Capitalist commodification of the social sphere: rethinking the political economy of communication
The aim of this paper is to rethink the role of the political economy of communication (PEC) in the current historical epoch. This is achieved through contextualisation of political, economic, cultural and technological aspects, the result of which are five corresponding and interconnected transformations, namely: neoliberal governance; financialisation of global capitalism; post-Fordist flexible production; ‘postmodernisation’ of consumption and culture; and worldwide social connectedness through networks, instigated by the rise of the Internet. It is claimed that communication has gained a paradigmatic role in the current historical phase of capitalism, which consequently enabled capital to fully colonise most aspects of not only material but also social life. However, these long-developing perturbations also fully reinstated (critique of) the political economy of communication as the main basis and source for analysing the current historical stage of capitalism; because communication permeates all social life and spills over formerly distinct boundaries, interconnectedness on all possible levels has become more obvious than ever. The author develops his main thesis on the basis of this groundwork, stating that “the structural tendency of capitalism, which has developed into a world-integrated economic system, is not only to commodify and valorise the material and social aspects of life, but also to incorporate human life as such (i.e. speciesbeing) into this economistic circuit.” The historical outline developed in the first part of this paper, together with the ontological, epistemological and methodological starting points presented in the first section, offer a suitable context for examination of three intertwined concepts: audiences, immaterial work and the commons, which assists in providing additional substantiation for the thesis. The current phase of capitalism and its practical influence on human beings can only be understood by fully acknowledging these theoretical starting points. The author bases his arguments especially on critical theory, namely neo-Marxist perspective, and mainly draws conclusions from theoretical outlines of the Italian post-operaismo (autonomia) movement that successfully rethought critique of (post-Fordist) political economy; this approach to critical theory should today be seen as a crucial resource for investigations of PEC. The paper represents a rough and condensed outline of an ongoing doctoral dissertation and aims to clarify and rethink the main research questions and theses that will be considered in this work.