[iDC] Hyperemployed or Feminized Labor?

Mark Andrejevic markbandrejevic at gmail.com
Mon Nov 18 06:01:16 UTC 2013

Thanks to Trebor for jump-starting the discussion and to Ian for agreeing
to the use of the hyperemployment piece as a thought-provoking opening
gambit. To the recent response, I 'd add that Karen's important observation
about the "uneven redistribution and privatization of the labor of social
reproduction" is usefully complemented by Laurie Ouellette's exploration of
the ways in which gender shapes the associated infiltration of market
imperatives into forms of online participation, extending "a "‘second
shift’ of affective and domestic labour into women’s media reception

Apart from that, what looks useful to me about the notion of
"hyperemployment" is the way in which it marks a shared logic across (but
not a conflation of) the various activities that Ian describes, ranging
from the casualization of the workforce to the generation of personal data
of various kinds. I'd be tempted to add the category of hyperexploitation
to mark the forms of-redoubling and re-trebling associated with the
interactive economy: even one's lack of employment (and the various
activities associated with it) generates data that can be put to use, and
forms of data generated for one purpose in one context can be continually
repurposed. Data about what workers do at work is redoubled for the
purposes of evaluation, security, future employment, and so on. Data about
when and where you sleep (captured by portable, networked, digital devices)
can play a role in forms of geo-location driven sorting and marketing. In
interactive contexts, the various activities described by Ian are redoubled
reflexively in the form of data about them, and the uses of these continue
to expand. It's true that free-to-air commercial TV relied on a related
logic (now, of course, the majority of viewers in the US pay -- and they're
*still* the product) to ad-supported Web sites, but of course the latter
can generate much more data and find myriad ways of repurposing it
indefinitely: not just for target marketing but for social sorting in the
realms of education, health care, and, of course, employment.

Having said that, I'd be interested in seeing more argument/evidence
backing up the claim that the notion of hyperemployment might be more
likely to gain critical purchase than that of exploitation (because the
latter sounds so retro-Marxist?) or hyperexploitation
(retro-Baudrillardian?). Is this because of the way the term fits into the
chain of associations with "unemployment, underemployment and
overemployment"? Because the notion of employment carries with it
associations of "being used"? Because it taps into a sense of fatigue and
overwork rather than with threateningly radical political claims?

thanks for the provocation....

On Mon, Nov 18, 2013 at 4:10 AM, 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
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