In this paper we explore how so-called ‘social media’ such as Facebook challenge Marxist organization studies. We argue that understanding the role of user activity in web 2.0 business models requires a focus on ‘work’, understood as value productive activity, that takes place beyond waged labour in the firm. A reading of Marx on the socialization of labour highlights the emerging figure of ‘free labour’, which is both unpaid and uncoerced. Marxist work on the production of the ‘audience commodity’ provides one avenue for understanding the production of content and data by users as free labour, but this raises questions concerning the distinction between productive and unproductive labour which is central to Marx’s labour theory of value.
The Marxist literature on ‘the becoming rent of profit’ allows for a partial understanding of how the value produced by free labour is captured, thereby developing the understanding of the economic dimension of ‘free labour’ as unpaid. It overstates, however, the ‘uncontrolled’ side of ‘free labour’, and neglects the ways in which this work is managed so as to ensure that it is productive. We therefore call for a return to Marxist labour process analysis, albeit with an expanded focus on labour and a revised understanding of control associated with digital protocols. On this basis, a Marxist organization studies can contribute to an understanding of the political economy of digital capitalism.
Categories: Journal Papers