Dossier: Scattered Speculations on Value


In the spring of 1996, Marcia Landy and I organized a boundary 2 panel for the annual Rethinking Marxism conference held in Amherst, Massachusetts, in December of that year. We thought that Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's speculation on the relationship between value and affect (Scattered Speculations) afforded an opportunity for rigorous engagement with these concepts, their historical significance, and their viability for understanding the emerging social formations attending the global economy. We envisioned a format of collective discussion carried out through individual papers and followed by an open discussion with Professor Spivak. Among those who agreed to join in this Sprechstimme were Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Reda Bensmaia, and Etienne Balibar. Unforeseen circumstances prevented Professors Spivak and Bensmaia from taking part. Through the graciousness of Hardt and Balibar, however, the panel went ahead. We never planned for Negri to come, given his well-known political predicament -although at the time he was free in Paris, he could not enter the United States. Still, he prepared and sent a paper that Hardt translated from the Italian and I read aloud, to which Balibar gave an informed and engaging response. Negri's paper and HardYs talk follow in these pages. (They expand on these notions in their forthcoming book, Empire.) Despite the absence of two colleagues, the event was well received. We owe sincere thanks to those who attended the session. We want to thank Stephen Cullenberg for giving us the opportunity to present our conversation in the venue of the Rethinking Marxism conference. We are most grateful to Etienne Balibar, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri. Our debt to Hardt and Negri is compounded by their agreeing to allow us to publish their papers in this issue of boundary 2.

Value and Affect

I do not think that, in the polemics that have now for two hundred years accompanied the development of the theory of value, political economists have ever succeeded in decoupling value from labor. Even the marginalist currents and the neoclassical schools, whose vocation is dedicated to this decoupling, are forced to take this relationship into account (along with its support, mass living labor) every time they confront political economy in the concrete. In neoclassical theory, the analyses of market, entrepreneurial, financial, and monetary relations all refute in principle every reference to labor: in fact, it is no surprise that neoclassical theorists have nothing to say when they are faced with political decisions. The theory of labor-value springs forth again-and they are frozen in their tracks by it-precisely where the founders of the discipline situated it. The place of the conflict (and the eventual mediation) of the economic relationship as a social relationship reveals the ontology of economic theory.

What has irreversibly changed, however, from the times of the predominance of the classical theory of value, involves the possibility of developing the theory of value in terms of economic order, or rather, the possibility of considering value as a measure of concrete labor, either individually or collectively. The economic consequences of this difficulty are certainly important, but equally important are its anthropological and social presuppositions. These latter elements are what I will focus on here-on this novelty that transforms the theory of value "from below," from the base of life.

In the centuries of capitalist modernization (in the passage, that is, from manufacturing to large-scale industry, to use Marx's terms), the possibility of measuring labor, which had functioned more or less in the period of accumulation, progressively declined for two reasons. In the first place, the possibility of measurement declined because labor-as it became more highly qualified and more complex, both individually and collectively-could not be reduced to simple, calculable quantities. Secondly, the possibility of measurement declined because capital, which was becoming more financially oriented and more embedded in State regimes, made increasingly artificial and manipulable, and thus more abstract, the mediation between diverse sectors of the economic cycle (production, social reproduction, circulation, and the distribution of incomes).

But all this is prehistory. In the global market, in postmodernity, the problem of measure itself cannot be located.

It is certainly true that in the period of the passage to postmodernity, in the phase of the anti-imperialist and anticolonial struggles, the theory of labor-value seemed to rise up again in macroeconomic terms, as a theory of the international division of labor, of "unequal exchange," of postcolonial exploitation. But this renaissance quickly proved illusory, as soon as it became evident that the set of productive processes, beyond being immersed in the multinationalization of industrial activity and financial globalization, was further intensified by the technological processes of cybernetics and communication, as well as by the investment of immaterial and scientific labor. This does not mean that the international division of labor and postcolonial exploitation have come to an end. On the contrary, they have been extraordinarily accentuated. But at the same time, they have lost their specificity (and thus the possibility of reactivating the theory of value in concrete instances) because that type of exploitation has itself become globalized, has flooded metropolitan territories, and the measure of exploitation has definitively declined.

In the economy of postmodernity and in the territories of globalization, the production of commodities comes about through command, the division of labor is given through command, and the articulation of the measures of labor is undone in global command. That said, however, my theme here, "value and affect," has not been broached thus far except through the suggestion of a reconsideration of the problem of value "from below."

In effect, when we look at things from the point of view of political economy-in other words, "from above"-the theme of "value-affect" is so integrated into the macroeconomic process that it is virtually invisible. Economics ignores the problem without any recognition of difficulties. Among the numerous cases, consider two that are exemplary. The first case concerns the domestic labor of women and/or mothers/wives. Now, in the tradition of political economy, this theme can in no way be posed outside of the consideration of the direct or indirect wage of the worker (male, head of family), or rather, in more recent times, outside of the disciplinary techniques of the demographic control of populations (and of the eventual interests of the State-the collective capitalist-in the economic regulation of this demographic development). Value is thus assumed by stripping it from labor (the labor of women-in this case, mothers and wives), stripping it, in other words, from affect. A second example resides at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. This case deals no longer with the traditional paradigms of classical economics but with a really postmodern theme: the so-called economy of attention. By this term, one refers to the interest in assuming in the economic calculation the interactivity of the user of communication services. In this case, too, even in the clear effort to absorb the production of subjectivity, economics ignores the substance of the question. As it focuses attention on the calculation of "audience," it flattens, controls, and commands the production of subjectivity on a disembodied horizon. Labor (attention) is here subsumed, stripping it from value (of the subject), that is, from affect.

