“Free Labor” Tiziana Terranova
How does Terranova characterize the relationship of subcultural movements to capitalism?
Unfortunately I was not able to come for this class. However, the article by Tiziana Terranova, “Free Labor”, starts outlining what is digital economy, which emerged in the late 1990’s, is a “specific mechanism of internal capture of larger pools of social and cultural knowledge”(52). Furthermore, she starts explaining how digital economy has been a form of subculture to have its capital gains. Subculture is a ramification of culture itself, meaning that this one forms a connection between what already producing capital gain.
Terranova explains that monetary value comes from knowledge rather than labor and that the Internet itself is a mechanism of late capitalism meaning that is part of the subculture. As an example, music blog where independents singers post their music and others can use it as a form of capitalism, because system can extract as much value as possible from them. The subculture is composed between the culture, the cultural industry and labor; for example, small designers and as mentioned before independent music labors.
Subcultures are basically branches of one main culture with addition of different adaptions according to different environment and lifestyles and etc. I believe that capitalism and subcultures can’t really exist without one and the other, capitalism needs subcultures to grow bigger and powerful and subcultures need capitalism to put their existence out there.
For example, there’s this artist from South Asia, whose songs reaches the soul and I’m madly in love with his music. Before he became so popular, I was able to get a concert ticket for an affordable price, sit in the front, get to meet, chat and take pictures with him. Now, that half of the world knows him, and music is known worldwide, I’ll be lucky to find a concert ticket for $400 for a seat somewhere in the middle. I still love his music but I was much happier when he he wasn’t so popular and I was able to enjoy his live concerts to the fullest. It’s all great for the artist, and the sponsors but not so great for people like me who loves the live concert experience.
Terranova characterizes the relationship of subcultural movements to capitalism as being intertwined. Subcultures are usually defined as a “cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture.” (Oxford English Dictionary) Although they may be intertwined I do agree with Terranova that such movements are not appropriated by capital from the outside.
In Terranova’s article she explains how the subcultural movements and capitalism are intertwined by saying “this has often happened through the active participation of subcultural members in the production of cultural goods (e.g., independent labels in music, small designer shops in fashion).” (2015:53) The subcultural movement is fueled by the digital economy and allows those who have access to content or use distribution networks to actually make these subcultural members part of the capitalistic process.
When I think of subcultural movements it makes me think of small businesses and independent contractors. One such business practice that I find interesting and does not appropriate capital from the outside are sneaker resellers. The reselling of sneakers has become a billion dollar industry and in no way do they get capital appropriated from the outside. Granted, you must first purchase the sneaker itself which helps to stuff “the pockets of multinational capitalism” but all of the profits from reselling the sneaker goes right into the pocket of these subcultural members. What’s remarkable about this subculture is how young its members are. There are kids in their tweens all the way up to their late 40’s who comprise this subculture.
Again, I do believe that Terranova was right when she said that such movements are not appropriated by capital from the outside. A lot of times when small businesses open up they do so because these subcultural members don’t want to directly work for or deal with huge corporations. The digital economy has paved the way for more people to profit at a smaller scale.
The article “Free labor: Producing culture for the digital economy” by Tiziana Terronova was not the easy one for me. May be the reason is a language barrier but the article left me a little bit confused.
In the beginning I would like to try to explain what subculture is. Subculture is a culture originated from another culture with it is own unique style. One or other way we all belong to different subculture, it all depends on our interests. For example if we can take dance culture, there are a lot of different subculture like hip-hop, tango, samba, foxtrot, cha-cha, rumba and many others.
Capitalism and subculture movement plaited between each other. It is impossible for subculture and capitalism work individually. Capitalism suckles from subculture movements.
The example I can think of is a comedy show. I have a comedy guy whose fan I was since late teenager’s years. I was always going on his stand ups and concerts. Since I moved to New York 2009 he have had his concerts here every year. When I went on this concert for the first time in New York City the ticket was 40 dollars. Last time he was here in the begging of this year and I bought my ticket for little bit over a 100 dollars. Before he was not famous and lots of people didn’t know him especially in New York City (may be only Russian community). To be able to find out that he is coming to your city or about his new concerts you would have to go on Russian version of Facebook. Time pass and now he is more popular, people know him and of course as the result of it the prices for tickets went up. But when I went last time, the concert hall was full, so the price doesn’t stop people to come and buy tickets, it feels that with every year more and more people come. Now his advertisements are everywhere.
It shows that subculture movements and capitalism always exist together.
