[iDC] Hyperemployed or Feminized Labor?

Alice E. Marwick amarwick at gmail.com
Sun Nov 17 22:54:10 UTC 2013

Hi Karen,

This is a wonderful post, and dovetails with much mainstream feminist
criticism of the labor of "household management" that even
upper-middle-class women who avoid the "second shift" of housework
through maids and nannies (another form of feminized, often
quasi-legal and definitely exploitive employment) cannot avoid. In
other words, that the labor of keeping the household going, not only
by doing the work of the household (washing clothes or cooking meals)
but by managing the household, takes up valuable mental space for
women that many men are able to avoid.

See: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/the-difference-between-a-happy-marriage-and-miserable-one-chores/273615/

However, the sociologists who studied this referred to this as "mental
labor." Certainly the distinction between "employment" and "care" does
not presume, I believe, that employment does not require the type of
"emotional labor" that Arlie Hochschild described. I, personally,
prefer "labor" over "employment" because, as you point out, women (and
plenty of men as well) have always performed unpaid labor that is not
considered employment, but I think there are more similarities between
the histories you describe than differences.

To Ian's comment:

>we can better depict the present circumstances in a manner
> that those who aren't already convinced of its troublesome nature might
> appreciate.

Yes. I do think that I, personally, would love to see gender (&
race/sexuality/ability) issues placed more centrally at the heart of
digital labor discussions. For instance, in Jared Lanier's last book
he argues that people should be able to own the fruit of their online
labors. This is all well and good, but it ignores the fact that the
market values certain commodified representations over others-- for
example, the most lucrative representations for young women will be
sexualized, if not pornographic.


In another topic, Karen, on your blog post you say that the New School
is holding a digital labor event in November, but I can find no
information about it online.  Trebor, can you chime in?


On Sun, Nov 17, 2013 at 1:10 PM, Ian Bogost <ian.bogost at lmc.gatech.edu> wrote:
> Thanks for all this thoughtful evaluation, Karen.
> What I am curious about, however, is the use of the term “hyperemployment.”
> As Trebor suggested, the term is contradictory for workers who are refused
> the designation of “employee.” Trebor mentioned crowd-sourced labor, but the
> fight simply to be recognized as an employee has been a long and
> well-documented struggle for workers who were excised from the National
> Labor Relations Act, namely agricultural and domestic workers. While there
> is agency in simply offering the term “employment” to certain activities
> (waged or unwaged), I am wondering if what Bogost is drawing attention to
> has less to do with “employment” than with the uneven redistribution and
> privatization of the labor of social reproduction, an antagonism that
> feminist theorists have been writing about for more than thirty years.
> Bogost writes, “hyperemployment offers a subtly different way to
> characterize all the tiny effort we contribute to Facebook and Instagram and
> the like. It’s not just that we’ve been duped into contributing free value
> to technology companies (although that’s also true), but that we’ve tacitly
> agreed to work unpaid jobs for all these companies.” This tacit agreement,
> however, extends beyond social media and e-mail and is really a form of
> housework and maintenance for our daily lives. In that regard, I wonder if
> calling the cozy arrangement between digital technologies, data economies,
> and invisible labor “employment” runs the danger of side-stepping the deeper
> (gendered and racialized) antagonisms inherent in the distinction between
> what is considered labor and what is considered “care.”
> This is probably the commonest criticism of my piece, and I do understand
> it. However, it was a calculated gambit. I think it can be turned around:
> does calling the cozy arrangement you describe "exploitation" do anything to
> overcome or even resolve those antagonisms?
> One of the reasons I wanted to write this piece and explore a different
> verbal frame is because I think the answer is "no." While this one salvo
> isn't enough to lead to definitive conclusions, framing
> labor-without-benefit as employment might help show exactly the
> contradiction you and Trebor (and others) highlight. I hope it's clear that
> we don't disagree on the unfortunate scarcity of "true" employment. It's
> really two sides of the same coin: Trebor might say, hey, these jobs don't
> bear some of the key features of employment! And I might respond, yes, and
> even weirder they simultaneously exhibit MORE of the key features of
> employment too!
> This is also where I think my argument diverges from Crary's 24/7,
> incidentally. Rather than argue that such a reality is no longer possible or
> desirable, I'm suggesting that recasting our weird worklives as lives of
> hyperemployment, we can better depict the present circumstances in a manner
> that those who aren't already convinced of its troublesome nature might
> appreciate.
> Ian

Alice E. Marwick, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication and Media Studies
Fordham University
(718) 817-4861
amarwick at fordham.edu

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