Call for Papers of Affective and Immaterial Labour

Forwarding a call for papers:
‘Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organisation’ (

Forthcoming edition (January 2007): “Affective and Immaterial Labour Explored” (working title) *

Edited by Ben Trott, Emma Dowling and Rodrigo Nunes

That Capitalism has undergone a series of transformations over the past few decades, and that these transformations have been expressed – at least in part – in terms of a number of qualitative changes in the nature, form and organisation of labour is now commonly accepted as fact. That these developments have in turn had a re-configurative effect on the political organisation of workers and their resistance is also now widely recognised. The precise extent, nature and implication of these mutations, however, are far more widely contested. It is within the literature addressing precisely these issues that concepts such as ‘immaterial’ and ‘affective’ labour are gradually becoming the object of debates with consequences that are far more than simply academic.

Whilst the work of authors belonging to the Italian tradition of (post-)/operaismo/ (or ‘workerism’) – and, of course, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s / Empire/ in particular – has been the source of increasing debate within the social sciences over the past few years, these debates have, until very recently, focused on the propositions as to a shift in sovereignty from the nation-state to Empire, the supposed ‘end of imperialism’, and the emergence of the multitude as the revolutionary subject of the post-Fordist era. The claim made by a number of theorists belonging to this tradition as to the emergence of new forms of labour, their nature, and the means by which they are
understood as exerting their hegemony have received, within English-language discussions at least, relatively little attention.

Further to this, much important work has been carried out within other disciplines, an example amongst others being Labour Process Theory, where the concept and realities of ’emotional labour’ have been explored. Our aim with this journal is to provide a space for a real interdisciplinary engagement with the issues of immaterial/affective labour to both broaden and deepen the debate and enable connections
between different approaches.

Within the discourse which surrounds the changing form and conditions of labour, the concept of ‘affective’ labour (that is, labour which involves the production of affects such as ease, well-being, satisfaction, pleasure and so on) has been the most under-explored of all. It is by attempting a re-reading of the debates around the
transformations taking place within the capitalist mode of production – and throughout the global political economy – from the perspective of affective labour that we hope this journal edition will contribute to the ongoing effort to chart the diagram of our present condition.

As the editors of this journal issue, it is our basic hypothesis that within the existing literature, the concepts of both immaterial and affective labour are deployed as abstractions of the various singular forms of labour subsumed within these categories. The end effect of this is that whilst the concepts succeed, to a certain extent, in describing real and existing tendencies, particular forms of immaterial/affective
labour have ended up being taken as the /de facto /’advanced’ forms of all the others to the extent that their particular characteristics become imposed upon the rest. Important differences between the various singular forms of labour internal to these concepts have become obscured in the process.

The categories of both immaterial and affective labour describe a range of workplace realities and labour relations from media workers, computer programmers and academic researchers to call centre operators, flight attendants and McDonald’s employees. Whilst inviting debate of the above hypothesis, the aim of this edition of Ephemera is to attempt a far more rigorous investigation into the material conditions of the various and
singular forms of labour purported to occupy an increasingly privileged position within the contemporary global political economy than has been attempted until now. We hope that such investigations will allow for a (re-)evaluation of the existing conceptual framework and contribute to our collective ability to identify the lines of fracture that make resistance possible today.

To this end, we are particularly interested in papers which address the following topics:

**The Material Conditions of Immaterial Labour*

Explorations and empirical inquiries into new and emerging forms of labour, particularly those understood as possessing an ‘affective’ quality. Also welcome are efforts to explore the areas in which immaterial and affective labour overlaps with ‘precarious’ (insecure and casualised) forms of work.

**Value, Exploitation and Measure*

Discussion of the claim made by a number of theorists, and Hardt and Negri most prominently, that new and emerging productive practices have serious implications for social theory in terms of the means by which we can understand both value production and surplus extraction as taking place within the labour process today. Of particular interest is the claim that value today is ‘beyond measure’.

**Movement, Struggle and Political Praxis*

Attempts to assess the problems and possibilities for movements and struggles brought about by:

(i) The restructuring of productive processes, and

(ii) The emergence of new forms of subjectivity as an ever-increasing proportion of social life becomes rendered directly productive.

(iii) We are also interested in asking the question of how, if at all, these new analytical frameworks have been taken up in political practices – to what effect, with what advantages and limitations.

**’Hegemony’ and the ‘Historical Tendency’*

Concepts such as ‘hegemony’ and the ‘historical tendency’ have been variously deployed to describe the means by which one form of production exerts its influence over others, and indeed over social life itself, transforming it and remaking it in its own image. How can the characterisation of this ‘hegemony’ be made, and what are its implications? How useful are these concepts as descriptive, analytic and methodological tools? What are their limitations?

** Ethnographies, Empirical Studies and* * Workers’ Inquiries*

Empirical studies and ethnographies have featured far less prominently than ‘theoretical’ or philosophical discussions in the literature surrounding the changing nature of work today, leading to a number of recent calls for a return to so-called workers’ inquiries. The editorial collective welcome such contributions, along with reflections on issues
such as the current (or previous) limitations of workers’ inquiries; the researcher’s position within empirical work; and the problems with methods used to study immaterial/affective labour.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive and we welcome proposals for papers across /all disciplines / dealing with other aspects of immaterial and affective labour and the emergence of new subjectivities.

Practical Information

To propose a contribution, please send an abstract (500 words) to the editors by March 1st 2007. All proposals will be responded to by early April 2006. Final drafts of articles (5,000-8,000 words) should be completed by September 15th 2006 and the journal will be made available online under the Creative Commons Licence
( ) at by mid-January 2007.

Communication, collaboration and cooperation between authors is encouraged and to this end we intend, with your permission, to circulate the abstracts for the articles selected for publication amongst all of the contributors and to create an online space in which authors are able, if they so choose, to interact with one another in ‘real-time’
discussions despite any physical distance between them.

Please send your abstracts to one or all of the editors. Do not hesitate to contact us with questions or comments. We look forward to hearing from you.

Ben Trott:


Rodrigo Nunes:

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