To define the theme of value-affect, we have to leave behind the ignorance of political economy. We have to understand it precisely on the basis of an apparent paradox that I would like to pose in this way: The more the measure of value becomes ineffectual, the more the value of labor-power becomes determinant in production; the more political economy masks the value of labor-power, the more the value of labor-power is extended and intervenes in a global terrain, a biopolitical terrain. In this paradoxical way, labor becomes affect, or better, labor finds its value in affect, if affect is defined as the "power to act" (Spinoza). The paradox can thus be reformulated in these terms: The more the theory of value loses its reference to the subject (measure was this reference as a basis of mediation and command), the more the value of labor resides in affect, that is, in living labor that is made autonomous in the capital relation, and expresses-through all the pores of singular and collective bodies-its power of self-valorization.


My first thesis, a deconstructive and historical thesis, is that measuring labor, and thus ordering it and leading it back to a theory of value, is impossible when, as 26, no. 2 (Summer 1999): p. 73-100today, labor-power is no longer either outside or inside capitalist command (and its capacity to structure command). To clarify how this is our contemporary situation, allow me to refer to two cases.

First case: Labor-power, or really the use-value of labor-power, is outside of capital. This is the situation in which the labor theory of value was constructed in the classical era. Being outside of capital, labor-power had to be brought within it. The process of primitive accumulation consisted in bringing within capitalist development (and control) the labor-power that lived outside. The exchange-value of labor-power was thus rooted in a usevalue that was constituted, in large part, outside of the capitalist organization of production. What, then, was this outside? Marx spoke extensively on this question. When he spoke of labor-power as "variable capital" he alluded in fact to a mixture of independence and subjectivity that was organized in: (a) the independence of "small-scale circulation" (the link to the earth, the family economy, the tradition of "gifts," and so on); (b) the values proper to "worker cooperation" as such, in other words, the fact that cooperation constitutes a surplus of value that is prior, or at least irreducible, to the capitalist organization of labor, even if it is recuperated by it; and (c) the set of "historical and moral values" (as Marx put it) that is continually renewed as needs and desires by the collective movement of the proletariat and produced by its struggles. The struggle over the "relative wage" (which Rosa Luxemburg strongly highlighted in her particular interpretation of Marxism from the perspective of the production of subjectivity) represented a very strong mechanism available to the "outside." Use-value was thus rooted fundamentally, even if in a relative way, outside of capital.

A long historiography (which spans from the work of E. P. Thompson to that of the "workerist" Italians and Europeans of the 1970s, and among which we could situate the brilliant work of South Asian subaltern historiographers) describes this situation and translates it into a militant vocabulary.

For a long historical period, then, capitalist development has undergone an independent determination of the use-value of labor-power, a determination that is posed (relatively) "outside" of capitalist command. The price of "necessary labor" (to reproduce the proletariat) is thus presented, in this period, as a quantity that is natural (and/or historical), but in any case external-a quantity that mediates between the productive effectivity of the working class and its social and monetary inclusion.

The specificity of the Marxian analysis, in the tradition that aims to use the classical theory of value toward revolutionary ends, is based also on the consideration of the (relative) extraneousness of the substance of use-value from labor-power with respect to the unity of capitalist command over the development of accumulation. One could add that, for Marx, the unit used for measuring value was formed outside (or at least alongside) the capitalist process of the production and reproduction of society.

Second case: Labor-power, or really its use-value, is inside capitalist society. Throughout its development, capital has continually and increasingly led labor-power back to within its command; it has progressively taken away labor-power's conditions of reproduction external to the capitalist society and thus has increasingly succeeded at defining the use-value of labor-power in terms of exchange-value-no longer only relatively, as in the phase of accumulation, but absolutely. "Arbeit macht Frei." One need not be a postmodernist to recognize how this reduction (or subsumption) of use-value to a coercive and totalitarian regime of exchange-value was implemented beginning in the 1930s in the United States, in the 1950s in Europe, and in the 1970s in the Third World.

Certainly there are still situations, in the Third World as well as the First, in which important forms of independence exist in the formation of proletarian use-value. But the tendency of their reabsorption is irreversible.

Postmodernity describes a continuous, impetuous, and rapid tendency. One could, in fact, claim that, in distinction to what still persisted in the time of Marx's analysis, today one cannot imagine a definition of use-value that could be given even partially independent of exchange-value.

Therefore, the economic calculation, originating with classical and Marxist economics, that foresaw an independent unit of measure (an "outside") as the basis of the dialectic of capital no longer has any reason to exist. This disappearance is real, and the theory of the measure of value has thus become circular and tautological: There is no longer anything external that can offer it a ground. In effect-and here, too, there is no need to be a postmodernist to recognize it-ever since the 1960s (for what interests us here), every use-value has been determined by the regime of capitalist production. And also, every value that in the theory of accumulation was not posed in an immediately capitalist regime (such as the social capacity of reproduction, the productive surplus of cooperation, the "small-scale circulation," the new needs and desires produced by the struggles, and so on), all such value is now immediately recuperated and mobilized within the regime of (globalized) capitalist control.

Thus, if (to stick to classical terminology) the theory of value must determine a criterion of measure, it can find one today only within the global constitution of exchange-value. Now, this measure is money. But money, precisely, is neither a measure of nor a relationship over use-value, but-at this point of development-its pure and simple substitution.

In conclusion, the theory of value has ceased to fulfill its rationalizing function in political economy (not to mention its founding role). This comes out of capitalist development at the margins of postmodernity, transfigured into monetary theory-constructed on the horizon of globalization, organized by imperial command. "A dollar is a dollar." Money is no longer the product of a regime of exchange (between capital and more or less subjectivized labor-power) but the production of a regime of exchange. The theory of value is banalized as an instrument of monetary measure, of the order of money.

