Notes on Big Data, Marx, Time, and the Production of Value

There is a running debate in critical theory circles about the applicability of Marxian analysis to big data specifically, and to an economy dominated by immaterial goods, more generally (I have blogged about this periodically, circling primarily around the concept of primitive accumulation: see here and here).  As part of working through that literature, here I want to lay out some of the broad outlines of the pro- side as I see it, and then offer some preliminary thoughts from Marx’s own work that address one specific objection.

Advocates of the applicability of Marx almost invariably (as far as I can tell so far; I don’t claim to have read anywhere near all of this literature yet) base their case on Italian autonomism.  Autonomism is best known in the work of Antonio Negri (with or without Michael Hardt); important in this context are also Paolo Virno, Maurizio Lazzarto and Franco Berardi.  Autonomism breaks with classical Marxism both insofar as it breaks with any sort of economic determinism (by shifting the base to class struggle, and not means of production), as well by advancing two more immediately applicable ideas.  First, autonomism adopts Marx’s “Fragment on Machines,” an unpublished (by Marx) and fragmentary set of notes to the effect that capital will be relying increasingly on accumulated science and knowledge (Virno has what is probably the best synopsis of this account of the “general intellect”).  Second, autonomist theory argues that capitalist relations have extended beyond the boundaries of the workplace to encompass all social relations.  In Negri’s terms, we now face the complete subsumption of society by capital.

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