New Criticals

For Terranova, free labor marks a “moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into excess productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited.”  Still, free labor is anything but, and carries with it a number of issues for capitalism. Knowledge is essentially a Concept, an Idea, and notoriously difficult to manage. As such, it becomes a vital experimentation zone for valorizing “forms of labor we do not immediately recognize as such.” Why do people do these things? What are they doing when they do them? Why does it matter, and to whom? These are certainly recreational activities and ways of spending free time; they are also entertaining, social, and affective. Certain cultural forms, it should be cautioned, are never outside but “always and already capitalism,” developed within and for the system until these forms eventually can be realized and channeled seamlessly into the capitalist’s coffers.

This allows for Terranova’s “knowledge class” – the online workers, prominent in the fields of blogging, journalism, programming, activism, graphic design and multimedia, that constitute a strong deposit of political energy. These workers are, for the most part, definitely compensated; some probably over-compensated; many, at the top, hyper-compensated. Knowledge work, though, is different than immaterial labor (primarily because it is paid), and Terranova adheres to a division of immaterial labor into two aspects: the shift in actual labor processes [1] and the so-called cultural facet of the quality of labor. The 24/7 news cycle is denigrated with ease, but little fuss is made about the perpetual deluge of smart take online criticism, as every writer searches for the perfect angle, that unturned stone.

Immaterial labor isn’t isolated to a class, necessarily, nor specific to highly skilled digital laborers, but exists broadly within any post-industrial dominant capitalist society. The capacity to perform this kind of digitized, computerized labor is readily available in the youthful, unemployable worker – the intern. Terranova also interestingly codes immaterial labor as a right,  “a virtuality (an undetermined capacity) which belongs to the post-industrial productive subjectivity as a whole.” Everyone can do this kind of work. [2] You are a manager of your self, your activity. This coincides with one of the newer, compelling theoretical area of capitalist critique - slowing down and sleeping more.