You are on page 1of 21

Critical Sociology http://crs.sagepub.

com/

Experience, commodification, biopolitics


Anna-Maria Murtola Crit Sociol published online 22 January 2014 DOI: 10.1177/0896920513494230 The online version of this article can be found at: http://crs.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/01/21/0896920513494230

Published by:
http://www.sagepublications.com

Additional services and information for Critical Sociology can be found at: Email Alerts: http://crs.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Subscriptions: http://crs.sagepub.com/subscriptions Reprints: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Permissions: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav

>> OnlineFirst Version of Record - Jan 22, 2014 What is This?

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

research-article2014

494230

CRS0010.1177/0896920513494230MurtolaMurtola

Article

Experience, Commodification, Biopolitics


Anna-Maria Murtola

Critical Sociology 120 The Author(s) 2014 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0896920513494230 crs.sagepub.com

Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand

Abstract Although the commodification of experience has been a long-standing concern for critical scholars, today the breadth and depth of this practice and the conscious manipulation involved is unparalleled. In this paper I analyse contemporary commodification of experience drawing on insights from the early Frankfurt school and autonomist thought. In doing so, I show how contemporary commodification of experience, understood in particular in terms of expropriation of the affective common, comprises a form of biopolitical exploitation that is part of broader biopolitical struggles in which capital seeks to draw the entirety of human life into its circuit of valorization. Although the critique of the Frankfurt school remains important, the variety of forms of experience for sale today warrants a broader politico-economic analysis in light of historical changes in the logic of accumulation and the operation of the commodity-form, which autonomist thought can help illuminate. Keywords affect, autonomism/autonomist thought, biopolitics, commodification, the common, experience, expropriation, Frankfurt school

Introduction
Although experience has appeared in the form of a commodity for a long time, the experiences for sale today are more widespread, complex and consciously manipulated by capital than at any previous point in history. No longer are we merely sold cups of coffee, food or other commodities but rather coffee experiences, dining experiences and various forms of shopping experiences. We continue to buy experiences of entertainment and amusement. We want to be moved by cultural experiences, both at home and abroad. When boarding a train, we have turned from passengers to customers expected to enjoy our customer experience. The education of our children is sold to us

Corresponding author: Anna-Maria Murtola, Department of International Business, Faculty of Business and Law, Auckland University of Technology, City Campus, Private Bag 92006, Auckland 1142, New Zealand. Email: amurtola@aut.ac.nz

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Critical Sociology

in the form of an educational experience. These examples merely scratch the surface of the contemporary commodification of experience. The commodification of experience has been a concern for critical scholars for a long time, with the Frankfurt schools work on the culture industry a seminal influence. Critiques of standardization or McDonaldization (Ritzer, 1996), Disneyization (Bryman, 2004), infantilization (Barber, 2007) and life in a shopping mall (Crawford, 1992) abound. All of these works criticize the commodification of experience in different ways. This paper is concerned with a social reality in which attempts are made to turn most any form of human experience into a commodity or a means of capital accumulation. Here commodification refers to processes whereby elements hitherto not explicitly part of the capitalist apparatus are brought into the sphere of the circulation of capital, including our innermost being and shared sociality. It analyses this reality drawing on ideas from two theoretical traditions Frankfurt school critical theory and autonomist thought both of which provide conceptual tools for grasping the situation. Despite the years that have passed since the time of writing of the early Frankfurt school, there is still much to be learned about the commodification of experience from the work of scholars such as Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. However, their insights must be supplemented with more recent work in light of the social and economic changes that have taken place especially since the 1970s and the rise in postindustrial production. I will suggest that autonomist thought, such as that of Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri and Maurizio Lazzarato, is useful in shedding light on the ongoing commodification of experience in the context of broader historical developments in the capitalist economy. Building on the insights of these scholars, I will argue that contemporary commodification of experience must be understood in a broader context of biopolitical struggles concerning the command of capital over life. If scholars of the early Frankfurt school in their work on consumption and the culture industry studied the function of experience in the reproduction of society in the context of advanced industrial production, autonomist thought extends this critique into the contemporary context of postindustrial production. Although often considered two disparate traditions of thought with Marx as the principal shared frame of reference the two traditions share much more than is commonly acknowledged. What, then, is different today from the historical situation of the early Frankfurt school? Hardt and Negri (2009) argue that we are now living in an era of biopolitical production, in which the results of the productive process are no longer primarily material commodities but rather subjectivities, social relations and forms of life. Material commodities often recede into the background and instead the immaterial aspects of commodities take centre stage in the process of valorization. Hardt and Negri also argue that the boundary between work and life is becoming increasingly blurred. If some decades ago it was reasonably easy to distinguish between work-time and leisuretime, this is no longer the case in the postindustrial context. With the possibilities afforded by technologies such as Wi-Fi, mobile phones and laptops; the flexibility of postindustrial workers with regards to time and place of labour; and the requirements for creative, communicative and affective input along with the autonomy granted in certain types of work, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between work and non-work. If, as autonomist thought argues, much production in the postindustrial economy is focused on the production of subjectivities and social relations, and making a distinction between work and life is becoming increasingly difficult, then the commodification of experience is a crucial dynamic to understand. It is concerned precisely with the moulding of subjectivities and social relations for purposes of capital accumulation in encounters where production and consumption coincide.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Murtola

Experience is part of the innermost being of human life. Thus the commodification of experience can mean nothing but an attempt to draw life into the capitalist circuit of valorization, in which work and life, labour and leisure, production and consumption, become increasingly intertwined. The commodification of experience today therefore also offers an important window for inspection of the contemporary operation of capital. In his discussion of one important aspect of postindustrial production the commodification of information Adair calls for analysis of how the logic of accumulation and the commodity form are being reconfigured (2010: 246). This paper seeks to contribute to such a task through analysis of another immaterial commodity experience. Some autonomists, among others, argue that a shift in the logic of capitalist accumulation has recently taken place, in which accumulation is now increasingly based on the extraction of rent rather than the exploitation of labour power. Regardless of the question of how extensive this shift has been, there have certainly been changes in the operation of capital in recent decades that warrant attention. This paper is divided into three sections. In the first section I describe contemporary forms of experience for sale. I show the proliferation of commodified experience and how it now reaches into the innermost sanctums of human existence, encouraged by capitalist interests for example under the guise of the so-called experience economy. I introduce three paradigmatic cases of more complex and profound forms of commodified experience to act as a basis for the analysis that follows. In the second section I give an account of the critique of commodification of experience as it appears in the writings of the early Frankfurt school, in particular in Benjamin, Adorno and Marcuse. I focus primarily on their critique of the deterioration of experience and of life as an instrument of capital, as discernible in their writings on culture and consumption. The third section presents some of the conceptual tools to be found within the autonomist tradition that are important for understanding contemporary commodification of experience. I discuss in particular the concept of biopolitical production and the contemporary role of affect as a form of the common in postindustrial production. Drawing on these concepts I suggest approaching the commodification of experience in terms of expropriation of the affective common and point to the role of capital in framing our experiences of the world. I conclude with a discussion of the three paradigmatic cases and the commodification of experience in the broader context of contemporary capitalism and what the analyses of the early Frankfurt school and autonomist thought, brought together, can contribute to such a discussion, as well as considering the political consequences of such a move.

