Creative Citizens and Creative Subjects

August 28th, 2012 by Jonathan Dovey in Creative Networks | no comments

In the literature review for Strand Three of this project I wrote about the argument between the celebration of what Pierre Levy first called the ‘collective intelligence’ of networked culture (eg Jenkins, Hartley, Leadbeater) and its ‘free labour as exploitation’ critique (eg Terranova, Andrejevic, Fuchs.) Over the summer I spent some time revisiting Stiegler’s ‘For a  New Critique of Political Economy’  (2010) and whilst the infuriatingly arcane and authoritarian nature of  the Stieglerian cosmology wasn’t much help in elucidating my dilemma it did prompt some useful ideas for further development. I was really looking for a clear account of the idea of the economy of contribution, which I think may be really useful to us, but didn’t find it. Secondly alongside the baroque critique of global capitalism he uses the idea of ‘The associated sociotechnical milieu’ which is a kind of by product of the generally gloomy conditions of exploitative grammatization and proletarianisation that he spends most of his time analysing. . His ‘associated sociotechnical milieu’ seems to me to be where this project – as a whole – lives and locates itself, he observes that it ‘opens a field of industrial and commercial relations which nullifies the producer/consumer opposition,… it constitutes a new commerce, that is, a new regime of psychic and collective individuation’.  He links Hacker practices to this new milieu; for me there’s a real need to support educational and creative initiatives that foster this kind of technological literacy that involves us having agency in our ‘sociotechnical milieu’ and not merely being the consuming subjects of software designers and their corporate IP investors.

Cine camera. Photo: Moff, Flickr

But it’s the ‘creative’ that I find missing in the free labour arguments. Perhaps because my own formation has been as a ‘creative’, as a film maker and in or around creative media practice education. I see a contradiction at work in the critique that feels like it might be productive. See what you think.

The post Marxist critique of free labour draws upon Marx’s  idea of alienation. This position argues that capitalist modes of production cripple the humanity and self hood of the worker by alienating them from themself, from the products and value of their labour, from work itself , and from other workers. Embedded in the critique is its utopian shadow, a form of work that allows the worker to be a fully productive creator ( and owner) of value in the world through his or her efforts, to find individuation, expression, connectivity and belonging through work.

Its been my experience that people choose to work in the ‘creative industries’ precisely because they privilege individuation, expression, and connectivity above alienated labour, careers or money.

I also draw on my reading of the literature of play to argue that human beings are supremely talented at playing, there are no other species that even come close. One historical understanding of creativity and culture is to see it as arising from this play impulse. Human societies do creativity in brilliant and delightful plenitude, because they are human. Indeed some might argue its what makes us human.

The problem for post the Marxists arises where the ‘creative industries’ are understood as an engine for developed capitalism to keep its nose ahead of the emergent BRIC nations, and thus become subject to the highly commodified regimes of production and exploitation that are described for instance in Ross Perlin’s ‘Intern Nation’ or Guy Standing’s ‘The Precariat’. Here we have specific sets of industrial and economic problems which should be subject to organization and amelioration. However, my response to these analyses is plus ca change. Can  anyone recall a time when working in theatre, art, design, film, journalism or television didn’t involve a precariousness, an investment of time and energy over and above that demanded by conventional career structures ?

However the real trouble comes when the post marxist analyses of the creative industries makes the short and troubling hop to understanding everyday acts of creative expression as being part of the same exploitative nexus. So online fan engagements are just creating capital for the IP rights holders, every Facebook posting is creating data capital for Zuckerberg & Co and every You Tube upload is making money for the arch (do no evil) enemy Google. This very shortly becomes a generalized critical hostility to creativity in all its guises. (Not that I’m denying the economic potential of big data and online advertising.)

And this is the heart of the contradiction. It seems to me that one way of understanding Marx’s original idea of alienation was a call precisely for the kind of agency that creative work gives human beings. But where we now find messy, compromised, human subjects striving to find ways of being creative in their everyday lives they are subject to the same forms of critique Marx applied to the 19thCentury factory worker, and their efforts are understood as a form of false consciousness in which they collude in their own exploitation. So that’s a problematic crux for the notion of creative citizenship.

Can you help me out of here ?

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