But the value of production has not been abolished. When the value of production cannot be brought back to measure, it becomes s-misurato (immeasurable and immense). I mean to emphasize here the paradox of a labor-power that is no longer either outside or inside capital: In the first case, the criterion that allowed for its control, through measure, was its relative independence (which today no longer exists-labor-power is really subsumed); in the second case, the criterion that allowed for the command of labor-power, despite the absence of measure, consisted in its absorption in the monetary regime (Keynesianism, to mention the most refined technique of control). But also this second criterion has disappeared insofar as monetary control has become completely abstract. We must thus conclude that labor-power, which we find again in postmodernity (in the global and/or imperial system of the capitalist economy), is situated in a non-place with respect to capital.

How Can We Define This Non-Place?

To introduce this discussion, one must, first of all, identify the theoretical displacement that the globalization of capitalist exploitation has determined. Now, when one speaks of globalization, one really speaks of it in a double sense: extensively, as the global enlargement of the productive fabric through markets; and intensively, as the absorption of all of social life within capitalist production. In the first sense, labor-power is presented in mobile and interchangeable, material and immaterial aggregations (or subjectivities), the production power of which is organized according to mechanisms of mobilization (and/or of segregation, segmentation, and so on): Productive force is here separated from circulation. In the second sense, labor-power is presented as the social fabric, as population and culture, traditions and innovation, and so forth-in short, its productive force is exploited within the processes of social reproduction. Production becomes coextensive with reproduction, in the "biopolitical" context. (The term biopolitical here defines a context of social reproduction, which integrates production and circulation, along with the political mechanism that organizes them. This is not the place to explore this theme more fully: Allow me simply to introduce the term.)

The non-place of labor-power is thus negatively defined by the dissolution of the separation that had existed among the forms of the realization of capital-the separate forms that classical economics had recognized. The non-place can be positively defined both by the intensity of the mobilization and by the consistency of the biopolitical nexus of labor-power.


We have thus far posed a number of affirmations: (1) that the measure of labor-value, grounded on the independence of use-value, has now become ineffectual; (2) that the rule of capitalist command that is imposed on the horizon of globalization negates every possibility of measure, even monetary measure; and (3) that the value of labor-power is today posed in a non-place and that this non-place is s-misurato (immeasurable and immense)-by which we mean that it is outside of measure but at the same time beyond measure.

To address the theme of value-affect now, we would propose delving into one among the many themes that the introduction to this discussion has presented-that of the nexus between production and social reproduction-and investigating it according to the indications that the analysis has suggested: first, from below, and second, in the immeasurable and immense non-place.

To do this, one must still refuse the temptation to go down a simple path that is presented to us: the path of reintroducing the Marxian figures of use-value and pretending to renovate them in the context of the new situation. How do the philosophers and politicians who situate themselves in this perspective proceed? They reconstruct a fictional use-value that they nostalgically oppose to the growing processes of globalization; in other words, they oppose to globalization a humanistic resistance. In reality, in their discourse, they bring to light again all the values of modernity, and use-value is configured in terms of identity. (Even when use-value is not invoked explicitly, it ends up being inserted surreptitiously.) One example should suffice: the resistance of workers' trade unions to globalization. To establish this resistance, they resurrect the territorialization and the identity of the usevalue of labor-power, and they insist on this, blind to the transformations of productivity, desperate, incapable of understanding the new power that the immeasurable and immense non-place offers to productive activity. This path thus cannot be taken.

We must then search for another one. But where can we find it? We have said "from below." Up until this point, in fact, we have reasoned on the basis of a Marxian relation that led from production to social reproduction and thus from value to the biopolitical reality. In this relation-seen widelycould be included also affect; affect could emerge as a power to act on the lower limit of the definition of use-value. But this end point of the deduction of the conditions of value has only determined important effects when it has been assumed abstractly as an element of the unity of calculation. Now, then, one must change the direction of the reasoning, avoid that deduction, and assume rather an induction-from affect to value-as the line of construction.

This line of construction has been adopted with good results, but the findings are nonetheless not sufficient to demonstrate to us the power of affect in the radicality and the extension of the effects that now, in postmodernity, await us. I am referring here to those historiographical and dialectical schools I cited earlier-from E. P. Thompson, to the European "workerists" of the 1970s, to the "subaltern" historiographers. Now, from this theoretical perspective, affect is assumed from below. Moreover, it is presented, in the first place, as a production of value. Through this production, it is represented, then, in the second place, as a product of struggles, a sign, and an ontological deposit or precipitate of the struggles. Affect thus presents a dynamic of historical construction that is rich in its complexity. And yet it is insufficient. From this perspective, the dynamic of the struggles (and their affective behaviors) determines, in fact, in every case, the restructuring of capitalist command (in technical terms, political terms, and so on). The development of affect is closely related to a dialectic that ends up presenting its dynamic as completely circular-as a dialectic, tout court. And there is no good dialectic to separate here from the bad dialectic: All the dialectics are bad. All are incapable of liberating themselves from historical effectivity and its enchantment. The dialectic, even a dialectic from below, is incapable of presenting radical innovation in the historical process, the explosion of the power to act (affect) in all its radicality.

A line of reconstruction from below must thus be added to the perception of the non-place. Only the radical assumption of the point of view of the non-place can liberate us from the dialectic of modernity, in all its figures, even those that tried to develop from below the dialectical construction of affect. What does it mean, then, to add the approach from below, the perception of the non-place, and the rupture of every dialectical instance in a path that goes from affect to value?

Affect can be considered, as a first hypothesis, as a power to act that is singular and at the same time universal. It is singular because it poses action beyond every measure that power does not contain in itself, in its own structure, and in the continuous restructurings that it constructs. It is universal because the affects construct a commonality among subjects. In this commonality is posed the non-place of affect, because this commonality is not a name but a power; it is not the commonality of a constriction or a coercion but of a desire. Here, therefore, affect has nothing to do with use-value, because it is not a measure but a power, and it does not run into limits but only obstacles to its expansion.

