Immaterial labour

Authored by: Dario Lolli

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138665569
eBook ISBN: 9781315619811
Adobe ISBN:


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Immaterial labour is a theoretical concept collectively developed within Italian post-operaism in the early 1990s to rethink labour in relation to incipient effects of post-Fordist modes of production and accumulation. It refers to the informational and cultural content increasingly required to qualify services and commodities, a process that simultaneously involves professional workers as well as broader collaborative activities spread across society but not necessarily categorised as ‘work’. While this concept has been long abandoned by many of its initial proponents, over the past decade it has increasingly found novel applications in the field of media studies, as it identified several processes that became explicitly visible with the rise of convergent digital media and Web 2.0. This entry illustrates these latest developments by framing the current debate on immaterial labour in relation to its original conceptualisation, which still remains only partially available in English. Then, it considers criticism of this concept as well as its most useful applications in the field of citizen media. These include debates on creativity in the media industries, perspectives on gendered digital economies, as well as the theorisation of digital models of value extraction based on ‘free labor’ and other forms of cooperation characterising user-generated content and Web 2.0 platforms.

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