[iDC] taking a page from the book of other non traditional workers

Betsy Wissinger betsywissinger at gmail.com
Mon Nov 18 21:21:30 UTC 2013

I would like to comment on the thread started by Karen Gregory today:

Riffing off of Karen Gregory’s thoughtful post from earlier in this thread,
this statement brought to mind another type of worker not often designated
as an ‘employee.’ Gregory writes:

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.”

A group that comes immediately to mind are fashion models, who have
traditionally been denied employees’ rights because they were argued to be
free agents by the companies that managed them. Perhaps crowdsourcing
participants treated as independent contractors could take a page from
their book.

Long denied the rights of employees, the line was that models were managed
free agents, not employees. After years of talking about it, trying and
failing at it, and then, ultimately, succeeding at organizing and gaining
some traction, activists in the industry were able to convince a court of
law that models were indeed workers and in fact, deserved legal protection
(specifically child labor laws) [
It was an uphill battle, especially since existing attitudes assumed this
was ‘fun’ or ‘cool’ work [
work that seemed ludicrous to view as precarious or employing people in
need of any assistance [lhttp://
Yet models are the prime glamorizors of working all the time [
http://joc.sagepub.com/content/9/2/273.full.pdf], making over exposure and
constant availability to work look desirable, fun, and something we should
all want to do.  They have been giving it away for free, laboring on ‘spec’
for years, and making the whole process look cool.

Additionally, what do we make of the desire to step into the klieg light of
overexposure? FOMO is not just a youth based malaise. A sample of the
conversation overheard in the coffee shop I am in right now, populated by a
smattering of 40-something moms doing their kaffe klatching/work:

“I have all of these emails and I don’t even know who they are; I’ve got
800 contacts and I can’t even find the dry cleaner.”

“If we can work the information architecture properly, we can take
something super complex and make it simple, accessible, and useful to our
constituency, our online base, to get parents more involved.”

As Mimi Nguyen has observed:

“the quantification of the self is solidified as a distributed quality of
commodity capitalism. If evidence of being a person is becoming a brand,
evidence of becoming a *good* brand is your willingness to sell your labor
for free, and to more consumers. *How many units of yourself can you move?”*

*Nguyen has a point here with regard to self-branding via the web, but as I
have written elsewhere, the quanitified self works on a deeper level as
well. As the fitbit wearing, heart rate and brain wave trackers employ
their melons and self monitoring t-shirts to gain control over themselves
and their energetic outputs in pursuit of the body beautiful and the most
efficiently focused mind, they either miss or choose to ignore the
quantities of information and energy they are giving away for free. So,
when talking about digital labor, over exposure, and hyperemployment, we
also need to think not only about social analytics, but bio analytics as
well. *

Elizabeth Wissinger PhD
Associate Professor of Sociology
BMCC/City University of New York

what I have been up to:
(WSQ Fashion Issue is OUT!!!
(my book
Fashioning Models:
(Editorial Board:
(paneling on fashion and politics:
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