But this first definition of affect as power to act opens toward other definitions. We could, in fact, note, in the second place, that if the relationship between singularity and commonality (or universality) is not static but dynamic, if in this relationship we witness a continuous movement between the singular that is universalized and "what is common" that is singularized-well, we could then define affect as a power of transformation, a force of self-valorization, which insists on itself in relation to what is common and which therefore brings what is common to an expansion that does not run into limits but only obstacles.

But this process is not formal: It is rather material. It is realized in the biopolitical condition. In the third place, then, we speak of affect as power of appropriation, in the sense that every obstacle that is overcome by the action of affect determines a greater force of action of the affect itself, in the singularity and universality of its power. The process is ontological and its power is ontological. The conditions of action and transformation are from time to time appropriated and go toward enriching the power of action and transformation.

In the fourth place, we could bring together the definitions of affect as power to act in a further definition: affect as an expansive power. In other words, it is a power of freedom, ontological opening, and omnilateral diffusion. Really, this further definition could be seen as pleonastic. If in fact affect constructs value from below, if it transforms it according to the rhythm of what is common, and if it appropriates the conditions of its own realization, then it is more than evident that in all of this there resides an expansive power. But this definition is not pleonastic. We can see that, on the contrary, it adds a new concept when we insist on the positive tonality of the non-place, on the irresistibility of affect as power beyond measure, and on its consequent absolutely antidialectical character. (Playing with the history of philosophy, which deserves nothing more than such a game, one could add that whereas the first three definitions of affect are Spinozian, this fourth definition recuperates a Nietzschean effect.) In any case, the omnilateral expansivity of affect demonstrates, one could say, the moment that transvaluates its concept, to the point of determining the capacity to sustain the shock or impact of postmodernity.

Back to Political Economy

Since value is outside of every measure (outside of both the "natural" measure of use-value and monetary measure), the political economy of postmodernity looks for it in other terrains: the terrain of the conventions of mercantile exchange and the terrain of communicative relations.

Conventions of the market and communicative exchanges would thus be the places where the productive nexuses (and thus the affective flows) are established-outside of measure, certainly, but susceptible to biopolitical control. Postmodern political economy thus recognizes that value is formed in the relation of affect, that affect has fundamental productive qualifications, and so forth. Consequently, political economy attempts to control it, mystify its nature, and limit its power. Political economy must in every case bring productive force under control, and thus it must organize itself to superimpose over the new figures of valorization (and new subjects that produce it) new figures of exploitation.

We should recognize here that, reshaping the system of its concepts in this way, political economy has made an enormous leap forward and has attempted to present itself (without negating the instance of domination that defines it but rather reproducing that domination in new languages) outside of the classical dialectic of capital. It accepts the impossibility of determining a measure of the productivity of labor-power that is objective (transcendent in the case of use-value or transcendental in the case of money). It thus sets its theory on the terrain marked out by the production of subjectivity or, really, by productive subjectivity. The latent recognition that political economy gives to the fact that value is now an investment of desire constitutes a real and proper conceptual revolution. (Once again playing with the history of philosophy, which is almost always a discipline of mystification, one could highlight how today Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments is given priority over The Wealth of Nations, Marx's early writings over Capital, Mauss's Sociology of the Gift over Max Weber's Economy and Society, and so forth. )

In any case, this revolution in political economy is revealing in that it involves dominating the context of the affects that establish productive reality as the superstructure of social reproduction and as the articulation of the circulation of the signs of communication. Even if the measurement of this new productive reality is impossible, because affect is not measurable, nonetheless in this very productive context, so rich in productive subjectivity, affect must be controlled. Political economy has become a deontological science. In other words, the project of the political economy of conventions and communication is the control of an immeasurable productive reality.

And yet the question is more difficult than political economy suspects. We have already highlighted the fact that immeasurability means not only "outside measure" but also, and primarily, "beyond measure." Probably the central contradiction of postmodernity resides in this very difference.

Affect (and its productive effects) is at its center. Political economy says, Okay, we will recognize that what is outside measure cannot be measured, and we will accept that economics thus becomes a nondialectical theoretical discipline. But that does not take away the fact, political economy continues, that this outside measure can be controlled. Convention (in other words, the set of productive modes of life and exchange) would thus present to political economy the opportunity to bring back the immeasurability of affect-value under control. This project of political economy is certainly a fascinating and titanic effort!

Nevertheless, what escapes political economy (but which also freezes political economy in its tracks) is the other aspect: value-affect beyond measure. This cannot be contained. The sublime has become normal.

To Begin the Analysis over Again

An economy of desire is the order of the day. This is true not only in philosophical terms but also in the (disciplinary) terms of the critique of political economy-in other words, on the basis of (not so much the model as) the standpoint proposed by Marx: the standpoint of the oppressed that constructs insurrection and imagines a revolutionary reconstruction, a standpoint from below that richly constructs a non-place of revolutionary reality. Value-affect opens the way to a revolutionary political economy in which insurrection is a necessary ingredient and which poses the theme of the reappropriation of the biopolitical context by the productive subjects.

What do we want and what can we do? Responding to these questions scientifically is not only outside measure but also beyond measure.

But it is paradoxically easy to say it in what is common, in dialogue among people, in every social struggle-when the events are charged with affectivity. Such is the distance between being and affect. In fact, our social life, not to mention our productive life, is submerged by the impotence of action, by the frustration of not creating, and by the castration of our normal imagination.

