Just for fun: How to use the concept of immaterial production to transform damn near everything into political economy, and reduce all forms of oppression to relations of exploitation, a sketch

Two friends and I were once chatting, and the topic came up of the relation of domination to exploitation. Friend A cheekily suggested that exploitation, not domination, was the fundamental thing, and that all domination could be analysed as exploitation. Friend B suggested that could not be right- how could that analysis be used for micro-aggressions, such as the tendency of men to talk over women. I stuck my hand up here and suggested the following model:

Very roughly (and this is a thin sketch) A conversation is a typically non-commoditised good produced by its consumers. Often, but not always, people value having more opportunities to speak. But if everyone tried to speak as much as they wished at the moment they wished, the conversation would collapse, and none of the good would be produced.

Thus rules are created which regulate the amount of time each participant is entitled to, and in which order (give everyone a chance to say their bit, don’t drone on, don’t interrupt, etc.). The construction of these rules though, and differences in social power under sexism, mean that certain participants receive less time, despite similar investments of emotional and intellectual labour. This is because male participants can get away with breaking the turn taking rules, and have more confidence to do so.

Hence patriarchy in the conversation manifests as the exploitation of a form of immaterial production where social power is leveraged to extract more of a desired good (airtime). It’s fairly simple to see how a model like this might be extended to other immaterial goods, produced by interpersonal relationships, like status in general.

Edit: I’ve had a few friends think that what I’ve tried to do here is reduce various oppressions to class through the notion of exploitation. Actually what I’ve done is nearly the opposite. I’ve sketched a way you can detach the concept of exploitation from class.

About timothyscriven

I study philosophy at Sydney University. In the grand scheme, I'm not very important.
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3 Responses to Just for fun: How to use the concept of immaterial production to transform damn near everything into political economy, and reduce all forms of oppression to relations of exploitation, a sketch

  1. Kerrie (Tom's aunt) says:

    Imagine your theory as applied to the cult of celebrity…

  2. redcatastrophe says:

    I have some criticisms of this approach:

    Sounds like trying to quantify the unquantifiable. The first giveaways are the false assumptions that firstly, in a conversation everybody is trying to maximize their own speaking time, rather than what I think is the obvious goal, to create a cohesive discourse to acheive some aim (social, political, intellectual or whatever) and secondly, that men speak over women ‘because they can get away with it’ rather than because they are trying to satisfy the script that it is the role of men to be achieving the goals of the conversation with women as passive non-participants.

    I think it could only be categorized as exploitation if men were expropriating some product from the conversation, but what product is this, if the men are effectively silencing the women?

    Also, this example does not neccesarily generalise to other types of oppression. How is, for example, the exclusion of aboriginal people from political power viewed in terms of exploitation? Or how can the glass ceiling be fit into this framework? One could certainly imagine ways to re-express these forms of domination as exploitation, but then what does the exercise acheive if each separate example requires a completely separate explanation of how they are really just examples of exploitation? Seems like domination is the simpler, more versatile, more accurate explanation tying these phenomena together.

    • A brief sketch of a few replies:

      1. I don’t think the only good people want in conversation is airtime. But this view does not require that. It works if that’s one good people want.
      2. You can fairly easily reconfigure my view to work as an exploitation-as-script model as opposed to an exploitation-as-predatory-calculated-rent-seeking if that’s desirable. I assume that’s what exploitation is, it’s just that for the purposes of a quasi-game theoretic explication it’s sometimes helpful to adopt the idiom of intentional behaviour.
      3. The product they are appropiating is airtime- being listened too. A certain amount is generated by a conversation.
      4. You can extend it to Aboriginal representation in parliament quite easily. A certain amount of a good “positions of political power” is produced by society etc etc etc

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