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Podcast: Dave Elder-Vass on Prosumption, Appropriation and the Ontology of Economic Form

This seminar with Dave Elder-Vass (Loughborough) took place on Tuesday, January 27, 2015. You can listen to a recording of it here:

Prosumption – the unpaid performance of productive work by ‘consumers’ who thus help commercial businesses to generate a profit – is perhaps the most studied of the many hybrid forms of economic practice that have proliferated in the digital economy. A number of critical accounts have analysed prosumption in terms of Marx’s labour theory of value, suggesting for example that as prosumers do useful work for free they are infinitely exploited by the firms that profit as a result. But such accounts analyse the digital economy in terms that were derived from the nineteenth century factory – and terms that were highly questionable even in that context.

The spectacular mismatch between this model of capitalism and the case of prosumption exposes the inadequacy of the standard monolithic conception of capitalism as a homogeneous and universal contemporary economic form – a conception that at a certain level is also shared by the marketised discourse of mainstream economics. We need a new ontology of economic form that goes beyond the totalising concepts of mode of production and market economy and instead provides us with tools for understanding the sheer diversity of forms of economic practice in the contemporary economy. This paper offers the concept of appropriative practices as a contribution to such an ontology and applies it to the case of prosumption.

Dave Elder-Vass is a senior lecturer in sociology at Loughborough University, where he teaches a variety of core sociology modules. He also offers an MA module on Digital Economies and an innovative undergraduate option that consists entirely of debates between students on popular recent books. He is available to supervise PhD students, particularly those with an interest in social theory, critical realism, digital social developments or economic sociology.

Previously, he spent three years as a British Academy post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex, after completing his PhD at Birkbeck, University of London. Before returning to the academic world he was a senior IT executive in a major UK retail business.

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