Tiziana Terranova pioneered the critical approach towards the trend towards free labour
"Tiziana Terranova is well known for her thesis, formulated in the early 2000s, that the free labor of users is the source of economic value in the digital economy. Free labor is an ambivalent concept, rooted in Italian post-workerist labor theories of value, such as Paolo Virno's re-reading of Marx's notion of the general intellect, Antonio Negri's theory of the social factory, and Maurizio Lazzarato's concept of immaterial labor. It defines both the outcome of the 'refusal of work' of the 1960s and 1970s and the resulting investment of subjective needs and desires for expression into production (culture, technology, the arts); and its subsequent transformation into the engine of economic production in the post-Fordist economy first and the digital economy later (branding, marketing, social media). Free labor is both free as in 'free beer' (for digital entrepreneurs) and free as in free speech (for those who perform it voluntarily). It is no more of an illusion than industrial labor was, it is simply a new source of value and engine of production which is open to capture by the capitalist enterprise, but maintains a potential to express itself in new forms of economic organizations such as the p2p economy."
"The shifting of time-consuming tasks from paid employees to unpaid customers when accessing banking services, is one example of enhanced interactivity. Another example would be the 15.000 volunteer maintainers of AOL’s chat-rooms. Or the attempt by the Open Source initiative to co-opt the labour power of free software engineers.These are highpoints in a broader pattern, according to Tiziana Terranova. Free labour has become structural to late capitalist cultural economy. It is therefore totally inadequate to apply the leftist favourite narrative of authentic subcultures that are hijacked by commercialism. Authentic subcultures at this point of time is a delusion, she charges. ‘Independent’ cultural production takes place within a broader capitalist framework which has already anticipated and therefore modified the ‘active consumer’. Interactivity counts to nothing else than intensified exploitation of the audience power of the user/consumer. It is not different to the intensification of exploitation of wage labourers." (http://hyperdrome.net/journal/issues/issue1/soderberg.html)
- One of the versions of the original paper is here at http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/technocapitalism/voluntary
- discussion: discussion which could possibly be linked from UOC here: http://laboralcentrodearte.uoc.edu/2010/12/17/interconnections-free-labour-and-the-social-factory/