Posted on | November 16, 2012 | No Comments
Call for Submissions
Interdisciplinary Conference HDEA – TCS
ICTs and Work: the United States at the Origin of the Dissemination of Digital Capitalism
Université Paris Sorbonne, 29-30 May 2013
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have revolutionized work practices: the acquisition, processing and storage of data thanks to hardware, software, and networks have changed the face of work in offices and factories. Their impact has been felt beyond the walls of traditional companies’ spaces, resulting in the modification of time and space constraints at work and in the constant blurring of the frontier between private and work life. The impact of ICT is often viewed in Manichean terms: some exalt the benefits of new technologies in terms of gains in interactivity, autonomy and creativity for employees, including atypical employees such as “independent contractors”, while others warn against increased stress due to constant demands, real-time control of working activities and surveillance of workplace interactions.
While pros and cons of the use of ICT at work are widely debated, there is markedly less interrogation of what has made its existence and dissemination possible. The global dimension of professional uses of ICTs makes them look universal and, so to speak, ahistorical. Yet these uses have a precise origin: individuals have elaborated, reoriented, and disseminated these new techniques in specific places and at identifiable moments. Some of these practices refer directly to US cultural practices and ideologies. Moreover, the growing adoption of ICTs goes hand in hand with deep changes in labor markets such as flexibility, cost-cutting, casualization of work and deregulation, which ICTs have contributed to amplify, a phenomenon largely originating in the US. Further, the United States has continued to play a major role in the development, the dissemination and the control of ICTs, while the extension of the mediasphere has been accompanied by a corresponding extension of the anglosphere.
It is therefore indispensible to re-territorialize the issue of ICTs. What have been, historically, the economic and sociological bases for the development and dissemination into the work sphere of those technologies, which carry with them the “new spirit of capitalism” (Boltanski and Chiappello 1999), or “digital capitalism” (Schiller 1999), but also that of freeware and digital commons such as Wikipedia. How did they interact, in synergy and conflict, with other social facts? The globalization of practices also raises the issue of interculturality, as various cultures become involved in a process of appropriation and modification of the globalized US culture, which ICTs have been so influential in diffusing.
We encourage contributions that engage with the role of the United States in the development of ICT at work, including:
- Entrepreneurial rhetoric and the deployment of ICTs.
- The relationship between ICTs and neoliberal deregulation and delocalization.
- Vectors of dissemination: management manuals, trade shows, public policies, media, awareness raising campaigns, seminars, industry rivalry (eg. Apple vs. Microsoft), model rivalry (eg. proprietary vs. free software).
- Pre-existing modes of flattened and networked organizations and soft control in the US (advertising agencies and research projects are an example) and their interaction with the development of ICTs-related modes of work organization.
- Emergence of new professional types such as the hacker and their set of values of expert autonomy, sharing and transparent exchange that contradict the values of capitalism but echo US cultural entrepreneurial values of self-reliance, DIY and distrust of institutions.
- ICTs and masculine domination: the impact of technical changes on gender roles at work.
- The role of consumers: from consumerism to prosumerism.
- The governance of networks (including regulation through legal licences) and the US legal tradition.
Please send submissions to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and affiliation.
Abstracts for papers should be 250 words.
Abstract submission date: December 15, 2012.
Applicants will be advised by January 15, 2013.
Posted on | November 5, 2012 | 7 Comments
Here is the start of a paper I’m working on for the ‘Data, Memory, Territory’ workshop at UWS in November. It is lonely writing in a foreign hotel room! So I post it here in case anyone has any feedback. Given the frame for the event I’m hoping to develop the relationship between time, mastery and territory, including the imposition of temporality and control in the colonial sense that I think Dourish and Mainwaring mean in this paper (pdf). More thoughts welcome.
Measuring productivity through GTD and life-hacking
‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) and ‘life-hacking’ applications allow users to accomplish their goals and reclaim appropriate space-time perception in the face of network culture’s immersive and distracting potential. Through a range of measures, from shutting down email and non-priority communication to quantifying peak performance periods for maximum efficiency, GTD apps facilitate the pleasures of individual productivity. With names like ‘SelfControl,’ ‘Omnifocus’, ‘Rescue Time’ and ‘Freedom’, their intent is to offer liberation as much as consolation: to provide mastery over extraneous matters and the fallibility of memory to ensure optimal work flow.
This new software industry solves the difficulty workers and individuals face in the battle against new media technologies’ distracting potential. But it is also a technological solution to an ontological and empirical problem. The networked nature of contemporary work makes it possible to deliver more information than ever before, and hence more requests for employees’ attention than it is possible to action. This poses significant risks to the wellbeing of workers faced with the psychological challenge of managing information and communication requests largely on their own. GTD apps suggest that access to the plenitude of data available in online networks can lead to an inability to accomplish routine tasks, whether professional or domestic (as the application ‘Remember the Milk’ illustrates). Chronic, habitual online connectivity – our compulsion to connect – raises important questions about interest, self-surveillance, agency and will.
