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Christian Fuchs: Introduction to Digital Labour Studies

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Introductory talk in the COST Action "Dynamics of Virutal Work"-Working Group (WG) 3: Innovation and the emergence of new forms of value creation and new economic activities.
TU Darmstadt, Technical University Darmstadt. April 8, 2013

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Christian Fuchs: Introduction to Digital Labour Studies

  1. 1. Introduction toDigital Labour Studies      Christian Fuchs    c.fuchs@westminster.ac.uk    
  2. 2. 1. The Digital Labour DiscourseA    
  3. 3. 1. The Digital Labour DiscourseTrebor Scholz:“The Internet has become asimple-to-join, anyone-can-playsystem where the sites andpractices of work and playincreasingly wield people as aresource for economicamelioration by a handful ofoligarchic owners. [...] Over thepast six years, web-based workenvironments have emergedthat are devoid of the workerprotections of even the mostprecarious working-class jobs. [...]These are new forms of laborbut old forms of exploitation.There are no minimum wages orhealth insurance“ (p. 1)
  4. 4. 1. The Digital Labour DiscourseA    
  5. 5. 1. The Digital Labour DiscourseA    
  6. 6. 1. The Digital Labour DiscourseIntroduction (Burston, Dyer-Witheford and Hearn 2010, 215):“People still labour in the traditional sense, to be sure – infactories and on farms, in call centres, in the newsroom andon the sound stage. But contemporary life likewisecompels us, for instance, as audiences for ever morerecombinant forms of entertainment and news programming,to labour on ever-multiplying numbers of texts (as readers,facebook fans, mashup artists). When such labour issubsequently repurposed by traditional producers ofinformation and entertainment products, the producing/consuming ‘prosumer’ (or ‘produser’) is born.  
  7. 7. 1. The Digital Labour DiscourseAdditionally, as individuals are subject to precarious, unstableforms of employment that demand they put theirpersonalities, communicative capacities and emotions intotheir jobs, they are encouraged to see their intimate lives asresources to be exploited for profit and, as a consequence,new forms of labour on the self are brought into being“.  
  8. 8. 1. The Digital Labour DiscourseAdditionally, as individuals are subject to precarious, unstableforms of employment that demand they put theirpersonalities, communicative capacities and emotions intotheir jobs, they are encouraged to see their intimate lives asresources to be exploited for profit and, as a consequence,new forms of labour on the self are brought into being“.  
  9. 9. 1. The Digital Labour DiscourseA  
  10. 10. 1. The Digital Labour DiscourseBook:Fuchs, Christian and Marisol Sandoval, eds. Forthcoming.Critique, Social Media and the Information Society. NewYork: Routledge.EU COST Action IS1202 “Dynamics of VirtualWork“ (2012-2016)Chair: Prof. Ursula Huws, University of HertfordshireVice Chair: Christian Fuchsvirtual work: “labour, whether paid or unpaid, that is carriedout using a combination of digital and telecommunicationstechnologies and/or produces content for digitalmedia“ (MoU, 4)  
  11. 11. 1. The Digital Labour Discourse4 working groupsWorking group 1. New geographies and the new spatialdivision of virtual labourWorking group 2. Creativity, skills, knowledge and newoccupational identities  Working group 3. Innovation and the emergence of newforms of value creation and new economic activities  Working group 4. Policy implications, including economicdevelopment, employment and innovation policy  
  12. 12. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesAmazon  Mechanical  Turk      
  13. 13. 2. Digital Labour – Examples1  hour  interview:  typical  transcription  time  6  hours  =>  Hourly  wage:  a)  US$  4,  b)  US$  4,  c)  US$  3  
  14. 14. 2. Digital Labour – Examples60  minutes:    60  GBP  =  95  US$  =  approx.  16    US$  /  hour  
  15. 15. 2. Digital Labour – Exampleshttp://www.franklin-­‐square.com/transcription_per_line.htm                US$  90-­‐US$150:  US$15-­‐25  /  hour    CROWDSOURCING  LABOUR  =>  More  precarious  labour?  More  unemployment?      
  16. 16. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesPepsi launched a marketing campaign in early 2007 whichallowed consumers to design the look of a Pepsi can. Thewinners could win a $10,000 prize, and the promise was thattheir artwork would be featured on 500 million Pepsi cansaround the United States.
  17. 17. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesA
  18. 18. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesA
  19. 19. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesA
  20. 20. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesARD: Ausgeliefert! Leiharbeiter bei Amazon.(At mercy! Contract workers at Amazon), February 2013
  21. 21. 2. Digital Labour – Examples€8.52/hour instead of €9.68 as inititally promised = -12%
  22. 22. 2. Digital Labour – Examples
  23. 23. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesA
  24. 24. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesAmazon.de Facebook group: comments on February 16th/17th, 2013
  25. 25. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesIdeabounty is a crowdsourcing platform that organizescrowdsourcing projects for corporations as for exampleRedBull, BMW, or Unilever.  
