Affective Labor

From AcaWiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Citation: Michael Hardt (1999) Affective Labor. Boundary 2 (RSS)


Tagged: Philosophy (RSS) NatematiasGenerals (RSS), theory (RSS), labor (RSS), marx (RSS), Autonomism (RSS)


In Affective Labor, Michael Hart offers an overview of the role of immaterial labor in the history of production and hints at ways that it might be applied for non-capitalist purposes and efforts towards liberation.

Hardt outlines a succession of three economic paradigms in economically dominant countries:

  • the first paradign, focused on agriculture and the extraction of raw materials
  • modernization brought about the second paradigm of industry
  • postmodernization or informatization, starting roughly in the 70s


Hardt argues that postmodernization/informatization is visible in service industries[1]. In this context, jobs are mobile and flexible, and "characterized... by the central role played by knowledge, information, communication, and affect" in what Hardt calls "an information economy" (91). While many contriues still extract resources and manufacture things, Hardt argues that this work is "under the domination" of information work, within market networks.

Immaterial Labor

Hardt unpacks that domination by tracing the victory of the "Toyotist model" of car production[2], where companies limit stock and produce goods in a feedback loop with customers. He then shifts to services "based on the continual exchange of information and knowledges" where there is no "material and durable good" involved -- immaterial labor[3].

Hardt is fascinated by computer programming, arguing that "the interactive model of communication technologies becomes more and more central to our laboring activities"[4]. Hardt also notes a division of labor between high status and low status computer work.

Hardt also discusses "affective labor of human contact and interaction," weather in health, entertainment, or other cultural industries, whether the contact is in person or virtual (95-96). After acknoledging that affective labor has typically been carried out by women and studied by feminist sociologists[5], Hardt argues that "the instrumental action of economic production has merged with the communicative action of human relations." In this context, "production has become communicative, affective, de-instrumentalized, and 'elevated' to the level of human relations" (97). Ultimately, "immaterial labor in its various guises... tends toward being spread throughout the entire workforce and throught all laboring tasks as a component, larger or smaller, of all laboring processes" (97). Hardt identifies three examples:

  • manufacturing as a service, in the feedback loops described above
  • a dichotomy between creative/intelligent analytical and symbolic work (contributor note: programming, design for example) and routine symbolic tasks (contributor note: data entry, for example)
  • the "production and manipulation of affects", through "(virtual or actual )human contact or proximity" (98)


Finally, Hardt describes the relationship between affective labor and biopower, a term coined by Michel Foucault in reference to the means by which governments regulate the health of a population[6]. Hart notes that this "creation, management, and control of populations" can come from governments (power from above) or companies (from below) "imposed by transnational corpoations on popuations and environments," through the Green Revolution of the 1960s-80s on agriculture and development or the spread of reproductive biotech [7][8].

Hardt argues that the affective labor of women[9] also constitutes biopower: "biopolitical production here consists primarily in the labor involved in the creation of life... in the production and reproduction of affects" (99). This kind of labor "works directly on the affects; it produces subjectivity, it produces society, it produces life" (99).

Hardt concludes by suggesting an agenda for further research: "this biopolitical context is precisely the ground for an investigation of the productive relationship between affect and value." He argues that although affective labor is now a fundamental part of capitalism, "the production of affects, subjectivites, and forms of life present an enormous potential for autonomous circuits of valorization and perhaps for liberation."

Contributor's note: I think that Hardt's use of "autonomous circuits of valorization" is different from Marx's idea of valorization, which was simply the process through which value is created betwen the cost of production and the price people will pay. Instead, I think Hardt is describing what Negri and autonomous marxists call "self-valorization" in a what Harry Cleaver calls a "multiplicity of autonomously determined needs and projects"[10]

Theoretical and practical relevance:

This article offers a clear introduction to perspectives on immaterial and affective labor in autonomist marxist theory.

Notable References

  1. Castells, M., & Aoyama, Y. (1994). Paths towards the informational society: Employment structure in G-7 countries, 1920-90. Int'l Lab. Rev., 133, 5.
  2. Coriat, B. (1991). Penser a l’envers. Travail et organisation dans l’Enterprise Japonaise. In Mechanism Ensuring Growth in Exchange for Meeting the Requests of Customers). Christian Bourgois, Paris.
  3. Lazzarato, M. (1996). Immaterial labour. Radical thought in Italy: A potential politics, 1996, 133-147.
  4. Drucker, P. F., & Drucker, P. F. (1994). Post-capitalist society. Routledge.
  5. Smith, D. E. (1988). The everyday world as problematic: A feminist sociology. University of Toronto Press.
  6. Wikipedia. Biopower. Accessed March 29, 2015
  7. Shiva, V., & Moser, I. (Eds.). (1996). Biopolitics: A feminist and ecological reader on biotech
  8. Shiva, V. (1988). Staying alive: Women, ecology, and survival in India (p. 56). New Delhi: Kali for Women.
  9. Ruddick, S. (1995). Maternal thinking: Toward a politics of peace; with a new preface. Beacon Press.
  10. Cleaver, Harry. (2005) "Introduction to Antonio Negri's Marx Beyond Marx". Autonomedia, 1989