Emanating from the male-dominated fields of IT design and hacker subcultures, GTD illustrates the shift towards ‘algorithmic living’. The services provided by productivity apps include turning human behaviour into data and code for measurement, and thus potential adjustment and improvement, through a quantified self. In this sense, the connection between GTD and hacking lifestyles dating back to the beginnings of the World Wide Web require exploration. The GTD worldview approaches personal and professional tasks alike as challenges to be overcome through efficient programming. It rests on an innate technological optimism that has characterised key moments in the history of the Internet. What this latest manifestation of tech-utopia suggests is that there may be a growing section of the population for whom the ability to act without the prompting of computer platforms is either undesirable or unthinkable. In practice, GTD applications respond to as much as they may also exacerbate the fallibility of human memory in the face of data overload.
To focus on the technological dimensions of GTD alone however is to miss some significant lineages that also assist in understanding its function. ‘Getting Things Done’ is one of the most successful titles in the broader suite of time management publications that have been a feature of office life over the course of many decades. GTD owes a debt to this longer legacy of management self-help and discourses of professionalism that typified mid-century modernity – the classic period of Fordist production. As the ranks of middle management swelled in the organization era, the genre of business self-help served as a training ground for a generally male business class seeking to secure reputational capital and the benefits of life-long employment. In flexible, decentralised organizations today, time management has been one of the most prominent of techniques cultivated by individuals to maintain productivity and employability. No longer satisfied by the predictability of a company career, employees have increasingly gained fulfillment through proximity to ‘projects’ and ‘networks’, just as their employers offered the benefits of ‘flexibility’ as opposed to stability. With their emphasis on streamlined workflow, the efficiency logics of GTD apps epitomise these broader cultural trends. They evolve in tandem with management protocols inviting employees to display autonomy and responsibility by ‘working smarter, not harder’. Yet the significance of these survival skills in today’s employment market is their distance from the career path underpinning earlier efforts at professional strategising. GTD’s individualised response to workplace inefficiency is a marker of the inchoate labour politics of the ‘precarious’ white-collar worker.
The self-sufficient worker downloading GTD apps today takes on the imperative of productivity in spite of a generalised lack of employment and institutional security. In this present period of cognitive capitalism, the distinction between ‘material’ (manual) and so-called ‘immaterial’ (mental) labour dissolves, since the source of surplus value even for highly trained workers results in similar forms of ontological precarity. As distinct from Fordist modes of production, in cognitive capitalism the worker’s experience of surveillance moves from externally imposed discipline to internal self-management. This explains the freedom workers feel in identifying with imperatives that are directly productive for capital. The combined effect of these changes, in which the whole of one’s life and personality are available for profitable benefits, calls for careful scrutiny of the perceived benefits of productivity at an individual and social level.
The difference between time management in the organizational era – defined by ‘to do’ lists, clock time, and a highly gendered division of labour – and GTD in the network era – where employees at all levels are equally responsible for their productivity – is thus also the difference between professional and post-professional subjectivity. This is a work context in which traditional forms of management surveillance are less obvious since the innate value of productivity is no longer questioned. But it is also a moment in which the commonsense tenets of individualism and freedom have become so embedded in technology design that a cooperative politics of resistance is significantly impaired.
The philosophy of time management underpinning productivity applications takes a particular notion of time for granted. It assumes that time, like the worker, can be disciplined in line with the imperatives of capitalist production, and it does this in an unquestioning way. Using feminist theories of time that have emerged in the wake of the ‘corporeal turn’ and the rise of affect theory, this paper questions the default definition of ‘time’ in ‘time management’. GTD’s faith in technology as the salve for broader ontological insecurity offers an interesting take on questions of data and territory insofar as it illuminates technology’s role in users’ everyday attempts to control the unpredictable terrain of labour and ‘life itself’. But comparative analysis of time management manuals and GTD apps, along with feminist philosophy and cultural theory, can critique ‘the order of things’ that is life-hacking’s mandate to reproduce. It can further reveal the neat fit between the GTD outlook and the isolating but not inevitable tendencies of neoliberal biopolitics.
Berardi, Franco (Bifo) 2009, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, Francesca Cadel
Berlant, Lauren 2011, ‘After the Good Life, an Impasse: Time Out, Human Resources, and the Precarious Present’, Cruel Optimism, Duke University Press, Durham.
Bliss, Edwin C. 1976, Getting Things Done: The ABC of Time Management.
Boltanski, Luc and Ève Chiapello 2005, The New Spirit of Capitalism, Gregory Elliott (trans)., Verso, New York.
Cherny, Lynn and Elizabeth Reba Weise eds., 1996, Wired Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace, Seal Press, Seattle.
Clough, Patricia Ticineto 2010, ‘The Affective Turn: Political Economy, Biomedia, and Bodies’, The Affect Theory Reader, Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth eds., Duke University Press, Durham, pp. 206-225.
Collis, Jack and Michael Leboeuf 1995/1988, Work Smarter Not Harder, Revised ed., Harper Business, Sydney.
