[iDC] Play, Labour & Herbert Marcuse

Christian Fuchs christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Sat Oct 3 00:13:30 UTC 2009

Dear list members,

When I first heard the conference topic, I could not make much of the 
aspect of the Internet as playground because it reminded me of computer 
games. While preparing my presentation for the NY conference recently, I 
thought about the conference theme and want to share some of my thoughts 
with you.

Herbert Marcuse in "Eros and Civilization" connected Marx's notions of 
necessary labour and surplus labour/value to the Freudian drive 
structure of humans and argued that necessary labour on the level of 
drives corresponds to necessary suppression and surplus labour to 
surplus-repression. This means that in order to exist a society needs a 
certain amount of necessary labour (measured in hours of work) and hence 
a certain corresponding amount of suppression of the pleasure principle 
(also measured in hours). The exploitation of surplus value (labour that 
is performed for free and generates profit) would mean not only that 
workers are forced to work for free for capital to a certain extent, but 
also that the pleasure principle (play) must be additionally suppressed. 
Marcuse argues that the performance principle means that Thanatos 
governs humans and society and that alienation unleashes aggressive 
drives within humans (repressive desublimation) that result in an 
overall violent and aggressive society. Due to the high productivity 
reached in late-modern society, a historical alternative would in 
principle become possible (if class relations were sublated): The 
elimination of the repressive reality principle, the reduction of 
necessary working time to a minimum and the maximization of free time, 
an eroticization of society and the body, the shaping of society and 
humans by Eros, the emergence of libidinous social relations. Such a 
development would be a historical possibility -- but one incompatible 
with capitalism and patriarchy.

Gilles Deleuze has pointed out that in contemporary capitalism 
disciplines are transformed in such a way that humans increasingly 
discipline themselves without direct external violence. He terms this 
situation the society of (self-)control. It can for example be observed 
in the strategies of participatory management. This method promotes the 
use incentives and the integration of play into labour. It argues that 
work should be fun, workers should permanently develop new ideas, 
realize their creativity, enjoy free time within the factory, etc. The 
boundaries between work time and spare time, labour and play, become 
fuzzy. Work tends to acquire qualities of play, and entertainment in 
spare time tends to become labour-like. Working time and spare time 
become inseparable. At the same time work-related stress intensifies and 
property relations remain unchanged.

The exploitation of Internet users is an aspect of this transformation. 
It signifies that private Internet usage, which is motivated by play, 
entertainment, fun, and joy -- aspects of Eros -- has become subsumed 
under labour. It produces surplus value for capital and is exploited by 
the latter so that Internet corporations accumulate profit. Play and 
labour are today indistinguishable. Eros has become fully subsumed under 
the repressive reality principle. Play is largely commodified, there is 
no longer free time or spaces that are not exploited by capital. Play is 
today productive, surplus value generating labour that is exploited by 
capital. All human activities and therefore also all play tends under 
the contemporary conditions to become subsumed under and exploited by 
capital. Play as an expression of Eros is thereby destroyed, human 
freedom and human capacities are crippled.

Non-surplus generating and non-exploitative free time seems to be 
minimized in contemporary capitalism, free time becomes productive time 
that is exploited by capital, consumers become producers, play becomes 
work, work becomes play, free time becomes labour time and permanent 
surplus repression. We live in a monstrous exploitative system with 
almost no outside.

Marcuse argued that we are at the sime time objectively (productive 
forces) as close to socialism as never before and subjectively as far 
away as never before. The Internet age signifies a high productive 
society, the objective foundation of the realm of freedom, but human 
subjectivity, its labour power, tends to be exploited to the maximum by 
capital and resistance is only faint. The situation Marcuse described 
can also be found today in informational, hyperindustrial, financial 
capitalism/new imperialism.

Cheers, Christian

- - -
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christian Fuchs
Associate Professor
Unified Theory of Information Research Group
ICT&S Center
University of Salzburg
Sigmund Haffner Gasse 18
5020 Salzburg
christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Phone +43 662 8044 4823
Personal Website: http://fuchs.uti.at
Research Group: http;//www.uti.at
Editor of 
tripleC - Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation | Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society
Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age. New York: Routledge. 

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