Where does this come from? From an enemy. If for the enemy measuring value is impossible, for the producer of value the very existence of a measurer of value is unreal. On the basis of affect, the enemy must be destroyed. Whereas affect (production, value, subjectivity) is indestructible.

Affective Labor

Focus on the production of affects in our labor and our social practices has often served as a useful ground for anticapitalist projects, in the context of discourses, for instance, on desire or on use-value. Affective labor is itself and directly the constitution of communities and collective subjectivities. The productive circuit of affect and value has thus seemed in many respects as an autonomous circuit for the constitutions of subjectivity, alternative to the processes of capitalist valorization. Theoretical frameworks that have brought together Marx and Freud have conceived of affective labor using terms such as desiring production, and, more significantly, numerous feminist investigations analyzing the potentials within what has been designated traditionally as women's work have grasped affective labor with terms such as kin work and caring labor. Each of these analyses reveals the processes whereby our laboring practices produce collective subjectivities, produce sociality, and ultimately produce society itself.

Such a consideration of affective labor today, however-and this is the primary point of this essay-ought to be situated in the context of the changing role of affective labor in the capitalist economy. In other words, although affective labor has never been entirely outside of capitalist production, the processes of economic postmodernization that have been in course for the past twenty-five years have positioned affective labor in a role that is not only directly productive of capital but at the very pinnacle of the hierarchy of laboring forms. Affective labor is one face of what I will call "immaterial labor," which has assumed a dominant position with respect to the other forms of labor in the global capitalist economy. Saying that capital has incorporated and exalted affective labor and that affective labor is one of the highest value-producing forms of labor from the point of view of capital does not mean that, thus contaminated, it is no longer of use to anticapitalist projects. On the contrary, given the role of affective labor as one of the strongest links in the chain of capitalist postmodernization, its potential for subversion and autonomous constitution is all the greater. Within this context, we can recognize the biopolitical potential of labor, using biopower here in a sense that both adopts and inverts Michel Foucault's usage of the term. want to proceed, then, in three steps: first, situating immaterial labor within the contemporary phase of capitalist postmodernization; second, situating affective labor with respect to the other forms of immaterial labor; and finally, exploring the potential of affective labor in terms of biopower.


It has now become common to view the succession of economic paradigms in the dominant capitalist countries since the Middle Ages in three distinct moments, each defined by a privileged sector of the economy: a first paradigm, in which agriculture and the extraction of raw materials dominated the economy; a second, in which industry and the manufacture of durable goods occupied the privileged position; and the current paradigm, in which providing services and manipulating information are at the heart of economic production. The dominant position has thus passed from primary to secondary to tertiary production. Economic modernization named the passage from the first paradigm to the second, from the dominance of agriculture to that of industry. Modernization meant industrialization. We might call the passage from the second paradigm to the third, from the domination of industry to that of services and information, a process of economic postmodernization, or rather, informatization.

The processes of modernization and industrialization transformed and redefined all the elements of the social plane. When agriculture was modernized as industry, the farm progressively became a factory, with all of the factory's discipline, technology, wage relations, and so forth. More generally, society itself was gradually industrialized even to the point of transforming human relations and human nature. Society became a factory. In the early twentieth century, Robert Musil reflected beautifully on the transformation of humanity in the passage from the agricultural world to the social factory: "There was a time when people grew naturally into the conditions they found waiting for them and that was a very sound way of becoming oneself. But nowadays, with all this shaking up of things, when everything is becoming detached from the soil it grew in, even where the production of soul is concerned one really ought, as it were, to replace the traditional handicrafts by the sort of intelligence that goes with the machine and the factory."' Humanity and its soul are produced in the very processes of economic production. The processes of becoming human and the nature of the human itself were fundamentally transformed in the qualitative shift of modernization.

In our times, however, modernization has come to an end. In other words, industrial production is no longer expanding its dominance over other economic forms and social phenomena. A symptom of this shift is manifest in terms of quantitative changes in employment. Whereas the processes of modernization were indicated by a migration of labor from agriculture and mining (the primary sector) to industry (the secondary), the processes of postmodernization or informatization are recognized through the migration from industry to service jobs (the tertiary), a shift that has taken place in the dominant capitalist countries, and particularly in the United States, since the early 1970s.2 The term service here covers a large range of activities from health care, education, and finance, to transportation, entertainment, and advertising. The jobs, for the most part, are highly mobile and involve flexible skills. More importantly, they are characterized in general by the central role played by knowledge, information, communication, and affect. In this sense, we can call the postindustrial economy an informational economy.

The claim that the process of modernization is over and that the global economy is today undergoing a process of postmodernization toward an informational economy does not mean that industrial production will be done away with or that it will cease to play an important role, even in the most dominant regions of the globe. Just as the industrial revolution transformed agriculture and made it more productive, so too the informational revolution will transform industry, redefining and rejuvenating manufacturing processes-through the integration, for example, of information networks within industrial processes. The new managerial imperative operative here is "treat manufacturing as a service:'3 In effect, as industries are transformed, the division between manufacturing and services is becoming blurred. Just as through the process of modernization all production became industrialized, so too through the process of postmodernization all production tends toward the production of services, toward becoming informationalized.

The fact that informatization and the shift toward services is most recognizable in the dominant capitalist countries should not lead us back to an understanding of the contemporary global economic situation in terms of stages of development-as if today the dominant countries were informational service economies, their first subordinates industrial economies, and those further subordinated agricultural. For the subordinated countries, the collapse of modernization means first of all that industrialization can no longer be seen as the key to economic advancement and competition. Some of the most subordinated regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, have been effectively excluded from capital flows and new technologies, from even the illusion of development strategies, and they thus find themselves on the verge of starvation (but we should recognize how postmodernization has imposed this exclusion and nonetheless dominates these regions). Competition for the middle-level positions in the global hierarchy is conducted in large part not through the industrialization but the informatization of production. Large countries with varied economies, such as India, Brazil, and Russia, can support simultaneously all varieties of productive processes: information-based production of services, modern industrial production of goods, and traditional handicraft, agricultural, and mining production. There does not need to be an orderly historical progression among these forms, but rather they mix and coexist; it is not necessary to pass through modernization before informatization-traditional handicraft production can be immediately computerized; cellular phones can be put to use immediately in isolated fishing villages. All of the forms of production exist within the networks of the world market and under the domination of the informational production of services.