Experience
The trade on experience is nothing new per se. Experience has been a commodity for a long time, most visibly perhaps in the context of entertainment. What is new, however, is the proliferation of commodified experience into all kinds of sectors and the forms that the commodification of experience has come to take. The experiences on offer under capitalism range from mildly amusing rhetorical moves in advertising material to more embedded, ambiguous and disquieting forms. In this section I will give some contemporary examples of the commodification of experience, identifying three paradigmatic cases involving more complex and profound forms of experience, which will be analysed in more detail. I will set these examples in relation to the industry that has arisen around the commodification of experience in order to establish the breadth, depth and conscious manipulation of experience under capital today. In the most banal sense, experience appears as an empty catchword in advertising materials. Instead of promotion of particular attributes of a product, or attempts to create a seductive image

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Critical Sociology

of a product or brand by other means, in advertising materials we simply find the word experience. The particular substance behind the word is left blank, leaving the intended target audience to imagine the experience on offer to be whatever they desire. For example, consider LGs GD510 Pop phone, advertised as Small phone big experience, Pepsodents Xperience toothpaste, or the slogan above STA travels doorway: experience is everything. The word is often used with a modifier of equal vacuity, such as in Tschibo coffees the real coffee experience and the unique shopping experience on offer at numerous retail locations across the world. Experience has also been taken up in the promotion of various educational institutions, such as in the prospectus for future students at Keele University in the UK promoting the Keele experience. These superficial forms of experience for sale point to the commercial importance of the word experience today. Beyond rhetoric, an analytical distinction can be made between experience as a backdrop to commodity exchange and experience as the commodity itself. Although indicative of where the emphasis in an exchange situation lies, it is not always possible to make a clear-cut separation between the two. Some companies specialize in the provision of experiences. Amusement parks are perhaps the archetypical example of such a business model. Similar types of experience for sale can be found at adventure tour companies that orchestrate activities such as bungee jumping, white-water rafting and skydiving. Here the focus is on ephemeral thrills, moments of intense individual sensation shrouded in a thoroughly cheery and controlled atmosphere. Much has already been written about these kinds of commodified experiences and their influence on life more broadly (see, for example, Ritzer, 1999; Sorkin, 1992). I will therefore focus here on three slightly different types of commodified experience, all of which are to some extent responses to criticisms of the commodified experience of amusement parks. One such experience can be found in the phenomenon of haunted houses, an industry estimated in the US at a value of $500 Million (Hoby, 2011). One visitor describes this $60 experience in the New York night as involving being terrorised and abused in a series of psycho-sexual horror scenarios (Hoby, 2011). Visitors to Blackout, for example, are required to sign a waiver before entering (part of the experience, for sure) that clarifies that they will be touched, drenched, exposed to loud noises and strobe lights, adult situations and violence (Maxwell, 2012). They are required to follow commands. Josh Randall, one of the creators of the house, exclaims We are amazed that a majority of people do what we tell them to do. People crave these intense experiences (Maxwell, 2012). He calls the experience theatre that is raw and brutal, and emphasises that No two experiences are ever alike, and each one is uniquely terrifying (Blackout, 2012). In focus is the reality of the experience, which is partly assured by the input of real people that is, actors who do their bit along the way. As a spokesperson of the Haunted House Association puts it, Haunted Houses are real in the sense that the creative unknown is right there in front of you somewhere (Haunted House Association, 2010a). At the heart of it, haunted houses are a form of interactive theatre. Despite appearances they are claimed to be about entertainment and making people happy (see Haunted House Association, 2010a). Despite the emphasis on the reality of the experience, they are about facing fears in a controlled environment (McElroy, 2011). You can always opt out by shouting out a specific safety word if things get too serious. They are about letting off steam. As the president of the Haunted House Association explains, haunted houses usually do very well in bad economic times: People need to find a release; an unrealistic fantasy place to take their minds away from problems (Haunted House Association, 2010b). At the end of it, you can always buy the official t-shirt: Survived (Blackout, 2013). If the haunted house is akin to traditional amusement parks in that experience is explicitly the commodity for sale, and a commodity primarily consumed in the thrilling moment of its

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Murtola

production, commodified experience can be found in more subtle form in the context of a shopping mall in Scandinavia, the development of which I studied for three years (Murtola, 2010, 2011). The mall promises to provide visitors with ideas and experiences. Apart from grand statements about the experience-value of the establishment in terms of its size and uniqueness, the developers of this mall also resorted to more astute forms of experiential evocation. They used all means possible to involve consumers in the everyday life of the mall. One such means consisted in the recreation of an Old Town at the heart of the establishment, in which professionals of traditional arts and crafts engage in their trade. The Old Town was built using traditional materials such as plaster and brick, and among its quaint little shops are workshops for a goldsmith and a blacksmith, a cobbler, a bakery and an art gallery. Walking through the area one can see artisans at work, who are more than happy to engage in a conversation about their skills with passers-by. Tradition is heavily emphasized everywhere, for example inside the bakery, in which the walls are covered in black-and-white photos showing how the grain used to bake bread was traditionally harvested and prepared. The hand is used diligently as a signifier of traditional, professional skill as well as in an attempt to evoke life. As one owner of the mall explained it: We have shoes made there by hand, we have forging done there by hand and through this we try to create there a kind of heartbeat of the city. According to him, the mall is an entity, which breathes through its activities and its merchants and its atmosphere and the people that are there. Thus he often emphasized that the mall was built for human beings in their entirety, not merely consumers, and that everything included in the mall had to add substance to it, rather than function as a cheap trick. In the Old Town human beings serve human beings and entrepreneurs are engaged in a genuine dialogue with their customers, as it was put in a promotional brochure. The developers of this mall draw on collective human tradition and sociality beyond immediate commercial transactions in an attempt to provide visitors with a more authentic and meaningful experience. They try to evoke a more socially and historically embedded form of experience an experience of community, built on tradition and put this to work. The developers were well aware of the important role that experience plays in business today. One owner, in particular, identified an ongoing historical shift that requires that more attention be paid today to substance over mere image: we are moving from the experience economy to the experience content economyin which the consumer is starting to demand substance to the experience, he explained. Thus, according to him, it is not enough anymore for commercial developers to merely talk experience. The experience provided needs to be more profound, substantial and respectful of consumers needs than earlier. A third example of a more complex form of experience for sale can be found in the recent resurgence in slum tours or poorism, in which tourists pay for the experience of witnessing the misery of life in slums. This controversial form of experience for sale has been criticized on a number of accounts, primarily for its voyeuristic character (see, for example, Weiner, 2008). It has been called a peep show on poverty for the well heeled (Margolis, 2008), poverty porn (Conan, 2009; Dufresne, 2010) and has been identified as an exercise in self-affirmation (Weiner, 2008). The experience on the other side that of the inhabitants of specific slums has been described in terms of a feeling of being treated as an animal at a safari or a zoo (Baran, 2008; Lancaster, 2007; Rolfes, 2009). In contrast, tour operators emphasize the vibrancy of the life in slums and that what they show is not poverty at all, quite the contrary. One operator in the Dharavi area in Mumbai, for example, argues that their task is to challenge stereotypes about the poor. Were trying to dispel the myth that people there sit around doing nothing, that theyre criminals (in Lancaster, 2007). The emphasis lies on the authenticity of the encounter, on the reality of the experience. As Baran puts

