Affective Capitalism

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Affective Labour is a key feature of the new mode of Cognitive Capitalism based on Immaterial Labour. It is a key aspect of a strategy based on autonomous peer production. This notion finds support in the two essays cited below.


Juan Martin Prada, Economies of Affectivity

All citations are from the essay by Juan Martín Prada, Economies of affectivity


Citation 1: Biopolitical exploitation of life and desire

"Of course, the new biopolitical economy aims above all to extract a surplus from life, a corporate profit obtainable in life and from life, with a global and biopolitical territorial structure led by large multinational companies, producers and exporters of specific ways of life and enjoyment. Thus the domination becomes more diffuse, inherent to the social body, permanently interiorised in the latter. Society and power have now established an integrated, qualitative relationship. The individual serves and is served, in turn, by an economy based on desire, affectivity and pleasure, even in the joyful disappearance induced by the entertainment industries. Therefore, in the context of the most highly developed technological societies, economic power does not intend to continue to base all of its privileges on the exploitation of its subjects as a workforce but on the increasingly lucrative regulation of their ways of life, life dynamics and personal and affective interactions, emotions, consumer habits and satisfaction.

In other words, in today’s context, the concept of production (historically linked to that of goods) is being continuously extended, because the new industries, increasingly oriented to pleasure and entertainment, and to the computerised production of “intangible��? goods and information, are really producing contexts of interpretation and assessment, forms of identification and membership, interpersonal behaviour and human interaction - in other words, its mission is essentially the production of sociability itself."

Citation 2: Production and Affectivity

" Throughout the recent history of industrial and commercial practices, affectivity has generally acted as a language or a means that incites a certain positive predisposition in the interlocutor, like when a salesperson smiles and affectionately greets a new customer (in fact, many affective expressions are socially and not emotionally motivated). However, the gradual acknowledgement of the relationship between affectivity and business effectiveness has meant that little by little, values such as personalised attention, closeness and proximity to the customer have become some of the essential principles of corporate action. To make the customer feel valued, to ensure that he/she notices that the company appreciates his/her interest in a particular product or service and considers him/ her to be important, to ensure that the customer has sufficient expectations that he/she will receive personalised attention, or even that he/she is going to be a friend and not only a customer (as is often offered in advertising for banking services, for example), are some of the practices of this emerging “emotional marketing��? whose priority strategy would be to “captivate the customer’s heart��?[4].

It can come as no surprise that in a society in which the majority of the goods that are consumed are services with a duration in time (telephony services, Internet connection, etc.), to achieve customer fidelity often depends more on the establishment of these relations of appreciation and attention that the customer seeks, rather than the actual quality or the comparative assessment of the cost of the service offered. A humanisation of the corporate production and management systems, however, which very often only exists in a virtual sense in its slogans and advertising spots, based on sentences of the type, “we want to get to know you��? or “the most important thing is to be close to you��?. Therefore, it seems to be almost evitable that the increasing computer automation of the productive and management processes in companies should only be able to generate the mere effects of closeness, affective simulations of service for the user, who will not cease to complain about the lack of contact with actual “flesh and blood��? people when hiring services, solving doubts or presenting complaints.

In order to reduce the negative consequences of these situations, there has been a major proliferation of a whole sector of workers for remote assistance, normally subject to unusual timetables, with low salaries, mostly formed by young people and especially by women, whom the human resource departments in companies usually consider to be better suited to this role of patient attention to users and customers, for friendly processing of their complaints and indignations. This reminds us of the persistence of the damaging effect of the loss of prestige of affective work throughout the history of humanity and its being assigned to the sphere of the feminine, of the presumed incompatibility between affection and control down through the centuries. In this regard, we should highlight that the traditional association of women to emotions and affection, limited to the intimate space o the home and restricted to providing loving care for the family, has always been opposite the presumed coldness of the man in his professional relations and links. A differentiation on which actively discriminatory practices towards women have been sustained, leaving them outside the “cold��?, organisational fields of masculine work and therefore far from the exercise of public or corporate power or responsibility. A separation that has been nurtured, deep down, by an ancestral paradox: the mothers’ dedication to looking after children and families has always been considered to belong to the sphere of voluntary work (and has therefore never been remunerated), but without bearing in mind that it is generally caused by an involuntary or even mandatory situation (i.e. to have children or not to be able to work outside the home). A paradox that is compounded by many others, especially the one that is derived from the fact in spite of new technologies taking affective work practices outside the reproductive and family sphere to make them work as an engine for production (what some have called a certain “feminisation of work��?), this has not led to a higher economic valuation, in general, of the affective work activities that are most common in all fields of industrial production today.