De Peuter, Greg and Nick Dyer-Witheford 2009, ‘Cognitive Capitalism: Electronic Arts’, Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis
Dourish, Paul and Scott Mainwaring 2012, ‘Ubicomp’s Colonial Impulse’, Paper presented at UbiComp 2012, Pittsburgh, PA, Sep 5-8.
Foucault, Michel 1988, ‘Technologies of the Self’, in L. H. Martin, H. Gutman and P. H. Hutton eds., Technologies of the Self, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, pp 16–49.
Gill, R. & Pratt, A. 2008. ‘In the Social Factory? Immaterial Labour, Precariousness and Cultural Work’ Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 25 , Nos. 7-8, pp, 1-30.
Gregg, Melissa 2011, Work’s Intimacy, Polity, Cambridge.
Grosz, Elizabeth 2010, ‘The Untimeliness of Feminist Theory’, NORA: Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 48-51.
Mills, C. Wright 1973/1951, White Collar: The American Middle Classes, Oxford University Press, New York.
Mitropoulos, A. 2006. ‘Precari-us?’ Mute Magazine. January 9. http://www.metamute.org/en/Precari-us
Rose, Nikolas 2006, The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century, Princeton University Press.
Sennett, Richard 1998, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, W. W. Norton, New York.
Streeter, Thomas 2011, The Net Effect: Romanticism, Capitalism, and the Internet, New York University Press, New York.
Whyte, William H. 1956, The Organisation Man, Harmondsworth, Penguin [Originally published 1956].
Zuboff, S. 1984. In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. Basic Books.
Posted on | November 1, 2012 | No Comments
I’m in Chicago this week and next to speak as part of this wonderful series organised by Lauren Berlant and colleagues.
My paper is an overview of ideas coming out of the intimacy course I’ve been teaching for the past few years at Sydney – and will also draw on some ongoing projects that consider tech panics in different ways. I have been obsessed with telegraphs and early telco history lately, as this panel at U-Mass last week makes clear! So there may be some archival stuff too.
To get in the mood for the trip I am posting below some notes (impressions, keywords really) from the opening conversation between Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart at the Berlin ICI earlier this year. Just looking this up now, I’m delighted to see that video of this talk is now online. Watch it!! It’s one of my favourite things to ever come true.
Thanks, Lauren and Katie, for hosting me this month.
World making: what will hold me
How to think simultaneously
- the world is in crisis
- the world is not unpredictable enough
Being with (proximity) rather than belonging
(which is way too far down the line)
what form can we imagine infrastructures for
belonging is not the condition of political commons
political subjectivity is incoherent
continuity of the ordinary → contiguity of the ordinary (non-likeness)
post-normative impasse emerging
Tracking the potential becoming of an event: is this an event or an instant? Is it an incident? Or a dent?
Critical theory’s work is to enable a more capacious ordinary flourishing
- the proliferation of form
- capacities for attention
genre is an affectively invested form
Attachments: how we compose and attend to them
Training in attention and care
Accrual, accretion of concepts
Different model of communication a flickering between subject/objects
Political produces attachments
‘things’ throw themselves together (Heidegger)
when people get tense
Donna Haraway “Love Kills” (the animal) – talking about innocence
The POLITICAL kills
Proliferation of little worlds
Tweaking on forms
Dog owners, a cancer type : incommensurable worlds
Not inventive or flighty
Weighted. Can be hard to get out of even if they add no value
He had become homeless (sensory material register)
A neighbourhood of a drug addict in NYC
A nursing home – losing senses but not forms of attachment e.g. lights, people who talk too much
Economy, state, environment: genres of catastrophic attachment
Rhythms of attachment and detachment
Addiction and cushioning
Attunements to social as workable efficiences, sustaining some & curtailing others
Kinds of attention
Hands-on intensification (getting a handle on your hoarding problem)
politics of compensation
politics of competence
energies of cushioning intensification
Weight matters – the problem of labour. Turning yourself into something.
