In a special edition of Triple C Journal “Marx is Back. The Importance of Marxist Theory and Research for Critical Communication Studies Today”. The journal dedicates the entire 500 page edition to contemporary Marxist research in communications studies. The journal is edited by Christian Fuchs and Vincent Mosco
The articles appear in four sections entitled:
- Marx, the Media, Commodities, and Capital Accumulation
- Marx and Ideology Critique
- Marx and Media Use
- Marx, Alternative/Socialist Media and Social Struggles
This paper introduces the overall framework for tripleC’s special issue “Marx is Back. The Importance of Marxist Theory and Research for Critical Communication Studies Today”. We point out why there is a return of the interest in Marx (“Marx is back”) and why Marxian analysis is important for Critical Communication Studies today. We also provide a classification of Marxian dimensions of the critical analysis of media and communication and discuss why commonly held prejudices against what Marx said about society, media, and communication are wrong. The special issue shows the importance of Marxist theory and research for Critical Communication Studies today.
Marx, the Media, Commodities, and Capital Accumulation
Nicole Cohen analyses the exploitation of freelancers in the cultural industries. She does not share the analysis that cultural work is beyond Marxian analysis, but rather argues that one needs Marx’s theory for understanding precarious cultural labour. She maintains that cultural work in capitalism should not be separated analytically from the capitalism’s universal structures of exploitation and from other forms of work. Moreover, exploitation and class are at the heart of labour process theory that remains well suited for understanding labour today. Concretely, she exploresthe role of unpaid and precarious labour in journalism.
Mattias Ekman discusses the role of the media and communication in capitalism’s primitive accumulation.
The author presents three examples: 1) The Swedish media representation of the global justice movement has focused on describing single acts of actual or potential violence and
has rather ignored the political goals and causes of the struggles. 2) Swedish media and politicians
presented the privatization of the Swedish telecommunication company Telia as an opportunity for
the public to buy “people’s shares”. 3) The role of dispossession and violence in the commodification
of users and their labour on social networking sites like Facebook.
Eran Fisher analyses the role of alienation and exploitation in audience commodification on
Facebook. Building on the work of Jhally and Smythe, he introduces the notion of audience alienation,
suggesting that audiences of commercial media are not only exploited, but also do not control content and content production. The author sees Facebook asboth means of production and communication,
as both a technology and a medium. Facebook would result in the exacerbation of exploitation and the mitigation of alienation, whereas commercial mass media would be based on
low exploitation and high alienation.
Richard Hall and Bernd Stahl discuss how innovations in the realm of digital technology impact the university. The authors stress that in neoliberal cognitive capitalism, the university has
become an important site of production of surplus value and struggles. The context of the analysis is the intensified commodification of the university from the start of the current capitalist crisis.Emerging technologies are increasingly embedded, interconnected, invisible, adaptive, personalized,
and pervasive and advance commodification and fetishization in the university.
William Hebblewhite discusses Raymond Williams’ paper “Means of Communication as a Means of Production”. The author argues that Williams established a reductionist culturalist concept of the relation of base and superstructure and maintains that for overcoming the flaws identified
in Williams’ and Marx and Engels’ concepts of base and superstructure, an engagement with Louis Althusser’s theory is needed. Based on this theoretical framework, the author argues that the Internet is a means of production and communication and introduces the notion of promunication
(production and communication).
Vincent Manzerolle and Atle Mikkola Kjøsen analyse changes in the cycle of capital accumulation
that arise due to digitalization. The authors argue that personalization and ubiquitous connection
are two important aspects of contemporary communicative capitalism that have impacted how
the cycle of capital works. They point out that the critical analysis of capitalism and communication
in capitalism should be based on the Marxian cycle of capital accumulation and that digital communication
has resulted in a speed-up of the capital cycle and a facilitation of credit. They argue that
the capital cycle is a communication process.
George Pleios focuses on how to conceptualize Marxist communication theory in the information
society. He emphasizes that for Marx, communication in capitalism has a commodity aspect
and ideological qualities and that communication is a productive force. Communication is not simply
part of a superstructure, but integrated into class relations and the base. He observes this phenomenon
in relation to laissez faire capitalism, monopoly capitalism, and symbolic capitalism. The
convergence of leisure and work would further erase the boundaries between base and superstructure
and between production and communication.
Robert Prey analyses the role of the network concept in contemporary capitalism’s ideological
structures. The author discusses Castells’ analysis of power in the network society, highlighting the
importance Castells gives to exclusion. Drawing on Boltanski and Chiapello, he stresses the problems
of basing social criticism on the network metaphor, especially the lack of focus on class and
exploitation. The author acknowledges the importance of networks in contemporary capitalism and
argues for a combination of this approach with Marx’s theory of exploitation.
