Plenary Talk about “Prosumption on the Internet in Contemporary Capitalism” at the European Sociological Association’s Conference 2011 (Geneva, September 7th-10th, 2011)

The European Sociological Association holds its 10th bi-annual conference on the topic of “Social Relations in Turbulent Times” from September 7th-10th, 2011, in Geneva. Given the persistent crisis of contemporary capitalism, a conference focusing on this theme is of crucial relevance.

On September 9th, 11:00-12:30, I will give a plenary talk about “Prosumption on the Internet in Contemporary Capitalism”. 

The ESA describes its conference in the following words: “In the wake of the ‘credit crunch’, one of the worst financial crashes in modern history, the economic system has been shaken to its core. European economies teeter on the brink of collapse: The rest, fearing the domino effect, rush to prop them up. [...] On the one hand, the present conjuncture points towards a future of commotion and unrest, of anomie and alienation but on the other it may announce novel forms of social, cultural and emotional life that grow out of new solidarities? How we face up to the challenges posed by the turbulence and unpredictability of our times is the key dilemma facing contemporary social analyses. The European Sociological Association invites scholars from around the globe to come together, in Geneva in September 2011 to debate the most pressing sociological questions of the day”.

Prosumption on the Internet in Contemporary Capitalism
Christian Fuchs
ESA Conference 2011: Plenary Session 2.6: Media Consumption in Turbulent Times
Geneva, 9th of September 2011, 11.00 – 12.30

Are the prosumption of information and communication with the help of digital media in contemporary capitalism new forms of participation or forms of exploitation? Who benefits from global Internet prosumption? What is the role of class, crisis and participatory democracy in contemporary society and its media landscape?
Prosumption is the convergence of production and consumption. I will discuss the prosumption concept in relation to the approaches of Karl Marx, Alvin Toffler, George Ritzer and Manuel Castells. A critique of Castells’ “theory” of communication power in the “network society” will be presented.
The idea of authors like Henry Jenkins or Yochai Benkler that online prosumption (“social media”, “web 2.0”) has resulted in a “participatory Internet” will be criticized. It will in contrast be stressed that in the contemporary situation of global capitalist crisis it is important to remember the socialist origins of the concept of participatory democracy (Crawford Macpherson, Carole Pateman) and of Jürgen Habermas’ concept of the public sphere when reflecting about the Internet.
Internet prosumption will be discussed by analyzing to which extent the following web platforms advance participatory or exploitative prosumption: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, WikiLeaks.
It will be maintained that in order to understand social relations offline and online in the current turbulent times a renewal of Karl Marx’s theory and of critical political economy is needed. The contributions to class theory by Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Erik Olin Wright and Michael Hardt/Antonio Negri will be discussed. A specific model of class in contemporary capitalist society will be used for explaining and criticizing the exploitation of Internet prosumers. Based on the theory tradition of the critical political economy of the media and communication, the concept of Internet prosumer commodification will be introduced.
Based on Slavoj Žižek’s, David Harvey’s and Alain Badiou’s recent contributions, I suggest that we need to strengthen the commons and to create a commons-based Internet in order to democratize prosumption, communication and society.


Christian Fuchs holds the chair professorship in Media and Communication Studies at Uppsala University’s Department of Informatics and Media. His fields of interest and research are: critical theory, social theory, political economy of the media and communication, critical theory of media & society, Critical Internet Studies, ICTs and society, information society studies. He is author of many publications in these fields, including the following books: “Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age” (Routledge 2008, paperback 2011), “Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies” (Routledge 2011), “Internet and Surveillance: The Challenges of Web 2.0 and Social Media” (collected volume, Routledge 2011, edited together with Kees Boersma, Anders Albrechtslund and Marisol Sandoval). Fuchs is co-ordinator of the research project “Social Networking Sites in the Surveillance Society” (funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF) and management committee member of the EU COST Action “Living in Surveillance Societies”. He is editor of the journal “tripleC (cognition, communication, co-operation): Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society” and board member of the Unified Theory of Information Research Group. Website:












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