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      Beyond the ‘salary institution’: on the ‘society of performance’ and the platformisation of the employment relationship



            In this contribution the author discusses the intimate relationship between the crisis of the wage labour system of industrial capitalism and the growing diffusion of spaces of exploitation related to the explosion of digital algorithms and platforms. In other words, it is argued that capitalist transformation (in the post-Fordist sense) has had a decisive impact on the social relationship of subordination by inscribing the practices of exploitation of labour into an extended space that the traditional category of subsumption was not able to describe effectively. Even more specifically, work in contemporary society - a society where the digital paradigm takes on an unprecedented configuration through the platformisation of capital-work relationships - is forced to redefine itself as a mere performance, where performance means an activity that is basically stripped from the social protections of paid employment and is legitimised on a social level only by virtue of its immediate commercial usability. In other words, work in the society of performance is a subjective space deprived of the (formal and substantial) protective dimensions that were specified during what is sometimes referred to as the wage-earning society. At the same time, work is also a space subjected to an extraction of value according to a precise and renewed neoliberal logic that finds in the new urban fabric a place to renew its social hegemony.


            Author and article information

            Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation
            Pluto Journals
            1 January 2020
            : 14
            : 1 ( doiID: 10.13169/workorgalaboglob.14.issue-1 )
            : 15-31
            © Federico Chicchi, 2020

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            Custom metadata

            Sociology,Labor law,Political science,Labor & Demographic economics,Political economics
            wage-earning society,digital labour,entrepreneurship,cognitive work,platformisation,post-salary capitalism


            1. Starting from the 1980s the expansion of the factory logic into new social spaces and temporalities allowed capitalism to widen and, at the same time, reconfigure its base for the extraction of value chiefly in a postand neo-waged sense. What have radically been transformed are the social mediations that presided over the encounter between labour and capital. In this regard, the most important issue is that in neoliberal society the social spheres of work and of life are engaged directly in the new dynamics of valorisation. This is exactly what the phenomena of precarisation and feminisation of labour point to: the becoming productive of social reproduction (see Chicchi, Leonardi & Lucarelli, 2018).

            2. While it is not in the foreground of this contribution, it is nevertheless important to draw attention to the workerism (operaista) concept of class composition, a concept that, despite radical changes in the economic and social structure of capitalism, still offers an important methodological orientation.

            3. On the theme of the performative in the post-Fordist society the reflections of the Italian philosopher and semiotician Paolo Virno are important. However, the way I develop the concept of performance in this article is actually different as I retain the idea of a ‘crisis’ in the measurement of labour value. As Virno points out, starting from the centrality of language and cognitive skills in production, the measure of value is increasingly linked to the ‘artistic’ capacity of the productive subject to communicate and involve viewers. In other words, the activities of enhancement in post-Fordism require the presence of others and performance makes sense only if it is seen and heard (Virno, 2004).

            4. This French term refers to the kinds of standardised procedures and templates which are imposed in order to control and shape governmental practices, including labour processes.

            5. The concept of smart cities is much more complex than the scope of this paper permits. To learn more about its different characteristics, we refer to Alberto Vanolo's (2014) text. One of the structuring elements of the issue, however, is certainly the relationship between the city and digital technology, which is also what interests us. In this sense: ‘the adjective “smart” is indebted to the concept of “intelligent city”, mainly involving the relationship between urban space and technology, and including issues such as the ability to generate innovation, transition toward forms of e-governance, social learning, and possibility to provide ICT infrastructures’ (Vanolo, 2014: 888).

            6. The concept of ‘platform’ is used broadly here to denote its role as the main device for the enhancement and measurement of performance effectiveness via an algorithm logic.

            7. The concept of domestication proposed by Bologna and Fumagalli in this regard describes the phenomenon of the transfer of work and the performance of extraction of value towards areas of social life that were previously considered unproductive or private and reproductive.

            8. Obviously, as many authors have pointed out, it is not possible to assume the formation of the neoliberal city as a linear and monolithic process. We do not have the space here to discuss the very rich debate on the complex relationship between urbanisation and neoliberalism; therefore we simply follow the idea that this relationship can be described using the interesting concept of ‘global assemblage’ (Vanolo & Lombardi, 2015). More specifically, following the argumentation of these authors, a ‘smart city’ can be considered as an engine of growth, sustainability and technological upgrades, a highly elastic technology of government that shapes cities and informs urban policies starting from the principle of competition. To this it can be added that it is also a space capable of supporting and organising new forms of digital work and post-salary extraction of value.

            9. This is basically the question that was posed by the feminist movement to Marxism during the 1970s. On this important point and on the way in which the concept of social reproduction must be reinterpreted, see (among many): Ferguson (2019) and Federici (2020).

            10. As has been emphasised by many authors, the concept of the ‘smart city’ and its public policies has to do with the moral as well as the aesthetic representation of the contemporary city. On this see: Vanolo, 2014.

            11. Following his convincing proposition, we can here define digital labour as all tasks performed by users of digital platforms, which are comparable to work insofar as they produce economic value, but which are not necessarily the subject of a contract or remuneration (Casilli & Tubaro, 2014).


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