Labor in the Global Digital Economy

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* Book: Labor in the Global Digital Economy: The Cybertariat Comes of Age. by Ursula Huws. Monthly Review Press, 2014

URL = http://monthlyreview.org/product/labor_in_the_global_digital_economy/


Description

"For every person who reads this text on the printed page, many more will read it on a computer screen or mobile device. It’s a situation that we increasingly take for granted in our digital era, and while it is indicative of the novelty of twenty-first-century capitalism, it is also the key to understanding its driving force: the relentless impulse to commodify our lives in every aspect.

Ursula Huws ties together disparate economic, cultural, and political phenomena of the last few decades to form a provocative narrative about the shape of the global capitalist economy at present. She examines the way that advanced information and communications technology has opened up new fields of capital accumulation: in culture and the arts, in the privatization of public services, and in the commodification of human sociality by way of mobile devices and social networking. These trends are in turn accompanied by the dramatic restructuring of work arrangements, opening the way for new contradictions and new forms of labor solidarity and struggle around the planet. Labor in the Global Digital Economy is a forceful critique of our dizzying contemporary moment, one that goes beyond notions of mere connectedness or free-flowing information to illuminate the entrenched mechanisms of exploitation and control at the core of capitalism." (http://monthlyreview.org/product/labor_in_the_global_digital_economy/)


Review

1.

"Following on her brilliant The Making of a Cybertariat, a modern classic in the analysis of class and gender, work and consumption, Huws turns her sharp eye to the present crisis into which the cybertariat ‘has come of age.’ Rich in theoretical and methodological insights, Labor in the Global Digital Economy carefully guides us through the world of transnational business, value chains, creative, precarious and knowledge labor, self-service consumers, and consumption workers. Challenging accepted thinking and providing enough wisdom to fill several volumes, Huws has once again demonstrated her preeminence among analysts of work and inequality in digital capitalism."

—Vincent Mosco, author, To the Cloud: Big Data in a Turbulent World [1]


2. Elinor Taylor:

"For Huws, the survival of capitalism through its most recent, still ongoing crisis is less a matter of ideological control and more a matter of the perpetuation of one of its fundamental dynamics: the need to continually open new fields of accumulation by bringing more areas of life within its scope, a dynamic Huws examines here in relation to art and culture, public services, and sociality. Each of these topics is the subject of an essay here examining the processes of standardization and routinization essential for new areas of everyday life to be primed for accumulation. While Fleming regards the rise of the ‘I, job’ function as the paradigm shift in working culture, Huws from another angle argues that occupational identities have declined in significance. Increasingly standardized and interchangeable skills mean that offshoring is a constant threat and a disciplining mechanism. Workers can no longer depend on their reputation or past successes; they must now begin anew with every contract, entering into the rituals of ‘boasting and supplication’ that the contractual disaggregation of business activities has normalized. Against the background of this generalized tendency towards standardization and interchangeability, however, Huws performs a vital differentiation of forms of work that brings into view the central locations of the encounter between capital and labour. Labour and capital are densely enmeshed, but this does not mean no contradiction between them can be identified. Capital may be endlessly mobile, but labour is not. Virtual and viral activities still occur within, between and against activities that occur in real time and space. In the collection’s concluding essay, ‘The Underpinnings of Class in the Digital Age’, Huws offers a compelling intervention into the conceptual problems entailed by digital labour, digital commodities and the increasing enmeshing of consumption and production in the online context through an investigation of the applicability of the labour theory of value to these cases. Rejecting the notion that everyone who is not part of the capitalist class may be regarded as part of the ‘multitude’ or the ‘precariat’, or some other undifferentiated formation, Huws seeks to identify those forms of labour in the digital economy that are directly productive of surplus value for individual capitalists. For Huws, neoliberalism is by no means a smooth, undifferentiated and seemingly permanent present. This is because the commodity form remains at the heart of her analysis of capitalism. Commodity production continues to be of primary significance because it is the location of direct antagonism between the capitalist employer and the employee dependent on the wage. Labour of this kind – directly productive, paid labour on which the worker is dependent – is defined by Huws as the ‘knot’ at the heart of capitalist social relations, and is to be distinguished from other forms, including unpaid labour and labour that is productive for capitalism as a whole rather than for individual capitalists (reproductive labour), as well as from forms of profit generation that do not engage labour directly (rent, trade). Huws rejects the assumption that every item which is bought or sold and which can be regarded as a commodity must necessarily be the product of labour, and instead directs attention to the relations of its production. Furthermore, she traces the ways that industrial restructuring motivated by capitalism’s need for new fields of accumulation is in fact continually drawing more and more activities into this directly productive category of labour. Far from being an increasingly anomalous form on which wider solidarities cannot be established, this ‘knot’ of contradictions is the scene of continually proliferating antagonism and hence of politics." (http://monthlyreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/radical-philosophy-197_May-June-2016.pdf)