New Publication: Literal Media Ecology: Crisis in the Conditions of Production

I have a new article in Television & New Media.

Abstract

This article outlines a socio-political theory appropriate for the study of the ecological repercussions of contemporary media technologies. More specifically, this approach provides a means of assessing the material impacts of media technologies and the representations of capitalist ecological crises. This approach builds on the work of ecological economists, ecosocialist scholars, and Marx’s writings on the conditions of production to argue that capitalism necessarily results in ecological destabilization. Taking Apple’s 2016 Environmental Responsibility Report as a case study, the article uses the theory to analyze Apple’s responses to ecological crises. The article asserts that Apple’s reactions are emblematic of the capitalist compulsion for increasing rates of productivity. However, unless the matter/energy savings achieved through higher rates of productivity surpass the overall increase in the flow of matter/energy in production, ecological crises will continue. Ultimately, capital accumulation ensures continued ecological destabilization.

Read more HERE

New Publication: Crisis of Command: Theorizing Value in New Media

Communication_TheoryMy latest contribution to theorizing value in new media is now available online from Communication Theory.

Abstract

Theorists of free labor have argued that users produce value directly for capital through unwaged participation in online social media platforms. I argue that this interpretation of value is misguided. I begin with a brief overview of the labor theory of value as it has been developed by political economists in the context of new media. I then use Marxian crisis theory to demonstrate the limitations of the concept of free labor. I also elaborate how value is created within media markets through a complex set of interactions among media firms, market researchers, advertisers, finance capital, and unwaged content producers. I conclude with a discussion of the consequences of free labor theory for Marxian politics.

Alternate Routes: upcoming issue on precarious labor

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COMING SOON: PRECARIOUS WORK AND THE STRUGGLE FOR LIVING WAGES

Precarious Work and the Struggle for Living Wages will feature orginal articles by Wayne Lewchuck, Stephanie Luce, Ian Cunningham, Patricia MacDermott, John Bellamy Foster, Jamil Jonna, Tanner Mirlees, Stephen McBride, Jacob Muirhead, John Shields, David Livingston, Don Wells, Charlie Post, Christian Fuchs, Brett Caraway, Jeff Noonan and many others.Forthcoming January 2016!

Come join me for Surplus3: Labour and the Digital

Untitled-3I am participating in this wonderful symposium celebrating the publication of Nick Dyer-Witheford’s most recent book Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex. Participants will have 3 minutes to speak to a given concept. That’s faster than green grass through a goose folks. Sounds fun! See you at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, Tuesday October 20th at 7pm.

New publication: OUR Walmart: a case study of connective action

RICS
OUR Walmart: a case study of connective action, by Brett Caraway
Abstract
This article analyzes communication practices within networked social movements by exploring the network structure of an organization responsible for numerous labor actions and campaigns targeting the retail giant Walmart. This case study of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) represents an initial attempt to map the network structure of an emergent form of labor organization. To better understand the relationship between communication and collective action, I utilize Bennett and Segerberg’s [(2012). The logic of connective action: Digital media and the personalization of contentious politics. Information, Communication & Society, 15(5), 29] model of connective action to examine the organizational structure of OUR Walmart. I conducted semi-structured interviews with a dozen union representatives, OUR Walmart members, and current and former Walmart employees. My intention is to (1) delineate the network structure of a new and significant organizational form of class struggle and (2) consider the utility and validity of the logic of connective action. I conclude with a consideration of the limitations and affordances of the network structure of OUR Walmart for workers engaged in struggles for better working conditions and higher wages. This research finds support for Bennett and Segerberg’s model of large-scale action networks. Moreover, this research suggests that organizationally enabled networks are an effective means of coordinating class struggle.

Full article available HERE

Participation or Exploitation?

Wages For Facebook, 2014. Poster design by Eric Nylund and Laurel Ptak.

Wages For Facebook, 2014. Poster design by Eric Nylund and Laurel Ptak.

I’ll be leading two sessions in this wonderful reading group put together by my intrepid ICCIT comrade Nicole Cohen and Christine Shaw of Blackwood Gallery. I’ll be discussing the economics of advertising in social media and the rise of networked social movements. Be sure to check out the full schedule and suggested readings at the following link: Blackwood Gallery

2015 UDC Conference at the University of Toronto

UDC 2015 Conference

2015 UDC Conference

The Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (ICCIT) will host the 2015 Union for Democratic Communications conference May 1st-3rd at the downtown campus of the University of Toronto. The call for papers is available on the conference website: http://udc2015.wordpress.com/cfp/

We look forward to seeing you in Toronto!

Radical Labor History in San Francisco

I spent this week at the Union for Democratic Communications conference in beautiful San Francisco where I gave another presentation about my work on the UFCW and the Walmart strikes. In addition to catching up with old friends at the conference I managed to carve out a little time to learn more about the city’s amazing history of class struggle. Click the photos below for larger versions.

Vesuvio Cafe and Jack Kerouac—where beat poetry was invented.


Continue reading

CCA and 40th Anniversary of SFU School of Communication

First Peoples Building, University of Victoria

I have had the pleasure of spending the last week here in British Columbia. My first stop was the beautiful city of Victoria and the annual conference of the Canadian Communication Association. The University of Victoria campus was stunning and I very much enjoyed the festive atmosphere of the congress. This was my first time to publicly present the work that I have been doing on the Walmart workers who have recently stood up to the firm and demanded better pay and working conditions. I am excited about this research and I love drawing attention to the efforts of the UFCW and Walmart employees. Their courage and determination are inspiring.

