, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 82–99 | Cite as

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

  • Beverly Skeggs
  • Simon YuillEmail author
Original Article


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.


Facebook Class Property Capital 



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


  1. Andrejevic, M. 2013. Infoglut: How Too Much Information Is Changing the Way We Think and Know. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong, N. 1987. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Back, L., B. Farrell, and B. Vandermass. 2005. A Human Service For Global Citizens Enquiry into the Service Provision at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate at Lunar House. London: South London Citizens.Google Scholar
  4. Balibar, E. 2013. On the Politics of Human Rights. Constellations 20: 18–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barron, A. 2013. Free Software Production as Critical Social Practice. Economy and Society 42 (4): 597–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baucom, I. 2005. Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery and the Philosophy of History. Durham and London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Butler, J. 1997. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Canguilhem, G. 1991. The Normal and the Pathological. Translated by C.R. Fawcett and R.S. Cohen. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  9. Cohen, G.A. 1995. Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cubitt, S. 2014. Telecommunication Networks: Economy, Ecology, Rule. Theory, Culture & Society 31 (7/8): 185–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Davies, M. 1998. The Proper: Discourses of Purity. Law and Critique ix (2): 147–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dayan, C. 2011. The Law is a White Dog. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dean, J. 2014. Communicative Capitalism and Class Struggle. Spheres: Journal for Digital Cultures #1 Politics after Networks.Google Scholar
  14. Deleuze, G. 1992. Postscript on the Societies of Control, vol. 59, 3–7. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  15. Deville, J. 2012. Regenerating market attachments: consumer credit debt collection and the capture of affect. Journal of Cultural Economy 5 (4): 423–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Foucault, M. 2001. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Translated by R. Howard. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. du Gay, P. 1996. Consumption and Identity at Work. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  18. Gehl, R. 2014. Reverse Engineering Social Media: Software, Culture, and Political Economy in New Media Capitalism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Goriunova, O. 2016. The Digital Subject: Data and Persons in Calculative Infrastructures. Theory, Culture and Society, forthcoming. The paper given at “Value and Values”: Interaction, Infrastructures and Accumulation, Conference Goldsmiths, University of London (3 December).Google Scholar
  20. Gunn, R. 1995. What Do We Owe to the Scots: Reflections on Caffentzis, the Property Form and Civilisation. Common Sense 17: 39–68.Google Scholar
  21. Hands, J. 2013. Introduction: Politics, Power and ‘Platformativity’. Culture Machine, 14. Accessed 3 Mar 2018.
  22. Harris, C.I. 1993. Whiteness as Property. Harvard Law Review 106 (8): 1707–1791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Herman, D. 1994. Rights of Passage: Struggles for Lesbian and Gay Legal Equality. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lapavitsas, C. 2013. Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  25. Locke, J. (1963/1980). Two Treatises of Government, Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  26. Macpherson, C.B. 1962. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Martin, R. 2002. Financialization of Daily Life. Philadephia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Marx, K. (1844/1975). Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Early Writings. Harmondsworth, Penguin.Google Scholar
  29. Marx, K. 1857/1970. The German Ideology. London: Lawrence and Wishart.Google Scholar
  30. McKenzie, J. 2001. Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance. Routledge: New York and London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. O’Neil, C. 2016. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  32. Patterson, O. 1982. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Radin, M.J. 1993. Reinterpreting Property. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  34. Robinson, B. 2014. With a Different Marx: Value and the Contradictions of Web 2.0 Capitalism. The Information Society 31 (1): 44–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rose, N. 1989. Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Rose, C.M. 1994. Property and persuasion: Essays on the history, theory, and rhetoric of ownership. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Skeggs, B. 2004a. Class, Self, Culture. Routledge: London.Google Scholar
  38. Skeggs, B. 2004b. The Re-branding of Class. In Rethinking Class: Culture, Identities, Lifestyle, ed. Fiona Devine, Mike Savage, John Scott, and Rosemary Crompton, 46–67. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  39. Skeggs, B. 2009. The Moral Economy of Person Production: The Class Relations of Self-Performance on ‘Reality’ Television. Sociolocical Review 57 (4): 626–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Skeggs, B., and H. Wood. 2012. Reacting to Reality Television: Performance, Audience, Value. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Skeggs, B., and Yuill, S. 2015a. The methodology of a multi-model project examining how Facebook infrastructures social relations. Information, Communication & Society. ISSN 1369-118X.Google Scholar
  42. Skeggs, B., and Yuill, S. 2015b. Capital experimentation with person/a formation: how Facebook’s monetization refigures the relationship between property, personhood and protest. Information, Communication & Society 380–39. ISSN 1369-118X.Google Scholar
  43. Steedman, C. 1986. Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives. London: Virago.Google Scholar
  44. Strathern, M. 1992. After Nature: English Kinship in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Taylor, C. 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Turow, J. 2012. The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Wark, M., A. Galloway, and E. Thacker. 2013. Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Mediation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  48. Zuckerberg, M. 2013. Is Connectivity a Human Right. Facebook, Accessed 11 Aug 2016.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, GoldsmithsUniversity of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations