What Is Digital Labour? What Is Digital Work? What’s their Difference? And Why Do These Questions Matter for Understanding Social Media?

  • Christian Fuchs
  • Sebastian Sevignani Unified Theory of Information Research Group, Austria
Keywords: Digital Labour, Facebook, Social Media, Karl Marx, Political Economy of the Media and Communication


This paper deals with the questions: What is digital labour? What is digital work? Based on Marx’s theory, we distinguish between work and labour as anthropological and historical forms of human activity. The notion of alienated labour is grounded in a general model of the work process that is conceptualized based on a dialectic of subject and object in the economy that we present in the form of a model, the Hegelian-Marxist dialectical triangle of the work process. Various aspects of a Marxist theory of work and labour, such as the notions of abstract and concrete labour, double-free labour, productive labour, the collective worker and general work are presented. Labour is based on a fourfold alienation of the human being. After these concepts are introduced, they are used for discussing the notions of digital labour and digital work. The presentation is on the one hand general and on the other hand uses Facebook as a concrete case for explaining how digital labour functions. Digital work is the organisation of human experiences with the help of the human brain, digital media and speech in such a way that new products are created. Digital labour is the valorisation dimension of digital work. We conclude that we require the transformation of digital labour into digital work, a true social media revolution that makes “social media” truly and fully social. We also argue why in our view work is not the same as labour by discussing the concept of playful work and pointing out limits of concepts such as antiwork, postwork and zerowork.

Author Biography

Christian Fuchs
Professor of Social Media at the University of Westminster's Communication and Media Research Institute