Posted on | November 1, 2012 | No Comments
The following notes and links are from reading Elizabeth Windschuttle (ed) Women, Class and History: Feminist Perspectives on Australia 1788-1978, Fontana Press, Melbourne, 1980
Ray Markey, ‘Women and Labour, 1880-1900′ (83- 111)
Low wages for women could be justified because most were expected in due course to marry, and their position in the workforce therefore was considered only temporary (91)
Female labour faced all the problems of organization common to unskilled workers… Piece-work encouraged an individualism which counteracted unionism, and outworkers were obviously impossible to organize (92)
Harvester Judgment, 1907: tied the minimum wage to the male ‘family breadwinner’ concept, and women’s wages were fixed at 54 per cent of the male minimum. Women were one of the more important sacrifices in the stunted growth of industrial capitalism during the period 1890 to 1940 (106)
Coral Chambers Garner, ‘Educated and White-Collar Women in the 1880s’ (112-131)
The presence of female breadwinners had been underrated because they did not fit the propaganda of the unions nor the ideologies of the employers in a ‘man’s country’ such as Australia. Although there were no fully developed philosophies which forbade women from working, constraints in the community were common. The typical male attitude saw women’s work as permissible in joint endeavours when subsidiary to male, and the union’s approach restricted women’s work to very specified areas, classed it as inferior and therefore condemned it to half-rate pay scales (113)
Business bookkeeping from the family home: an example of ‘part-time work and out-work’ (114)
In Australia, the respectability ethos concerning the enforced idleness of unmarried daughters was still operating as late as the interwar period among the upper echelons of the middle class, and throughout Australian history it has been used against working-class husbands who permitted their wives to work (114)
Because the average woman white-collar worker was young and single, it was easy for reformers to ignore the plight of these poorly paid people and talk in terms of the ‘living wage’ for family men…
…bargaining processes meant that ‘many women were worse off by the early years of the twentieth century than they had been in the 1880s. The ideology of the male breadwinner and the basic wage stems from this period and the conviction was strong that the male should be the regulator of the family’s status. In this context, the woman was viewed as a home-based supplement to the husband’s efforts, and housework as socially expended energy not worth paying (or in the case of domestic servants to be negligibly paid as a natural vocation and not an acquired skill)’ (117)
Rachel Macpherson, a leading domestic theorist and a founder of the Melbourne Home Science courses, wanted girls to have a practical preparation for life for, she argued, nearly all girls had marriage in mind, and marriage and careers did not mix… she saw the prudential character of domestic science as fitting training for a female’s life-style (123)
…bookkeeping and most ledger work was reserved for male clerks, although rare women had been entering these ranks from the 1860s. The success of women’s work in private offices as clerks and receptionists helped their entry in the 1890s into the official Public Service posts. There were a few female typists even by the end of the 1880s because the Women’s Industrial Exhibitions for the centenary in 1886 had stimulated interest in this new occupation. Most of the early telephonists were women, and there were numbers of women counter clerks for telegraphs and, as in England, where women were placed in charge of other women by the 1870s, some supervisory positions for women arose in telephone exchanges and offices before the turn of the century (124)
Linda Rubenstein, ‘Women, Work and Technological Change’ (514-30)
Sitting all day –> back problems and tenosynovitis
VDUs –> headaches, eye-strain, eye-sight deterioration
Women using a cheque-processing machine at one bank were found to be getting ganglions on their wrists which required surgical removal. The bank apparently found it cheaper to pay for medical treatment than to redesign the machines (522)
Rachel V. Macpherson, ‘Woman’s Work in Victoria’, Victorian Review, vol. 4, June 1881
**If anyone knows more about Rachel Macpherson and/or the history of the Melbourne Home Science courses, I would love to hear from you…
Posted on | October 14, 2012 | 1 Comment
The significance of Mayer’s book is not just the challenge it issues television studies. On this front, the careful and sympathetic details in its judicious case studies illustrate the potential for the field if it opens its analytic lens. If it is to mean anything, production studies cannot only be satisfied with better accounts of the Hollywood elite; it must also study the periphery in its material and imaginary forms.
I really appreciated the temporal ambition of the book: cognisant of the current infatuations of media and communication studies (one would hardly expect otherwise from the Television & New Media editor), it manoeuvres effortlessly across various traditions of screen studies, cultural policy and ethnographic inquiry to provide a thoroughly nuanced and historicised account of its project. In foregrounding the quantity and quality of invisible labour integral to the television industry, Mayer makes us sensitive to similar processes in other sectors of the economy as well. This is a book about winners and losers in the battle over professionalism itself.
Ch1: ‘Producers as Creatives – Creativity in Television Set Production’ 31-65
‘No longer just docile bodies with agile hands, assemblers have had to negotiate new identities that explain their own creative acts’ (24)
‘producers’ monopoly on the label “creative” has more to do with the new division of labor in global economies than with any organic definition of creativity’ (24)
Soldering wires had to be done by hand; the fumes blinded those who stayed too long at the post. The physical repetition required in assembly meant that workers had to be promoted to different stations to keep them from retiring early due to a stress injury or some other hazard. Terezinha said her supervisors let her take breaks to unwind her sore arm muscles at times, but that she was also valued as one of the fastest in her group (36)
Incorporated literally, the manual work became part of workers’ psyches. One assembler told me that she dreamed of the hand movements, even after she hurt her hands and could no longer physically do the work (44)
