The Extraction of Life in Communicative Capitalism: Reinterpreting Relative and Absolute Surplus Value




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Peer reviewed



The extraction of surplus value is the defining moment between capitalist and worker, but how do we address this relationship under digital capitalism where what defines work and life, or production and reproduction is intentionally blurred. In this paper I will develop an argument around the way that our lives are an increasing source of value for capital, by drawing on post Operaismo, and Marxist feminist’ readings of reproduction. Ursula Huws points to the continued privatisation of public services as one move to increased commodification or the extraction from the commons. This case demonstrates the way the sphere of reproduction – that is life outside of our work life, has increasingly become a source of value for capital. This same transformation can be seen in the digital commons, but more specifically the way all social relations and communications are enacted and thus controlled through digital and communicative capitalism.

I will then reinterpret Marx’s formulation of absolute and relative surplus value in relation to the way digital technology both extends and transforms time and develops new technology to enable new ways of extracting value from all aspects of our life. This by no means ignores the global relationship of extraction proper, but seeks to understand the role of machines in extracting value. I will argue, in line with Christian Fuchs’ reading of digital labour, that Marx’s analysis of absolute and relative surplus value provides an illuminating template for understanding extraction and digital capitalism. However I will point out where there are limits to Marx’s approach and explain that by using a Marxist feminist approach we are able to understand the way capitalism is transforming non-value producing activities into value producing, or commoditised ones.



Digital Capitalism, Marx, Extraction


Brand, C. (2016) The Extraction of Life in Communicative Capitalism: Reinterpreting Relative and Absolute Surplus Value. European Sociological Association Annual Conference: Communicative Capitalism, September 2016.


Research Institute

Institute of Art and Design