Producing Value Out of the Invaluable: A Critical/Cultural Perspective on the Live Streaming Industry in China

  • Sheng Zou Stanford University
Keywords: informational capitalism, live streaming, instrumental rationality, commodification, digital labour


This paper extends the critique of informational capitalism to increasingly commercialised cyberspace in China by examining the case of live streaming. Informed by Marxist and neo-Marxist theories, I set out to investigate how live streaming ushers in flexible paid labour online, and how informational capitalism cashes in on users’ affective engagement, locking them into a constant process of value production. Diving into the structure and affordances of live streaming platforms as well as users’ practices, I argue that live streaming in China manifests an emerging trend of capitalist enclosure in cyberspace, which has dire implications for people’s subjectivities and interactions. Three major implications are discussed, namely the reconfiguration of time and space for the production of value; the instrumentalisation of affects, bodies and human interactions; and the erosion of users’ freedom and individuality.