Ch2: ‘Producers as Professionals: Professionalism in Soft-Core Production’ 66-100
Professionalism promises television workers the chance to be professional without a recognized profession. It offers a strategy for the weak to safeguard some symbolic status against amateurs and a material payoff in the form of exchange value (87)
Even as media industries have cheapened their labor, they demand their workers’ professionalism. While the cameramen developed their own internal standards of professionalism, the industries that hired them imposed external standards as well. The professionalization of soft core brought the workers for the denigrated genre into line with other corporate media workers. The corporations’ impetus to professionalization is clear. Professionals were easier to control from a distance. Companies wanted video professionals who would discipline themselves when they were far away on location shoots (89)
Management did not want hobbyists or tinkerers on the payroll, but instead recruited laborers who would self-identify as professionals while still earning less than camera operators for television industries (90)
Teamwork and mutual camaraderie were guises for autopolicing and other-surveillance… The party that drew recruits to the field was now limited to the rewards of not partying on the job, making soft core little different from any other company with an evening happy hour. Fledgling producers who emphasized their ability to control the party found swift in-house promotion (93)
‘soft-core workers illustrate how professionalism operates as the bait in a deprofessionalized television industry marked by instability and declining material benefits’ (98)
Ch3: ‘Sponsoring Selves: Sponsorship in Production’ 103-138
Whereas Hollywood casters seek the perfect match between performer and performance, reality casters work to develop a pool of people who they have little or no intention of casting. They are the commodities for sale to advertisers, so their presence must be both cultivated and managed in addition to the ultimate participants in the programs. (110)
This commodification is not easy. Contrary to popular perceptions, not everyone wants to be on television. In fact, the prized cast member for producers is someone who is not apt to be on television (110)
Drawing on Lukacs: Workers, no longer in control of their own productive means and rationalized by their employers, become mere objects, or the equivalents to the machines they work with. This objectness seeps into the consciousness of workers who, recognizing their productive capacities in terms of exchange value, use their subjectivity as a productive tool (124)
The interaction between casters and their subjects promoted reification, the self-recognition through identity categories that enhances one’s exchange value. (125)
Anxiety: ‘the representation of objects as subjects and of subjects as objects creates anxiety for the representers who must distance themselves from subjects and create affective relations with the objects’ (129)
At times, casters had to objectify the very people they had established a personal relationship with to maintain a relationship with the production team or with network executives. From friendly and chummy to distanced and authoritative, the caster shifted personas to thingify, not just the cast member but also herself or himself as the member’s sponsor (129)
Conclusion: Rethinking Production Studies in The New Television Economy 175-186
The routine enlistment of workers who do not recognize their own labor value and who yet provide forms of low-cost and no-cost services to the industry, demonstrates how the cultural processes of identity and identification are integral to the formation of television’s invisible labor force (175)
Production processes rely on sanctioned forms of creative innovation to boost profit margins, which lead producers to ignore or repress other creative actions that may interrupt team-based work flows or dynamics. Employers seek to promote and distribute a professionalism that promises fun or autonomy but delivers self-control and other-surveillance in lieu of material benefits or job security (177)
Liquid lives: Whether or not this particular personification is tautological, the apparent multiplication of merging sites for understanding production justifies why studies of television production need to look as intently at work on the street as at that in the studio, and as deeply into the nature of freelancing and contract work as into emotional and surveillance work (180)
When being a worker means being a certain kind of embodied subject, the most oppressive masters over workers were they themselves. This does not mean that their voices are fake, disingenuous, or not worth listening to, but that excavating the layers of meaning in their discourses of personal success and competency takes time and patience—resources that seem in short supply for researchers too (181)
‘the inclusion of more people and their roles in relation to television industries in production studies reveals that not everyone experiences media work as liquidly as others do’ (182)
Posted on | October 10, 2012 | 1 Comment
I keep meaning to post notes from all the books I’m reading on sabbatical… but there are so many of them it seems pointless and overwhelming, not to mention compromising. Too many notes will doubtless reveal the depths of my scholarly obsessiveness, left unchecked.
I once went to a radical kinesiologist who said that my response to trauma was ‘too much study’. She held my arm, asked me what happened to me at age 22, then diagnosed my problem. I was supposed to continue the affirmations twice daily as a cure, but I’m not very good at routines.
Today’s amazing inspiration: I will share chapter sized pieces of my note-taking. (While I have a backlog of time management manuals to write about, they can wait until I have a few more under my belt. I have some presentations coming up in November that I can use as deadlines for that. But, an early spoiler: affirmations twice daily are also a common thread in GTD techniques. And visualising.)
Today’s book is Vicky Mayer’s Below the Line: Producers and Production Studies in the New Television Economy. I’m returning to this as I prepare a piece for Ada, the new journal attached to the Fembot website. I’m trying to do something historical on women’s tech labour… and will share a draft when it’s more coherent. Meanwhile notes from Vicky’s intro follow.
