Marxian value theory and the ‘crisis of measurability’
: a case study of work in the creative industries in the UK and the Netherlands

  • Harry Pitts

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis critically analyses the conditions, social relations and practices that make measurement possible in the contemporary workplace. In so doing, it argues for the relevancy of Marx’s theory of value to the study of contemporary labour. Using the latter, I stress the importance of measurement as means of relating what goes on in the workplace with what goes on in the market. I do so through a case study of work in the creative industries. I use an interpretation of Marx’s theory of value to confront the empirical problem of how measurability persists where work is hard to quantify and commensurate. In so doing, I critique the postoperaist claim that immaterial labour precipitates a ‘crisis of measurability’. In responding to this claim, I draw upon the New Reading of Marx and Open Marxism. Together, these suggest that the law of value relates to the abstraction of labour in the production and exchange of commodities, against the traditionalist labour theory of value which stresses labour's concrete expenditure. Secondly, they tell us that this abstract labour rests upon, practically and historically, a set of continuing antagonistic social relations of production. I employ these strands of Marxian theory to understand work in the creative industries. I interview workers in graphic design, branding and advertising agencies in the UK and Netherlands. The case study uncovers one principal means of measurement: billable hours. Against the difficulty of quantifying creative labour, the hours recorded seldom relate to the reality they claim to represent. Nonetheless, the measure to which they are subject brings into existence the measured, structuring how work is performed. What renewed strands of Marxian value theory show us is that measurability is imbricated less in direct labour than in relations that include the workplace only as their carrier: market-mediated social forms of commodity exchange and monetary value.
Date of Award1 Mar 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorAna Cecilia Dinerstein (Supervisor) & Jeffrey Henderson (Supervisor)

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