Immaterial Labor Maurizio Lazzarato A significant amount of empirical research has been conducted concerning the new forms of the organization of work. This, combined with a corresponding wealth of theoretical reflection, has made possible the identification of a new conception of what work is nowadays and what new power relations it implies. An initial synthesis of these results - framed in terms of an attempt to define the technical and subjective-political composition of the working class can be expressed in the concept of immaterial labor, which is defined as the labor that produces the informational and cultural concent of the commodity. The concept of immaterial labor refers to two different aspects of labor.
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Immaterial Labor Maurizio Lazzarato A significant amount of empirical research has been conducted concerning the new forms of the organization of work. This, combined with a corresponding wealth of theoretical reflection, has made possible the identification of a new conception of what work is nowadays and what new power relations it implies. An initial synthesis of these results - framed in terms of an attempt to define the technical and subjective-political composition of the working class can be expressed in the concept of immaterial labor, which is defined as the labor that produces the informational and cultural concent of the commodity.
The concept of immaterial labor refers to two different aspects of labor. On che other hand, as regards the activity that produces the "cultural content" of the commodity, immaterial labor involves a series of activities that are not normally recognized as "work" - in other words, the kinds of activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and, more strategically, public opinion.
Once the privileged domain of the bourgeoisie and its children, these activities have since the end of the s become the domain of what we have come to define as "mass intellectuality. The "great transformation" that began at the start of the s has changed the very terms in which the question is posed. Manual labor is increasingly coming to involve procedures that could be defined as "intellectual," and the new communications technologies increasingly require subjectivities that are rich in knowledge.
It is not simply that intellectual labor has become subjected to the norms of capitalist production. What has happened is that a new "mass intellectuality" has come into being, created out of a combination of the demands of capitalist production and the forms of "self-valorization" that the struggle against work has produced. The old dichotomy between "mental and manual labor," or between "material labor and immaterial labor," risks failing to grasp the new nature of productive activity, which takes this separation on board and transforms it.
The split between conception and execution, between labor and creativity, between author and audience, is simultaneously transcended within the "labor process" and reimposed as political command within the "process of valorization. The various different post-Fordist models have been constructed both on the defeat of the Fordist worker and on the recognition of the centrality of an ever increasingly intellectualized living labor within production.
The concept of "interface" used by communications sociologists provides a fair definition of the activities of this kind of worker - as an interface between different functions, between different work teams, between different levels of the hierarchy, and so forth.
It is around immateriality that the quality and quantity of labor are organized. This transformation of working-class labor into a labor of control, of handling information, into a decision-making capacity that involves the investment of subjectivity, affects workers in varying ways according to their positions within the factory hierarchy, but it is nevertheless present as an irreversible process. Work can thus be defined as the capacity to activate and manage productive cooperation.
In this phase, workers are expected to become "active subjects" in the coordination of the various functions of production, instead of being subjected to it as simple command. We arrive at a point where a collective learning process becomes the heart of productivity, because it is no longer a matter of finding different ways of composing or organizing already existing job functions, but of looking for new ones. The problem, however, of subjectivity and its collective form, its constitution and its development, has immediately expressed itself as a clash between social classes within the organization of work.
I should point out that what I am describing is not some utopian vision of recomposition, but the very real terrain and conditions of the conflict between social classes. The capitalist needs to find an unmediated way of establishing command over subjectivity itself; the prescription and definition of tasks transforms into a prescription of subjectivities.
The new slogan of Western societies is that we should all "become subjects". Participative management is a technology of power, a technology for creating and controlling the "subjective processes. First and foremost, we have here a discourse that is authoritarian: one has to express oneself, one has to speak, communicate, cooperate, and so forth.
The "tone" is that of the people who were in executive command under Taylorization; all that has changed is the content. Second, if it is no longer possible to lay down and specify jobs and responsibilities rigidly in the way that was once done with "scientific" studies of work , but if, on the contrary, jobs now require cooperation and collective coordination, then the subjects of that production must be capable of communication - they must be active participants within a work team.
The communicational relationship both vertically and horizontally is thus completely predetermined in both form and content; it is subordinated to the "circulation of information" and is not expected to be anything other. The subject becomes a simple relayer of codification and decodification, whose transmitted messages must be "clear and free of ambiguity," within a communications context that has been completely normalized by management.
The necessity of imposing command and the violence that goes along with it here take on a normative communicative form. Capital wants a situation where command resides within the subject him- or herself, and within the communicative process. In fact, employers are extremely worried by the double problem this creates: on one hand, they are forced to recognize the autonomy and freedom of labor as the only possible form of cooperation in production, but on the other hand, at the same time, they are obliged a life-and-death necessity for the capitalist not to "redistribute" the power that the new quality of labor and its organization imply.
And once again this phase of transformation succeeds in concealing the fact that the individual and collective interests of workers and those of the company are not identical. I have defined working-class labor as an abstract activity that nowadays involves the application of subjectivity. In order to avoid misunderstandings, however, I should add that this form of productive activity is not limited only to highly skilled workers; it refers to a use value of labor power today, and, more generally, to the form of activity of every productive subject within postindustrial society.