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Critical Sociology

it, slum tours are part of a broader trend in tourism: the desire of travelers to avoid the artificiality of man-made resorts and plastic paradises and instead seek out the unfamiliar real world (2008: 17). The life in slums is sometimes presented as more real than middle-class, urban existence (Dyson, 2012). Proponents of slum tours furthermore emphasize the role of these tours in alleviating poverty. Not only is it argued that tourists bring sorely needed money into the slums, thus helping particular people, but tourism is also advocated more broadly as a public policy tool for poverty alleviation, with the emphasis then turned on the question of how best to manage it (see, for example, Mekawy, 2012). At the moment most operators pledge to give back something to the communities they work with, such as a part of their profits, but there is no way of knowing what actually happens, as there are no mechanisms of transparency or accountability in place (see, for example, Baran, 2008; Dufresne, 2010). Although the educational aspects of slum tours have been emphasized (see Rolfes, 2009), others argue that there are other more efficient ways of helping the poor, such as contributing to the efforts of non-profit organizations already working in the areas (see Conan, 2009). As Weiner puts it, you dont need to walk around a slum, snapping photos in some cases, to know that theres poverty there. You know, you can stay in your home and write a check and help people that way (in Conan, 2009). Slum tours are no substitute for development programs (Weiner, 2008). The proliferation of experience and the increasingly complex forms that commodified experience takes today are not just a matter of chance. They have also been pushed by management consultants, for example in the idea of the so-called experience economy. Although it already existed as a concept in German in the early 1990s (see Schultze, 2000), the term is often attributed to management consultants Pine and Gilmore (1998, 1999). According to Pine and Gilmore, the future competitiveness of companies will depend on their ability to stage memorable experiences. In a world of increasing standardization, competition on price alone what they call commoditization is a threat that drives down profits margins. Thus, in order to be successful companies need to differentiate their products from those of their competitors. Here experiences become an important instrument. Pine and Gilmore (1999) encourage companies to stage experiences in order to engage customers in memorable interactions, which will then allow them to charge a premium price. Engagement is key. Pine and Gilmore emphasize that staging experiences is not about entertaining customers, its about engaging them (1999: 30). Thus, for example, the task of staff at Walt Disneys theme parks is to immerse guestsin rides that not only entertain but involve them in an unfolding story, with the ultimate aim of creating a unique experience (Pine and Gilmore, 1999: 3). This uniqueness stems from the expected contribution of each individual guest in the process of experience production. This is possible because of the nature of the commodity on offer. What distinguishes experiences from economic offerings of previous eras, according to Pine and Gilmore, is their internal character: While prior economic offerings commodities, goods, and services are external to the buyer, experiences are inherently personal, existing only in the mind of an individual who has been engaged on an emotional, physical, intellectual, or even spiritual level (Pine and Gilmore, 1998: 99). The same importance of emotional engagement in business today is recognized by consultant Jensen (1999), who argues that a historical shift is taking place in which the so-called information society will be replaced by what he calls the dream society. In the dream society products become secondary and what determines commercial success instead is the story-telling capabilities of managers. As Jensen puts it, Stories and tales speak directly to the heart rather than the brain (Jensen, 1999: 3-4). Hence companies need to learn to engage customers through the stories they can create around their products, he argues.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Murtola

Jensen, as well as Pine and Gilmore, are therefore already concerned with a much more complex form of commodified experience than the mere rhetorical moves evident in some of the examples from marketing materials given above. The experience economy is about engaging the very core of the human being and turning that into a profit-making opportunity. This is the direction in which Pine and Gilmore see the commodification of experience as developing further, as they posit that what will follow the experience economy is a Transformation Economy (1999: 173), in which experiences are staged explicitly with the purpose of changing people. In this transformation economy, the customer is the product (Pine and Gilmore, 1999: 172). Since the publication of Pine and Gilmores ideas, there has been a proliferation of work discussing the concept of the experience economy. At the time of writing, Google scholar reports 3388 citations to the book, of which 452 citations relate to publications from 2011 or later, indicating that the term has by no means waned in importance. Experience, beyond the specific term the experience economy, has also become increasingly important in marketing literature. It is visible in concepts such as customer experience management, experience design and experiential marketing, some of which take Pine and Gilmores work as one of its starting points (Schmitt, 1999; see also Smilansky, 2009). Here similar ideas appear as to the importance of creating a holistic experience for consumers that invite them to engage all their senses, in an attempt to create customer loyalty and a long-term relationship with customers. The complexity of experience staging today also becomes evident in some of the more recent uptakes of Pine and Gilmores thesis. Boswijk, Thijssen and Peelen (2007), for example, distinguish between three generations of experience staging. In the first generation, the company plays the active part supplying experiences to the passive consumer who merely takes them in. In the second, experiences are co-created. Here both supplier and consumer are active, learning from each other and staging the experience together. In third generation experience staging, the supplier stands to the side and instead the individual creates and directs his own meaningful experience (2007: 10). Boswijk et al. argue that what will increasingly come into focus in the experience economy is the question of meaningful experience. They assert that people give meaning to their lives through experience and that the challenge for managers in a commercial position is to give shape to their role in the process (2007: 12). As they imply here, customers already produce their own experiences in their everyday lives. The task of companies is to find ways of tapping into that process and turning it into a business opportunity. Gilmore and Pine (2007) later develop their previous thesis on the experience economy in recognition of consumer demand for more meaningful experiences. In a world of increasingly commercialized experience, they explain, consumers want what is authentic. As they make clear, however, the boundary between real and fake, spontaneous and contrived, is up for grabs and despite what might appear to be the case, there are techniques that companies can use in order to render the authenticity that consumers want. What the examples in this section point to is the ongoing effort to commodify experience, with proliferation of both sites of commodified experience and its forms. The commodification of experience is moving into ever more intimate spheres of life as encouraged and furthered by the management and marketing industries. We see under capital today an intensification of attempts to consciously manipulate experience.

Commodification
The work of the Frankfurt school constitutes an important predecessor to contemporary critiques of commodified experience. I will here discuss in particular two aspects of this work: the critique

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Critical Sociology

of the deterioration of experience and the instrumentalization of life, especially with reference to the culture industry. In the 1930s, Walter Benjamin identifies what he terms an ongoing atrophy of experience (2003: 316). Fuelled by the intensity of life in the modern city and the experiences of the first World War, he notes the withering away of embedded experience and the rise in its stead of ephemeral, individual sensory experience. Benjamin laments the loss of tradition and the concomitant fixation on the present:
We have become impoverished. We have given up one portion of the human heritage after another, and have often left it at the pawnbrokers for a hundredth of its true value, in exchange for the small change of the contemporary. (Benjamin, 1999: 735)

