12 comments
  1. Dr Laura Mitchell said:

    Could we not also highlight however, that the immaterial aspects of facebook which confer value on it’s users are also aspects of the factory setting? In a factory setting workers also establish friendships and networks which are of value both to the organisation and to themselves and it is therefore sensible to consider the fact that the value being created by facebook users for themselves is separable from the surplus value being created for facebook’s owner. If we accept this view then Marx’s argument would continue to apply.

    • PJ Rey said:

      Sure, these form of value are seperable; in fact, the ability to simultaneously derive use-value and surplus-value is an important part of what defines the information economy. But the comparison between socialization on Facebook and in the factory is dubious. Sociality is necessary to the production of data in Facebook, while it is incidental and often discouraged in the factory. The old Fordist model, at least, would view this sort of socialization as time theft coming at the expense of productivity. So, rather that the production of sociality and surplus value being mutually reinforcing (as with Facebook), the two are in conflict in the factory.

      • I see the distinction that you’re drawing out, PJ. However, manufacturing is really a minority employer at this point (roughly 11% of private jobs in the U.S. last year). Do you see your analysis changing at all in post-Fordist world, where work is more flexible and more interactive in terms of relationships?

  2. PJ Rey said:

    @Chris: Sure, the lines are fuzzier in a post-Fordist paradigm. The Italian autonomist lit regarding the “social factory” gets to the heart of this. But even there, the focus was on the production of “general intellect” and not on the individual data for marketing purposes. I think this is a relatively new phenomenon enabled by global networks and sophisticated databases. I’m not convinced it can be shoehorned in classic models. Marx was a good inductive theorist,talking about the factories that dominated his milieu; we should be equally willing to develop our own vocab to discuss new phenomena that confront us, I don’t think Marx “gets it wrong;” I just don’t he was trying to explains social media.

  3. @PJ: I agree 100% about shoehorning. I’m interested to see where the discipline goes over the next few decades regarding the role of Marxist thought. As we move further and further away from the world Marx knew intimately, I think we’ll be forced more and more to, as you put it, developed our own vocab around these issues. Its an important theoretical project given the role that Marx as played in Sociology.

    I also have another thought on your piece. You mentioned your willingness to pay ~$120 for access to Facebook over several years. My question is whether this really changes the reality of Facebook’s exploitation. Factory workers are paid wages, yet are still exploited. In this case you would be paying for the privilege to be exploited, assuming of course that what is happening on Facebook is akin to exploitation. This doesn’t sit right with me. Do you see where I’m coming from? This certainly moves us away from the shop floor, but I think we’re both in agreement that this is an important discussion to have – we just need new words for it. Even if this isn’t a classical example of Marxist exploitation, there still seems to be something there. A rose by another other name sort of thing.

  4. PJ Rey said:

    As Facebook currently exists, exploitation is essential. Facebook is clearly deriving surplus value from the information commodities we are producing.

    I think the situation would be somewhat different if we paid to use Facebook (and Facebook got out of the advertising business altogether). However, I think what makes you uncomfortable about just then imagining Facebook to be a conventional service provider (like say Verizon or Comcast) is that Facebook is fundamentally dependent on prosumption (i.e., not simple consumption). In this hypothetical scenario, we would not be paying to access content from 3rd party content producers (e.g., television studies); instead, we’d be paying to access our own content–paying to be exploited.

    So, yes, I agree. The only reason I discussed the fact that many people would be willing to pay a significant sum to access Facebook, was to demonstrate that, even despite all the exploitation, users derive appreciable value from the site (therefore, it is not a case of “over-exploitation”). But, by no means does this refute fact that exploitation is built into the very fabric of Facebook.

    • Ian said:

      >> Facebook is clearly deriving surplus value from the information commodities we are producing.

      I’m not convinced by this. If one stops thinking in terms of cash and instead thinks in more general terms of value (as you do partially in your article) then at ~$120 for eight years of cultural, social, and symbolic capital aren’t we the one’s exploiting facebook?

      • PJ Rey said:

        I suppose the traditional Marxian response would be that Facebook doesn’t create value, only users create value. I agree that users derive a great deal of value from their collective activities on Facebook, but Facebook itself does not create that value. We should be careful not to fetishize Facebook. It is only a platform – only the means of production/consumption. Without the activities of it’s users, Facebook would have nothing to offer us. Thus, to say that users are exploiting Facebook is really to say that users are exploiting themselves, which is not exploitation at all.

  5. Ian said:

    Perhaps Facebook is even exploiting the rest of industry… When people use Facebook at work they’re typically already getting paid for what they should be doing. So Facebook not only gets people to work for them for free, it also has other companies pay people to work at Facebook.

      • PJ Rey said:

        Oops. That was me. Logged on a shared comp.

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