One could say that in the highly skilled, qualified worker, the "communicational model" is already given, already constituted, and that its potentialities are already defined. In the young worker, however, the "precarious" worker, and the unemployed youth, we are dealing with a pure virtuality, a capacity that is as yet undetermined but that already shares all the characteristics of postindustrial productive subjectivity.
The virtuality of this capacity is neither empty nor ahistoric; it is, rather, an opening and a potentiality that have as their historical origins and antecedents the "struggle against work" of the Fordist worker and, in more recent times, the processes of socialization, educational formation, and cultural self-valorization.
This transformation of the world of work appears even more evident when one studies the social cycle of production: the "diffuse factory" and decentralization of production on the one hand and the various forms of tertiarizarion on the other. Here one can measure the extent to which the cycle of immaterial labor has come to assume a strategic role within the global organization of production.
The various activities of research, conceptualization, management of human resources, and so forth, together with all the various tertiary activities, are organized within computerized and multimedia networks. These are the terms in which we have to understand the cycle of production and the organization of labor. The integration of scientific labor into industrial and tertiary labor has become one of the principal sources of productivity, and it is becoming a growing factor in the cycles of production that organize it.
The activities of this kind of immaterial labor force us to question the classic definitions of work and workforce, because they combine the results of various different types of work skill: intellectual skills, as regards the cultural-informational content; manual skills for the ability to combine creativity, imagination, and technical and manual labor; and entrepreneurial skills in the management of social relations and the structuring of that social cooperation of which they are a part.
This immaterial labor constitutes itself in forms that are immediately collective, and we might say that it exists only in the form of networks and flows. The organization of the cycle of production of immaterial labor because this is exactly what it is, once we abandon our factoryist prejudices - a cycle of production is not obviously apparent to the eye, because it is not defined by the four walls of a factory.
The location in which it operates is outside in the society at large, at a territorial level that we could call "the basin of immaterial labor. The cycle of production comes into operation only when it is required by the capitalist; once the job has been done, the cycle dissolves back into the networks and flows that make possible the reproduction and enrichment of its productive capacities.
Precariousness, hyperexploitation, mobility, and hierarchy are the most obvious characteristics of metropolitan immaterial labor. Behind the label of the independent "self-employed" worker, what we actually find is an intellectual proletarian, but who is recognized as such only by the employers who exploit him or her.
It is worth noting that in this kind of working existence it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish leisure time from work time.
In a sense, life becomes inseparable from work. This labor form is also characterized by real managerial functions that consist in 1 a certain ability to manage its social relations and 2 the eliciting of social cooperation within the structures of the basin of immaterial labor. The quality of this kind of labor power is thus defined not only by its professional capacities which make possible the construction of the cultural-informational content of the commodity , but also by its ability to "manage" its own activity and act as the coordinator of the immaterial labor of others production and management of the cycle.
This immaterial labor appears as a real mutation of "living labor. Immaterial labor finds itself at the crossroads or rather, it is the interface of a new relationship between production and consumption. The activation of both productive cooperation and the social relationship with the consumer is materialized within and by the process of communication. The role of immaterial labor is to promote continual innovation in the forms and conditions of communication and thus in work and consumption.
It gives form to and materializes needs, the imaginary, consumer tastes, and so forth, and these products in turn become powerful producers of needs, images, and tastes. The particularity of the commodity produced through immaterial labor its essential use value being given by its value as informational and cultural content consists in the fact that it is not destroyed in the act of consumption, but rather it enlarges, transforms, and creates the "ideological" and cultural environment of the consumer.
This commodity does not produce the physical capacity of labor power; instead, it transforms the person who uses it. Immaterial labor produces first and foremost a "social relationship" a relationship of innovation, production, and consumption.
Only if it succeeds in this production does its activity have an economic value. This activity makes immediately apparent something that material production had "hidden," namely, that labor produces not only commodities, but first and foremost it produces the capital relation. The Autonomy of the Productive Synergies of Immaterial Labor My working hypothesis, then, is that the cycle of immaterial labor takes as its starting point a social labor power that is independent and able to organize both its own work and its relations with business entities.
Industry does not form or create this new labor power, but simply takes it on board and adapts it. Advancing further on this terrain brings us into the debate on the nature of work in the post-Fordist phase of the organization of labor. Among economists, the predominant view of this problematic can be expressed in a single statement: immaterial labor operates within the forms of organization that the centralization of industry allows.
Moving from this common basis, there are two differing schools of thought: one is the extension of neoclassical analysis; the other is that of systems theory. In the former, the attempt to solve the problem comes through a redefinition of the problematic of the market.
