Ethical Economy – 2

This is part of the new ‘Book of the Week’ experiment, where we will publish excerpts of new books. Adam Arvidsson’s book on the Ethical Economy is a draft, to which you are strongly invited to contribute. You may do so in the form of comments, separate blog entries, or by using the discussion page at the Wiki version.

Wiki Entry to Ethical Economy
and the Ethical Economy Book Project

Part 1 is available on this bloghere.

Adam Arvidsson:

The Ethical Surplus.
‘Functionality is secondary. people are at the center of the universe 2.0..Connecting people in the context of some activity is the most crucial thing an application can do’

What do we mean we say that the ethical capacity of human interaction is put to work?

Let us start with some concrete examples: Consider the example of SMS messaging, presently the perhaps most exciting branch of the communication industries. SMS messaging generates a global revenue of $ 75 billion, which is more than both movies, computer games, music and the sale of laptop computers. Why compare an SMS message with a feature film or a computer game? Because both are in a way cultural products, both provide experiences and not just information. But here the difference ends. An SMS message, in difference to a computer game or a feature film , is something that is produced by users themselves. Both the actual message, as well as the informational and affective relevance that it achieves- its use value- has been produced by users. But not by individual users. Rather, form the point of view of the users, SMS messaging is a tool that serves to produce and coordinate social relations and common activities of experiences: flirtation, coordinating a night on town, keeping in touch with friends. The SMS message is a tool that is employed in user’s ongoing construction of an ethical surplus: an ethically significant and affectively rich common social world. Telephone companies do not intervene in this production process, they limit themselves to taxing it, by charging for SMS traffic.

This principle, to appropriate value by being able to enclose, restrict or otherwise tax what is essentially an autonomous production process is emerging as a paradigmatic model of valorization in the ethical economy. It is typical of a new form of capital, what Michel Bauwens has called ‘netarchic captial’. Netarchic capital does not primarily live off Intellectual Property Rights, whether this entails the ability to restrict the circulation of innovation, as in early business models for the information economy like the AOL-Time.-Warner merger in 2000, or the possession of cutting edge technologies. Rather netarchic capital lives off its ability to directly exploit forms of social cooperation.

The paradigmatic example of such netarchic capital at work is of course the fundamentally ethical economy of Web 2.0. Social Software, Multiplayer online games like Second Life, dating sites and communication protocols like Skype all follow this logic. They do not necessarily provide particularly advanced or exclusive forms of technology, but rather a platform that empowers, enables or otherwise affects the autonomous ethical productivity of users. These platforms are valuable because they connect people in new ways and make possible the production of new forms of ethical surplus. This their ability to ‘connect people in the context of some activity’ that they control, or for which they control the platform, environment or context, allows them to appropriate a value stream.

But how? How does the ethical surplus become valuable?

Access to the full text of the chapter here, Ethical Economy Book Project and to part 1 here.

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