In her chapter, Tiziana Terranova (2013:46) describes the excessive activity online that is “free labor,” activity she views as at once both a feature of the cultural economy and a source of value, albeit unacknowledged, for advanced capitalist societies. To elaborate on this concept, she directs our attention to the work of Italian autonomist marxists including Maurizio Lazzarato and Paul Virno. With his concept “immaterial labor,” Lazzarato stresses two different aspects of labor. On one side we have the “informational content” of the commodity or the transition of labor processes once performed by workers to computers and cybernetics. On the other side we have the “cultural content” of the commodity, activities that do not appear as work because they are more a matter of “defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumers norms, and, more strategically, public opinion” (see Lazzarato 1996:133).
Connected to Lazzarato’s immaterial labor, is the collective dimension of a networked intelligence that these scholars view as a force in the historical development of capitalism. Paul Virno notes passages in Marx’s Grudrisse where scientific knowledge is described as “the principle productive force” a force that will “[relegate] repetitive and compartmentalized labor to a residual position” (1996:266). No longer driven by human labor, the productive force of capitalism is driven by scientific knowledge, what Marx describes as “incarnate.. in the automatic system of machines” a “horrific monster of metal and flesh” (1996:266).
I highlight these passages relative to the question Terranova raises about subculture so we can begin to recognize some of what is difficult to address in a digital economy and the transition to cultural production online. As I’ve tried to convey with the advertisements and blogs we’ve surveyed, we are tempted to believe that we have within us the elements of a movement to resist capital “from the outside.” Marx himself predicted production would become a process where labor is no longer a governing unity and appears instead “merely as a conscious organ scattered among the individual workers at numerous points of a mechanical system” (Marx 1973:693). We should keep these passages in mind this week, particularly as we move forward to consider Ayhan Aytes’s discussion of the Mechanical Turk.