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Labor in the Global Digital Economy

Labor in the Global Digital Economy: The Cybertariat Comes of Age

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Labor in the Global Digital Economy
    Book 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 Economyis 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-466-6
    Subjects: Business, Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 7-26)

    In 2003,Monthly ReviewPress published a collection of my essays dating back to the late 1970s under the titleThe Making of a Cybertariat: Virtual Work in a Real World.This collection continues where that one left off, bringing together essays written between 2006 and 2013, a tumultuous period in the history of capitalism and the organization of labor.

    In the earlier collection, one of my central themes was capitalism’s extraordinary ability to survive the crises that periodically threaten to destroy it by generating new commodities. Just at the point when its logic of expansion seems destined to generate...

  4. 1. What Will We Do? The Destruction of Occupational Identities in the Knowledge-Based Economy
    (pp. 27-46)

    Faced with the difficulty of placing a stranger, the most common opening gambit is to ask, “What do you do?” Except perhaps in a few small hunter-gatherer tribes, a person’s occupation is one of the most important delineators of social identity. In many European cultures this is reflected in family names. People called Schmidt, Smith, Herrero, or Lefebvre, for instance, had ancestors who were iron workers. Wainwrights and Wagners are descended from wagon makers, and so on with the Mullers (millers), Boulangers (bakers), Guerreros (soldiers), and all the myriad Potters, Butchers, Carters, Carpenters, Fishers, Shepherds, and Cooks whose names can...

  5. 2. Fixed, Footloose, or Fractured Work, Identity, and the Spatial Division of Labor in the Twenty-First-Century City
    (pp. 47-60)

    The combination of technological change and globalization is bringing about fundamental changes in who does what work where, when, and how. This has implications that are profoundly contradictory for the nature of jobs, for the people carry them out, and hence for the nature of cities.

    On one hand, work that previously was geographically tied to particular place has become footloose to a historically unprecedented extent; on the other, there have been vast migrations of crossing the planet in search of both jobs and personal There has thus been a double uprooting—a movement of jobs to people and a...

  6. 3. Begging and Bragging The Self and the Commodification of Intellectual Activity
    (pp. 61-84)

    There are always risks involved in giving a lecture like this.¹ There is a risk that, in assembling such a broad range of people from so many different parts of one’s life one ends up, in the attempt to interest and please everyone, boring or annoying the entire audience. There are the twin risks of under or overpreparing: the first leading to drying up; the latter to the woodenness of delivery that comes from remembering (or, worse, reading) words having almost forgotten the meaning they were originally intended to convey. And of course there is the general occupational risk that...

  7. 4. The Globalization of Labor and the Role of National Governments Toward a Conceptual Framework
    (pp. 85-100)

    It is generally agreed that we are in the midst of a major global restructuring of industry, enabled by a series of interconnected factors. A first factor has been the opening up of world markets with the creation, since the political developments of 1989, of what is now more or less a global market for both goods and services. A second factor has been a strong concentration of capital, leading to the increasing dominance of many market sectors by a relatively small number of large transnational corporations. A third factor has been the spread of digital and communications technologies that...

  8. 5. Expression and Expropriation The Dialectics of Autonomy and Control in Creative Labor
    (pp. 101-126)

    Creative labor occupies a highly contradictory position in modern, global, “knowledge-based” economies. On the one hand, companies have to balance their insatiable need for a stream of innovative ideas with the equally strong imperative to gain control over intellectual property and manage a creative workforce. On the other, creative workers have to find a balance between the urge for self-expression and recognition and the need to earn a living. The interplay between these antagonistic imperatives produces a complex set of relations, encompassing a variety of forms both of collusion and of conflict between managers, clients, and workers, with each action...

  9. 6. Crisis as Capitalist Opportunity The New Accumulation through Public Service Commodification
    (pp. 127-148)

    The year 2008 marked a turning point for international capital, with the financial crisis providing an unprecedented opportunity to embark on a new phase of accumulation based not on what might be called “primary primitive accumulation” (the generation of new commodities from natural resources or activities carried out outside the money economy) but on the commodification of public services. In this commodification process, which might be regarded as a kind of “secondary primitive accumulation,” activities already carried out in the paid economy for their use value (such as education, or health care) are standardized in such a way that they...

  10. 7. The Underpinnings of Class in the Digital Age Living, Labor, and Value
    (pp. 149-182)

    As Marxism has segued in and out of vogue, there is hardly a Marxian concept that has not at some time been questioned as anachronistic in the light of the transformations in economic and political conditions that have occurred over the last century and a half. The current renewal of interest in Marx’s ideas is no exception. It is indeed no easy task to apply theoretical concepts developed in the mid-nineteenth century to a world where capitalism has penetrated every region and every aspect of life, where the pace of technological change is so rapid that labor processes are obsolescent...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 183-201)
  12. Index
    (pp. 202-208)