Notes on Lazzaratto’s “Immaterial Labor”

All page numbers are from Radical Thought in Italy.

Empirical/theoretical work -> new conception of contemporary work and its power relations.

“Attempt to define technical and subjective-political composition” of this class leads to concept of immaterial labor: “labor that produces the informational and cultural content of the commodity” (133). Two aspects:

1) informational content: changes in labor – cybernetics, computers, communication

2) cultural content: defining and fixing cultural/artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, public opinion.

These activities constitute the domain of “mass intellectuality” (cf Virno). Radically modified:

1) composition, management, regulation of workforce (organization of production)

2) role/function of intellectuals

tension btwn cap demands and self-valorization that struggle against work has produced creates MI…(overly simplistic dialectical argument? Was it really a struggle against work? Think tech companies – was Steve Jobs trying to get out of work as it existed?). old split btwn intellectual and phys labor is “simultaneously transcended w/in ‘labor process’ and reimposed as political command w/in ‘process of valorization’” (134).

Worker increasingly must be able to choose among alternatives – given a degree of responsibility; modern management wants “the worker’s soul to become part of the factory.” Personality/subjectivity made susceptible to organization/command (I understand this conceptually but wonder if this comes out of empirical work? Are we really that malleable w/r/t individual organizations (loyalty) or is he primarily talking about the process of how a particular industry might work?

Work: “the capacity to activate and manage productive cooperation”; workers must become “active subjects” in the coordination of work, rather than merely the executors of it (135, docile bodies for F). false autonomy. D’s control society.

To instantiate this, cap needs to establish command over subjectivity (F, D&G would agree but also make space to actively challenge). How does cap attempt subjectification process?

1) one has to express oneself; speak, communicate, interact, etc…(CLH on personal branding)

2) one must be an active participant in a work team (Thrift – chapter 2 — on spaces of innovation and particular personality types)

foreman -> facilitator. Management must (136):

1) recognize autonomy & freedom of labor

2) not redistribute the power that autonomy/freedom imply (Thrift – quote about seeming vs the truth)

Subjectivity taken into account “only in order to codify it in line w/ requirements of production.” Transformation of work apply to “every productive subject w/in postindustrial society” and are all the more evident when the decentralization of production are taken into account (136-137).


Immaterial labor – classic forms: audiovisual production, fashion, advertising – requires: intellectual skills, manual skills, entrepreneurial skills. Immediately collective – “exists only in the form of networks and flows” (137). Exists in “cycles of production” (~project-based…Sennett?); operates in “basin of immaterial labor,” which is in society rather than constrained  by factory walls. Cycle of prod “comes into operation only when it is req’d by capitalist; once the job has been done, the cycle dissolves back into the networks and flows that make possible the reproduction and enrichment of its productive capacities” (137).

Characteristics of metropolitan immaterial labor: precariousness, hyperexploitation, mobility, and hierarchy; appearance of independent self-employed worker but really “intellectual proletarian” (not saying I disagree but i want to see empirical evidence…interviews, something. If I were to talk to people working @ office nomads, could I corroborate what L is proffering?)

Immaterial labor’s managerial functions:

1)    ability to manage its social relations

2)    eliciting of social cooperation w/in the structures of the basin of immaterial labor

requires professional capacity + ability to manage its own activity and coordinate immaterial labor of others (~control society)

at nexus of prod/cons – materialized through communication (cf notes from Push Arts festival presenter from Nordstrom Innovation Lab (Stanford D-school grad) on innovation, design thinking, human-centered design).

Promotes continuous innovation in forms/conditions of communication (work & consumption). “It gives form to and materializes needs, the imaginary, consumer tastes, and so forth, and these products in turn become powerful producers of needs, images, and signs” (138). Products of immaterial labor not destroyed when consumed, but creates “’ideological’ and cultural environment of the consumer” (138) – consumption is productive.

Autonomy of productive synergies of IL (this is what Hardt and Negri pick up on as revolutionary potential in Multitude):

Cycle of immaterial labor begins w/ “a social labor power that is independent and able to organize both its own work & its relations w/ biz entities” (138)…industry adapts (captures) this social labor power. Biz theories (neoclassical & systems theory) can’t really explain…hence, the radical autonomy of IL…L says this new labor power is the product of a “silent revolution” occurring w/in realities of work (140).

IL presuppose/results in greater productive cooperation that includes prod/repro of communication and subjectivity. Consumer now integrated into manufacturing – not just a consumers but “productive in accordance to the necessary conditions and the new products” (141); consumption as, first of all, consumption of information (~Haug)…communication (two dimensions per Guattari/Massumi).

Changes in various biz sectors:

Large scale industry – focus on sales and relationships w/ consumers; communication and marketing strategies

Service – becomes social construction and a process of “‘conception’ and innovation” (142)…back office services decrease while front office services increase.

Properly immaterial labor (cultural work): a/v, fashion, etc but he also includes “management of territory” – all “defined by means of the particular relationship btwn production and consumption and its market or consumers” (142)…as far from Taylorism as possible. Raw material of IL is subjectivity:

“The production of subjectivity ceases to be only an instrument of social control…and becomes directly productive, because the goal of our postindustrial society is to construct the consumer/communicator – and to construct it as ‘active’” (143). IL produces subj and econ value simultaneously; demonstrates how cap prod has invaded lives, broken down oppositions btwn econ, power, knowledge.

Aesthetic model (author, reproduction, reception – refs Benjamin in end note).

Again: prod of communication tends to become process of valorization…previously comm was organized by means of language/expression; now, since it is invested w/ industrial prod, it is reproduced by tech, organization, management:

Author -> industrial organized production process

Repro -> mass repro organized around profitability

Reception -> audience becomes consumer/communicator

“ideological products” are not reflections of reality but instead “produce new stratifications of reality” (145); always addressed to someone (consumer) and consequently involve meaning (semiotic; cf Latour on simultaneity of real, social, semiotic). Addressee (consumer) is:

1)    a constitutive element of production

2)    productive via reception that gives product a place in life.

Hence, reception is a creative act.

All capitalist – econ in general — can do is regulate flows of immaterial labor (again, H&N on rev potential).

Refs to Simmel and Bakhtin: Simmel on imitation w/r/t fashion (~Veblen); creative power here is in upper classes. However, Bakhtin, defines IL as superseding div btwn “material and intellectual labor.” Along w/ other Leningrad circle thinkers, his work on “aesthetic production” is promising for establishing theory of immaterial production’s social cycle (147).

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