Of course, it is possible that in the near future we may cease from considering affectivity to be merely an added value for work or a means of facilitating it. This will happen when the key to the new production processes will not consist only of care and attention to the individual adopting market logic. Perhaps then the circumstances would be right for the real discovery of the immense productive force of affections and emotions, which will mean that affectivity may be considered as a job in itself, requiring a total rethinking of affectivity within the future forms of biopolitical production. It is clear that the first step towards this situation has already been taken, and it is the aforementioned dissolution of the former incompatibility between work and affection, by virtue of which affectivity is for once and for all liberated from its former, restrictive enclosure in the contexts of intimacy and the family and is gradually becoming the real object of production in new industries that are increasingly designed to produce new forms of life and subjectivity."

Citation 3: Affective resistance as a P2P strategy

" Affective resistance

It does not appear to be of no use to propose the study of the systems of collective order in a society precisely through the moments in which it is moderately or momentaneously disordered, like in its parties and excesses, its nightlife, or in the always unforeseeable sphere of affections. To take affectivity as the axis for social analysis and research seems even to promise the solutions for many of the problems of burnout that have arisen regarding some of the key issues in the aesthetics and politics of our times, such as, for example, the issue of identity, a concept that has almost always been studied on a negative basis, i.e. as regards its conflicts. On the contrary, to consider affectivity to be a methodological axis for study would oblige us to study identity on a positive basis, in its enjoyable functioning. There is no doubt that our social and political thought is increasingly from the heart rather than from the traditional exercise of criticism, which has time and time again been neutralised by the institutions and bodies of political action and government.

And it is precisely from the emotional apprehension of social relations and the regulation of the perceptions (let us not forget that affectivity is an essential element in perception, as Bergson claimed on so many occasions), that the new cultural and entertainment industries derive their greater capacity for social transformation and their most important lucrative potential. It is no coincidence that these are exactly the same elements where some of the most radical artistic practises of the avant-garde and neo avant-garde movements, particularly those based on the correspondence or comparison between "art and life" (and therefore also biopolitics in the fullest sense of this term) focussed the possibility of a critical and emancipating action against the impositions of the "conscience industries". Therefore, we may claim that our days will witness the culmination of the appropriation by biopolitical production of some of the principles that used to oppose the former systems of economic and political domination a few decades ago. Nowadays, contrary to the mechanisms that characterised industrial production in the past, the mechanisms of today's biopolitical production are nor only related but they fully coincide with those that are based on the expression of difference and diversity, freedom and singularity (the characteristics of young fashion, for example), ecology or solidarity.

Therefore, the deployment and globalisation of certain ways of living are not carried out from an ideological or evaluative structuring (which although still active, is hardly effective), but rather by extending dynamics and habits of action that become particularly intense in the spheres in which, like the culture of leisure and entertainment, are unquestionably more useful in extracting a surplus from life, by touching on the most non-renounceable and permeable aspects of the latter: emotions, affectivity, enjoyment, happiness, fun, etc. Thus one may be against the particular interests and inequalities that go along with today’s system of production, but it is almost inevitable to be more or less involuntarily condescending with the practices in which the entire biopolitical system becomes stronger, because they have precisely been mingled with those of life itself.