He distinguishes between two types of experience, short-term individual Erlebnis and long-term embedded Erfahrung, and argues that the former is increasingly taking over from the latter (Benjamin, 2003). In his critique of the culture industry, Adorno (1991) also recognizes the increasing replacement of embedded contexts with moments of individual sensation. He laments the standardization of culture, in which elements of a whole are presented in isolation, atomized and reduced to the familiar and recognisable. Instead of providing structurally complex entities that challenge the audience, the culture industry offers simple and repetitive products in need of no deciphering. In this truncated version of experience, history disappears: History is extruded from tales which have become cultural commodities (Adorno, 1991: 77). Instead, what matters is the immediate present. In the culture industry, no one is trusted to remember anything that has already happened or to concentrate upon anything other than what is presented to him in the given moment. The consumer is thus reduced to the abstract present (Adorno, 1991: 69). There is no development, no real change. Despite continuous additions to and substitutions of content with ever-new detail, the overall structure and hence the form stays the same. Thus, what the culture industry presents as the new, remains the disguise for an eternal sameness (Adorno, 1991: 100). The experience provided by the culture and entertainment industries, and by the marketing and advertising organs is, for Adorno, a lesser form of experience. He recognizes in these industries and their excessive promotion of happiness the ever-diminishing sphere of experience (2005: 62). The happiness and pleasure provided by these institutions amount to illusory gratifications (2005: 62) and thus Adorno argues that Only when sated with false pleasure, disgusted with the goods offered, dimly aware of the inadequacy of happiness even when it is that can men gain an idea of what experience might be (2005: 62). Part of the concern with the abbreviation of experience under capitalism pertains to its instrumentalization. As Adorno and Horkheimer note, experience has been reduced into a tool for capital accumulation. Here pleasure plays a restorative function: Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work. It is sought after as an escape from the mechanized work process, and to recruit strength in order to be able to cope with it again (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1997: 137). Thus not merely experience but life in its entirety becomes an instrument of capital, in the subjugation of life to the process of production (Adorno, 2005: 27). Adorno gives a scathing critique of this state of affairs: What the philosophers once knew as life has become the sphere of private existence and now of mere consumption, dragged along as an appendage of the process of material production, without autonomy or substance of its own (2005: 15). Life has been deprived of autonomous existence and become a means to an end, rather than being an end in itself (see also Horkheimer, 2004; Marcuse, 1972). As Marcuse remarks, This is the pure form of servitude: to exist as an instrument, as a thing (1972: 40).

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Murtola

A recurring theme with the Frankfurt school is the way in which culture under capitalism has become an instrument of social cohesion rather than presenting a challenge to the present. The primary concern is with how the culture industry perpetuates the existing social order. Here, again, experience is turned into an instrument. Adorno argues that the products of the culture industry teach us concepts of order whichare always those of the status quo (1991: 104). Instead of questioning the social order, in being entertained on the terms of the culture industry individuals become complacent and accommodating: The liberation which amusement promises is freedom from thought and from negation (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1997: 144). Thus, rather than developing critical faculties, the culture industry impedes the development of autonomous, independent individuals who judge and decide consciously for themselves (Adorno, 1991: 106). Discussing what he calls affirmative culture, Marcuse (2009) points to another aspect of this functional role of culture. Affirmative culture is the culture of the bourgeois epoch, which is clearly separated from the drudgery of everyday life and elevated into a superior position. It is a culture that each individual can reach from within (2009: 70). It is a realm of escape, which bypasses the suffering and antagonisms of everyday life. To any kind of criticism of inequalities or domination in material reality, the answer of the bourgeoisie is affirmative culture: To the need of the isolated individual it responds with general humanity, to bodily misery with the beauty of the soul, to external bondage with internal freedom, to brutal egoism with the duty of the realm of virtue (Marcuse, 2009: 72). At the heart of affirmative culture, Marcuse argues, lies the soul. The soul is addressed specifically because it is easier to appeal to than the mind, and thus easier to direct according to the requirements of capital: It is precisely because the soul dwells beyond the economy that the latter can manage it so easilyAn individual full of soul is more compliantFor he gets to keep for himself the entire wealth of his soul and can exalt himself tragically and heroically (Marcuse, 2009: 93-94). Nothing in material reality needs to change as long as the individual has this sublime realm of culture to turn to when everyday reality no longer measures up. Hence the reduction of ideas and actions into forms recognisable within a given world and their function as supportive of the continued reproduction of that world. This is a form of life that Marcuse calls one-dimensional, in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe (1972: 24). Or, as Adorno argues, even that which appears out-of-place will find its place as part of standardized life, in which the incommensurable is made, precisely as such, commensurable (2005: 65). Although voiced decades before our time, many of the Frankfurt school observations and critiques relating to the commodification of experience still hold today. This applies both to the deterioration of experience and the instrumentalization of life, as noted here especially in relation to the form and function of culture in society. Moreover, some explicitly argue for the need to return to the critical debates of the early twentieth century, such as those of the Frankfurt school, as a necessary first step to recovering a tradition of engaged, critical scholarship at the macro level (Schor, 2007: 29). However, much has happened socially and economically since the writings of the early Frankfurt school. As the examples in the previous section show, the breadth and depth of commodification of experience today reaches well beyond what Benjamin, Adorno or Marcuse could have imagined, as do the attempts to consciously manipulate experience for commercial gain. These developments go hand in hand with broader changes in the capitalist mode of production, in which immaterial elements play an increasingly important role in the process of valorization, a trend that has been of particular concern in autonomist thought.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

10

Critical Sociology

Biopolitics
Autonomist thought has its roots in the workerist movement in Italy in the 1960s, which emphasized the priority of workers over capital. As Tronti (1965) explains, the power of capital and the capitalist class is predicated upon the productive power of labour. That is, capital needs the worker, whereas the worker does not need capital. Taking on the changes from an industrial, Fordist production model towards a post-industrial, post-Fordist one, workerism offered a powerful thinking of the question of class composition (Bologna, 1977; see also Wright, 2002). Autonomist thought emphasizes the primacy of life over capital. Instead of accepting the power capital has over life as the inevitable state of affairs it highlights the potential of human beings to organize themselves outside and against capital. The aim of autonomist thought is liberation, or autonomy, from capital. The rule of capital is not intended to be replaced by state control but rather by the productive cooperation of an autonomous multitude (see Hardt and Negri, 2004). Such a project of liberation, however, is not easy. Hardt and Negri identify nihilism as a strong contemporary force inhibiting serious social change. Their strategy for overcoming this nihilism consists in the affirmation of the immanent powers of social life (2009: 15). This means to start from the realization that we do have the power to improve our world, our society, ourselves (2009: 378). It also means continuous reinforcement of the possibilities that exist for such transformation (see Holloway, 2010). Autonomist thought focuses on the increasing role of immaterial elements in the process of production: informational, communicational and knowledge-based skills, as well as affective capacities. Here Marxs (1993) concept of general intellect becomes crucial, that is, all the scientific and technological knowledge and capacities that humanity as a whole has amassed throughout history. Given the inseparability of this knowledge and these skills from workers, what also moves to centre stage in autonomist thought is the question of subjectivity and social relations, and their role in the productive process. Hardt and Negri (2009) argue that we are today witnessing a shift towards biopolitical production, in which material commodities play less of a role in the process of valorization than the immaterial elements surrounding them. They emphasize that what is increasingly produced today is subjectivities, social relations and forms of life, and that this production also takes place far outside the factory walls. As they point out, this does not mean that agricultural and industrial production have disappeared or diminished. Instead, we have a global redistribution of economic activities according to their profitability. Hence, for example, the focus on brand building of multinational corporations in the West and the outsourcing of material production to other parts of the world. The term biopolitics, as used by Hardt and Negri, takes its cue from Foucaults (2007, 2008) work on the government of bios, or life. With Foucault, however, the analysis tends to remain on biopower, power as enacted from above. Instead, Hardt and Negri explicitly use the term biopolitics to emphasize the opposite of biopower. Biopolitics is about a power from below, the power of life to resist and create alternative modes of being not governed by capital. Biopolitical production concerns the production of ideas, information, images, knowledges, code, languages, social relationships, affects and the like (Hardt, 2010: 134135). It is based on immaterial labour, which consists in the production of an immaterial good, such as a service, knowledge or communication (Hardt, 1999: 94), or the informational and cultural content of the commodity (Lazzarato, 1996: 133). With biopolitical production, emphasis is increasingly shifted away from the actual moment of production of material commodities: business is focused on the terrain outside of the production process: sales and the relationship with the consumer. It always leans more toward commercialization and financing than toward production (Lazzarato, 1996: 140).

