Value Proposition: Canadian Freelance Writers at the Intersection of Exploitation and Alienation


  • Robert Bertuzzi University of St. Michael's College, University of Toronto


Over several years now, scholars have redressed a deficit in critical communication research in Canada as it relates to questions involving cultural labourers. One such example of this type of inquiry pertains to the deteriorating working conditions of freelance writers. Their overall penury has revivified interest in Marxian categories of analysis, especially around his concept of exploitation. Yet in 25 interviews I conducted with freelance writers, what was demonstrable was the need to extend this notion of a “missing Marx” by incorporating other concepts from his oeuvre, in particular, alienation. Historically, a dichotomous rendering has prevailed as to whether exploitation or alienation provides a better explanatory framework for understanding the work-life histories of labour. Ultimately, I argue rather than privileging one over the other, the two phenomena operate relationally—mediated by the category of value. Value generation remains rooted in longstanding techniques constitutive of the journalistic labour process. To that end, this analysis pays particular attention to technologies of the intellect contributing to the exploitation and alienation freelance writers undergo.