  26. 26. 2. Digital Labour – Examples
  27. 27. 2. Digital Labour – Examples
  28. 28. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesA  
  29. 29. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesFacebook has asked users to translate its site into otherlanguages without payment.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24205912"We thought itd be cool," said Javier Olivan,international manager at Facebook, based in Palo Alto,Calif. "Our goal would be to hopefully have one dayeverybody on the planet on Facebook.”Other critics say Facebook just wants free labor.
  30. 30. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesValentin Macias, 29, a Californian who teaches English inSeoul, South Korea, has volunteered in the past to translatefor the nonprofit Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia but said hewont do it for Facebook."(Wikipedia is) an altruistic, charitable, information-sharing, donation-supported cause," Macias told TheAssociated Press in a Facebook message. "Facebook isnot. Therefore, people should not be tricked intodonating their time and energy to a multimillion-dollarcompany so that the company can make millions more –at least not without some type of compensation."
  31. 31. 2. Digital Labour – Examples
  32. 32. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesHuffington Post:http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/Started as political blog in 2005,developed into the mostsuccessful Internet newspaper/news blog#83: world‘s most accessed websites (Jan 1st, 2013, alexa.com)2006: venture capital injection,SoftBank capital US$ 5 million,February 2011: AOL boughtthe Huffington Post for US$315 million => advertising-financed
  33. 33. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesThe writer Jonathan Tasini filed a$105-million class action suitagainst HP – “unjustenrichement”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcisNB6vN1w    “In my view, the HuffingtonPost’s bloggers have essentiallybeen turned into modern-dayslaves on Arianna Huffington‘splantation,”  
  34. 34. 2. Digital Labour – Examples“She wants to pocket the tens of millions of dollars shereaped from the hard work of those bloggers….This allcould have been avoided had Arianna Huffington not actedlike the Wal-Marts, the Waltons, Lloyd Blankfein, which isbasically to say, ‘Go screw yourselves, this is my money.’”http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2011/04/12/aol-huffpo-suit-seeks-105m-this-is-about-justice/  
  35. 35. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesArianna Huffington:"People blog on HuffPost for free for the same reason theygo on cable TV shows every night for free: either becausethey are passionate about their ideas or because theyhave something to promote and want exposure to large andmultiple audiences," Huffington said. "Our bloggers arerepeatedly invited on TV to discuss their posts and havereceived everything from paid speech opportunities andbook deals to a TV show.“http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/04/arianna-huffington-on-jonathan-tasini-writer-lawsuit-there-are-no-mertis-to-the-case.htmlArgumentation:* bloggers do it for fun and creativity, not for the purposeof money* other indirect forms of payment
  36. 36. 2. Digital Labour – Examplescouchsurfing.org  
  37. 37. 2. Digital Labour – Examplescouchsurfing.org  
  38. 38. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesStarted as non-profit company,Was incorporated in 2011founder Casey Fenton: economic crisis => “This is a verydifficult time to become a 501c(3)“ company (=a charity)“.“From the beginning, being a non-profit has been a majorpart of Couchsurfing‘s identity. It‘s been something that Ihave always taken pride in“. “The non-profit structure [...]can really limit our ability to innovate“ Being a non-profit“isn‘t Couchsurfing‘s core identity. Our identity is our visionand mission: We get people together“. (http://www.couchsurfing.org/bcorp)$US7.6 million venture capital investment raised in 2011:Omidyar Ventures, VC Benchmark Capital (http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/24/couchsurfing-raises-7-6-m-
  39. 39. 2. Digital Labour – Examples=B Corporation: for-profit, certification of “socialresponsibility“ (http://www.bcorporation.net/community/directory/couchsurfing): accountabiltiy, employees, consumers,community, environment => overall B scoreUser protests:Avazz petitionhttp://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/For_a_strong_Community_behind_CouchSurfing  
  40. 40. 2. Digital Labour – Examples  
  41. 41. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesUser protests:Petitionhttp://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/For_a_strong_Community_behind_CouchSurfing“We, the community of CouchSurfing, are the ones whobuilt everything from scratch in voluntary work. [...] Manyof us already left as CouchSurfing turned into a B-Corporation, because of the fear that the spirit about thealternative way of CouchSurfing got lost completely and profitand greed took its place. [...] As this community was givingsuch a high social reward to all its users, and as we wontjust watch how this all is destroyed by the profit-seekingshare holders, we decided to fight for the future of ourcommunity and will do our best to put it back to the trackof the user based community it has been for a long time!
