Affective Labor

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Michael Hardt:

"Focus on the production of affects in our labor and our social practices has often served as a useful ground for anticapitalist projects, in the context of discourses for instance on desire or on use-value. Affective labor is itself and directly the constitution of communities and collective subjectivities. The productive circuit of affect and value has thus seemed in many respects as an autonomous circuit for the constitutions of subjectivity, alternative to the processes of capitalist valorization. Theoretical frameworks that have brought together Marx and Freud have conceived of affective labor using terms such as desiring production and more significantly numerous feminist investigations analyzing the potentials within what has been designated traditionally as women's work have grasped affective labor with terms such as kin work and caring labor. Each of these analyses reveal the processes whereby our laboring practices produce collective subjectivities, produce sociality, and ultimately produce society itself.

Such a consideration of affective labor today, however, and this is the primary point of this essay, ought to be situated in the context of the changing role of affective labor in the capitalist economy. In other words, 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. Within this context we can recognize the biopolitical potential of labor, using biopower here in a sense that both adopts and inverts Foucault's usage of the term. I want to proceed, then, in three steps: first situating immaterial labor within the contemporary phase of capitalist postmodernization; second, situating affective labor with respect to the other forms of immaterial labor; and finally, exploring the potential of affective labor in terms of biopower." (

More Information

  1. Immaterial Labor
  2. Biopower


Dowling, E., R. Nunes and B. Trott (2007), 'Immaterial and Affective Labour Explored', Ephemera 7 no. 1, pp. 1-7.