Introduction: Who are Television’s Producers? 1-27
In the digital age, everyone is potentially a media producer, but most of us only recognize certain forms of media production as important. (1)
In each scenario I encountered, people defined themselves in relation to the work they did on behalf of television industries, even as they were invisible to the television industry itself. Conversely, the industry—itself a euphemistic construction that replaces human activities with a collection of businesses—relies on their invisible labours, even as it denigrates or disavows the workers as outside the creative professionals who construct the industry’s narratives about itself. The producers I present here thus do not suffer from a false consciousness of their own conditions but from a historical process of displacements, substitutions, and transformations that anchored the “producer” to forms of labor, sites of production, and identities that were simply not-them. (2)
This narrative should be of particular concern at this conjuncture at which all of us increasingly define ourselves through our productive work while at the same time industries devalue our agency as producers through abstract quantitative measures, from stock share prices to advertising rates. Confronting this state of affairs, scholars’ most damning critique might be one recognizing that, indeed, everyone is a producer in the new television economy, but that the television industry comes away as the primary benefactor of these labours. (3)
Below the line: ‘Studio accountants used this line physically on their budget sheets to separate upfront production costs from expenditures made during production. Thus this line indexed the scarcity or surplus of so-called creativity and professionalism, two competing resources for labor value in industrial capitalism since the late 1800s. Whereas the word professional in this discourse came to separate those who managed themselves from those who were managed by others, creativity more often demarcated intellectual from manual activities’ (4)
The book addresses ‘those workers whose labours are the structuring absences to this particular formation of the producer and his or her labor value’… (4)
‘people who fall outside the television industries’ creative categories or who lack access to their professional hierarchies. Their surplus labor bolsters the symbolic value of television in society, and yet these invisible acts exceed the compensations they receive in market terms. Increasingly, their work defines them, but in return, they lack authorial status, creative credit, or executive authority. This population increasingly encompasses the majority of workers as the new television economy incorporates new sectors and sources for cheap, if not free, labor to create television, sponsor its commodities, and regulate its consumers’ (22)
Studies of television ‘sidestepped the focus on the antagonism between laborers and their managers that framed… early work on film production. Instead, research into television production delved further into the relationships between different white-collar workers who represented clear economic and political objectives in the market or the state. By focusing on the negotiations, collaborations, and conflicts between these specific workers recognized for their labours, studies of television production framed producers’ practices in terms of structural forces that constrained their presumed creativity. The notion of the “television professional” condensed these assumptions about the producer for export precisely as the medium became a tool of foreign development policy and domestic social engineering’. (8)
…women have been central to the reproduction of use value and exchange value, but this works “appears otherwise,” as a natural form of production or a personal service. (Fortunati) (18)
Similarly, racial and ethnic Others have frequently been denied labor power through their exclusion from the labor-wage relation in industrial societies. Ethnic immigrants and racial migrants were the primary sources of so-called home work, the process by which factories subcontracted piecework in the nineteenth century. Located in their homes, these nonwhite workers remained invisible both to waged workers and on employers’ formal payrolls, denying home workers the labor power to demand legal rights or societal respect. (Wallerstein: ethnicization) (18)
‘as capitalism profits from the invisible labours of identifiable Others whose work can be deemed “natural” or unskilled, it simultaneously profits from invisible inputs into formal production markets generalized across the many labor sectors organized by precarity’ (19)
‘the emergent subjectivities that capitalism now demands from its laborers continue to draw on the residual identities that have corresponded to invisible labor in the past. Secretaries may now be female, but feminized forms of emotional work and peripheral activities, for example, picking up laundry or choosing gifts, still organize the routines and define the submissive status of the position’ (20)
The exclusion of workers and their subjectivities in the study of what is called labor gets to a philosophical issue around who are legitimate members of the polity and what kinds of recognition they deserve (27)
Posted on | September 24, 2012 | 2 Comments
If you see an example of the phrase ‘work smarter, not harder’ anywhere in your travels, can you send me a pic? This one from The Mercury’s latest special feature got me thinking.
According to the figures, Tasmania is in recession – so the local paper is publishing a series of opinion pieces to generate enthusiasm and support for a turnaround. But the description of high-speed broadband on offer here is a glib response to the situation. The incitement to ‘Get on Twitter, Facebook and other social media now’ not only simplifies the online business environment in a way that counteracts the writer’s key message (make use of the NBN advantage). It follows a pattern by placing responsibility for broader economic conditions on individuals.
The ‘work smarter’ directive is a neat and seductive formula. Its great benefit is to divert attention from government and business leaders who make strategic decisions about where to invest for the long term. I’m not saying there isn’t a productivity issue in this state. But there are many factors involved in helping smaller regions transform their economies. With consultancy cliches running as copy, we certainly can’t rely on The Mercury for tips on effective broadband policy.
Posted on | September 19, 2012 | 2 Comments
Here is a post that I try not to write very often: a list of things I have had published lately. Most of them are already available in previous drafts, so they may not be ‘new’ to readers here. Grouping them together like this has the effect of a confessional, of admitting to myself how diverse my writing seems to have become. It therefore has a pedagogical intent, to teach me to be more streamlined! But perhaps there is consistency in these interests that I can’t see myself? Anyway, all of these papers had major revisions and improvements due to the advice of special issue editors, and I thank them and the copy-editors for their patience.
1. Today the Mad Men issue of Cultural Studies Review goes live. This special section is the outcome of a symposium at Sydney some time ago, with lots of brilliant scholars involved. My piece, The Return of Organisation Man: Commuter narratives and suburban critique, has been re-written several times since I mentioned it. Thanks to the many people who helped me get it in much better shape (see notes for details!) – especially Enrica, whose brilliant analysis of Boardwalk Empire you should check out.
