In the social factory? Immaterial labour, precariousness and cultural work

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This article introduces a special section concerned with precariousness and cultural work. Its aim is to bring into dialogue three bodies of ideas — the work of the autonomous Marxist `Italian laboratory'; activist writings about precariousness and precarity; and the emerging empirical scholarship concerned with the distinctive features of cultural work, at a moment when artists, designers and (new) media workers have taken centre stage as a supposed `creative class' of model entrepreneurs. The article is divided into three sections. It starts by introducing the ideas of the autonomous Marxist tradition, highlighting arguments about the autonomy of labour, informational capitalism and the `factory without walls', as well as key concepts such as multitude and immaterial labour. The impact of these ideas and of Operaismo politics more generally on the precarity movement is then considered in the second section, discussing some of the issues that have animated debate both within and outside this movement, which has often treated cultural workers as exemplifying the experiences of a new `precariat'. In the third and final section we turn to the empirical literature about cultural work, pointing to its main features before bringing it into debate with the ideas already discussed. Several points of overlap and critique are elaborated — focusing in particular on issues of affect, temporality, subjectivity and solidarity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-30
Number of pages30
JournalTheory, Culture & Society
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008


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