Døgnmuseum presents: The double symposium Playbour: Work-play. On art and immaterial labour.

The double symposium: Playbour: Work-play. On art and immaterial labour.

Bergen Public Library, Norway, 5th of September 2015

Karl Marx Memorial Library, 11th of September 2015


The symposium

Our symposium would like to represent, a taster of what hopefully could become a continuing series of investigations and discussions into the relationship between art, culture and labour.

We would like to open up and broaden a critical approach to notions that both constitute art as an activity as well as mapping its field of production.

An important question would be to ask oneself what kind of labour art and culture represent, both in terms of its historical conditions, its current situations and how we could partly shape the means and the understanding of its potential futures.

For this, we would like contributions from a wide academic and cultural field. Hoping we by this can create a network and a union of people that can bring their views and solutions onboard.

The role of culture and the creative industry in a global, capitalist era.

It is not an easy task to map the structural relations between art, politics and labour in a global, capitalist era. There are many reasons for this. It is first of all a contentious issue as the questionings of labour exploitations defies the workings of the ideology of capitalism and the way it firmly places the significance of money before labour and production.

It is further not easy to discuss a field that encompass such a wide range of disciplines, practices, all with their specific needs in terms of production and funding. There is, on the other side, a danger that one ends up not seeing the ‘forest for the trees’ where the attention to closer inspections of specificities, distracts us from seeing the wider, systemic tendencies that shapes the institutions and the very fabric where cultural and intellectual practice takes place. This symposium would like to open up for a birds-eye perspective that sees how cultural disciplines in general belong to a wider creative industry that makes use of intellectual labour.

In a recent publication with the title “Theorizing cultural work; labour continuity and change in the cultural and creative industries”, the editors Banks, Gill and Taylor observes how Western countries, experienced a heightened enthusiasm for cultural enterprise from the mid 1990’s.

There was for instance an increased awareness of cultures ability to stimulate financial growth and tourism. In Britain, New Labour made the cultural national brand Cool Britannia[1] into their political manifest and in Europe in general, an ambitious European Capital of Culture was established.

 Jenny Andersson describes in “The library and the workshop”, how virtually all cultural values from trust to curiosity and aesthetics were, in New Labour thinking, reduced[2] to economic values making them into legitimate objects of economic intervention.[3]

The emergence of new media technologies further placed the independent creative worker to the fore and dispersed a ‘culturalization of the economy that has made precariousness ‘into a widespread currency.[4]


The creative individual as the ideal capitalist labourer.


Instead of being fully incorporated within the workings of society, the creative individual or the intellectual laborer has thus become the most ideal capitalist labourer belonging to a fragmented, precarious workforce.

According to Banks, Gill and Taylor, the artist or the creative individual represents “the new form of constantly laboring subjectivity required for contemporary capitalism, in which the requirements for people to fully embrace risk, entrepreneurialism and to adopt a ‘sacrificial ethos’ linked to an artistic or creative vocation.[5]

 One of the issues that needs to be investigated, is the identity of the artist that derives, not so much from a question of laboring toil but emanates from a romantic idea where the artist is perceived as prophetically driven by an inner, spiritual call or a kunstwollen.

One may say that, recent decades of global capitalism, has seen little to no exploration of just how intellectual labour connects to a wider, material context. Apart from a few notable exceptions, the romanticised myths of intellectual and artistic practice have, in the last decades from the 1989 and onwards, remained largely unchallenged. One of the few exceptions have been ‘Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri and their notion of ‘immaterial labour’. The concept of ‘immaterial labour’ is an attempt to describe the changes taking place in the labour processes and particularly the cultural impact of these very processes that is not being recognized or even acknowledged as ‘proper’ work.

Now the very notion of ‘immaterial labour’ seems to constitute a paradox that Negri is well aware of when he writes that “today, paradoxically saying ‘immateriality’ no longer means saying abstraction, but rather concreteness, no longer vision and spirituality, but rather immersion into bodies, expression of the flesh.[6]” According to Negri, immaterial labour “constructs material products, commodities and communication.” Immaterial labour is also socially organized and he goes on defining it as a ‘fleshy immateriality’[7].