Immaterial Labor

The passage toward an informational economy involves necessarily a change in the quality of labor and the nature of laboring processes. This is the most immediate sociological and anthropological implication of the passage of economic paradigms. Information, communication, knowledge, and affect come to play a foundational role in the production process.

A first aspect of this transformation is recognized by many in terms of the change in factory labor-using the auto industry as a central point of reference-from the Fordist model to the Toyotist model.4 The primary structural change between these models involves the system of communication between the production and consumption of commodities, that is, the passage of information between the factory and the market. The Fordist model constructed a relatively "mute" relationship between production and consumption. The mass production of standardized commodities in the Fordist era could count on an adequate demand and thus had little need to "listen" closely to the market. A feedback circuit from consumption to production did allow changes in the market to spur changes in production, but this communication was restricted (due to fixed and compartmentalized channels of planning) and slow (due to the rigidity of the technologies and procedures of mass production).

Toyotism is based on an inversion of the Fordist structure of communication between production and consumption. Ideally, according to this model, the production planning will communicate with markets constantly and immediately. Factories will maintain zero stock and commodities will be produced just in time, according to the present demand of the existing markets. This model thus involves not simply a more rapid feedback loop but an inversion of the relationship because, at least in theory, the productive decision actually comes after and in reaction to the market decision. This industrial context provides a first sense in which communication and information have come to play a newly central role in production. One might say that instrumental action and communicative action have become intimately interwoven in informationalized industrial processes. (It would be interesting and useful to consider here how these processes disrupt Jurgen Habermas's division between instrumental and communicative action, just as, in another sense, they do Hannah Arendt's distinctions among labor, work, and action.) 5 One should quickly add, however, that this is an impoverished notion of communication, the mere transmission of market data.

The service sectors of the economy present a richer model of productive communication. Most services indeed are based on the continual exchange of information and knowledges. Since the production of services results in no material and durable good, we might define the labor involved in this production as immaterial labor-that is, labor that produces an immaterial good, such as a service, knowledge, or communication.6 One face of immaterial labor can be recognized in analogy to the functioning of a computer. The increasingly extensive use of computers has tended progressively to redefine laboring practices and relations (along with, indeed, all social practices and relations). Familiarity and facility with computer technology is becoming an increasingly general primary qualification for work in the dominant countries. Even when direct contact with computers is not involved, the manipulation of symbols and information along the model of computer operation is extremely widespread. One novel aspect of the computer is that it can continually modify its own operation through its use.

Even the most rudimentary forms of artificial intelligence allow the computer to expand and perfect its operation based on interaction with its user and its environment. The same kind of continual interactivity characterizes a wide range of contemporary productive activities throughout the economy, whether computer hardware is directly involved or not. In an earlier era, workers learned how to act like machines both inside and outside the factory. Today, as general social knowledge becomes ever more a direct force of production, we increasingly think like computers, and the interactive model of communication technologies becomes more and more central to our laboring activities? Interactive and cybernetic machines become a new prosthesis integrated into our bodies and minds and a lens through which to redefine our bodies and minds themselves.8

Robert Reich calls this type of immaterial labor "symbolic-analytical services"-tasks that involve "problem-solving, problem-identifying, and strategic brokering activities"9 This type of labor claims the highest value and thus Reich identifies it as the key to competition in the new global economy. He recognizes, however, that the growth of these knowledge-based jobs of creative symbol manipulation implies a corresponding growth of lowvalue and low-skill jobs of routine symbol manipulation, such as data entry and word processing. Here begins to emerge a fundamental division of labor within the realm of immaterial processes.

The model of the computer, however, can account for only one face of the communicational and immaterial labor involved in the production of services. The other face of immaterial labor is the affective labor of human contact and interaction. This is the aspect of immaterial labor that economists such as Reich are less likely to talk about but that seems to me the more important aspect, the binding element. Health services, for example, rely centrally on caring and affective labor, and the entertainment industry and the various culture industries are likewise focused on the creation and manipulation of affects. To one degree or another, this affective labor plays a certain role throughout the service industries, from fast-food servers to providers of financial services, embedded in the moments of human interaction and communication. This labor is immaterial, even if it is corporeal and affective, in the sense that its products are intangible: a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, passion-even a sense of connectedness or community. Categories such as "in-person" services or services of proximity are often used to identify this kind of labor, but what is essential to it, its in-person aspect, is really the creation and manipulation of affects.

Such affective production, exchange, and communication is generally associated with human contact, with the actual presence of another, but that contact can be either actual or virtual. In the production of affects in the entertainment industry, for example, the human contact, the presence of others, is principally virtual, but not for that reason any less real.

This second face of immaterial labor, its affective face, extends beyond the model of intelligence and communication defined by the computer.

Affective labor is better understood by beginning from what feminist analyses of "women's work" have called "labor in the bodily mode."10 Caring labor is certainly entirely immersed in the corporeal, the somatic, but the affects it produces are nonetheless immaterial. What affective labor produces are social networks, forms of community, biopower.

