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Saturday, October 13 • 9:00am - 10:30am
Materialities of Digital Labour

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Yujie Chen
Through the examples of ride-hailing and food-delivery platforms in China, the paper offers an analysis on how on-demand service apps intersect with the existing social structural conditions and technological apparatus in becoming the new sites for labor management and activism. I examine qualitative data from interviews with workers and activists, participant observations, and media contents generated by and circulated among workers in both private groups and public-facing social media Accounts and online forums. The paper foregrounds workers’ voices and the wide range of their non-compliance, refusal, and sabotage behaviors. The paper argues that for platform workers, the repertoire of labor struggles and tactics of everyday resistance intertwine with the process of “learning to labor” (Willis, 1981) on the digital platforms which decontextualize the work process from its local social and cultural settings. The decontextualized work process and the absence of occupational trainings exploit and aggravate the long-standing lack of institutional social support for Chinese platform laborers. These leave them to learn to work by practice and trial-and-error. Nonetheless, workers’ constant challenge, contestation, and combat against the platform-defined labor process help redraw the scope of labor struggles in the platform society. The conclusion connects the dots from Chinese platform workers’ everyday resistance forms to wider landscape of digital labor activism and reflects on the potentials and hurdles for the local ‘single sparks’ to become a transnational ‘prairie fire’ of platform workers’ collective and connective actions.

Kelly Bergstrom
In this paper I explore the growing trend of posting videos to YouTube to explain the reasons for why an individual has quit their job, detailing a collection of 10 vlogs posted by 11 former BuzzFeed employees to explain their reasons for leaving the company. I argue that the vlogs made by ex-employees are a deliberate attempt to expose the invisible labour that is prevalent in the post-Internet media industry. By posting “Why I Left” vlogs, former employees reclaim their authorship of creative productions previously uploaded without individual attributions and instead credited to the faceless corporate monolith of “BuzzFeed”. Furthermore, these vlogs act as a means to subvert notoriety earned by being a (now former) public face of BuzzFeed to attract hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of viewers to announce their personal pivot and rebranding as content producers now working independently from the company that had launched them into Internet fame.

While perhaps not intentional, these vlogs ultimately act as a warning about the uneven playing field between employer and employee. Each year BuzzFeed posts record profits, and yet these vlogs illuminate how employees are actively prevented from being able to grow a personal brand beyond BuzzFeed, stifling future career prospects and additional sources of income. Ultimately this leaves BuzzFeed employees with the option to quit or to stagnate in place, or what Gaby Dunn (2015) stated are ultimately the two options for a BuzzFeed viral video star: “Get Rich, or Die Vlogging.’”

John Sullivan
Podcasting is currently undergoing a rapid process of formalization, thanks to the investments of legacy media firms in the ecosystem. Key to podcast formalization is the development of professionalism among amateur podcasters. This paper explores discourses of professionalism in podcasting by closely analyzing the discourse about podcast labor found in two popular, long-running weekly podcasts, School of Podcasting, hosted by Dave Jackson (launched in 2005) and The Audacity to Podcast hosted by Daniel J. Lewis (launched in 2010). In these podcasts, Lewis and Jackson dispense advice about how to manage and structure a weekly podcast, how to select the right equipment, how to create dynamic and radio-quality content, and, increasingly, how to monetize podcasts by working with advertisers and networks. These hosts actively construct a particular view of podcasting as an emergent, commercially viable industry that can serve as a full-time occupation for entrepreneurial amateurs. Underlying this discourse is a powerful and seductive message of meritocracy: that amateur podcasters can successfully compete with established industry players thanks to the absence of industry gatekeepers. These podcasts operate simultaneously as a kind of “skills guild” - reminiscent of earlier artisan guilds – offering technical and aesthetic training for solo podcasters and urging the development of a professional ethos surrounding the medium.

Samantha Shorey
Technology design is both scientific and cultural work. It is informed by scientific fields—engineering, computer science—and it produces the objects that shape almost every aspect of our daily lives. Since the early 2000s, “making” has emerged as a new and possibly radical method of technology design that engages both hobbyists and technology professionals in creative activity outside of corporate hierarchies. Making is a distinctly material practice. It integrates the digital world of computer programming with the physical world of solder, saws, and thread. The proposed paper looks to the tools, materials, and skills of making—and asks what they can tell us about the uncertain place of women in contemporary technology design. It is informed by two years of ethnographic field research at a university makerspace in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. I argue that the desire to define making as $2 of innovation—rather than a varied set of activities such as invention, creation, craft, modification, and repair—threatens to recreate gender disparity in making communities.

avatar for Samantha Shorey

Samantha Shorey

PhD Student, University of Washington
I'm a design ethnographer. Let's talk about: making/makerspace, women in STEM (presently and in the past!), craft, history of technology, space travel.

John Sullivan

Professor of Media and Communication, Muhlenberg College
I do research on online cultural labor, specifically podcasting.

Saturday October 13, 2018 9:00am - 10:30am EDT
Sheraton - Drummond West