  42. 42. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesThe couchsurfing community is especially critical of changesof the ToS like the following onehttps://www.couchsurfing.org/terms.html, version fromOctober 12, 2012“4.3 Member Content License. If you post Member Contentto our Services, you hereby grant us a perpetual, worldwide,irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free and fullysublicensable license to use, reproduce, display, perform,adapt, modify, create derivative works from, distribute, havedistributed and promote such Member Content in any form,in all media now known or hereinafter created and forany purpose, including without limitation the right to useyour name, likeness, voice or identity“
  43. 43. 2. Digital Labour – Examples  
  44. 44. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesConflict minerals
  45. 45. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesWho is this?
  46. 46. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesSteve Jobs
  47. 47. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesWho is this?
  48. 48. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesTian Yu
  49. 49. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesFoxconn
  50. 50. Play Laboure.g. the Google workplace
  51. 51. 2. Digital Labour – ExampleseWastelabour  
  52. 52. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesOccupy – a new working class?Occupy‘s digital media use – working class ICTs?  
  53. 53. Alternatives?
  54. 54. 2. Digital Labour – ExamplesWhat theories and concepts do we need in order tounderstand and critically analze paid work at Google,Facebook, etc, phenomena such as slave labour in conflictmines, labour in hardware assemblage, softwareengineering, paid work at Google, Facebook, etc, unpaiduser labour on social media, the labour of bloggers andonline journalists, e-waste labour, the global division oflabour in the ICT industry, alternative online media work, thedigital media use in contemporary working class movementsetc?  
  55. 55. 3. Digital Labour – ContextsNicholas Garnham: “the bibliography on the producers ofculture is scandalously empty” (Garnham 1990, 12)“The problem of media producers has been neglected inrecent media and cultural studies – indeed in social theorygenerally – because of the general linguistic turn and thesupposed death of the author that has accompanied it. If theauthor does not exist or has no intentional power, why studyher or him?” (Garnham 2000a, 84).Vincent Mosco (2011, 230): “labour remains the blind spot ofcommunication and cultural studies”Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller (2012, 16): “Most writings inmedia studies constrict the ambit of media labor such thatthe industry mavens” (Maxwell and Miller 2012, 16).  
  56. 56. 3. Digital Labour – ContextsHow has the role of labour in the study of media,communications, the information society, digital media, theInternet and social media developed historically?What is the role of digital labour in the contemporaryacademic landscape?Why are labour and class blind spots of the study of digitalmedia?What can be done in order to illuminate and overcome thelabour blind spot? What is needed for doing so?  
  57. 57. 4. Digital Labour – Debates
  58. 58. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesSmythe, Dallas W. 1977. Communications: Blindspot of WesternMarxism. Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory 1 (3): 1-27.Smythe, Dallas W. .2006. On the Audience Commodity and its Work. InMedia and Cultural Studies Key Works, 230-256. Malden, MA: Blackwell.(Orig. pub. 1981.)Fuchs, Christian. 2012. Dallas Smythe Today - The Audience Commodity,the Digital Labour Debate, Marxist Political Economy and Critical Theory.Prolegomena to a Digital Labour Theory of Value. tripleC 10 (2): 692-740.What is the relevance of Dallas Smythe, the “BlindspotDebate“, the notion of audience commodification andaudience labour for the digital labour debate?Is (digital) labour a blind spot of media/cultural studies? IsMarxism a blind spot of media/cultural studies? Are media/culture still blind spots of Critical Theories? If so, why? If not,what progress has been achieved?  
  59. 59. Political Economy of Unpaid LabourRosa Luxemburg:milieus of primitive accumulationFeminist Political Economyconcepts of housework economy,reproductive labour, gender division oflabour, etc.Maria Mies, Claudia von Werlhof, VeronikaBennholdt-Thomsen, Mariarosa Dalla Costa,Leopoldina Fortunati, Zillah Eisenstein,Martha Gimenez, Rosemary Hennessey,etc.Autonomous Marxism: social worker,social factory, Mario Tronti, Antonio Negri,etc.  
  60. 60. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesGarnham, Nicholas. 1995a. Political Economy and Cultural Studies:Reconciliation or divorce? Critical Studies in Mass Communication 12 (1):62-71.Grossberg, Lawrence. 1995. Cultural Studies vs. Political Economy: Isanybody else bored with this debate? Critical Studies in MassCommunication 12 (1): 72-81.Garnham, Nicholas. 1995b. Reply to Grossberg and Carey. CriticalStudies in Mass Communication 12 (1): 95-100.  
  61. 61. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesCelebratory Cultural Studies vs. Critical Political Economy/Cultural Studies=> Celebratory Social Media Studies vs. Critical and MarxistSocial Media Studies  
  62. 62. 4. Digital Labour – Debates“Crowdsourcing is just onemanifestation of a largertrend toward greaterdemocratization incommerce“ (14).  
