Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Use-Value of Blogging

I've argued in two previous posts that most blogs are not commodities themselves, but that they are part of the process for producing the commodity labor-power.

Perhaps an example will help.

Consider a parent telling a bedtime story to their child. The bedtime story itself isn't a commodity. No matter how much enjoyment they find in it, no matter how instructive, no matter how much the kid smiles, or how much time and creativity the parent invests in crafting it, the story is not a commodity. It is not produced for exchange and is not a source of surplus-value for capital. However, in so far as the bedtime story is part of the means of subsistence for the child – like breakfast, t-shirts, school, and cable-tv – then the bedtime story too can be understood as part of the useful labor that goes into producing this next generation of labor-power.

Blogs are like bedtime stories. Blogs are most often not commodities produced for exchange, but they are still part of the useful labor that goes into producing and reproducing the commodity of labor-power. And currently, the vast majority of blogging labor pays just as poorly as telling bedtime stories.

This is one story about the relationship between blogging and capital that can be told, but there are certainly others – stories about immaterial labor, attention economies, or Baudrillard and sign-value. And there may be digital commodities other than blogging that require some new and different kinds of stories be told as well.

However, I'm wary of any story that encourages intellectuals see what they do as something other than, or more important than, labor. As a group, we are too susceptible to the flattery. If nothing else, the story told here has the virtue of connecting blogging and intellectual labor with the much less glamorous economy of unpaid housework and childcare.


  1. What if blogs are more like fruitful conversation in the halls - or those civilized lunches with colleagues which actually happen less often than
    they should - work-behind-the-work of that type?

  2. I believe the same principle would apply -- lunch, along with any convivial conversation you may be fortunate enough to enjoy during it, is also part of the means of subsistence for workers and so also a part of the production and reproduction of the commodity labor-power. Plus, TANSTAAFL. You didn't really think lunch with your colleagues wasn't work did you?

  3. I have a question, based on your example and a different kind of experience I have with my kids.

    My general mode is to exploit fissures in narratives in order to bring out the cracks, and so I have a hard time creating coherent narratives. For my kids, this means that I read them stories rather than create bedtime stories for them.

    A lot of the text that I present to them has been prepared by folks who have co-branded their narrative product with some other cultural products. When I read my kids Sesame Street books, they are also getting an advertisement for Big Bird.

    This inclusion or citation is a big part of the value of those products: the value of a Big Bird doll as greater than that of a stuffed yellow bird is created not by some inherent goodness of the product but rather by the fact I have developed Big Bird as a significant character for my children.

    I am really vague on Marx, but isn't that value creation, which is not necessary but enacted by parents every day, 'surplus labor'? And isn't its appropriation by capitalist toy makers exploitative? Producing a bed-time-story-as-Big-Bird-ad seems to be labor, even if the script has been written in a way that makes that production painless.

    To push this onto blogging, can't the same be true about the mechanism behind discussing some film or book? Isn't a blog about the films 300 an ad for the film?Is it possible to think of the labor of blogging as creating that kind of value, or are these narratives foreign to Marxism as it stands now?


    ps, thanks for the entry on my video

  4. Thanks for the very interesting question. It's been making me think a lot. But my response started to get too long, so I've made it into a new post. You can find it here: