Terranova (2000) Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy


In the digital economy many internet users provide free labor, whether they conceive of it as work or pleasure.  Free labor is “simultaneously voluntarily given and unwaged, enjoyed and exploited” (33).


While other have pointed out that knowledge workers provide immaterial labor to corporations (Lazzarato 1996), there is another type of labor taking place in the digital economy. People are not paid for it, but they still do it voluntarily.

Pointing to the work that chat room monitors, mailing list managers, and forum participants provide in online spaces, Terranova notes that internet users who provide free labor online often do not view it as work and may even conceive of it as pleasure.  She observes that free labor is “simultaneously voluntarily given and unwaged, enjoyed and exploited” (Terranova 2000, 33).  This link between exploitation and enjoyment is perhaps most evident on social network sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.  A number of subsequent studies build on Terranova’s premise to explore how social platforms are dependent upon users enthusiastically populating personal profiles, sharing content, and providing data for free (Cote and Pybus 2007; Cohen 2008; 2013).

Free Labor – The cultural and technical labor that animates the internet

Immaterial labor online is “collective intelligence” that “encompass the work of writing/reading/managing and participating in mailing lists/Web sites/chatlines” (42).


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