For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"A Biopolitics of Immaterial Labor"

by Just, Daniel (2016)


This article examines Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri?s and Paolo Virno?s use of Michel Foucault?s notions of ?biopower? and ?biopolitics? with respect to today?s hegemony of immaterial labor, i.e. work without an end product. In spite of relatively infrequent references to work, Foucault formulates these notions in markedly economic terms: biopower is inextricable from work because, unlike punitive power that represses and disciplines life, it cultivates life by fostering an efficient, productive and active population. Drawing attention to a shift in emphasis in Hardt and Negri?s and Virno?s accounts of work and biopower ? from a diagnostic analysis of labor practices to immaterial labor?s latent political possibilities ? it is argued in the article that what gets lost in this shift is Foucault?s insistence on questioning the role of work in modern society. Work is not an inherently valuable activity, but, as current contradictions that have emerged with immaterial labor demonstrate, a product of mechanisms which endow it with its present status as the central organizing principle of both social and personal life.

Key Passage

Foucault’s lesson is to critically relate to the operation which valorizes work and turns people into workers, because it is this operation that makes us accept work as an unquestioned value instead of relativizing the status that biopower has conferred on it. Any radical political change, as Hardt and Negri imagine it, would have to be, above all, a reaction against this uncritical acceptance of work. (p.414)


Foucault, Negri, Hardt, Biopower, Immaterial Labor, Vimo


On Foucault, Foucault

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