Therefore, the possibility of effective political resistance, appears to reside, more than in the negativity of criticism, in an operation from the inside of biopolitical production itself, in that the subjects should active appropriate the latter. This process is only possible, of course, after we have acknowledged the emancipating potentials that are inherent to some of the principles that, like affection, cooperation, meeting, attention or care, form an essential part of the bio political productive dynamic.

Up to now, the capacity of social transformation of these principles had remained practically dormant, inactive, as they were maintained at the superficiality required by their immediate usefulness and productive efficacy. To acknowledge in these principles a really collective, social purpose, is the mission of the new resistance, which should make very clear the potential they contain for the production of community and beyond the latter, for generating an active deployment of the principle of commonness."

Michael Hardt on Affective Labor

The citations are from an essay by Michael Hardt on Affective Labor.


Citation 1: Affective Labor and subversion

"although affective labor has never been entirely outside of capitalist production, the processes of economic postmodernization that have been in course for the past 25 years have positioned affective labor in a role that is not only directly productive of capital but at the very pinnacle of the hierarchy of laboring forms. Affective labor is one face of what I will call "immaterial labor", which has assumed a dominant position with respect to the other forms of labor in the global capitalist economy. Saying that capital has incorporated and exalted affective labor and that affective labor is one of the highest value-producing forms of labor from the point of view of capital does not mean that, thus contaminated, it is no longer of use to anticapitalist projects. On the contrary, given the role of affective labor as one of the strongest links in the chain of capitalist postmodernization, its potential for subversion and autonomous constitution is all the greater."

Citation 2: On the centrality of affectivity for cognitive capitalism

"This second face of immaterial labor, its affective face, extends beyond the model of intelligence and communication defined by the computer. Affective labor is better understood by beginning from what feminist analyses of “women’s work��? have called “labor in the bodily mode.��?[10] Caring labor is certainly entirely immersed in the corporeal, the somatic, but the affects it produces are nonetheless immaterial. What affective labor produces are social networks, forms of community, biopower.

Here one might recognize once again that the instrumental action of economic production has merged with the communicative action of human relations. In this case, however, communication has not been impoverished but rather production has been enriched to the level of complexity of human interaction. Whereas in a first moment, in the computerization of industry for example, one might say that communicative action, human relations, and culture have been instrumentalized, reified, and "degraded" to the level of economic interactions, one should add quickly that through a reciprocal process, in this second moment, production has become communicative, affective, de-instrumentalized, and "elevated" to the level of human relations—but of course a level of human relations entirely dominated by and internal to capital. (Here the division between economy and culture begins to break down.) In the production and reproduction of affects, in those networks of culture and communication, collective subjectivities are produced and sociality is produced—even if those subjectivities and that sociality are directly exploitable by capital. This is where we can realize the enormous potential in affective labor.

I do not mean to argue that affective labor itself is new or that the fact that affective labor produces value in some sense is new. Feminist analyses in particular have long recognized the social value of caring labor, kin work, nurturing, and maternal activities. What are new, on the other hand, are the extent to which this affective immaterial labor is now directly productive of capital and the extent to which it has become generalized through wide sectors of the economy. In effect, as a component of immaterial labor, affective labor has achieved a dominant position of the highest value in the contemporary informational economy. Where the production of soul is concerned, as Musil might say, we should no longer look to the soil and organic development, nor to the factory and mechanical development, but rather to today's dominant economic forms, that is, to production defined by a combination of cybernetics and affect.

This immaterial labor is not isolated to a certain population of workers, say computer programmers and nurses, who would form a new potential labor aristocracy. Rather immaterial labor in its various guises (informational, affective, communicative, and cultural) tends toward being spread throughout the entire workforce and throughout all laboring tasks as a component, larger or smaller, of all laboring processes."

More Information

Henry Jenkins on the emotional dynamics of advertising, at

Read the Ethical Economy Book Project by Adam Arvidsson.