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Murtola

11

Biopolitical production both draws on and produces subjectivities. It consists of the work of head and heart (Hardt and Negri, 2009: 133) in which producer and product are both subjects: humans produce and humans are produced (Hardt, 2010: 143). The fact that material processes of production mould subjectivity and hence human nature is not new in itself (see, for example, Marx, 1976: 283). However, as autonomist thought underscores, subjectivity today plays an increasingly important role in production. Thus it is often no longer enough to merely bring ones body to work: What modern management techniques are looking for is for the workers soul to become part of the factory (Lazzarato, 1996: 134). Furthermore, in the biopolitical economy the entire realm of human life is turned into a part of the productive process: In the biopolitical context capital might be said to subsume not just labor but society as a whole or, really, social life itself, since life is both what is put to work in biopolitical production and what is produced (Lazzarato, 1996: 142). That is to say, on the one hand, social relations and forms of life become productive of value, and on the other, the capitalist productive process also produces specific configurations of social relations and forms of life. Social relations and forms of life are part of what Hardt and Negri refer to as the common resources and capacities that are shared. Hardt and Negri use the term in a political manner specifically in order to denote spheres of life outside the command of capital. They argue that The standpoint of the common reveals how, increasingly in the course of the present transition, the process of economic valorization becomes ever more internal to the structures of social life (2009: 280). In biopolitical production, the common is both an input and an output of the productive process. But, as Hardt and Negri put it, this common is being expropriated. This is what they refer to as biopolitical exploitation: Biopolitical exploitation involves the expropriation of the common at the level of social production and social practice (2009: 140141). That is, we all contribute to the production and reproduction of common life in different ways, and these practices are now increasingly being turned into resources for or instruments of capital accumulation. Here the common is positioned against strategies of enclosure, such as privatization, the deployment of intellectual property rights and cuts in social spending (see, for example, De Angelis, 2007; Harvey, 2010). Although enclosures operate in different ways depending on the nature of the common they target, they are often about the separation and claim to ownership of specific resources that were previously shared, thus potentially enabling the collection of monopoly rents through restriction of access (see, for example, Harvey, 2002). Although the common can be of material nature (land, water, the atmosphere), what is of interest here is what in contrast could cautiously be termed the immaterial common, that is, those results of social production that are necessary for social interaction and further production, such as knowledges, languages, codes, information, affects, and so forth (Hardt, 2010: 136; Hardt and Negri, 2009: viii). Knowledge, for example, is a resource the open sharing of which the development of humanity has depended on. As has been argued by autonomists among others, knowledge has become increasingly important for the valorization of capital. Once an idea is developed, however, the sharing of it takes next to nothing in terms of labour and resources, and certainly does not deplete it in being used. Thus one way in which capital turns knowledge into an instrument of accumulation is by creating artificial scarcity through strategies of enclosure, such as the use of intellectual property rights and other means of rendering exclusivity (see Adair, 2010; Gorz, 2010). At the heart of biopolitical exploitation lies affect. Affect is a result of our shared collective cultures and histories and hence part of the common. It should not be understood as bounded to a specific subject but rather, as Clough puts it, in terms of preindividual bodily capacities (2007: 18). Affect is today central to the capitalist process of valorization (Clough, 2007; Hardt, 1999). Although it has never been completely outside of capitalist production, affective labour has become, Hardt argues, the very pinnacle of the hierarchy of laboring forms (1999: 90). The rise

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

12

Critical Sociology

of affect goes back to the 1970s, when a clear shift could be discerned from selling products to manipulating affect (Clough, 2010: 220). What is new, according to Hardt, is the extent to which this affective immaterial labor is now directly productive of capital and the extent to which it has become generalized through wide sectors of the economy (1999: 97). Affective labour produces intangible products, such as a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, passion even a sense of connectedness or community (Hardt, 1999: 96). According to Hardt, it produces communities and collective subjectivities (1999: 89) and concerns the production and reproduction of life (1999: 100). Hence the importance of affect in the context of biopolitical production, and also its potential for liberation. But affective labour also concerns the manipulation of affect. As Hardt argues: the entertainment industry and the various culture industries arefocused on the creation and manipulation of affects (1999: 95). The commodification of experience is part of the biopolitical economy, in which both the inputs and the outputs of the productive process are more than mere material commodities. The experience industry draws on and produces subjectivities, social relations and forms of life. It is often based on affective labour and revolves around the management of affect. In contemporary commodification of experience we can see how the process of valorization is becoming more closely entwined in social life and how the entirety of human life is drawn into this process. In being put to work, in being turned into an instrument, affect is being expropriated by capital, in that it no longer functions as an open-ended capacity but rather as a means to a given end. Drawing on Hardt and Negri, in the context of the commodification of experience we can thus speak of expropriation of the affective common, in which our innermost human capacities, our innermost being, are put to work for capital. Thus although Hardt and Negri embrace the creative potential of social life, they also recognize the limits posed by capital. They acknowledge the power of capital and law in how they compel obedienceby structuring the conditions of possibility of social life (2009: 6). Thus they admit the role of capital in enabling, moulding and disabling the formation of subjectivities and social relations. Likewise, Lazzarato argues that It is the arrangement and creation of possible worlds. that is the object of capitalist appropriation (2004: 200). Or, as he puts it in relation to consumption:
Consumption cannot simply be reduced to buying or consuming (destroying) a service or a productbut above everything it involves belonging to a world, adhering to a certain universe.[this involves] an invitation to espouse a way of life: a way of dressing, of having a body, of eating, communicating and travelling, a way of having a style, a way of speaking etc. (Lazzarato, 2004: 189)

Here lies the crux of the matter of the commodification of experience.