Jernej Prodnik discusses the role of the commodity in critical media and communication studies.
He gives an overview of how Marx discussed the notion of the commodity and points out that it
is a category that has been relevant in all of Marx’s works. Related concepts, such as commodity
fetishism and the commodification of everything, are discussed. The author especially discusses
the role of the commodity in Dallas Smythe’s works and Autonomous Marxism and criticizes contemporary
criticisms of Smythe’s, especially the points made by Brett Caraway.
Jens Schröter examines the idea that the Internet would bring about frictionless capitalism. He stresses that the Internet became popular during the time of neoliberalism and was a technology into which hopes and ideologies of endless economic growth without crisis were projected. He
stresses that the dot.com crisis of the early years of this century shattered this ideology. The Internet
would instead be enmeshed in the contradiction between the forces and relations of production.
Andreas Wittel presents the foundations of a Marxist political economy of digital media that focuses
on the concepts of labour, value, property, and struggle. The author introduces the notion of
digital media as distributed media. He suggests that the means of information production have
become more accessible in the digital age, whereas the capitalist class controls the means of information
distribution. Wittel discusses free online labour, debates about the measurability of labour in the age of knowledge and digital media, challenges to property that began with file sharing, and
struggles over the digital commons.
Marx and Ideology Critique
Pablo Castagno provides a Marxist framework for understanding the development of Argentina’s
political system and the role of media and media policies in various stages of this development.
The author describes how the fascist military junta implemented neoliberalism that was later
deepened by the Menem government (1989-2999). The author shows how political developments
over the years influenced the role of the media in Argentina (fascist media control, neoliberal media
privatization under Menen, Kirchnerismo’s state-commercial nexus for establishing a national culture
Irfan Erdogan analyses the role of communication in Marx’s work and the role of Marx in communication
studies. He conducted an empirical study of the role of Marx and Marxism in communication
journals. He found that Marxian thinking has been systematically distorted and marginalized.
One result is that while mainstream research tends to gently ignore Marx, alternative research traditions
such as Cultural Studies tend to attack Marx and make uninformed claims. Erdogan’s close
study of Marx’s writings shows that Marx considered communication as a crucial means of human
life that has a class character in capitalism.
Christian Fuchs gives an overview of approaches to Critical Internet Studies and points out
key concepts of this field. He argues that there is an ideological difference and struggle between
“Critical” Cyberculture Studies and Critical Political Economy/Critical Theory of the Internet. He
discusses the role of eleven Marxian concepts for Critical Internet Studies. Marxian concepts that
have been reflected in Critical Internet Studies include: dialectics, capitalism, commodification,
surplus value/exploitation/alienation/class, globalization, ideology, class struggle, commons, public
sphere, communism, and aesthetics.
Christian Garland and Stephen Harper reflect on the role of the critique of neoliberalism and the critique of capitalism in Media and Communication Studies: They argue that there has been a shift from a conflict between Marxism and liberalism towards a dominance of liberal pluralism and a
marginalization of Marxism. The critique of capitalism would have been replaced by a critique of neoliberalism that can be accommodated with liberal pluralism. The authors outline the limits of the critique of neoliberalism with two examples: the News of the World scandal and discussions about
the causes of the economic crisis.
James McGuigan reviews the debate between Critical Political Economy and Cultural Studies in light of contemporary changes in capitalism. The author stresses that by criticizing economism, Cultural Studies has often eliminated economic criticism. He points out the role of “cool” in capitalist
ideology. Consumer culture would be a particularly important expression of cool capitalism. The “coolness” of communication technology is especially important. The need for a Marxist analysis of contemporary culture and the media is ascertained in order to understand their ideological and
Brice Nixon discusses the role of dialectical thinking for a critical political economy of the media and communication. The author argues that consciousness is a crucial issue for a critical political economy. He emphasizes the role of dialectical thinking for Marx as the foundation for Marx’s opposition
to classical political economy. Nixon points out that a dialectical method can be incorporated into Critical Media and Communication Studies through engagement with the works of critical theorists like Georg Lukács, Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, Henri Lefèbvre, Jean-Paul Sartre,
and Raymond Williams.
Michelle Rodino-Colocino analyses Sarah Palin’s politics and ideology from a Marxist-Feminist perspective. She argues that as part of the revival of Marxism, a revival of Marxist Feminism is needed. She maintains that there has been insufficient engagement with Marx and Marx’s
ideology concept in Media and Communication Studies. An engagement with Marx’s ideology critique
is needed today in Critical Media and Communication Studies as well as in Feminist Theory. The author shows how Palin appropriates and inverts the contents of Feminism for her own ideological political goals that serve anti-feminist purposes.
