The theoretical literature on immaterial labour suggests that work in post-industrial economies has become based principally around the creation and manipulation of ideas, symbols, selves, emotions and relationships, inhabiting as a result the full range of human capacities and activities occupying life itself. As such, for those employed in these forms of production, the boundary between time engaged in immaterial labour and time away from paid employment becomes increasingly indistinct, as the activities of work take on the characteristics of those of leisure and of everyday life, and those of leisure and everyday life assume the characteristics of work. Immaterial labour can thus be seen to transcend the formal confines of the working day to invest the whole of life with its value-producing processes. This paper details a research project exploring how work time is structured in the digital industries in the UK, drawing upon a case study a Bristol web enterprise situated in the ‘Silicon Gorge’ high-tech hub incorporating ethnography, interviews, observation and time diaries. The long and non-standard working hours found in the ICT industry are well-documented, with a veneer of fun-loving flexibility sustained upon an undertow of eighty hour weeks, unpaid overtime and the destruction of the boundary between home life and work. This work pattern is deeply integrated with the production of subjectivities. The culture of flexibility that abounds in the creative digital industries harnesses the subjectivities and selves of individual employees to a cycle of ‘project time’ centred around specific tasks and deadlines, completely divorced from recognition of one’s contribution based upon traditional temporal measures. Thus, an ‘objective work schedule’ is replaced by a ‘subjective demand for commitment’. Thus, greater flexibility and variability of the working day actually erodes worker control over their own time, subordinated to the ebb and flow of the project cycle.
Frederick H. Pitts is a PhD student at the University of Bath, UK. His research concerns work and work-time in post-industrial occupations, informed by the Marxian critique of political economy.
Key words: labour, work, time, value, immaterial labour, creative/cultural/digital industries
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from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013