Here one might recognize once again that the instrumental action of economic production has merged with the communicative action of human relations. In this case, however, communication has not been impoverished but rather production has been enriched to the level of complexity of human interaction. Whereas in a first moment, in the computerization of industry, for example, one might say that communicative action, human relations, and culture have been instrumentalized, reified, and "degraded" to the level of economic interactions, one should add quickly that through a reciprocal process, in this second moment, production has become communicative, affective, de-instrumentalized, and "elevated" to the level of human relations-but, of course, a level of human relations entirely dominated by and internal to capital. (Here the division between economy and culture begins to break down.) In the production and reproduction of affects, in those networks of culture and communication, collective subjectivities are produced and sociality is produced-even if those subjectivities and that sociality are directly exploitable by capital. This is where we can realize the enormous potential in affective labor.

I do not mean to argue that affective labor itself is new or that the fact that affective labor produces value in some sense is new. Feminist analyses in particular have long recognized the social value of caring labor, kin work, nurturing, and maternal activities. What are new, on the other hand, are the extent to which this affective immaterial labor is now directly productive of capital and the extent to which it has become generalized through wide sectors of the economy. In effect, as a component of immaterial labor, affective labor has achieved a dominant position of the highest value in the contemporary informational economy. Where the production of soul is concerned, as Musil might say, we should no longer look to the soil and organic development, nor to the factory and mechanical development, but rather to today's dominant economic forms, that is, to production defined by a combination of cybernetics and affect.

This immaterial labor is not isolated to a certain population of workers, say computer programmers and nurses, who would form a new potential labor aristocracy. Rather, immaterial labor in its various guises (informational, affective, communicative, and cultural) tends toward being spread throughout the entire workforce and throughout all laboring tasks as a component, larger or smaller, of all laboring processes. That said, however, there are certainly numerous divisions within the realm of immaterial laborinternational divisions of immaterial labor, gender divisions, racial divisions, and so forth. As Reich says, the U.S. government will strive as much as possible to keep the highest-value immaterial labor in the United States and export the low-value tasks to other regions. It is a very important task to clarify these divisions of immaterial labor, which, I should point out, are not the divisions of labor we are used to, particularly with regard to affective labor.

In short, we can distinguish three types of immaterial labor that drive the service sector at the top of the informational economy. The first is involved in an industrial production that has been informationalized and has incorporated communication technologies in a way that transforms the industrial production process itself. Manufacturing is regarded as a service, and the material labor of the production of durable goods mixes with and tends toward immaterial labor. The second is the immaterial labor of analytical and symbolic tasks, which itself breaks down into creative and intelligent manipulation, on one hand, and routine symbolic tasks, on the other. Finally, a third type of immaterial labor involves the production and manipulation of affects and requires (virtual or actual) human contact and proximity. These are the three types of labor that drive the postmodernization or informationalization of the global economy.


By biopower, I understand the potential of affective labor. Biopower is the power of the creation of life; it is the production of collective subjectivities, sociality, and society itself. The focus on affects and the networks of the production of affects reveals these processes of social constitution.

What is created in the networks of affective labor is a form-of-life.

When Foucault discusses biopower, he sees it only from above. It is patria potestas, the right of the father over the life and death of his children and servants. More important, biopower is the power of the emerging forces of governmentality to create, manage, and control populations-the power to manage life." Other more recent studies have extended Foucault's notion, casting biopower as the rule of the sovereign over "naked life," life distinct from its various social forms.12 In each case, what is at stake in power is life itself. This political passage toward the contemporary phase of biopower corresponds to the economic passage of capitalist postmodernization in which immaterial labor has been cast in the dominant position.

Here, too, in the creation of value and the production of capital, what is central is the production of life, that is, the creation, management, and control of populations. This Foucauldian view of biopower, however, only poses the situation from above, as the prerogative of a sovereign power. When we look at the situation from the perspective of the labor involved in biopolitical production, on the other hand, we can begin to recognize biopower from below.

The first fact we see when we adopt this perspective is that the labor of biopolitical production is strongly configured as gendered labor. Indeed, various streams of feminist theory have already provided extensive analyses of the production of biopower from below. A current of ecofeminism, for example, employs the term biopolitics (in a way that might seem at first sight quite different from that of Foucault) to refer to the politics of the various forms of biotechnology that are imposed by transnational corporations on populations and environments, primarily in subordinated regions of the world.13 The Green Revolution and other technological programs that have been cast as means of capitalist economic development actually have brought with them both devastation for the natural environment and new mechanisms for the subordination of women. These two effects, however, are really one. It is primarily the traditional role of women, these authors point out, to fulfill the tasks of reproduction that have been most severely affected by the ecological and biological interventions. From this perspective, then, women and nature are dominated together, but they also work together in a cooperative relationship, against the assault of biopolitical technologies, to produce and reproduce life. Staying alive: Politics has become a matter of life itself, and the struggle has taken the form of a biopower from above against a biopower from below.

In a very different context, numerous feminist authors in the United States have analyzed the primary role of women's labor in the production and reproduction of life. In particular, the caring labor involved in maternal work (distinguishing maternal work from the biologically specific aspects of birthing labor) has proven to be an extremely rich terrain for the analysis of biopolitical production.14 Biopolitical production here consists primarily in the labor involved in the creation of life-not the activities of procreation but the creation of life precisely in the production and reproduction of affects. Here we can recognize clearly how the distinction between production and reproduction breaks down, as does that between economy and culture. Labor works directly on the affects; it produces subjectivity, it produces society, it produces life. Affective labor, in this sense, is ontological-it reveals living labor constituting a form of life and thus demonstrates again the potential of biopolitical production.'5

We should add immediately, however, that we cannot simply affirm either of these perspectives in an unqualified way without recognizing the enormous dangers they pose. In the first case, the identification of women and nature risks naturalizing and absolutizing sexual difference, in addition to posing a spontaneous definition of nature itself. In the second case, the celebration of maternal work could easily serve to reinforce both the gendered division of labor and the familial structures of oedipal subjection and subjectification. Even in these feminist analyses of maternal labor, it is clear how difficult it can be at times to dislodge the potential of affective labor from both the patriarchal constructions of reproduction and the subjective black hole of the family. These dangers, however-important though they might be-do not negate the importance of recognizing the potential of labor as biopower, a biopower from below.

