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This essay examines the music industry in post-apartheid South Africa as a mode of “immaterial production.” Following the work of Italian autonomous Marxist theorists, Steingo argues that because this form of production is decentered, boundless, and immediately social, it is closely associated with empire. Steingo then traces the idea, fairly common in autonomous Marxist theory, that music anticipated the entire framework of immaterial production, and he investigates the consequences of this idea. Looking at the economy of post-apartheid Johannesburg, Steingo shows that music is often conceived as metonymic of urban labor practices. He concludes by arguing that if the hegemonic form of contemporary production is performative and in a sense “musical,” this includes cultural policy and discourse about musical practices themselves. As such, the boundlessness of empire simultaneously reconfigures the ontology of music and the very nature of audition, that is, of what it means to hear empire. 

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