2. History in the making: The NBN roll-out in Willunga, South Australia: This is an overview of the research I did for the South Australian Government last year, with a focus on methods and stats. The public report on the Willunga baseline is available here (in .pdf); this MIA piece situates the research in relation to Australian telecommunications history more broadly. It’s the first place I’ve mentioned the idea of ‘footpath ethnography’ in fieldwork. In time, I’d like to develop this in dialogue with Lefebvre’s notion of rhythmanalysis and Katie Stewart’s concept of worlding, as part of a larger project on non-metro ontologies that started here.
3. The pedagogy of regret: Facebook, binge drinking and young women, co-authored with Rebecca Brown. This paper is getting some circulation in policy circles now and reflects the excellent research being produced in Rebecca’s PhD. The methodological arguments draw on my previous collaborations with Catherine Driscoll, and the arguments are an inkling of another project I’m deciding whether or not to pursue – a book on “intimate companions”. If anyone would like to read a draft of the proposal I’ve been working on, and convince me to abandon or commit, please get in touch. I have to admit I’m so in love with my new productivity research that the intimacy book is falling to the side… but maybe I can do both?! In total contradiction, of course
Posted on | September 13, 2012 | 2 Comments
After months of reading, I recently finished The Office: A Hardworking History by Gideon Haigh. The title is in many ways performative. At just over 600 pages, the volume’s weight makes it formidable labour. But it is worth it. This is a staggering work of scholarship. With its US release imminent, it should become the foundational reference for cultural studies of the office.
In addition to the chapter-by-chapter details, covering everything from desk design to civic architecture, suit fabrics to filing etiquette, there is a lengthy list of fictional and scholarly works grouped by theme in the appendix. This in itself is a precious resource; I love the way the book includes film and TV portrayals alongside other forms of historical evidence. The relationship between popular representations of work and the longer process of ‘how we became professional’ has been an ongoing interest of mine for years. I’m grateful to have so many new examples to investigate, and seriously impressed that an Australian press commissioned what is an incredible project.
Over a series of posts, I’ll share selections from the book alongside further links and ideas arising from the material. Some of these have been accumulating in the delicious links and tweets on the sidebar over the past few weeks as I gradually type out my notes. But to begin, I wanted to share one of many delightful passages in which Haigh’s voice shines. Here he poses the ultimate question, and a convincing rationale for why this question remains worthy of protracted analysis.
Why can offices be so boring? It goes with the territory. There is a monotony to their conditions, to the restricted space, constant temperature and unchanging light. There are inhibitions on behaviour — restrictions on physicality, sanctions against absolute candour — which sanitise and neuter interaction. Offices involve ongoing processes and precast continuities. Projects may begin and end, but they are preceded and succeeded by further projects. Tasks may be improved, refined or streamlined, but their elimination is hardly to be wished for too devoutly, as this might involve the elimination of oneself. Because they directly generate no tangible output or physical artefact, offices nurture impressions of futility (‘What exactly have I done today?’) and of insecurity (‘Am I justifying my existence?’).
In a way, it is remarkable how well we have assimilated lives so abstracted, so reified and so remote from those we lived a few generations ago.
Posted on | September 1, 2012 | 1 Comment
My first encounter with Graeme Turner, which he is unlikely to remember, was in 1999, as an Honours student working at the University of Tasmania. After a year of turbulence, in which the main priority was to get out of small town Hobart, Graeme was one of the people I contacted in the hope of acquiring a PhD supervisor. The topic, as I recall, was vague. Something like: “The politics of the alternative”. I was completing my Honours thesis on what had become known as “grunge” literature. Feeling isolated in a place with few friends remaining, music and books were both compass and horizon (in retrospect, not much has changed). For some reason, Graeme saw some potential in my ideas. In the email that followed, he explained that he was about to move out of the Department of English, Media Studies and Art History to lead a new research centre. This wouldn’t prevent him from supervising; he just wanted to make me aware of the situation. It was a set of characteristics I would come to identify with Graeme in years to come: an immediate welcome, a quick-draw response when needed, and a willingness to share insider knowledge. He regularly makes us feel equipped with more information than would otherwise be possible.
The next significant moment came about 4 years later, as I was finishing my PhD at the University of Sydney. Graeme was on the interview panel for a job I applied for to work here at UQ. There’s not much I remember from that afternoon, washed away in adrenaline and outfit insecurity. The bookends were a text message from Elspeth wishing me luck and a phone call from Richard Fotheringham offering me a job. It wasn’t the one I applied for – it sounded better, actually. I suspect it is Graeme’s presence that day that gave me a bright and privileged future, and I am forever grateful.
I’m not alone in this. In one way or another, Graeme has created a home for many of us in the academy. These are just three of the contributions I’ve witnessed in the past decade:
• his writing and teaching legacy, which is truly phenomenal. How many undergraduate courses in cultural studies in Australia would not include Graeme’s work? Surely there is no stronger indication of impact. As his latest book shows, Graeme’s generation fought to secure cultural studies’ apparent radicalism in studying the popular and ordinary facets of everyday life. This is something many of us can now take for granted, even though it is the result of long-term battles.
