Generating theories is always inseparable from future debates. It can be explained by the fact that the world is constantly changing so that there is the need for the improvement of the generally acceptable postulates or making a particular theory more detailed in order to assure that it is still applicable. Marx’s theory is not an exception to the statement mentioned above, as there were numerous attempts to supplement it with new postulates or interpret it from a new point of view. The issue has become even more interesting with the implementation of the newest technologies and social networks in everyday life and attempts to illustrate their relation to the creation of value. There are different viewpoints regarding this subject, and the paper at hand aims at addressing only two of them – that of Nicholas Garnham and the one offered by Christian Fuchs.
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To begin with, it is essential to state what initiated the current debate. The theory at the heart of the discussion is the labor theory introduced and developed by Marx. Over time, it was commonly applied to analyzing economic relations and the creation of value. However, special attention was paid to the division of labor (both internal and international) in manufacturing physical products because of the specificities of economic development during the years of Marx’s life. As times have changed, numerous innovations are being introduced into economic affairs and value creation. That is why there is a necessity to view Marx’s theory from a new perspective in order to estimate the novelties. Therefore, regardless of the popularity and general acceptability of the theory, the introduction of social networks had become a stumbling block in the understanding of Marx’s theory and its application to the analysis of value creation by means of social networks.
Except for the growing expansion of social networks, the current debate is as well initiated by the academic and publishing activities of researchers, promoting different standpoints regarding Marx’s works. One of the examples is the publishing of Fuchs’ book, focusing on the introduction of the concept of digital labor in 2014. In this way, the investigated debate is that between the author of the book himself and Garnham – one who reviewed and harshly criticized his ideas.
Garnham claims that Marx’s theory is outdated and is no longer applicable to analyzing economic relations in the modern world because the economy had become more complicated compared to what it was when Marx developed his theory (Garnham, 294). This idea is supported by the fact that, in most cases, value creation is related to control over natural resources, expansion of the financial sector, and carrying out operations with capital (Garnham, 298-299). Another argument supporting the belief that social networks are not connected to value creation is the fact that they are not related to digital advertising during viewing time – the only way to create value because of ads during watching TV shows attract potential buyers of physical goods (Garnham, 297). Finally, Garnham claims that the information sphere is connected to generating rent-related income (298). This type of revenue has nothing to do with the division of labor and Marx’s theory because it is another viewpoint on economic relations, and Fuchs evidently ignores this fact and misunderstands the concepts (Garnham, 298-299).
On the other hand, Fuchs’ article is the response to Garnham. In the selected essay, he explains all of the ideas he stated in the book, harshly criticized by the first author. The primary argument of another researcher is evident: Marx’s labor theory is not outdated and it is still applicable to analyzing all value-generating areas of economic relations, and social networks are not an exception. The central argument stated by the contributor is the following: The operation of social networks is the direct outcome of the international division of labor (Fuchs, 304). The idea is viewed within the broader context – from manufacturing technologies used for launching social networks to studying materials available online (Fuchs, 305). From this perspective, the operation of social networks is connected to value creation via labor division because there are people working to mine mineral resources necessary for manufacturing smartphones, those assembling them, employees developing social networks and websites like Wikipedia, and those generating content itself. In most cases, these people live and work around the globe, but all of them operate within the same network so that the idea of international labor division is justifiable (Fuchs, 304-305).
Moreover, the author claims that his belief in the applicability of Marx’s theory is just because the abovementioned framework of cooperation is a common example of collective work, which, in fact, is the foundation of Marx’s approach (Fuchs, 305). In this way, the idea expressed by Garnham – creating value in the banking sector (298-299) – is wrong because the financial sector is the expression of alienation, instead of being the representation of the concept of collective worker (Fuchs, 305). Finally, Fuchs points to the fact that digital economy is wider than solely rent generation (non-profit activities, communication platforms, etc.) so that some of the Internet economy development models (for instance, one described above as well as online ads and user data storage) are related to Marx’s understanding of value creation because they can be sold as commodities, while the others cannot (Fuchs, 308).
Analyzing the positions of the two authors, my belief is that the stance of Fuchs is one worthy of support. The motivation for making this statement is the fact that the author reviews his theory in detail and offers numerous aspects of social media in order to explain his viewpoint. The very idea expressed by Garnham is somewhat limited because the researcher, in fact, does not address different organizational models of the digital economy and a great variety of economic activities carried out by means of the Internet. More than that, as noted by Fuchs, social media creates value because software, just like hardware and other physical products, requires being constantly improved and upgraded in order to satisfy the changing needs of potential consumers and purchasers (309). In this way, it has nothing to do with generating rent but is directly connected to collective work and labor division.
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Finally, using social networks (for instance, Facebook or Twitter) is inseparable from leaving personal track online. This trace of personal information (preferences and likings posted online) is a potential source for creating value because of the opportunities for offering advertisements and motivating social network users to buy some goods after seeing the offered ad (Fuchs, 309). It, in turn, is connected to boosting the manufacturing process and is identical to the instance of transmitting advertisements during viewing time that was mentioned by Garnham (297).
Fuchs, Christian. “Against Theoretical Thatcherism: A Response to Nicholas Garnham.” Media, Culture, & Society, vol. 38, no. 2, 2016, pp. 301-311.
Garnham, Nicholas. “Book Review: Digital Labor and Karl Marx.” Media, Culture, & Society, vol. 38, no. 2, 2016, pp. 294-300.