[iDC] Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value

Rozalinda Borcila rborcila at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 30 21:28:37 UTC 2009

Greetings from one who is
normally chronically shy on this and other listservs; perhaps i am not the only


I have only been able to
follow the discussion in a fragmented way, in part because much of my
intellectual and affective knowledge is currently exploded by the
experience of raising a child. Very raw, very revealing. I have
repeatedly lost track of various threads and tried to find my way back through
them, so apologies if my contribution is a bit asynchronous, and a bit myopic given my current, umm, sensibilities.


For me, one of the most
resonant and urgently useful aspects of this discussion about social media (in relation to capital accumulation) was from the perspective of a radical
feminist critique of reproduction. It seems this possibility was repeatedly
opened (in at least 2 threads explicitly, but it rumbles at low frequencies in other threads also), but I’m not sure if it has been extensively pursued --- apologies if I
missed a significant thread in the discussion, maybe someone can point me in
this direction???? and here traditional marxist analysis is of  limited
use, nor is the category of “affective labor” sufficient, I think.


if this critique has identified the ways in which reproduction and
(primarily womens’ ) unpaid (domestic) labor is exploited for capital
accumulation – it has also revealed reproduction as a multiplicity of
processes and relations, not all of which are subjugated by capital. So although
capitalist production relies on the production of particular kinds of family,
care, sexuality, intimacy, play, cooperation, desire, (and  of specific
attendant affective capacities), the “private” sphere of relations is also a terrain
for struggle. What are the conditions in which the tensions inherent in the
struggle to reproduce ourselves, including and beyond our bodily life, acquire
political significance?  (((What practices of valorization and
exchange.. what Brian refers to as relations of coexistence i
think... corporeal practices, discourses, material relations, forms of
cooperation,  ...   But we may also ask specific questions about
developing shared affective and social capacities, specific I mean to a radical
horizon??  i think past and current struggle politics around reproduction
can be enormously useful and inspiring here))


((or what would be other
ways to urgently resituate some of the questions around desire, affect and
attention …))
one of the very stimulating aspects of this discussion
 has been to  alert me to the performative nature and effects of
discourse-production itself.  


many cheersRozalinda

--- On Fri, 10/30/09, Brian Holmes <brian.holmes at aliceadsl.fr> wrote:

From: Brian Holmes <brian.holmes at aliceadsl.fr>
Subject: Re: [iDC] Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value
To: "idc" <idc at mailman.thing.net>
Date: Friday, October 30, 2009, 3:33 AM

I am glad that Michael Goldhaber took the time to formulate some 
critique of the extravagant and quite pointless use being made of Marx's 
labor theory of value and its associated concepts, in order to explain 
what's at stake in contemporary social media. I find bizarre this desire 
to cast relations of consumption, on the one hand, and of relative 
autonomy, on the other, in the terms that Marx so carefully forged to 
describe the relation between the industrial capitalist and the waged 

 than wanting to discover some hidden productivity in social media 
that would allow you to explain with Marx's 19th century concepts why 
the contemporary capitalist bothers to invest in the likes of Facebook, 
could we not find an explanation that corresponds at least minimally to 
what we have before our eyes? I see two things at work here, neither of 
which Marx had much to say about. One, and the most important by far, is 
the will of capitalists to prey on middle-class consumers via complex 
and not always particularly functional formulas, algorithms, schemes, 
tricks, which by now have become the common stuff of our mendacious and 
conniving commercial culture, from the most complex derivatives to the 
simplest advertising via the surveillance, audience metrics and 
statistical tabulation of online behavior that many people on this list 
have described in detail. Consumers' acts are scrutinized and their
psychology is analyzed in extreme detail because there is money to be 
made by selling them things -- for unlike Marx's proletarians, the 
people who use the Internet very often have savings accounts and 
fungible assets and retirement packages and life insurance portfolios, 
etc etc etc.

You do not need the labor theory of value to know why a salesman wants 
to sell you a product, and why he or she might arrange for you an 
agreeable environment within which, or as a consequence of which, that 
product might be sold. Nor do you need the theory of an attention 
economy either, I'm afraid. But you would have to admit that most 
Internet users are being treated as marks, that is, as unwitting targets 
of someone else's predatory strategy, and that they usually have a lot 
more to lose than their chains. Apparently these admissions are somehow 
unpleasant, so we reach for our Marx. Hmmm, marks, Marx, I never
that before. Yes, it's sad and quite undignified that middle-class 
people are being treated like marks, but they are, as every aspect of 
the recent housing boom has shown; and I don't know why concocting 
intricate theories to describe them as proletarians makes it any less 
banal or disagreeable. After all, proletarian labor is pretty banal and 
disagreeable too, just entirely different from middle-class consumption.

The other thing that I see happening on the Internet these days -- and 
here I think Michael Bauwens is quite right -- is the relative autonomy 
of people trying to enjoy themselves and cooperate more or less 
playfully with others. If you take some care, you can indeed increase 
the degree of that relative autonomy, and it is a very good thing to do, 
especially when so many predatory corporations are expending so much 
time and energy building virtual worlds in which to channel your
energies and manipulate your emotions and your beliefs, the better to 
pick your pocket. The article by Greg Elmer and friends that Bauwens 
forwarded explains all that very well, and without even mentioning the 
labor theory of value! Because in this context, it's simply unnecessary. 
The one thing that the misplaced use of Marx does achieve, I suppose, is 
to distract the attention from any consideration of the varieties and 
qualities and sources of care for one's autonomy: that is, one's 
capacity to search, in the company of others, for ways of consciously 
shaping the basic relations of coexistence. I guess we could pay a 
little more attention to that, for all kinds of returns.

best, Brian

Michael H Goldhaber wrote:
> Let me say a little first about  Marx's labor theory of value. He was  
> clearly referring to labor in making commodities in the industrial  
> age,
 where by "commodities" was understood objects that were  
> interchangeable and effectively identical with others of the same sort  
> made in other factories or factory-like settings, under the control of  
> other capitalists. Only in such circumstances does the phrase  
> "socially necessary labor time" have meaning. Here I take "socially  
> necessary" to refer to (a) the level of skills  reached by a  
> sufficiently large pool of workers at the moment and (b) the technical  
> capacities of available factory machinery, also at the moment.
iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (distributedcreativity.org)
iDC at mailman.thing.net

List Archive:

iDC Photo Stream:

RSS feed:

iDC Chat on Facebook:

Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20091030/e550dac8/attachment-0001.htm 

More information about the iDC mailing list