Discussion
Between the Frankfurt school and autonomist thought, there are a number of observations to be made. These pertain to both the commodification of experience and, drawing on that, the broader question of the contemporary logic of capital accumulation and the concomitant question of the commodity-form. In lamenting the loss of tradition and criticising the dissipation of embeddedness, history, complexity and autonomy, the critiques of Benjamin, Adorno and Marcuse seem befitting a particular kind of experience. Their critiques of the emphasis on individual sensation in the immediate present; of the turn inwards into the interior of the subject as a realm of escape; of the familiar, repetitive, happy and comforting forms of experience on offer at the expense of more

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Murtola

13

challenging forms, specifically target the kind of experience on offer at amusement parks and similar venues. Although more superficial forms of commodified experience still proliferate, today the commodification of experience exhibits an opposite trend. Guided by the interests of capital there is now a much broader range of experiences for sale. Instead of focus on mere rhetoric, image and momentary sensation there is today increasingly an emphasis on substance and more meaningful, nuanced and embedded forms of experience. Proponents of the experience economy, for example, are clearly aware of the need for companies to engage subjectivities and social relations in ever greater detail in order to remain competitive. The three paradigmatic cases of commodification of experience discussed here haunted houses, the Old Town in a shopping mall, and slum tours manifest in different ways commercial acknowledgment of the need to provide more complex and profound encounters. The contemporary experience industry is aware of and trying to respond to the kinds of critique of the abbreviation of experience levelled by Frankfurt school scholars. The three cases of commodification of experience discussed above have several traits in common. They emphasize the uniqueness of the experience, that is, its authenticity and reality aspect. This is in stark contrast to the more common depiction of the experiences at amusement parks and shopping malls as tainted by their artificial, if not sterile, character. All three examples emphasize involvement, immersion and interaction in encounters between real human beings, ideas also deployed by management consultants intent on engaging and maybe even transforming customers through strategies of storytelling. It has become clear that these kinds of moves are today commercially important. Each of the three examples, however, also differs from the others in specific ways. Whereas the experiences on offer at haunted houses are just as ephemeral as those of amusement parks, they are less cheery and reassuring in nature. On the contrary, they are explicitly predicated on challenging the consumer, pulling them out of their comfort zone. Of course, to some extent experiences at amusement parks also challenge consumers and, conversely, haunted houses are there to make people happy by letting them face up to fears within the confines of a safe space that can be exited at will. Both experiences are forms of escapism, inviting a turn inwards, in which everyday problems can be forgotten in a moment of intense exhilaration or numbing fear. The experience on offer in the Old Town, by contrast, is intended to be more than merely ephemeral. Here every effort is made to anchor consumers into a context that extends well beyond their person and the immediate present. By evoking tradition, history and community, consumers are drawn both into a web of sociality and an imagined world long gone. They are encouraged to engage genuinely with the craftspeople at work there and through this encounter situate themselves in the context of an ongoing history. They are offered the idea of a less commercial and contrived existence inside what is arguably the most artificial, commercial form of them all, the mall. Here consumers are nominally free to engage with other people in the space as they like, that is, encounters are not scripted in the way that they are in, for example, haunted houses. Yet, like the experience of the amusement park, and in contrast to that of the haunted house, the experience here is meant to be affirmative and reassuring, not challenging in any way. Similarly, slum tours aspire to provide a more embedded form of experience. In contrast to the Old Town and amusement parks, slum tours share with haunted houses a concern for a more nuanced form of experience than the merely affirmative kind. The environment is, however, not consciously designed and is less controlled. Tourists can expect to be challenged, but the challenge takes a very different form from that of haunted houses. Here the consumer is invited to turn outwards rather than inwards, to engage with the foreign other and to let the encounter change their worldview, that is, to transform them.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

14

Critical Sociology

Despite attempts by capital to get at more profound forms of human experience, and the detailed engagement with the depths of human life that current forms of commodified experience entail, we need to ask to what extent they still merely represent yet another moment of reduction of experience. All three experiences recounted here are, despite their important differences, ultimately also still deserving of the Frankfurt school critique. The haunted house is the easiest target, in its manipulation of immediate sensation. Although more embedded in form, the experience provided in the Old Town is a selective, adapted and sanitized version of an imagined original that serves an instrumental function. The Old Town does not exist for itself, but for the economic success of the mall at large. It presents a familiar, recognisable and safe milieu, which promotes social cohesion within a dominant universe rather than challenging that universe or the position of the individual within it. It is a happy, comforting space. The experience provided is still presented to the individual consumer in the context of a space they can enter and exit at will, without strings attached, despite claims to social and historical embeddedness. In contrast, slums exist independently of the slum tourists presence there and present tourists with an unfamiliar, unrecognisable and potentially unsafe milieu, intended to challenge them. Slums are not necessarily happy or comforting spaces. The experience provided is, however, clearly predicated on an ephemeral encounter in which immediate sensation plays a crucial role. The proposed engagement with a strange other is also never completely unconditional, as the tour operators can choose to take tourists to specific places and allow and forbid certain behaviours. Any charitable interventions may, in the end, merely manifest another form of introspection and be part of another kind of project of self-affirmation. Thus the experience is also affirmative in the sense of providing a sense of empowerment. Although the Frankfurt school critique of the reduction of the wealth of human experience to isolated, truncated and repetitive or standardized forms still holds, the experiences for sale today encourage both a turn inwards and a turn outwards, both introspection and engagement. They invite us to feel thrilled or scared, happy or sad. They make us feel safe or challenge us. They provide individual escape or a chance to engage with others. Wherever we turn, capital has something to offer. There seems to be something for everyone, and it presents itself in the commodity-form. With the expansion of commodified experience to ever new spheres of life, we are increasingly surrounded by commercial options through which we are invited to experience our lives. Thus we need to ask, with Lazzarato, what kind of a world capital, in its mobilization of experience, invites us to inhabit. The forms of commodified experience on offer today continue to encourage social cohesion and help to uphold the status quo by providing us with acceptable avenues for engagement and release, thus encouraging adaptation to the existing state of affairs. Although perhaps more complex in form than previously, these experiences still primarily encourage immediate, affective responses rather than more distanced, conscious deliberation. The world we are invited into is thus still one that revolves around individuals, around personal sensations and momentary wants and needs, rather than broader deliberation on collective needs. This is not to say that these kinds of experiences could not encourage broader engagement with structural issues. The way they are structured, however, encourages a focus on the individual level, either in terms of the person who has bought the experience or the person or persons they are engaging with. Setting commodified experience on a broader level with the help of autonomist thought, the commodification of experience appears as part of the process of biopolitical production. It can be understood in relation to the increasingly important role of immaterial elements in the process of valorization, in which subjectivities, social relations and forms of life are increasingly both drawn on and produced in the productive process, and in which processes of commodification and relationships with consumers take precedence over material processes of production. Such analysis