This biopolitical context is precisely the ground for an investigation of the productive relationship between affect and value. What we find here is not so much the resistance of what might be called "affectively necessary labor"16 but rather the potential of necessary affective labor. On one hand, affective labor, the production and reproduction of life, has become firmly embedded as a necessary foundation for capitalist accumulation and patriarchal order. On the other hand, however, the production of affects, subjectivities, and forms of life present an enormous potential for autonomous circuits of valorization, and perhaps for liberation.

movement cannot be considered class-conscious"8-applies mutatis mutandis to the shrunk Marxist community in the situation of postcommunism and the transition to global transnational high-tech capitalism. It is a situation in which one is compelled to speak of a deadly danger threatening all history as such.

Therefore, if we reflect today on Gramsci from one century to the next, it is only our rereading of the Prison Notebooks, in our moment of danger, from which we can expect to develop our criteria. Central to such a reappraisal has to be a reassessment of Gramsci's rearticulation of Marxist thought as philosophy of praxis. It is, however, as if some undiscussed embarrassment prevailed in regard to this general denomination of Gramsci's project. This tacit embarrassment has become a major obstacle in making use of Gramsci's thought. A number of rather heterogeneous intellectual forces contribute to sustain it: Louis Althusser's denunciation of philosophy of praxis as just another case of humanism-historicism-empiricism (completed by his would-be destructive critique of Marx's Theses on Feuerbach) 9 meets Adorno's pronunciation of "disgust (Abscheu) in relation to praxis, which today everywhere is ranking so highly":'o "The physiognomy of praxis is brute seriousness (tierischer Ernst)."" These judgments, although unjust, become understandable before a background of a kind of Sundayand salon-discourse about the marvelous self-creative faculties of "Praxis," cheap philosophical speculations that lose touch with every historical materiality. Even such a serious and conceptually conscious author as Henri Lefebvre is carried away by the pathos of praxis to quasi-theological formulations like: "The praxis is conceived of as beginning and end, as origin of


1. Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities, vol. 2, trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Vintage, 1996), 367.

2. On the employment shifts in the dominant countries, see Manuel Castells and Yuko Aoyama, "Paths towards the Informational Society: Employment Structure in G-7 Countries, 1920-90," International Labour Review 133, no. 1 (1994): 5-33.


3. Frangois Bar, "Information Infrastructure and the Transformation of Manufacturing," in The New Information Infrastructure: Strategies for US. Policy, ed. William Drake (New York: Twentieth-Century Fund Press, 1995), 56.


4. On the comparison between the Fordist and Toyotist models, see Benjamin Coriat, Penser a l'envers: Travail et organisation dans l'entreprise japonaise (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1994).


5. I am thinking primarily of Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon, 1984); and Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958). For an excellent critique of Habermas's division between communicative and instrumental action in the context of economic postmodernization, see Christian Marazzi, II posto dei calzini: La svolta linguistica dell'economia e i suoi effetti nella politica (Bellinzona, Switzerland: Casagrande, 1995), 29-34.


6. For a definition and analysis of immaterial labor, see Maurizio Lazzarato, "Immaterial Labor," in Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,1996), 133-47.


7. Peter Drucker understands the passage toward immaterial production as the complete destruction of the traditional categories of political economy. "The basic economic resource-'the means of production; to use the economist's term-is no longer capital, nor natural resources (the economist's 'land'), nor 'labor.' It is and will be knowledge" (Peter Drucker, Post-Capitalist Society [New York: HarperBusiness, 1993], 8). What Drucker does not understand is that knowledge is not given but produced and that its production involves new kinds of means of production and labor.

8. Marx uses the term general intellect to refer to this paradigm of productive social activity: "The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process" (Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. Martin Nicolaus [New York: Vintage, 1973], 706).

9. Robert Reich, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st-Century Capitalism (New York: Knopf, 1991), 177.


10. See Dorothy Smith, The Everyday World As Problematic: A Feminist Sociology (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987), 78-88.


11. See primarily Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1978),135-45.

12. See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer (Turin, Italy: Einaudi, 1995); and "Form-of-Life," trans. Cesare Casarino, in Virno and Hardt, eds., Radical Thought in Italy, 151-56.


13. See Vandana Shiva and Ingunn Moser, eds., Biopolitics: A Feminist and Ecological Reader(London: Zed, 1995); and, more generally, Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Survival in India (London: Zed, 1988).

14. See Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace (New York: Ballantine, 1989).

15. On the ontologically constitutive capacities of labor, specifically in the context of feminist theory, see Kathi Weeks, Constituting Feminist Subjects (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998),120-51.


16. See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value," in In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (New York: Routledge, 1988), 154-75.


8. V. I. Lenin, "The Ideological Struggle in the Working-Class Movement," in Collected Works, vol. 20, December 1913-August 1914 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1960), 279.

9. Louis Althusser, "Die Veranderung der Welt hat kein Subjekt: Notiz zu den Thesen uber Feuerbach," Neue Rundschau 106, no. 3 (1995): 9-16.

10. Adorno asks for a "standpoint removed, even though by a hair's breadth, from the scope of existence," knowing that such a standpoint cannot exist (Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans. E. F N. Jephcott [London: Verso, 1996], 247).

11. Theodor W. Adorno, Stichworte: Kritische Modelle 2 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1969), 172-73