I then left CCA and made the short journey over to Vancouver where I attended an international conference in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. This was one of the best conferences I have ever attended. The conference featured such notables from our field as Jack Qiu, Mark Andrejevic, Dan Schiller, and Richard Maxwell. I was reminded why I was so desperate to come to Canada in the first place. Here was a collection of the world’s best and brightest looking toward the coming collapse and giving careful consideration to the potentials of the post-capitalist age.

Douglas-fir trees with people for scale

For my part I was invited to revisit an old and familiar topic. There was not one but two panels on the audience commodity theory. And though I don’t place any value in the theory I do value the debate and the opportunity to critique the theory in the home department of Dallas Smythe. As I hear so much about the so-called rationalization of audience behavior in the context of new media, I also see an overabundance of shady social media management firms and compromised automated data analytic services. I have developed a deeper economic critique of the notion of demand management as it pertains to user activity and I appreciate the opportunity to give it a test-run at SFU.

It has been both a fun and productive week but I am tired and looking forward to a good night’s rest in my own bed.

Assault on the academy

This post is directed to my comrades in the academy. MOOCs, sub-poverty wages, adjunct jobs, and underemployment are all part of the larger program of class decomposition. Faculty, staff, students, and citizens should do everything in their power to resist these developments. This week I sat in on a tech demonstration where a sales rep showed me how his product could render a near perfect 3D image of my head and place it in a virtual environment alongside hundreds—even thousands—of student avatars. Capitalists will use technology just as much as austerity in their assault on the autonomy of the university. Those committee meetings are arenas of class struggle too my friends. Please don’t forget it. See the link below for a great piece on the neoliberal assault on higher education.

The neoliberal assault on higher education

No Googling

The purpose of trademarks is to alert consumers of the source of a particular good or service. For example, if a bottle features the Coca Cola trademark on it you should, in theory, know the origin of the beverage. Yet trademark protections are only as good as a firm’s willingness and ability to maintain a balance between popularity and control. First, because trademark is not of a limited duration like patent or copyright, these protections will expire after a period of five years if the firm ceases to actively use the trademark. And second, if a trademark becomes so popular that it’s meaning becomes genericized within a language, the registration may be ruled invalid. For example, consider how the term Kleenex is now used as a generic expression to refer to facial tissue. The same thing happened to Bayer’s trademark on the word aspirin. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Google’s immense success in branding itself is now causing headaches for the firm as it struggles to maintain control over the word Google. Follow the link below to learn how you may be running afoul of IP restrictions every time you utter the phrase “I’ll just google that.”

No Googling, says Google — unless you really mean it

New study finds no evidence that patents are linked to greater levels of productivity or innovation

Two Federal Reserve economists have published a paper that argues for the abolition of patent law. Patents—along with copyright, trademark, trade secret, and right of publicity protections—are supposed to provide the economic incentive necessary for production. Together these laws constitute what is commonly referred to as intellectual property. However, the metaphor of property is a poor one at best. Systems of property are designed to manage scarce resources. Yet the immaterial goods which are subject to patent and copyright restrictions do not exhibit scarcity. In fact, intellectual property systems are designed specifically to produce scarcity where none exists. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to refer to these systems as intellectual monopolies. They are artificially induced shortages of economic inputs and there is every reason to believe they create considerable inefficiency. Early 20th century economist Arnold Plant argued as much and later members of the law and economics school of thought like Richard Posner and William Landes make similar assertions. The major claim of the authors of the current paper—economists Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine—is that there is no empirical evidence of a link between patent protections and greater levels of innovation and productivity—unless you measure productivity in terms of additional patents (which has no correlation with productivity). This paper strengthens the position of those who argue that the increasing levels of intellectual property protections, both in terms of scope and duration, stymie technological innovation, research and development, cultural production, and the free flow of ideas. To read the paper click the link below:

The Case Against Patents

Some passing thoughts on the materialist conception of history

I like the way the snow crunches under my feet in the night. There is no echo but the sound is anything but dead. I also like the way the old buildings of the St. George campus peer down at me in the dark. They feel Old World though they fall far short of the mark. I am on my way to teach a grad seminar. However, I am lost—on purpose. I still get a thrill ambling around this campus. I wonder to myself, how did this happen? How did I end up here? Why do I feel so different? The crisp air bites at my cheeks and I relish the sensation.

I have been revisiting Marx’s The German Ideology these past few weeks. Written sometime around 1845, Marx and Engels failed to find a publisher for their manuscript. In fact, it would not appear for public consumption until the 1930s, having been abandoned “to the gnawing criticism of the mice…” Continue reading

Free labor and unpaid internships

I am more than a little late with this excellent piece by Enda Brophy, Nicole Cohen, and Greig de Peuter on the exploitation of student labor. I’ve been busy with end-of-semester activities but I wanted to highlight this article before I head out the door for the holidays. It’s an important and sometimes invisible topic. As a professor I am very uneasy about unpaid internships. I want to do all I can to help my students as they prepare to enter the job market but I am leery of internship “opportunities.” There is a perfect storm of high levels of student debt, dwindling employment opportunities, and a surplus of graduates being dumped on the labor market by universities. Yet while jobs may be drying up there seems to be an unending wellspring of unpaid internships. Many of these internships entail crass exploitation of student labor and the concomitant elimination of low wage jobs. Despite the hackneyed adage that internships are a great way for employers to give much needed experience to future job seekers it cannot be denied that this is a particularly vulnerable subset of workers. As the authors assert, “Once an intern, it is difficult to take a stand against one’s exploitation. Internships effectively have gag orders built into them. No matter how distasteful their quasi-job, few interns would jeopardize the bait (graduating to full-time, a glowing reference) or annihilate their reputation for being “agreeable” by speaking out.” So hats off to Nicole, Greig, and Enda. Read the full article at:

Interns unite! (You have nothing to lose – literally)