But how does one translate this ‘fleshy, concrete immateriality’ into a more pragmatic understanding of the materiality and production of intellectual labour? This may prove one of the tricky issues related to discussing the topic that is; how one connects a theoretical exploration of the practice with a more pragmatic framework in mind.

The working class, its fractions and the lack of a universal, public space.

 According to Slavoj Žižek, the working class has in our times split into three fractions, each fraction with its own “way of life” and ideology. One may also define it as fractions of the working class: intellectual labourers, the old manual working class, and the outcasts (the unemployed, those living in slums and other interstices of public space). They also constitute different social cultures and ideologies: “the enlightened hedonism and liberal multiculturalism of the intellectual class; the populist fundamentalism of the old working class; more extreme and singular forms of the outcast fraction.[8]

Žižek writes: “The outcome of this process is the gradual disintegration of social life proper, of a public space in which all three fractions could meet, and “identity” politics in all its forms is a supplement for this loss. (…) What they all share is recourse to a particular identity as substitute for the missing universal public space.[9]

The development of new digital, networking medias, has further increased the volunteering labouring activity where everyone, with Internet access, can become involved in some kind of cultural production. This type of exploitation takes the form of rent where most of the surplus is gained by the owners of the means of productions, like Facebook/Youtube, Google and Microsoft. What we are witnessing is a privatization of the general intellect. Žižek writes: “Gates became the richest man on Earth within a couple of decades by appropriating the rent received from allowing millions of intellectual workers to participate in that particular form of the “general intellect” he successfully privatized and still controls.[10]

Playbour: Work and play

 Christian Fuchs observes how the early days of Internet saw a tendency to emphasis the democratic potential in new technologies. Management gurus and cultural theorists fuelled a hype around the potential of user-generated platforms on Internet by drawing shallow analogies to participatory democracy theories. Contrary to techno-optimistic believes, we have not witnessed the evolution of a democratic open-resource Internet but we have rather seen how a few global corporations has taken control by the closure of digital content. Fuchs describes how capital accumulation for companies like Facebook and Google/Youtube is partly made possible through the production of content via labour exploitation that is often hidden in structures of play. He describes what he sees as the collapse of the distinction of work time and play time as digital ‘playbour’ (play + labour) He writes: “Workers are expected to have fun during work time and play time becomes productive and work-like. Play time and work time intersect and all human time of existence.[11]

The rise of the new participatory economy has transformed in such a way “that humans increasingly disciplines themselves without any external power.[12]“Fuchs refers here to the studies of Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello (2007)[13] and their demonstration of the rise of participatory management and the emergence of a new spirit of capitalism “that subsumes the anti-authoritarian values of the political revolt of 1968. The new emerging ‘left’ were concerned with ideas that all relate to certain forms of artistic critique like “autonomy, spontaneity, mobility, creativity, networking, visions and so on (…) all under capital.[14]

If one consider how the political revolt of 1968 have turned servile to the mechanism of the market, one could ask oneself whether intellectual resistance today need to take a closer look at the politics and ideology of institutional practices that impacts intellectual labouring practices of today.

With this symposium, Døgnmuseum would like to contribute to the emergent radical networks and coalitions that attempt to establish alternative thoughts and actions in times of crisis.


[1] In her book “The library and the workshop” (2010), Jenny Andersson demonstrates how knowledge to New Labour, functioned as a competitive commodity and an individual good, “to be bartered and sold on the markets of knowledge economy.[1]”Jenny Andersson, “The library and the workshop. Social democracy and capitalism in the knowledge age.” Stanford University Press, California, USA, 2010. (Page 3 and 25).

[2] After the Tory-coalition came to power in 2010, there has been a further race to the bottom when David Cameron placed all kinds of volunteerism (including volunteerism and internships in the cultural sector) or unpaid labour under the ideological praise of what he defines as the Big Society. The Big Society is Cameron’s take on Thatcher’s ‘no society’-slogan as it represent a continuation of the dream of a fully fragmented ‘society’ were unpaid labour is concealed as ‘happy volunteering’, driven by personal idealism. The Big Society is built upon a pretense that ‘volunteerism’ (perceived in its most abstracted form), is not so much a question of unpaid labour but rather based upon personal idealism and willingness. The idea thus conceals a lack of work opportunities under the veneer of personal willingness. What then gives the impression of personal freedom or choice reads more like a command or an imperative that reads: ‘you have to be willing.’ Cameron’s approach to volunteerism thus contradicts the very idea that volunteerism needs to function as a personal choice, something one does for one’s community or for society on the side of a professional working life or on a decent pension. The whole idea is nothing more than an ideological spin-off that only puts a veneer on exploitation becoming what in the end replaces both proper political issues like unemployment and professional working life altogether.