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Murtola

15

also highlights changes in the commodity-form. Locating the actual commodity for sale becomes, at times, difficult. To some extent, the commodification of experience is part and parcel of the ubiquitous branding industry, concerned with relationship marketing and the management of symbolic production in an effort to instil customer loyalty and command a premium price. Here experience functions as an appendage to the commodity. As Arvidsson argues about the brand, experience is similarly a part of the context of consumption (Arvidsson, 2005: 244). Drawing explicitly on autonomist thought, Arvidsson gives a detailed account of how brand management seeks to harness subjectivity and social relations for purposes of capitalist valorization. Brand management does not function by force, but rather makes use of bio-political governance: a governance that works from below by shaping the context in which freedom is exercised, and by providing the raw materials that it employs (Arvidsson, 2005: 246). Thus consumers are free to produceshared meanings and social relations within given coordinates (Arvidsson, 2005: 245). Brand management seeks to embed brands in the everyday lives of ordinary people. Precisely how people relate to a brand is here less important than the fact that they actively do so. Similarly, the experience industry has learnt from critiques of abbreviated forms of commercial experience and now tries to provide more space and variety in the forms of experience it offers. In the Old Town, for example, the experience functions explicitly as the backdrop against which commodity exchanges are to be measured. The Old Town provides the coordinates for the production of shared meanings and social relations. This is a matter not of enforcement but rather of a guided freedom, a freedom which comes with cues and suggestions for how to best exercise it. It is, of course, also a conditional freedom in the sense that if you do not exercise it in ways deemed appropriate according to the coordinates, you can be expelled. Capital operates not only on a material level but on a symbolic one. On the one hand, it provides ever more spaces for expressions of subjectivity and for social interaction, always however guided by the interests of capital. These spaces are ideological as much as material, in that capital seeks to provide the symbolic substance for us with which to express ourselves and imagine the world and the possibilities within it. This is how it conditions the possibilities of social life. In this provision of worlds, in which we can enact our everyday life, capital seeks to translate all human experience into forms conducive to accumulation. Lazzarato thus argues that the creation of the possible and its actualisation in the souls (of consumers as well as workers), is the real production (2004: 192). Capital attempts to provide us with the parameters within which to experience our lives and create our worlds. On the other hand, capital today also makes use of subjectivity and social relations without actually producing or providing anything at all that was not there already, as is particularly evident in the case of slum tours. Autonomist thought brings this to the fore in its emphasis on how capital preys on sociality, often operating from an external position (Hardt and Negri, 2009). This is visible in what in autonomist thought and elsewhere has appeared as the renewed primacy of rent (Hardt and Negri, 2009: 141; see also Vercellone, 2010). It suggests a move whereby capital increasingly seeks to valorize itself not by exploitation of labour, but rather by the extraction of rent. This comprises a modification in the logic of capital accumulation. Rent can be extracted in a number of ways, one of which is the expropriation of the common. That is, instead of directly employing labour, capital seeks to enclose or expropriate the common by claiming ownership in order to control access and then use that as a basis for extracting rent, such as in the context of intellectual property rights. Alternatively, capital accumulates drawing on shared resources outside the sphere of capital, often without compensation. This is the case, for example, in the context of what has become known as biopiracy (see Hardt, 2010; Shiva, 1997). A similar dynamic is, however, also discernible in the commodification of experience.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

16

Critical Sociology

If knowledge, as a form of common, is easily reproduced and shared and therefore requires mechanisms of enclosure such as patents in order to create artificial scarcity and thus ensure that it remains profitable for capital, experience as part of the affective common operates on a different premise. As the three examples analysed here indicate, the commodification of experience comprises a similar attempt to create scarcity or exclusivity. However, experience is oppositional to knowledge in that it is not easily reproducible, a fact noticed by the experience industry and its accompanying managerial ideology. In the three examples discussed here, ideas of reality and authenticity are evoked in explicit attempts to create unique experiences. Since each person is responsible for their own experience, experiences appear by definition as singular. This potentially enables not merely the extraction of rent but monopoly rent, a rent based specifically on the uniqueness of a commodity, in which discursive constructions play an important role (see Harvey, 2002). In the commodification of experience, capital increasingly distances itself from the actual moment of experience production (from haunted houses, to the Old Town, to slum tours) and relegates itself into a rentier position, overseeing the autonomous experience production that takes place outside the immediate control of capital. Although slum tours perhaps provide the most obvious example of such rent-seeking behaviour here, in the other examples a common is also put to work for capital, without compensation. Autonomist thought on biopolitical production reveals that what is put to work in the commodification of experience is not merely any particular emotion but our very affective capacity as such, our capacity for shaping ourselves and the world we live in our human potential. In being drawn into an environment governed by the interests of capital, and given symbolic material and suggestions on how to enact our freedom, affective capacity is reigned in and channelled into modes supportive of accumulation. This is expropriation of the affective common in which capital, by consciously framing our creative, life-building efforts, simultaneously robs us of our prerogative to autonomously shape the world for ourselves. This is an attempt to subjugate life to production in that it invites us to experience the entirety of our lives immersed in various forms of activities conducive to capital accumulation. Capital even finds ways of extracting rent on sociality as it is, without interfering in its progress. In the postindustrial context individuals grow up in the omnipresence of capital and its tactics. With the proliferation of experience for sale, spaces for non-commodified experience diminish. Focusing inwards on our subjective experiences, or enacting our social life within the confines provided by capital, is hardly likely to induce us to create forms of life autonomous from capital. Even slum tours, which could potentially serve as a wake-up call and thus mobilize to action against injustice, instead generally come across as offering existential quandaries that can be solved in terms of one-on-one encounters. What autonomist thought shows us is the extent to which capital today draws on, mobilizes and participates in recreating social life as a corollary to accumulation, beyond what the early Frankfurt school ever imagined. The question, as always, is how best to respond.

Conclusion
In this paper I have argued that the commodification of experience today encompasses not merely frivolous, abbreviated and affirmative forms of experience, but also more nuanced, embedded and challenging forms. This development comprises a response to the Frankfurt school-style critique of reduced forms of experience. The more complex and profound forms of experience to be found for sale today are consciously mobilized and manipulated in search of authenticity and uniqueness in a strategic attempt to avoid competition and thus be able to claim monopoly rent.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Murtola

17

These more complex and profound forms of commodified experience today are part of broader historical developments in the capitalist logic of accumulation. Autonomist thought highlights the increasing importance of immaterial elements for the valorization of capital and, in its emphasis on the expropriation of the common, it emphasizes rent-extraction as its strategy. Autonomism points to the increasing importance of subjectivities, social relations and forms of life as a basis of capital accumulation, both as input into the process and as its output. Here the commodification of experience not only serves as an example, but highlights the stakes involved. The Frankfurt school critique, although still potent, is inadequate for fully understanding all the aspects of the contemporary commodification of experience. Its conceptualization of commodified experience as abbreviated and frivolous does not confront the more enhanced forms of commodified experience that can be encountered today. By providing a broader politico-economic context for the commodification of experience today, autonomism shows how more complex and profound forms of experience are in no way immune to commodification and thus more of a new problem rather than an answer to the effects on life of the more superficial forms of experience for sale. Autonomism thus provides us with a more comprehensive understanding of the pervasiveness of the commodification of experience today. On the other hand, although autonomism flags affect as an important element in the capitalist logic of accumulation today, its treatment of the immaterial tends to focus on questions of information and knowledge rather than affect. Focusing on analysis of the commodification of experience puts the autonomist arguments on affect to the empirical test. Although it is difficult to make claims about the predominance of affect in the capitalist logic of accumulation today, analysis of the commodification of experience certainly points to its strategic importance, especially as an instrument of the production of scarcity or uniqueness and thus a basis for claims to monopoly rent. The analysis of the commodification of experience also presents autonomism with a challenge. As autonomists such as Hardt and Negri argue, affect may well be a potential source of liberation. However, as the analysis here shows, it can be put to work for capital in multiple ways. The traditional example encountered in autonomist texts affective labour is only one example of the role of affect in capital accumulation today. As analysis of the commodification of experience here shows, consumers also put their affective capacities to work, and pay for the privilege. Affect is also not merely a positive force. For example, the capacity for fear can also be instrumentalized and put to work as in the example of haunted houses. Sociality and community-building efforts can be framed within the narrow confines of the needs of a shopping mall. As the slum tours show, capital might not even have anything to do with actual experience production itself, yet it can claim rent off sociality and general humanity. Given such insidious and at times perhaps also well-meaning forms of commodification of experience the hope that affect alone might bring liberation seems overly optimistic. At the very least, affect needs to be approached in a more dialectical way. Although this paper has focused on the commodification of experience, on its subsumption under capital, it is important to remember as autonomist thought emphasizes in its use of the term biopolitics that the command of capital is of course never total. Resistance to these kinds of practices of commodification, as well as alternative value practices, are ongoing (cf. De Angelis, 2007). What I hope to have achieved here is a reminder that factors that at a glance may seem liberating, such as affect and human experience, are just as prone to expropriation as more obviously alienable traits. This, however, is no reason to stop the pursuit of autonomy from capital. Funding
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