Subcultures are formed when members of society branch off from a particular culture, forming a connection with like-minded people while resisting the convention of the traditional cultural standard. I believe that Terranova is saying that while the original purpose of a subculture is more akin to rebelling against capitalism, members of a subculture eventually contribute voluntarily to capitalism by the very nature of their communication and distribution of knowledge about it. When a subculture is first born, spreading the word is the natural inclination of those involved. The subculture becomes “successful” as word gets out and more people idealize it and strive to be a part of it. Terranova speaks about free labor fueling the digital economy as cultural knowledge is shared for pleasure rather than payment. The subculture ideal is shared voluntarily at first but in time as it becomes more popular it is adopted into the mainstream and becomes the means to a profit. Terranova says it is not that capitalism is seeking out the subculture, but rather that a subculture contributes to capitalism from the “active participation of subculture members in the production of cultural goods” (p. 53-54) Subcultures pave the way for new styles to emerge in music, clothing, TV and film by providing the latest thing that society wants to be a part of. By the time that popular culture has caught on, it is the end of what Terranova calls the “authentic phase” of the cultural formation. She says that the appropriation of capital has not come from outside the subculture but actually from “channeling collective labor within capitalist business practices.” (p. 53)
Subcultures usually begin with the dissatisfaction of a culture or societal norm. In the late 1960s the “hippie” subculture began when young people protested the Vietnam War and refuted all things capitalistic or “establishment.” By wearing patched jeans, long hair, bare feet and preaching peace and love, members distanced themselves from the “older generation” who were seen as being cogs in the wheels of capitalism and proponents of the war machine. Poverty was idealized. Commercialism was vilified. But even long before the digital age, subcultures eventually became conventional. Before long one could buy patched designer jeans for hundreds of dollars and “Hair” was a Broadway hit that tourists flocked to. The peace/love message remained but even the most anti-capitalist movement succumbed to capitalist business practices.
How does Terranova categorize the relationship of subcultural movements to capitalism? Explain what you think Terranova means when she argues that such movements are to be appropriated by capital from the outside?
Terranova describes the relationship of subcultures to capitalism as a culture that is being constructed and contributed to a digital system that is already capitalism. She states that instead of viewing it as incorporating from the outside, it is already existing and producing creative cultural production. Users are acting out of a desire to produce culture. The work they put out is creative and being knowledgeable is essentially what makes it not capitalism in the traditional fashion, however there is no denying that capitalism is intertwined within subcultural movements. The movements have made companies an enormous amount of money. Any subculture regardless of the their motivations to create it, is either consciously or subconsciously adding to capitalist ideals.
There is not an exploitation blatantly occurring, however even though users volunteer to engage in these communities, once they are created, they are within capitalism. Terranova touches on the notion of labor and the larger pool of social and cultural knowledge and production. There are forms of production that do not immediately showcase labor in the form that we are accustomed to, instead are activities such as posting, updating, blogging etc. It is this that expands and has contributed to the “collective labor” which in turn enhances “capitalist business practices”. Like Barbrook stated with the gift economy concept, he believes that people are more inclined to have collaboration without the mediation of currency and politics. Instead “network communities form through mutual obligation of gifts of time and ideas”. The more people share, the bigger the cultural production is.
To begin to understand Terranova’s argument we must have a clear, definite definition for subculture. Subculture can be described as a group with a culture that is different from the main culture, but still holds onto the founding principles. These subcultural movements don’t originally fall into the mainstream but through time and non-exclusivity, they appear in everything we know today. The relationship to capitalism is not that it wants to be capitalized but through sharing and cultural appropriation, it gives capital the ability to take part in this movement. Capitalism feeds on subculture movements. Cultural appropriation is defined as members of different culture, using or adopting some parts of a culture. Most times, this is done in a negative fashion. From this I think it’s safe to say that nothing can be of its own. I don’t believe that people in these subcultures want to allow capitalism, but in order for the flow of ideas to continue they have to be open to it.
Everything we know of today- music, styles, media, language- has come from something else. I think when Terranova argues that subcultural movements are not appropriated by capital from the outside, she means that all of the ideas that come out of these subcultural movements aren’t only appropriated. She believes that they have also become guided and structured by the capitalists from the inside in order for it to be seen in the outside. For example, today we see a lot of cultural appropriation with fashion. Within this month, I have seen a lot of comments about the costumes people wear. For example, the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead has been adopted by other cultures as means of dressing up for Halloween. These other cultures don’t necessarily know about the holiday and what it actually means for Mexicans. However, in almost every costume store you enter you can probably see a costume for this or search up a makeup tutorial on it. The ideas/fashion of this holiday have been structured by businesses to be part of our Halloween. Therefore, allowing it to be appropriated by other cultures and seen as just a fun way to dress or a cool costume idea.
Hybrid Assignment 06
From my understanding of this week’s reading, there is a larger American culture and then there are subcultures from smaller subgroups within the larger society. In the past, when individuals wanted to become part of a subculture, they would dress, behave, and engage in subcultural activities together. We all belong in a subculture where we share the same interest and views as the members of the community. Even in music based cultures, there are many different subcultures. For example, the different genres of music such as electronic music, hip-hop, reggae, rock, etc.
Now that we have a better understanding of subculture, Terranova also explains how subculture and capitalism are intertwined. In our modern society, individuals believe that their thoughts and freedom can become a creation but due to capitalism, however individualism is still restricted in today’s culture.
