Subjects of value and digital personas: reshaping the bourgeois subject, unhinging property from personhood

Abstract

Social media may have brought about changes in our understanding of property and subjectivity. Contrary to the rhetoric of ‘sharing’ and ‘disruption’ associated with it, this paper proposes that these changes are far more dependent upon existing class-, race- and gender-based constructions of the subject and property ownership than is often assumed. Drawing upon interviews and findings from a study combining qualitative methods with Software Studies approaches, we argue that the bourgeois paradigm of ‘possessive individualism’ has been extended and capitalized through platforms such as Facebook. In doing so, the potential for capital to extract value from possessions and capacities (such as land and labour) has been extended to capture value from personal attributes (as data) through processes of curation and aggregation. In doing so, the ambiguity between property and propriety upon which the bourgeois subject was originally founded is expanded whilst simultaneously extending and exploiting the inequalities that this facilitates.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The seventeenth century legal adjudication from which the “fit and proper” proprietor emerged was based on whether someone could be judged as “fit and proper” as a slave owner.

  2. 2.

    However, whiteness as an undisputed value is undercut by relations of class, gender and sexuality.

  3. 3.

    We found exactly the same distinctions being draw over the use of time in one of our other ESRC research projects with the audiences of reality TV programmes. For the modern subject of value, watching TV was seen to be a waste of time. But time can only be wasted if it has a value in the first place.

  4. 4.

    Deleuze (1992) speaks of “dividuals”, subjects who are continually modulated to enable infinite variation. Contrary to the coherence upon which the subject of value was and is premised, for Deleuze people are lines, threading together different lines, endlessly divisible and reducible to data representation, not in-divisible entities.

  5. 5.

    See Barron (2013) on how FOSS developers have also instituted new forms of property and new modes of profit creation around software that are in the process of being adapted for use in other economic sectors.

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Funding

The research for this project was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council Grant ES/KO10786/1.

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Correspondence to Simon Yuill.

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Skeggs, B., Yuill, S. Subjects of value and digital personas: reshaping the bourgeois subject, unhinging property from personhood. Subjectivity 12, 82–99 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41286-018-00063-4

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Keywords

  • Facebook
  • Class
  • Property
  • Capital