Gerald Sussman discusses the role of ideology and propaganda in the contemporary capitalist
media economy. He argues that ideology and propaganda have become central productive forces
and that we live in a propaganda society. The author describes the transformation of ideology under
the neoliberal regime and in that part of the economy based on unpaid prosumer labour. The
exploitation and surveillance of prosumers makes a Marxist theory of value crucial today. Digital
media environments could also enable collective activities that resist capitalism.
Marx and Media Use
Brian A. Brown and Anabel Quan-Haase’s contribution deals with the question of which methodology is needed for studying the digital labour and digital labour conditions of social media prosumers. The methodology for the suggested Workers’ Inquiry 2.0 is grounded in Marx’s questionnairefor the Workers’ Inquiry and the Italian Autonomist Marxist co-research method. The authors point out with the example of research conducted about Flickr how the methodology of theWorkers’ Inquiry 2.0 works. They point out the importance of artefacts, communities, and produsers in the Workers’ Inquiry 2.0.
Katarina Giritli Nygren and Katarina L Gidlund analyse the role of alienation in digital culture. They use Foucault’s concept of pastoral power and Marx’s notion of alienation. The authors draw on Foucault to describe the pastoral power of digital technology. It is a form of power that createsthe illusion that digital technology allows individuality. Marx’s notion of alienation is applied to the realm of digital technologies. Today traditional forms of alienation would be accompanied by digitalalienation that is related to consumer culture, individualized self-expressions on platforms like Facebook,and a commodified Internet..
Marx, Alternative/Socialist Media and Social Struggles
Miriyam Aouragh provides a Marxist perspective on and analysis of social media in the Arab revolutions.
The author connects the notion of mediation to Marxian theory and maintains that it is a connection between base and superstructure. The revolutions are framed in terms of capitalism, imperialism, and class. The author questions the Western-liberal framing of the revolutions and
social media as Orientalism and presents a model of the revolution that situates social media in anonline-offline dialectic of the revolutions.
Lee Artz analyses how 21st century socialism works in Venezuela and what the role of communication
is in it. The public has the opportunity to discuss and influence all government proposals in public debates and social services were set up across the country. The author argues that Venezuela is a capitalist state with a socialist government. He analyzes the Venezuelan political economy of the media: More than 80% of the media are commercial in character. Community media and public service media oppose them. The author shows that Venezuela and Venezuelan media are in
transition and have great potential for socialism.
Peter Ludes discusses the relevance of Marx’s notion of a classless society. Based on a review of Marx’s use of the term, he draws conclusions about the development of 20th century capitalism. argues that the establishment of alternatives requires the networking of projects that start in the
here and now. Ludes suggests updating Marx’s notion of a classless society by engaging with the
works of Norbert Elias. This would especially require taking into account the role of communication
as well as civilizing and decivilizing processes when thinking about how to establish alternatives.
Vincent Mosco argues that the crisis of capitalism has resulted in a renewed interest in Marx
and that it is therefore crucial to engage thoroughly with all of his work and to pay special attention
to how it can help to illuminate a blindspot of Critical Media and Communication Studies, i.e.,
knowledge labour and media practice. He points out the importance of the discussion of information
and the means of communication in the Grundrisse as well as the significance of Marx’s journalistic practice as a political calling of considerable relevance for contemporary communicationstudents and scholars, journalists, and knowledge workers.
Wilhelm Peekhaus analyses the political economy of academic journal publishing. He demonstrates
how the exploitation of the free labour of academics, monopolization and capital concentration
tendencies, and high journal prices coupled with declining library budgets shapes the this industry.
He interprets capitalist academic publishing as a form of primitive accumulation and points
out that open access publishing can pose a viable alternative. Open access would however have
today certain limits that could only be overcome by an anti-capitalist open access movement that
questions the capitalist character of academic publishing.
Sebastian Sevignani analyses the alternative social networking site Diaspora* in the context of
discussions about privacy in capitalism. He stresses its connections to the free software movement
and describes the origins of the privacy concept and its connections to the idea of private property.
The author engages with the Marxist critique of the privacy concept, which has often been ignored
by Marxist thinkers, and outlines the foundations of a socialist alternative. He applies this analysis
to the case of Diaspora*.
Padmaja Shaw analyses the role of Marx’s works on the press for contemporary politics in India.
The author discusses the relevance of three aspects of Marx’s works on the press: freedom of
speech and censorship, the press as a part of free trade, and the role of media in bourgeois democracies.
He stresses that on the one hand, there is a broad diffusion of left-wing voices in the
Indian press and that, on the other hand, censorship and repression against the Left and Left journalism
reign in the insurgent Red Corridor areas. The institutionalized Left would benefit by reflecting
on Marx’s press politics to better respond to this situation