My girlfriends and I have been traveling to different states every summer to attend different music festivals for a number of years now. It has become part of our routine to attend these festivals together, not only because we all enjoy the music (mostly electronic music), but to also have fun stories to look back to as we get older. We all belonged to a subculture, not just my girlfriends and I, but also everyone else that attended the festivals. I felt a sense of belonging, as if everyone around me understood me through having one thing in common; the same taste in music. But as years went by, the prices of the tickets to the festivals went higher and higher, and things have become more commercial based, full of advertisements, consisting of canned beers that cost $16. The more people were exposed to these events, the more they wanted, which did not stop costumers from purchasing 3 day tickets for over $500. This is the reality. Subcultures are effected by capitalistic ideas because they are impacted by the desire to many profit.
Tiziana Terranova has a compelling counterpoint to popular theories about subcultural appropriation. She first presents the common wisdom, which portrays subcultural movements as originating in an authentic space outside of capitalism before being swooped down upon by corporate vultures and carried off to all and sundry for the purposes of profit. Believers in this theory posit that this typically occurs as a transfer of culture from the local to the global stage, ostensibly for the purpose of either creating a homogenized world or enclosing parts of every culture within the corporate structure, all roads leading to Rome, as it were. Terranova finds it more compelling to note that capital is in actuality never outside the manufacture of culture and that cultural flows, whether mainstream or underground, blossom within the larger capitalist structure, thus being by nature a part of it. In Marxian terms, it is labor that gives cultural contributions their value and so cultural valuation must be determined in terms of the labor that goes into its creation. Culture as feeder of wealth in corporate capitalism is not a new phenomenon unique to the digital economy, Terranova states. Rather, capitalism is vertically structured so that subcultural movements have nowhere to go, but toward proliferation into the mass consumer society. Success is defined as being able to reach the masses and few cultural producers strive for solitude. The subcultures themselves are built on the mainstreaming of earlier subcultures that have flowed through capitalism’s byways and thus they are borne of a symbiotic relationship from the outset with the capitalist system they may decry. “The fruits of collective cultural labor have been not simply appropriated, but voluntarily channeled and controversially structured within capitalist business practices,” says Terranova. A familiar artist’s lament is nostalgia for the days prior to the corrosive descent of success, as if it represented a more authentic period, but the exigencies of survival may well have pushed an artist to switch to a different form of labor besides cultural production had they not voluntarily engaged with corporations.
What interested me most in reading Terranova was her use and descriptions of the term “free labor” in the digital economy, which at first brush evoke the notion of virtual slavery, but I wonder how much its proponents are borrowing from the original Northern conception of free labor prevalent in the 1800s as a system that competed with slavery. Then as now entrepreneurialism was valorized and the idea of voluntary work to carve out one’s own patch of land (or in the modern sense, legion of followers or number of upvotes) was seen as meritorious. Also, then as now, labor was vulnerable to the exploitation of interests of more established capital.
Subcultures or subcultural movements are largely identity based or community based – their function is to create a shared communal space outside of the conventional or mainstream society. (I can’t remember where in the reading I spotted it but the triumvirate of “knowledge/culture/affect” stood out to me. It’s a good way to break down what makes a subcultural movement a shared experience or process.) Community can be a way to party with others who are into the same cultural products and experiences as you or community can function as a way to survive and organize against the dominant paradigm of the society you find yourself within. Community in my opinion has never been solely or explicitly identifiable as a physical-spatial place or region, it can exist digitally, and pre-internet has existed via older media and technologies, through print culture or via the telephone. I, myself am a member of several subcultures, some which are identity based in an intrinsic way and some which are relative to the cultural affects I enjoy.
Breaking down the word, subculture – the prefix sub literally means below or beneath. The word itself implies a binary relationship, an unequal or an offset power dichotomy. Maybe it’s useful to think of a subculture as something that cleaved off of the main culture or dominant culture. It’s not as hegemonically demonstrative but it possesses vitality and gathers it adherents in a powerful counteraction to the dominant mode. That said, I think that subcultures tend to be romanticized from within as well as from without. There is a particular kind of idealization of a movement or community of likeminded individuals that replicates (or perhaps just is and has always been) a form of commodification akin to the process of commodification that is the life force of capitalism. I think it’s human to want or desire a fixed symbol – we live in an unfixed world – and by extension, the internet is even more amorphous and unsteady than the actualities we have been dealing with for centuries before it’s creation.
The main idea is that all current cultures sub or dominant exist within a capitalist framework. Terranova gets that, and clears up any misgivings that even the most savvy Marxist or lefty political enthusiasts almost organically assign to a reading of the digital economy as appropriating the labor of various networked subcultural protagonists.
Drudging up the knowledge/culture/affect triumvirate again, is key here because Terranova gets that what is being offered and also commodified is an extension of human intelligence – which is not just facts or mind focused, its feelings focused. Terranova talks about this in the beginning of her essay, as the reflexive consumption/production action. The commodification of feelings, sensation of belonging, conformity of appearance, anything that communicates membership, ownership, and authenticity is what is being produced, willingly by members of subcultures via products or ephemera that is a part of capital. There is already consumption going on – but now in the networked age, it’s not easily or neatly identifiable as just consumption, it’s also a labor being performed as it offers something in response or through utilizing the consumable.