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«Journal of Consumer Culture Brands: A critical perspective Adam Arvidsson Journal of Consumer Culture 2005; 5; 235 DOI: ...»

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4. Although traditional Marxism has tended to identify ‘labour’ in general with (white, male) factory work, there is nothing in Marxian theory that prescribes such a narrow definition of labour. Rather, Marx defines labour functionally. In order to function as ‘productive labour’ human activity must fulfil two requirements. One, it must produce something that has some kind of, however local or specific, (use) value. Two, these local and specific use-values must be translatable: it must be possible to convert them into a more general value form that can be realized on markets. To take one of Marx’s own examples: Milton, who wrote Paradise Lost, was an unproductive worker. Because the particular use-value of that artefact was not immediately translatable into a general value form. (This changed, of course, once someone acquired the copyright to Paradise Lost and began to publish it commercially.) On the other hand, a writer who turns out work for his publisher in factory style is a productive worker. Because the use values that ‘he’ produces (short segments of an Alexander Dumas adventure, for example) are immediately translatable into a general value form: the novel as a commodity. It follows that the translatability of use-values are an effect of how a productive activity is organized, or to use the Marxist terminology: how labour is subsumed under capital. A human activity thus becomes productive labour by being subsumed by capital, by being made to produce something that is, or can be turned into, a commodity (cf. Marx,1990[1933]: 1044 ff.).

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Journal of Consumer Culture 5(2)

5. Operaio sociale means ‘social worker’ in English. This is a direct reference to Marx’s term ‘social individual’. In the ‘Passage on Machinery’ in the Grundrisse, Marx argues that with the emergence of large scale industry, the key productive power becomes the ‘general social knowledge’ that is embodied in the factory environment. The worker has access to this, not on account of his individual merit, but on account of his simple existence as a social individual. ‘[I]t is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation stone of production and of wealth’ (Marx, 1973[1939]: 705). For Negri, the social worker employs the general communicative capacity that he or she has access to by virtue of his simple existence as a member of society, as a ‘social individual’. I use the term ‘socializing worker’ to make things less confusing to the English reader.

6. With ‘General Intellect’ Marx refers to the ‘general social knowledge’ that becomes a productive force in advanced capitalism (see note 4). To Marx the General Intellect was confined to the knowledges and competences embodied in the factory environment, in machines, in social organization, in tacit knowledge.

Lazzarato, Virno, Negri and other Italian Marxists argue that today the General Intellect should be identified with the knowledges and competences that are intrinsic to the mediated lifeworld in general, and not just the factory environment. In our communicative construction of the social, we employ a General Intellect in the form of common cognitive, communicative and social competences, as well as a common reservoir of knowledge, cultural and social capital. Most of this is available to us through media culture. (Through the commercial mediatization of life, the factory has expanded to include all social relations.)

7. They define the common ‘not as a preconstituted entity and not as an organic substance that is a by-product of the national community, or gemeinschaft, but rather as the productive activity of singularities in the multitude’ (Hardt and Negri, 2004: 206).

8. Generally ‘brand image’ denotes consumers’ perception of a brand, while ‘brand identity’ denotes the perception that management intends it to have (cf. Aaker, 1991).

9. As Dallas Smythe (1981) showed in his analysis of the audience commodity and its work, it is not necessary that the productive subjects (the workers) be paid a wage for surplus value to be extracted. Smythe treated the use-value of television programs as a form of immaterial wage and calculated surplus value as advertising revenues minus production costs. Similarly, I suggest to treat the use-values derived from the productive use of brands (including, brand-sponsored media discourses and cultural events, freebies, cheaper access to material goods like cellular phones, etc.) as a form of immaterial wage. Surplus value is thus calculated as the difference between the direct production costs of the brand (M-C) and the revenue derived through appropriation and commodification of the attention that consumers produce (C-M).

10. Contemporary ‘critical’ or ‘post-modern’ marketing scholars have not taken up this point. Rather they sometimes equate the creativity that consumers exercise on the programmed arena of brands with human agency and liberatory potential in general (cf. Firat and Venkatesh, 1995).

–  –  –

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ˇˇ Zizek, S. (2005) ‘Where to Look for a Revolutionary Potential?’, Adbusters Magazine 57, URL (consulted 24 Jan): http://www.adbusters.org/magazine Adam Arvidsson is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Department of Media, Communication and Cognition at the University of Copenhagen. He has worked on the history of advertising and marketing. His work on the history of the Italian advertising industry, Marketing Modernity: Italian Advertising from Fascism to the Postmodern was published with Routledge in 2003. Another book, which expands on the argument in this article is forthcoming with the same publisher later on in 2005, and will be titled Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture. Address: Department of Media and Communication, University of Copenhagen, Njalsgade 80, 2100 Copenhagen 5, Denmark. [email: arvidsson@hum.ku.dk] Downloaded from http://joc.sagepub.com at SAGE Publications on January 3, 2008

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