It is suggested that in order to explain the phenomena of communication and the new dimensions of organization one should introduce not only cooperation and intensity of labor, but also other analytic variables anthropological variables? In fact, the neoclassical model has considerable difficulty in freeing itself from the coherence constraints imposed by the theory of general equilibrium. The new phenomenologies of labor, the new dimensions of organization, communication, the potentiality of spontaneous synergies, the autonomy of the subjects involved, and the independence of the networks were neither foreseen nor foreseeable by a general theory that believed that material labor and an industrial economy were indispensable.
Today, with the new data available, we find the microeconomy in revolt against the macroeconomy, and the classical model is corroded by a new and irreducible anthropological reality. Systems theory, by eliminating the constraint of the market and giving pride of place to organization, is more open to the new phenomenology of labor and in particular to the emergence of immaterial labor.
In more developed systemic theories, organization is conceived as an ensemble of factors, both material and immaterial, both individual and collective, that can permit a given group to reach objectives. The success of this organizational process requires instruments of regulation, either voluntary or automatic. It becomes possible to look at things from the point of view of social synergies, and immaterial labor can be taken on board by virtue of its global efficacy.
These viewpoints, however, are still tied to an image of the organization of work and its social territory within which effective activity from an economic viewpoint in other words, the activity conforming to the objective must inevitably be considered as a surplus in relation to collective cognitive mechanisms.
Sociology and labor economics, being systemic disciplines, are both incapable of detaching themselves from this position. I believe that an analysis of immaterial labor and a description of its organization can lead us beyond the presuppositions of business theory - whether in its neoclassical school or its systems theory school.
It can lead us to define, at a territorial level, a space for a radical autonomy of the productive synergies of immaterial labor. We can thus move against the old schools of thought to establish, decisively, the viewpoint of an "anthropo-sociology" that is constitutive. Once this viewpoint comes to dominate within social produc - tion, we find that we have an interruption in the continuity of models of production. By this I mean that, unlike the position held by many theoreticians of post-Fordism, I do not believe that this new labor power is merely functional to a new historical phase of capitalism and its processes of accumulation and reproduction.
This labor power is the product of a "silent revolution" taking place within the anthropological realities of work and within the reconfiguration of its meanings. Waged labor and direct subjugation to organization no longer constitute the principal form of the contractual relationship between capitalist and worker. A polymorphous self-employed autonomous work has emerged as the dominant form, a kind of "intellectual worker" who is him or herself an entrepreneur, inserted within a market that is constantly shifting and within networks that are changeable in time and space.
The cycle of immaterial production Up to this point I have been analyzing and constructing the concept of immaterial labor from a point of view that could be defined, so to speak, as "microeconomic. I want to demonstrate in particular how the process of valorization tends to be identified with the process of the production of social communication and how the two stages valorization and communication immediately have a social and territorial dimension.
The concept of immaterial labor presupposes and results in an enlargement of productive cooperation that even includes the production and reproduction of communication and hence of its most important contents: subjectivity. If Fordism integrated consumption into the cycle of the reproduction of capital, post-Fordism integrates communication into it. From a strictly economic point of view, the cycle of reproduction of immaterial labor dislocates the production-consumption relationship as it is defined as much by the "virtuous Keynesian circle" as by the Marxist reproduction schemes of the second volume of Capital.
Now, rather than speaking of the toppling of "supply and demand," we should speak about a redefinition of the production-consumption relationship. As we saw earlier, the consumer is inscribed in the manufacturing of the product from its conception.
The consumer is no longer limited to consuming commodities destroying them in the act of consumption. On the contrary, his or her consumption should be productive in accordance to the necessary conditions and the new products.
Consumption is then first of all a consumption of information. Consumption is no longer only the "realization" of a product, but a real and proper social process that for the moment is defined with the term communication.
The Restructured Worker Lazzarato starts with post-fordism, where workers have greater agency and responsibility, who is an "interface In this environment, argues Lazzarato, "the capitalist needs to find an unmediated way of establishing command over subjectivity itself. The "tone" of Taylorism remains, but the means change. Lazzarato says that this highlights a dilemma for companies, who must support autonomy of workers while also meeting the requirements of production. Lazzarato argues that this model "threatens to be even more totalitarian than the earlier rigid divisions betwene mental and manual labor Nor does this production happen in factories, but in networks of "reproduction and enrichment" ,7.
Digital Capitalism[ edit ] Studies of immaterial labor have included analysis of high-technology industries, although immaterial labor is understood as a concept far pre-dating digital technologies, specifically in the performance of gender and domestic roles, and other aspects of affective and cognitive work. The social-wage campaign, Wages for housework , co-founded in in Italy, by Selma James called for a wage for domestic work amidst the uneven and gendered privatization of the labor of social production, where traditionally feminine roles like care work are undervalued. This relationship between craft and industrial labor ties into larger concepts of gender stereotypes, surveillance, and the identity politics of globalization. Her historical research lends itself to this broader discussion, "They were cited as evidence that digital work—the work of the hand and its digits—could be painlessly transferred from the indigenous cultural context into the world of technological commercial innovation, benefiting both in the process. Creative works[ edit ] The idea of "creative labor" has been analyzed in the context of immaterial labor.