[iDC] : Re: Play, Labour & Herbert Marcuse

Christian.Fuchs at sbg.ac.at Christian.Fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Sat Oct 10 02:57:34 UTC 2009

dear eva,

farm life seems to be a commercial game for nintendo sold for 20 euros. it is not advertising-financed, but financed by the money the users pay for purchasing the game. so the basic surplus value producers seem to be those desingers and computer scientists who have created the game, not the users.

the situation would change if farm life were transformed into a free to use facebook application. because then the surplus value production process in playing this game would be the same as produced whenever using facebook - being sold as an audience/user to third-party advertising companies (see my paper "Information and Communication Technologies and Society. A Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy of the Internet" in european journal of communication and an upcoming paper in the first or second issue of the information society in 2010). besides that i do not think that just by playing this game you directly produce surplus value.

marx and hannah arendt noted a difference between work and labour. work is concrete and use-value producing, labour is abstract and surplus-/exchange-value producing. there is a footnote by engels in the first chapter of capital, volume 1, that clarifies this difference as marx saw it (in the german edition it is footnote number 16; however, in the english translations of marx you will not always find a correct translation and a mixing of both terms for both meanings). so work is then an anthropological constant of humans/society, labour is only an aspect of dominative societies. marx points that continuously out in his discussion of the difference between abstract and concrete labour and use value and exchange value. the anthropological constant of work and the alienating character of labour can also be found much earlier in his works, e.g. economic-philosophical manuscripts (1844).

bird building a nest is a good example. marx mentioned the example of the spider and the bee in order to clarify the difference between animal production and human production:

"We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be. The elementary factors of the labour-process are 1, the personal activity of man, i.e., work itself, 2, the subject of that work, and 3, its instruments".

So for Marx animals produce, but there is no work, no labour, no surplus labour in the animal world, only in the human world. The translation from German to English in this quotation is unfortunately not fully correct, in some instances it should be "work" instead of "labour" and the other way round, that is confusing. in my view, creative work is a fundamental human instinct, labour as surplus-value generating work is not an anthropological constant, but completely alien to humans.

I never liked in Donna Haraway's "Cyborg-Manifesto" that she tends to equate animals, humans, and machines on one plane of analysis - the cyborg. There are very important differences between animals, humans, and machines, although they are all material systems. Forgetting the differences can have far-reaching implictions. So if the binarism that Haraway criticizes is diversity without unity, the opposite move is unity without diversity, but the dialectical figure is unity in/by diversity and diversity in/by unity.

very interesting is marx's sentence "The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be" (the translation into english of that passage is not very well-chosen). you find a reference to play in this quotation (in both the german (Spiel) original and the english translation). so actually this means: the more feeling of alienation, the less play. today it is: the less feeling of alienation, the more play (or play labour), the more surplus value.

playing farm life is also reproductive labour, so based on marxist feminists like maria mies and claudia von werlhoff (and others) you can say that playing farm life indirectly helps producing surplus value because reproductive labour reproduces labour power and capital.

farm life seems to be about building a farm (building something is an old concept in computer games, think of sim city in the 1980s and probably other similiar tasks much earlier), but it is embedded into a high-tech computer play environment, so here aspects of agricultural society meet with aspects of informational society. so playing farm life in a high-tech environment could be interpreted as a luddite desire for returning to an archaic life stemming from a more or less conscious or subliminal experience of exploitation of play labour on social networking sites. so are farm life players potential new revolutionaries or fetishistic-ideological luddites or both or nothing of that at all.

thanks for stimulating these thoughts, eva.
cheers, christian

Eva Michalcak schrieb:
> hi,
> my name is eva and i like to observe developpements on the web for my own private pleasure.
> with great interest I have been following the discussions on this list and now i have a question, that i would like to hear your thoughts on.
> last night i observed my flatmate playing farmville. as far as i understand, this game is about buidling up and working on a farm. so there is another relation between play and work here, that is neither new nor specific to the internet (i think there are tons tamagochi-like care-taking games in all types of formats), but that i think is very interesting, especially in relation with christians post. 
> in earlier conversations it was mentioned, how people in the usa would accept mturk-tasks, to perform them while watching tv as a type of "additional entertainment". in this case it seems to me the activity can still be described as "work" since there is a economical revard (however tiny). but what is with farmville? the activity consists in task to be accomplished within a certain time, there is a highscore, but somehow it looks to me as if the biggest revard for this "work" is that you build something "cute"...?
> also ive been thinking about how we all seem to have an "instinct to work" and whether that is something that has been implated in our brains by a system that depends on everyones workpower or that always has been there? is a lioness that is hunting doing work? or a bird building a nest? i believe to have read somewhere that the split of our wake hours in working-time/spare-time is an invention of the 19th century (industrialization), and thinking about how life must have been on the countryside some 300 years ago... it kind of would not make sense.
> i would really love to read your thoughts on these topics.
> thank you and kind regards
> e.
> 2009/10/3 Christian Fuchs <christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at>
>     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: Routledge.
>     http://fuchs.uti.at/?page_id=40
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