Dispossessed Prosumption, Crowdsourcing and the Digital Regime of Work

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DOI: 10.3898/NewF:99.03.2019

Futurist Alvin Toffler and critical theorist and historian Michel Foucault both referenced the interface of consumption and production – ‘prosumption’ – around 1980 in considerably different ways. Whereas Toffler focused on the empirical basis of prosumption at a time of structural unemployment and customised demand, Foucault’s rendition was discursive and focused on the subjective dimension of prosumption under neoliberal governance. This article engages both contextual and subjective dimensions of prosumption in the context of digital life in the new millennium. Literature to date has emphasised prosumption from the vantage point of digital consumers, whose daily internet activity produces profit for firms while consumers receive no compensation for the data they produce and thereby are dispossessed of the fruits of their free labour – a perverse dimension of prosumption in the digital era. I extend the notion of dispossessed prosumption from the realm of digital consumers to digital producers – those who seek a wage through digital means – to permit an overarching conceptualisation of the digital regime of work, recognising important similarities and differences in the processes by which digital subjects experience dispossessed prosumption. I argue that for-profit crowdsourcing is the salient corporate strategy in the digital era regarding capital-labour relations, encompassing both digital consumers and producers, although it is covert regarding the former and overt regarding the latter. I explain how dispossessed prosumption uniquely configures for digital producers with reference to the requirement for self-capitalisation in a context of deepened precarity, while producers’ aspirations for a stable career and consumer lifestyle sustain the process. Although the processes by which digital producers and consumers are dispossessed differ relative to digital value chains, both digital consumers and producers nonetheless share vulnerability to digital addiction. Crucially, despite different strategies of resistance to date between digital consumers and producers, all resistance strategies are rooted in common sensibilities, which potentially can be weaponised towards transcending the dated consumption/production divide to realise an effective coalitional movement.

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99: Cultures of Compensation