Tiziana Terranova, “Free Labor”

Tiziana Terranova, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy”

  • Intro
    • NetSlaves + volunteers of AOL case – necessary backlash against the glamorization of digital labor
    • “The NetSlaves are not simply a typical form of labor on the Internet; they are also embody of a complex relation to labor that is widespread in late capitalist society”(99).
    • a provision of “free labor” (a trait of the cultural economy at large)
    • Internet = a specific instance of the fundamental role played by free labor
    • digital economy” + “social factory“(autonomist)
    • “..the Internet is animated by cultural and technical labor through and through, a continuous production of value that is completely immanent to the flow of the network society at large”(100).
    • “Labor” (cultural + technical) after postmodernism? (Critical theory for Marxist analysis)
      • Donna Haraway – “Cyborg Manifesto”
      • Paul Gilroy
    • Internet = a site of disintermediation / a flexible + collective intelligence
    • Internet + autonomist “social factory”
    • Cultural and technical work à not exclusive to knowledge workers, but is a pervasive feature of the postindustrial economy à questions distinction btw production/consumption + labor/culture


  • The Digital Economy
    • Digital economy = postmodern cultural economy + information industry (101)
    • Richard Barbrook:
      • Digital economy: emergency of new technology (computer networks) + new types of workers (digital artisans)
      • Mixed economy – public element + market-driven element + gift economy element à “anachro-communism”
      • “High-tech gift economy” – process of overcoming capitalism from the inside; transcends both the purism of the New Left + neoliberalism
      • “Participants in the gift economy are not reluctant to use market resources and government funding to pursue a potlatch economy of free exchange”(102)
    • Terranova:
      • Barbrook overemphasizes the autonomy of the high-tech gift economy;
      • “Gift economy … is itself an important force within the reproduction of the labor force in late capitalism.”
      • “free labor” is fundamental moment in the creation of value in the digital economies.
    • Dan Tapscott:
      • Digital economy: new economy based on the networking of human intelligence (the value-added).
      • Production of knowledge = collaboration (gift economy?) (103)
      • D.E. resolves the contradictions of industrial societies (class struggle, alienation..)
      • Industrial economy(alienated means of production) à digital economy (unalienated means of production)
      • unalienated means of production ß encouraging the worker to participate in a culture of exchange
      • Internet functions as a channel through which “human intelligence” renew its capacity to produce
    • Terranova:
      • “Digital economy”: a specific mechanism of internal “capture” of larger pools of social and cultural knowledge. Specific forms of production (Web design, multimedia production, digital services…) + forms of labor we do not immediately recognize as such (chat, mailing lists, amateur newsletter… free labor?)
      • “The fruit of collective cultural labor has been not simply appropriated, but voluntarily channeled and controversially structured within capitalist business practices”(104).


  • Knowledge Class and Immaterial Labor
    • Political potential of the Internet – decenteralized access to information + who uses the Internet and how. (105)
    • How to locate the knowledge workers within a “class“?
      • =avant-garde of labor àthe Net = site of resistance
      • =owners of elitist cultural/economic power à the Net = extended gated community for the middle classes
    • Immaterial labor (Maurizio Lazzarato) ß overcome the limits of knowledge “class” (which freezes the subject)
      • 1) “informational content” of the commodity – changes taking place in worker’s labor process (106)
      • 2) Activity that produce the “cultural content” of the commodity – not normally recognized as “work”
      • …Unlike the knowledge worker, it is not completely confined to a specific class formation
      • Immaterial labor is a virtuality (an undetermined capacity) that belongs to the postindustrial productive subjectivity as a whole
      • “The relative abundance of cultural/technical/affective production on the Net, then, does not exist as a free-floating postindustrial utopia but in full, mutually constituting interaction with late capitalism, especially in its manifestation as global-venture capital”(107).


  • Collective Minds
    • Kevin Kelly: internet is a collective “hive mind” (108)
    • Pierre Levy: computer networks are sites that enable the emergence of a “collective intelligence
      • cogito
      • the more intelligent communities = the more competitive environment
      • computer networks highlights the unique value of human intelligence as the true creator of value in a knowledge economy
    • general intellect” (Marx’s Gruntrisse)
      • collective intelligence removes the autonomist’s critical theorization of its relation to capital(109)
      • “the ensemble of knowledge…which constitute[s] the epicenter of social production”(Virno)
      • general intellect = an articulation of fixed capital (machines) + living labor (the workers)


  • Ephemeral Commodities and Free Labor
    • Speed of digital economy, accelerated rhythm of obsolescence, reliance on “immaterial” products à postmodern intuition about the changed status of the commodities (essence: laboràmeaning) (111)
    • Commodities on the Net are not material and are excessive
    • Free Labor” – not necessarily exploited labor (unpaid + pleasurable)
    • User’s labor = ideological and material centrality that runs through the turbulent succession of Internet fads. (112)
    • Open source movement – freeware, shareware… – Netscape(113-4)
    • “… the Internet is always and simultaneously a gift economy and an advanced capitalist economy” (115).


  • Enter the New Web
    • “…the old Web is dead” (Wired in 1999)
    • New Web = digital network (television + Web contents)?
    • “people shows” – rely on the activity of their audience and willing participants to a much larger extent than any other television program(116)


  • Conclusion
    • Free labor à structural to the late capitalist cultural economy(117)
    • Whether the Internet embodies a continuation of capital or a break with it… à it does neither à a mutation (immanent to late capitalism)

the purpose of critical theory is not to elaborate strategies that then can be used to direct social change. (C.S. –) it is about working on what already exists, on the lines established by a cultural and material activity that is already happening. (118)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: