[iDC] Play, Labour & Herbert Marcuse

Sareeta B Amrute amrutes at u.washington.edu
Wed Oct 7 18:18:52 UTC 2009

Dear Christian and iDCers,

Your post on play and labour got me thinking about what the limits of this kind of disciplining might 
be.  That is, when does the conflation of play and work begin to be intolerable, and, how is this way of 
organizing human vitality (Eros) distributed differentially?  I'm thinking here of the recent spate of 
suicides at France Telecom.  The WSJ article on the subject is very telling, it attributes the suicide to 
workers' inability to adjust to a 'new' and 'competitive' system, a system which according to the Journal 
may be cutthroat, but does provide 'perks'.  What are they?  Well, the company will help employees set 
up private businesses if they decide to leave, and will allow them to come back should these 
businesses fail.

The article is at:

   This is a perfect example of capitalizing on play.  Yet, suicides suggest this kind of sublimation or 
bargain has become intolerable to many.  How can we understand the limits of toleration here?  Also, 
how can we think about how free time itself is differently distributed, and is it possible that the free 
time of some is enabled by reducing or channeling the space for play of others?

> Message: 3
> Date: Sat, 03 Oct 2009 02:13:30 +0200
> From: Christian Fuchs <christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at>
> Subject: [iDC] Play, Labour & Herbert Marcuse
> To: idc <idc at mailman.thing.net>
> Message-ID: <4AC6972A.70200 at sbg.ac.at>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-15; format=flowed
> 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
> Austria
> 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
> http://www.triple-c.at
> Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age. New York: 
> http://fuchs.uti.at/?page_id=40
> ------------------------------
> _______________________________________________
> iDC mailing list
> iDC at mailman.thing.net
> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
> _______________________________________________
> Institute for Distributed Creativity (iDC)
> _______________________________________________
> www.distributedcreativity.org
> _______________________________________________
> The research of the Institute for Distributed Creativity
> (iDC) focuses on collaboration in media art, technology,
> and theory with an emphasis on social contexts.
> _______________________________________________
> End of iDC Digest, Vol 58, Issue 6
> **********************************


Sareeta B. Amrute
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
University of Washington
tel: 206-543-7796

More information about the iDC mailing list