  63. 63. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesHenry Jenkins“the Web has become a site ofconsumerparticipation” (Jenkins 2008,137).
  64. 64. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesClay Shirkycognitive surplus = “a novelresource that has appeared asthe world‘s cumulative free timeis addressed inaggregate“ (Shirky 2011, 27)“the wiring of humanity lets ustreat free time as a sharedglobal resource, and lets usdesign new kinds ofparticipation and sharing thattake advantage of thatresource“ (ibid.)
  65. 65. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesMark Andrejevic:Exploitation 2.0Jodi Dean:communicative capitalism,online post-politics, communist horizonEran Fisher:new spirit of networksChristian Fuchs:Internet prosumer labour/commodificationUrsula Huws:consumption labour, cybertariat
  66. 66. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesWhat are the basic positions and differences in the debatebetween celebratory social/digital media studies and criticalsocial/digital media studies?What should be the next step in the debate?How do we engage with critics of digital labour and the pointsthey make?What is the relationship between creativity and exploitation indigital labour?
  67. 67. 4. Digital Labour – Debates
  68. 68. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesFuchs, Christian. 2010. Labor in Informational Capitalism and on theInternet. The Information Society 26 (3): 179-196.Arvidsson, Adam and Eleanor Colleoni. 2012. Value in informationalcapitalism and on the Internet. The Information Society 28 (3): 135-150.Fuchs, Christian. 2012b. With or without Marx? With or withoutCapitalism? A Rejoinder to Adam Arvidsson and Eleanor Colleoni. tripleC– Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society 10(2): 633-645.
  69. 69. 4. Digital Labour – Debates“But since ‘free labor’ is free, it has no price, and cannot,consequently, be a source of value“ (Arvidsson 2011,266f).“labor theory of value in fact does not apply“ to social media(Arvidsson and Colleoni 2012, 136)Fuchs: digital labour theory of valueWhat is the role of time for understanding digital labour?What is the role of affects, social relations, reputation,attention, visibility and how does it relate to the law of valueon social/digital media?  
  70. 70. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesWhat is/should be the role of Karl Marx and his theory inthe study of media, culture, digital labour and culturallabour today? BURYING MARX? RENEWING MARX?
  71. 71. 4. Digital Labour – DebatesA
  72. 72. 5. Digital Labour – Theories, ConceptsWhich theories and concepts do we need for understandingdigital labour critically?What is digital labour/work?What is the relationship of various forms of digital labour?How is digital labour/capitalism connected to gender andracism?How does the international division of digital labour look likeand how can it be theorised?What aspects of toil and fun, labour and play are at work indifferent forms of digital labour?
  73. 73. 5. Digital Labour – Theories, ConceptsWhich ideologies influence debates about digital labour?What is the relationship between alienation and exploitationin digital labour?What is the connection of digital labour tovarious forms of unpaid work, gender division of labour,housewifization, feminization of work?We require an engagement with theoretical categories:Which categories do we need for understanding the actors,structures, dynamics and politics of digital labour?
  74. 74. 5. Digital Labour – Theories, ConceptsAbsolute/relative surplus value productionAdvertising and consumer cultureAffective labourAlternative journalismAlternative mediaAppearance of valueAudience commodificationAudience labourBecoming-rent of profitCapitalCitizen mediaClassClass struggleCognitariatCognitive capitalismCommodification of everythingCommonsCommons-based Internet
  75. 75. Communicative capitalismCommunicative workCommunism, commonismCommunist InternetConcrete/abstract labourConstant/variable capitalConsumption workCooperation, collaborative workCreativityCybertariatDesireDigital labourDouble-free labourEros, ThanatosFetishismForm of value
  76. 76. Free labourGender division of labourGeneral intellectGlobal division of labourHacker classHouseworkIdeologyImmaterial labourInternet prosumer commodificationInternet prosumer labourKnowledge workLabour aristocracyLabour powerLabour theory of valueMigrant workMode of productionMoneyMultitude
  77. 77. Necessary/surplus repression of desireNew spirit of capitalismOvertimePatriarchyPeer productionPlayPlay labour (playbour)PowerPrecariatPricePrice of labour powerPrimitive accumulationProductive forces and relations of productionProductive/unproductive labourProfit rateProsumptionPublic service
  78. 78. Racist mode of productionRate of exploitation/surplus valueRentReproductive workSlave labourSocial factorySocial movement mediaSocial relationsSocial strugglesSocial workerSpecies-beingStressSubstance of valueSurplus enjoyment/desireSurplus valueTaylorismUse-value, exchange value, value
  79. 79. Value formsValue of labour powerVectoral classViolenceVirtual workWorking class ICTsWorking class network society
  80. 80. 5. Digital Labour – Political PraxisHow can a critical theory of digital labour best be connectedto political movements, protests, activists, campaigns, etc?