18 References

Critical Sociology

Adair S (2010) The commodification of information and social inequality. Critical Sociology 36(2): 243263. Adorno T (1991) The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. London: Routledge. Adorno T (2005) Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life. Translated by EFN Jephcott. London: Verso. Adorno T and Horkheimer M (1997) The Dialectic of Enlightenment. Translated by J Cumming. London: Verso. Arvidsson A (2005) Brands: a critical perspective. Journal of Consumer Culture 5(2): 235258. Baran M (2008) Poorism: the economics of exploitation. Travel Weekly, 5 May. Barber B (2007) Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. London: Norton. Benjamin W (1999) Experience and poverty. Translated by R Livingstone. In: Jennings MW, Eiland H and Smith G (eds) Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Volume 2, part 2, 19311934. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 731736. Benjamin W (2003) On some motifs in Baudelaire. Translated by H Zohn. In: Eiland H and Jennings MW (eds) Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Volume 4, 19381940. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 313355. Blackout (2012) New Yorks Blackout haunted house extends dates in L.A. due to overwhelming demand. PR Newswire, 12 October. Blackout (2013) Blackout Haunted House Store. Available (consulted January 18 2013) at: http://store.blackouthh.com Bologna S (1977) The tribe of moles. In: Lotringer S and Marazzi C (eds) Autonomia: Post-Political Politics. Translated by Red Notes. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 3661. Boswijk A, Thijssen T and Peelen E (2007) The Experience Economy: A New Perspective. Amsterdam: Pearson Education Benelux. Bryman A (2004) The Disneyization of Society. London: SAGE. Clough PT (2010) The affective turn: political economy, biomedia, and bodies. In Gregg M and Seigworth GJ (eds) The Affect Theory Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 206225. Clough PT (2007) Introduction. In: Clough PT and Halley J (eds) The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 133. Conan N (2009) Poverty porn: education or exploitation? Talk of the Nation, 5 March. Crawford M (1992) The world in a shopping mall. In: Sorkin M (ed.) Variations on a Theme Park. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 330. De Angelis M (2007) The Beginning of History: Value Struggles and Global Capital. London: Pluto. Dufresne B (2010) Gullible travels: the ethics and economics of slum tours. Commonweal, 17 December. Dyson P (2012) Slum tourism: representing and interpreting reality in Dharavi, Mumbai. Tourism Geographies 14(2): 254274. Foucault M (2007) Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collge de France, 19771978. Translated by G Burchell. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Foucault M (2008) The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collge de France, 19781979. Translated by G Burchell. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Gilmore J and Pine J (2007) Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Gorz A (2010) The Immaterial: Knowledge, Value and Capital. Translated by C Turner. London: Seagull. Hardt M (1999) Affective labor. boundary 2 26(2): 89100. Hardt M (2010) The common in communism. In: Douzinas C and iek S (eds) The Idea of Communism. London: Verso, 131144. Hardt M and Negri A (2004) Multitude. London: Penguin. Hardt M and Negri A (2009) Commonwealth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

Murtola

19

Harvey D (2002) The art of rent: globalization, monopoly and the commodification of culture. Socialist Register 38: 93110. Harvey D (2010) A Companion to Marxs Capital. London: Verso. Haunted House Association (2010a) Haunted houses: Whats the attraction? PR Newswire, 16 July. Haunted House Association (2010b) Haunted houses scare up more business in spite of frightful economy. PR Newswire, 12 October. Hoby H (2011) American horror theatre: a hand slams into my neck and wrenches me through the darkness. The Observer, 4 December. Holloway J (2010) Crack Capitalism. London: Pluto. Horkheimer M (2004) Eclipse of Reason. London: Continuum. Jensen R (1999) The Dream Society: How the Coming Shift from Information to Imagination Will Transform Your Business. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Lancaster J (2007) Next stop, squalor. Smithsonian 37(2): 96105. Lazzarato M (1996) Immaterial labour. In: Virno P and Hardt M (eds) Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press, 133147. Lazzarato M (2004) From capital-labour to capital-life. Translated by V Fournier, A Virtanen and J Vhmki. ephemera 4(3): 187208. McElroy S (2011) Go with friends, or go it alone. New York Times, 28 October. Marcuse H (1972) One Dimensional Man. London: Abacus. Marcuse H (2009) Negations: Essays in Critical Theory. London: MayFlyBooks. Margolis M (2008) Staying among the have-nots. Newsweek, 26 May. Marx K (1976) Capital. Volume 1. Translated by B Fowkes. London: Penguin. Marx K (1993) Grundrisse. Translated by M Nicolaus. London: Penguin. Maxwell E (2012) Scaring up extreme Halloween chills. Variety 428(12): 34, 29 October. Mekawy M (2012) Responsible slum tourism: Egyptian experience. Annals of Tourism Research 39(4): 20922113. Murtola A-M (2010) Commodification of utopia: The lotus eaters revisited, Culture and Organization 16(1): 37-54. Murtola A-M (2011) Against Commodification: Experience, Authenticity, Utopia. Doctoral thesis. bo: bo Akademi University Press. Pine J and Gilmore J (1998) Welcome to the experience economy, Harvard Business Review (July-August): 97105. Pine J and Gilmore J (1999) The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Ritzer G (1996) The McDonaldization of Society: An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Ritzer G (1999) Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Rolfes M (2009) Poverty tourism: theoretical reflections and empirical findings regarding an extraordinary form of tourism. GeoJournal 75(5): 421442. Schmitt B (1999) Experiential Marketing: How to get Customers to Sense, Feel, Think, Act, and Relate to your Company and Brands. New York, NY: The Free Press. Schor J (2007) In defense of consumer critique: revisiting the consumption debates of the twentieth century. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 611: 1630. Schultze G (2000) Die Erlebnis-Gesellschaft. Frankfurt: Campus. Shiva V (1997) Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. Smilansky S (2009) Experiential Marketing: A Practical Guide to Interactive Brand Experiences. London: Kogan Page. Sorkin M (ed.) (1992) Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. New York, NY: Hill and Wang.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014

20

Critical Sociology

Tronti M (1965) The strategy of refusal. Translated by Red Notes. In Lotringer S and Marazzi C (eds) Autonomia: Post-Political Politics. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2835. Vercellone C (2010) The crisis of the law of value and the becoming-rent of profit. In: Fumagalli A and Mezzadra S (eds) Crisis in the Global Economy: Financial Markets, Social Struggles, and New Political Scenarios. New York, NY: Semiotext(e). Weiner E (2008) Slum visits: tourism or voyeurism? New York Times, 9 March. Wright S (2002) Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism. London: Pluto.

Downloaded from crs.sagepub.com at UNIV FED DO RIO GRANDE DO NOR on April 22, 2014