Hardt, Michael. “Affective Labor.” Boundary 2, vol. 26, no. 2, Summer 1999, pp. 89–100.
In this widely referenced essay, Michael Hardt argues that, after a long time of being considered anti-capitalist modes of production, the capitalist system is increasingly instrumentalizing the production and circulation of affect. Hardt identifies this shift as “immaterial labor,” which he subdivides in interactive/responsive- and affective- labor. The former, he explains, groups “high-value” tasks that involve “problem-solving, problem-identifying, and strategic brokering activities” that facilitate interaction between users and their environments (95). On the other hand, affective labor is “certainly entirely immersed in the corporeal, the somatic” and invested in immaterial production: “a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, passion–even a sense of connectedness or community” (96 emphasis mine). This division is also gendered, especially in that affective labor is broadly understood as feminized labor. Hardt ends this 1999 essay by arguing that in spite of the risks inherent in the capitalist absorption of affective labor, there might also be opportunities for the creation of alternative modes of life (what he calls “biopower from below”). Although Hardt does not frame it as such, his characterization of affective labor foregrounds its performative qualities (as well as his lower valuation of it in relation to its interactive/responsive sibling). As I move through this collection, I’m reflecting on what performance studies theories and methods bring to the analysis of affective labor that cultural theory cannot.
To read Michael Hardt’s full essay, click here.