Co-creative Prosumer Labor, Financial Knowledge Capitalism, and Marxist Value Theory
John Michael Roberts
Some argue that the ‘co-creative labor’ of ‘prosumers’, who often work for free on social media sites, represent new types of exploitation insofar that they provide novel ways for capitalists to accumulate surplus value. For others, however, prosumers illustrate how capitalism is now dominated by commercial and non-commercial informational networks that build brand value in new innovative ways, especially through ‘immaterial’ relations of communication and information. This paper argues that each perspective has limitations. By working from an alternative Marxist perspective the paper outlines some of these limitations and then argues that co-creative labor and prosumers are best explored as representing unproductive labor that helps transfer, but not produce, already generated surplus value from the productive to unproductive spheres of the global economy. Through their free labour, prosumers thus have the potential to cut costs for new media companies in the unproductive sphere of the economy. The paper further suggests that the ‘unproductive’ actions of prosumers are compatible with a financialized form of knowledge capitalism.
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