Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Dr. Nick Dyer-Witheford


According to Maurizio Lazzarato, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri, immaterial labour is biopolitical in that it purchases, commands, and comes to progressively control the communicative and affective capacities of immaterial workers. Drawing inspiration from Michel Foucault, the above authors argue that waged immaterial labour reshapes the subjectivities of workers by reorienting their communicative and affective capacities towards the prerogatives and desires of those persons who purchased the right to control them. In this way, it is biopolitical.

Extending the concept of immaterial labour into the Web 2.0 era, Tiziana Terranova and Christian Fuchs, for instance, argue that all of the time and effort devoted to generating digital content on the Internet should also be considered a form of immaterial work. Taking into account the valuations of ‘free’ social networks, these authors emphasize the exploitative dimensions of unwaged immaterial work and, by doing so, broaden the concept of immaterial labour to include both its waged and unwaged variants. Neither, however, has attempted to understand the biopolitical dimensions of unwaged immaterial labour with any specificity. Thus, while Hardt and Negri examine the biopolitics of waged immaterial labour and Terranova and Fuchs examine the exploitative dimensions of unwaged immaterial labour, this thesis makes an original contribution to this body of theory by extending both lines of thinking and bridging the chasm between them.

Taking Flickr as its primary exemplar, this thesis provides an empirical examination of the ways in which its members regard all of the time and effort they devote to their ‘labours of love.’ Flickr is a massively popular Web 2.0 photo-sharing social network that depends on the unwaged immaterial labour of its ‘users’ to generate all of the content that populates the network. Via reference to open-ended and semi-structured interviews conducted with members of Flickr, the biopolitics that guide and regulate the exploited work of this unwaged labour force are disclosed.

The primary research question this thesis provides an answer to, then, is: if waged immaterial labour is biopolitical as numerous scholars have argued, then what are the biopolitics of the unwaged immaterial labour characteristic of Flickr and what kinds of subjectivities are being produced by them?