[3] (Ibid. Page 25)

[4] Gill, Banks and Taylor (2013).

[5] Mark Banks, Rosalind Gill and Stephanie Taylor Eds. “Theorizing Cultural Work. Labour, continuity and change in the cultural and creative industries.” Routledge, London and NY, 2014 (Page 3)

[6]Éric Alliez and Peter Osborne, “Spheres of Action: Art and politics”, Tate Publishing, Millbank, London, 2013. Antonio Negri: “Metamorphoses”. (Page 80).

[7] Ibid. Page 80.

[8] Slavoj Žižek, “First as tragedy, then as farce”, Verso, London, 2009. (Page 147)

[9] Ibid. Page 146

[10] (Ibid. Page 146)

[11] Christian Fuchs, “Digital Labour and Karl Marx.” New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2014. (Page 125)

[12] (Ibid. Page 125)

[13] Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, “The new spirit of capitalism”, Verso, London, 2005. A sociological study of the changes in contemporary business culture.

[14] (Ibid. Page 126)



Éric Alliez and Peter Osborne Eds.

“Spheres of Action: Art and politics”, Tate Publishing, Millbank, London, 2013

Slavoj Žižek

“First as tragedy, then as farce”, Verso, London, 2009

 Jenny Andersson, “The library and the workshop. Social democracy and capitalism in the knowledge age.” Stanford University Press, California, USA, 2010

Mark Banks, Rosalind Gill and Stephanie Taylor Eds. “Theorizing Cultural Work. Labour, continuity and change in the cultural and creative industries.” Routledge, London and NY, 2014

Christian Fuchs

“Digital Labour and Karl Marx.” New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2014Shelf mark at the BL: SPIS335.412

Bydler, Charlotte

“The global art world inc.: on the globalization of contemporary art.”

Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University, c.2004 Series Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Figura; nova. Series 32

Shelf mark. The British Library 0586.520000 Number 32(2004) DSCAC.1075/6(6)(No.32)

Jean-Philippe Deranty and Alison Ross Jacques Ranciére and the contemporary scene: the philosophy of radical equality/edited London: Continuum, c2012

Guy Standing “The precariat: The new dangerous class”, Bloomsbury, London, 2011

Eivind Slettemeås “Kunst og prekaritet”, Torpedo Press, Oslo, 2008

Ranciére: rethinking emancipation/Nick Hewlett. London: Continuum, c2007

Todd May Contemporary political movements and the thought of Jacques Ranciére: equality in action Edinburgh University Press, c2010

Jacques Ranciére Aisthesis: scenes from the aesthetic regime of art. Translated by Zakir Paul. London New York: Verso Books, 2013

Mark Banks, Rosalind Gill and Stephanie Taylor Eds. “Theorizing Cultural Work. Labour, continuity and change in the cultural and creative industries.” Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, London and NY, 2013

Murray C, Gollmitzer, M.

Escaping the precarity trap: a call for creative labour policy.

International journal of cultural policy. Vol. 18; Number 4, 2012, 419-438 Taylor & Francis 2012

Harry Magdoff Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine; October 2006, Vol. 58 Issue 5, p. 52- 64

Abstract:  Part of a special issue on Harry Magdoff,. A reprint of an article published in Monthly Review, October 1982. Magdoff is here discussing, among other things, the first social division of labor; the second division of labor, the division of labor and modern industry; and Marx and work under socialism. ISSN: 00270520 Accession Number: 510643193

Terry Flew “Global Creative Industries”; Polity, 2013

The utopian/dystopian aspect of working in the creative industries.

Michael Polák “Class, surplus, and the division of labour. A post-Marxian Exploration”, Palgrave Macmillan,

SPIS 335.4 POL13



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