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New Perspectives for Use-Values? For a More Complex Understanding of Digital Labour
* 1 , * 2
1  University for Music, Drama and Media Hanover, Department of Journalism and Communication
2  University of Applied Sciences of Media, Communication and Management



The proposed article and presentation develops arguments for revising our understanding of the “relations of production” as well as the “means of production”. Emanating from works and the critique of a market- and systems-capitalism [Gibson-Graham, 1996], the article provides an understanding of media as an originary means of production to augment the concept of digital labour. This will allow for consideration of ‘new’ modes of production and value creation as well as new forms of value.

Starting with a short historical reconstruction of the conceptualization of media as a means of production [Williams 1983/1958] we will illustrate the transformation from a push¬ to a pull media economy [Lull 2007; Winter 2012]. Highlighting two aspects of this process, we will show how and why the music economy has changed due to its experiencing the pressures of digitalization and convergence earlier than other economies [Wikström 2009; Handke 2010]. Here, through practices like commenting, sharing, producing, conveying, co-creating et cetera, basically everybody has access (though not ownership!) to means that allow for various forms of participation in value creation. Since not only traditional public and commercial actors have access to digital media as a means of digital production, the relations, conditions and possibilities within media culture and economy change.

This concept has recently been criticised for not recognizing the exploitative relationship between capitalist media companies and their users that engage in [mostly unpaid] forms of digital labour [Fuchs & Sevignani, 2013]. This, so the story goes, has been made possible by the commodification of a “semiotic universe” [Goldman 1994: 186; cit. after Büsher & Igoe 2013: 3] or in more Marxian terms: A new form of General Intellect that is constituted by prosumers within digitally networked media [Marx 1983/1858: 302, cf. Arvidsson 2006: 32f]. Here, the use-values that are prosumed are the source of value and profits that a media company capitalizes on. As a result these prosumtive processes are correctly being seen as another attempt of ‘capitalism’ to capitalize on formerly ‘authentic’ forms of value, putting users of ‘social media’ into a process of class exploitation [Fuchs & Sevignani, 2013, Banet-Weiser, 2012].

But even though this is true, this understanding of digital labour and exploitation hinders our understanding of value-creation processes in today's mediated networked relations of production because of two new conditions within the relations of production:

1: What we call access to media as a means of production. This point will be explained with critical regard to the simple assumption about the ‘Age of Access’ [Rifkin 2001]. We will show, that a conceptualization of media as a means of production allows for a more complex and more diverse production of values.                                         

2: Our understanding of “relations of production” and “means of production” is too narrow both in classical economic theory as well as in materialist-marxist terms. Here, it is impossible to conceive a role of means of production apart from the basic distinction of ownership [have/not have]. We will stress that this confines our cognition of value creation in a way that is inexplicable in todays’ transformation of the media economy. This will be made possible by conceptualizing media as an originary means of production building on Raymond Williams cultural materialism [Williams 1983/1958]; 2013/1961; 2005/1980; Winter 2015]

Based on this we can develop an understanding of a digitally mediated network value creation on the basis of access to means of production, augmenting terms of ownership and non-ownership. It is this very access that opens up new economic, quasi-economic and non-commercial possibilities of innovation and value creation for contemporary actors who were -formerly ‘just’ artists or fans [Negus & Pickering 2004, Grünewald & Haupt 2014]. Based on empirical work in the Berlin music economy, we will show that instead of just consuming use-values, actors with access to new means of production and new possibilities of exchange accumulate, produce, share and transform cultural and social forms of value, making them what could be called ‘neo-capitalists’ [Lin 1999] while at the same time new media relations of production are being constituted. We will explain in detail the role of production of ‘surplus value’ as a production of more use values as well as the transformation of such values [like cultural, social, aesthetic ones] amongst each other. Doing this, we hope to shed some light on the transformative possibilities of digital labour to develop the possibilities for modern marxist critique.

References and Notes

Arvidsson, Adam. Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture. London ; New York: Routledge, 2006.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Authentic TM: Politics and Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. Critical Cultural Communication. New York: New York University Press, 2012.

Benkler, Yochai. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2006.

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Forms of Capital.” In Handbook of and Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by John G. Richardson, . 241–58. New York: Greenwood, n.d.

Büscher, Bram, and Jim Igoe. “‘Prosuming’ Conservation? Web 2.0, Nature and the Intensification of Value-Producing Labour in Late Capitalism.” Journal of Consumer Culture 13, no. 3 (November 1, 2013): 283–305. doi:10.1177/1469540513482691.

Engelmann, Maike, Lorenz Grünewald, and Julia Heinrich. “The New Artrepreneur - How Artists Can Thrive on a Networked Music Business.” International Journal of Music Business Research 1, no. 2 (n.d.): 31–45. Accessed February 26, 2015.

Fuchs, Christian, and Sebastian Sevignani. “What Is Digital Labour? What Is Digital Work? What’s Their Difference? And Why Do These Questions Matter for Understanding Social Media?” TripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society 11, no. 2 (2013): 237–93.

Gibson-Graham, J. K. The End of Capitalism (as We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. 1st University of Minnesota Press ed., 2006. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Grünewald, Lorenz, and Joachim Haupt. “Value Creation on Youtube: How Musicians, YouTubers and Commercial Networks Create Social, Cultural and Economic Capital.” Vienna, 2014.

Hamel, Gary. The Future of Management. Harvard Business Press, 2007.

Handke, Christian. The Creative Destruction of Copyright - Innovation in the Record Industry and Digital Copying. SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, June 23, 2010.

Lin, Nan. “Building a Network Theory of Social Capital.” Connections 22, no. 1 (1999): 28–51.

Lull, James. Culture-on-Demand: Communication in a Crisis World. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2007.

Marx, Karl. MEW 42. Berlin: Dietz, 1983.

Negus, Keith. Creativity, Communication, and Culture Value. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE, 2004.

Rifkin, Jeremy. The Age of Access: The New Culture of Hypercapitalism: The New Culture of Hypercapitalism, Where All of Life Is a Paid-for Experience. Auflage: Reprint. New York: Tarcher, 2001.

Tschmuck, Peter. Creativity and Innovation in the Music Industry. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012.

Wikstrom, Patrik. The Music Industry. Auflage: 1. Cambridge ; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Williams, Raymond. Culture & Society 1780-1950. New York: New York University Press, 1958.

———. “Means of Communication as Means of Production.” In Culture and Materialism: Selected Essays, 50–67. London: Verso, 2005.

———. The Long Revolution. Auflage: Reprint. Cardigan: Parthian, 2013.

Winter, Carsten. “How Media Prosumers Contribute to Social Innovation in Today’s New Networked Music Culture and Economy.” International Journal of Music Business Research 1, no. 2 (2012): 46–73.

———. “Kommunikationsmedien Als Produktionsmittel – Williams Wichtigster Beitrag Zur Analyse Und Entwicklung von Kultur Und Gesellschaft.” In Über Raymond Williams. Annäherungen. Positionen. Ausblicke, edited by Roman Horak and Monika Seidl. Hamburg: Argument, n.d.

© 2015 by the authors; licensee MDPI and ISIS. This abstract is distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license.


Keywords: Digital Labour, Music Industry, Post-Capitalism, Value