Message ----
> From: Johan Söderberg <johan.soderberg at sts.gu.se>
> To: idc at mailman.thing.net
> Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2008 4:23:08 PM
> Subject: [iDC] 1. Some notes on value...
> Hi,
> I have been lurking on the list for some time now, and Adam Arvidssons very 
> interesting posting on the brand as a possible new form of value kicked me into 
> writing a reply. I found your ideas about an "ethical economy" challenging when 
> you presented them last autumn at the p2p conference. It certainly changes my 
> kaleidoscope to start thinking of the brand as the rationalised meassurement of 
> the esteem economy, instead of the normative No Logo-approach. However, as a 
> complement to your framing of the question (my interpretation of it) as several 
> different values opposing each other (starting with Marx's definition of a 
> coercive value that is based on commanding labour and proceeding towards 
> increasingly more ethereal, co-produced forms of value-creation, I think the 
> same development could also be traced from within a closer reading of Marx's 
> definition of value. 
> Our observations on this start out from the convergence of producer and consumer 
> roles, a fact that for the last two decades have been commented on and invested 
> with hype by a great number of futurists, mainstream economists, innovation 
> researchers etc. (A. Toffler: the procumer, von Hippel: user-centred innovation 
> models, the list goes on). In comparison, Karl Marx noted in Grundrisse:        
> "[...] the product becomes a real product only by being consumed. For example, a
> garment becomes a real garment only in the act of being worn; a house where no 
> one lives is in fact not a real house; thus the product, unlike a mere natural 
> object, proves itself to be, becomes, a product only through consumption." 
> The newfound emphasis on consumption-as-production is predated by the change of 
> heart in the 1980s wihin academia of where to look for acts of resistance, from 
> industrial labour conflicts to consumer/audience resistance (S. Hall, de 
> Certeau, Fiske...) As was pointed out at the time by the "political economist" 
> camp in the debate that followed (Moscow), the decoding process by audiences 
> does not offer much ground for resistance. However, as a cognitive and emotional 
> investment and a source of surplus value for capital, we might percieve the 
> decoding process as a sizeable factor. 
> This idea struck Dallas Smythe in the 1980a when he tried to apply the Marxist 
> law of value-concept to interpret television audiences. He started with a maxim 
> known since the advent of radio, 'the Sarnoff Law', which states that the wealth 
> of a broadcasting network stands in proportion to its number of non-paying 
> listeners. Smythe deduced that the commodity sold by media networks is the 
> attention of audiences. The consumer buying into this product is the advertiser. 
> It follows that the audience has the role of the producer, together with, to a 
> lesser extent, the paid actors making the tv-shows. (from the angle of 
> mainstream economics, the same idea comes across as the so-called attention 
> economy, stating that the scarce resource is not information but attention, thus 
> audiences become more highly priced than the information they are looking at). 
> Smythe, mirroring the term "labour power", introduces the word "audience power" 
> to describe the work performed by audiences. 
> Smythe did not expand on the similarity between the reproductive labour of 
> audiences and that of women. Still, the experience of women demonstrates that 
> capitalist exploitation of unwaged, reproductive labour is neither a marginal 
> nor a novel phenomenon. In the 1970s feminist Marxists brought attention to the 
> fact that housewives and children link up to capitalist circulation. Women 
> devote necessary labour and surplus labour time to cleaning, cooking, caring, 
> childrearing etc., out of which the surplus labour is appropriated by the 
> husband. The relationship between the members of the family is feudal while the 
> household relates to capital through the man's employment. The exploitation of 
> the woman's reproductive labour affects the ratio between necessary labour and 
> surplus labour at the workplace. Hence, the man is basically relaying surplus 
> value from his wife to his employer. With women entering the labour market en 
> masse since the 1970s, coupled with expanded commodification of household 
> sevices and products, we may elect to say that some of that reproductive, 
> un-waged labour is now carried out by audiences.
> Since so very little is done in the act of decoding a broadcased tv message, 
> computer audiences are better suited for making this argument. A                
>                                                  remark by Martin Kenney, 
> writing on the economy of the high-tech sector, gives some clues: "But the 
> software requires its users to learn how to use it. This means
> that the ability of software companies to capture value is related to our 
> willingness to learn how to use their programs. [...] From this perspective, in 
> the aggregate the users have invested far more time in learning how to use a 
> software program than did the developers." The key strategic asset of computer 
> firms is not their fixed capital, not their employees, but their user base. 
> Increased interactivity in "digital media", hailed as the end of passive media 
> consumption, amounts to increased exploitation of audience power. The desire 
> among capitalists to establish communities (youtube, facebook) in order to amass 
> value comes down to "virtual communities" being the best honey trap for 
> increasing the willingness and the number of volunteer worker-audiences. The 
> number makes up for the relative small contribution of each participant. Seen in 
> terms of aggregated labour time, the time spent by world's Window's users by far 
> outstrips the time spent by Microsoft's in-house developers to write the next 
> version of the OS (which raises the question who's entitled to call whom a 
> freerider/pirate).  
> The involvement of users and audiences in the production process answers the 
> question how capitalism can sustain profits despite approaching a state of near 
> total automation. Extensive use of machinery has not abolished the law of value 
> or made it immeasurable (i.e. Negri) but it certainly has changed the terms of 
> its operations. Living labour has been expulsed from inside the production 
> process and the jurisdiction of trade unions. But labour returns from the ashes 
> with a vengeance. The investment of living labour must be made perpetually in 
> order to create the setting in which decontextualised, mass-reproduced, digital 
> use values are to be consumed. The making of the product by employees and the 
> use of the product by users are intertwined into a continuous labour process. 
> The importance of emotional and educational investments made by user communities 
> and audiences is reinforced in proportion to digitalisation and the 
> corresponding downsizing of in-housed workers.
> However, the goods produced by user-communities only has value in its relation 
> to the value of waged labour working towards equivalent sollutions somewhere 
> else in the economy. Hence, wage labour need still to be the norm in society 
> (which goes some way explaining the expansion of intellectual property). Just as 
> the invisible, gratis and (re?)productive labour of  women in the feudal 
> household creates value to capital only due to the wage realtion in which the 
> man is entangled. Simplifying a bit, it is the wages of Microsoft's programmers 
> that determine the value of Red Hat's GNU/Linux products. Gratis audience-labour 
> organised in user-communities create value for capital in the same way as Marx 
> described that a product found laying on the street has value to the 
> finder-keeper, i.e. its value exist in relation to the same product being 
> produced for sale elsewhere. 
> Then of course it might be that there is a "germ form" of a different 
> meassurement that will only come to the foreground given a different social 
> relation, and that might be the surge of an ethical economy. It is definitly a 
> line of inquiry worthy of investigation. 
> sincerely
> Johan
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