• his advocacy in government and university settings: the ARC, the Academy of the Humanities, the Prime Minister’s Innovation Council, the Arts Faculty. Working as a postdoctoral fellow here at UQ, Graeme was the best kind of boss in the way that he protected us. He kept us removed from the debilitating institutional logistics and pressures that actually governed our existence. To provide a safe space away from such realities, to let us get on with what we were more excited by and capable of at the beginning of a research career, is a rare and true gift.
• his reassuring presence. The comfort Graeme provides is his willingness to talk but also to listen. This combination of traits tends to be rare as professors move up the university hierarchy and come under an increasing array of pressures. Graeme is a friend and an anchor in what are often stormy seas.
The clearest and most widely felt example of Graeme’s unique mentoring role was his stewardship of the Cultural Research Network, which ran from 2004-9. For those involved, this was not some exclusive club, fixated on outcomes and excellence. As Emily Potter explains:
the opportunities for mentoring and professional development offered by GT and the CRN initiative extended way beyond the actual members of the CRN. The State of the Industry conference  was indicative of this, but it was also realised in the many ‘outreach’ programs such as the masterclasses, workshops and the ‘open door’ events that the CRN enabled. The spirit of the CRN was fundamentally inclusive despite it being pragmatically membership based, and to me this is reflective of GT’s ethos. GT also offered personal mentoring to members of the CRN, and also ECR and MCR academics outside it. He made/makes himself available in the best kind of way, not just as a source of knowledge and advice, but also as an advocate for those who sought his counsel and for the next generation of scholars in general.
Another representative for early career scholars during the CRN’s life, Susan Luckman, describes Graeme as “a generous, collegial and ‘lift all boats’ scholar, in what can otherwise be a fairly competitive and cut-throat world.”
Graeme is living proof that you can be a highly successful, indeed leading academic, and a nice guy too. He genuinely walks the talk of supporting young scholars, both in terms of contacts and opportunities, but also in terms of self-belief and understanding one’s role within the scholarly community, and responsibilities back to it (and their rewards).
In his recent book, What’s Become of Cultural Studies?, Graeme shows a particular concern for the conditions faced by junior scholars entering the academy today. “From what I see around me,” he writes:
there is much greater professional pressure on these young people than I faced at the beginning of my career: there are high expectations for their professional performance, more intrusive and bureaucratized scrutiny in the workplace, a shrinking division between their work and their private lives, and more just plain angst about their careers… (6).
As someone who feels addressed by these concerns, indeed, as one of those most guilty of perpetuating this angst, I want to assure Graeme of the important role he has played in rectifying this situation. His legacy here at UQ – the CCCS and the CRN in particular – has mobilized a large group of scholars who have experienced the pleasures of collegiality and solidarity intimately. This is no small accomplishment given the individualizing forces of neoliberal auditing and productivity that haunt our working lives.
The CRN created dynamic intergenerational and interdisciplinary relationships that continue to generate exciting, world-leading research. It also delivered training, skills and opportunities that were otherwise missing at a national level. The central role Graeme played in this was one of facilitation, rather than direction. Reflecting on the impact of the CRN on his professional development, Clif Evers explains how Graeme:
welcomed people in ways that left them with the freedom to get what they needed out of a project instead of imposing on it his own goals & agenda. He was willing to take the back seat and be the support act, which is what some of us ECRs and PGs need. This enabled us to become more confident, comfortable and creative in the university and our service to the community more broadly. An empathetic mentor/scholar. Some of the initiatives he supported, through untiring hands-on participation and very real enthusiasm, have now become part of the CS landscape – the open door mentoring scheme (that we ran nationally), ECR/PG driven workshops where a senior scholar would listen all day and offer only commentary at the end.
And while some of these initiatives continue, there needs to be a re-invigoration of this work as it is by no means widespread or systematic across the industry. As another active leader in the CRN’s outreach agenda, Clif is like many of us inspired to consolidate the feelings of responsibility to others we learned from Graeme.
In this sense, and as a number of these reflections attest, Graeme has illustrated the importance of leading by example. At a time when the university can seem like an unenviable place to inhabit, Graeme shows the value of being – in the words of my colleague, Ruth Barcan – “consciously contagious”. Ruth’s latest book, Emotions, Ethics and Politics in University Teaching and Research: Hope and Other Choices, is an excellent complement to Graeme’s recent challenge to the field. Her project analyses the competing obligations academics navigate in today’s “palimsestic university”. Ruth identifies the need for senior scholars “to be aware of the power of what they embody. They need to recognize that their mode of professional being in the world is itself a tacit pedagogy and they are therefore obliged to use it reflexively and ethically”.
What people appreciate in Graeme, I think, is the relief that there can be sanity and level-headedness at the highest level of professorial practice. His ability to cut through the grandeur, the cruelty and the lunacy of things, both in the university and beyond, makes him an inestimable presence in my life, and many others. As Clif put it to me, writing earlier in the week, in addition to the material help he has given us, it is “his humour and groundedness” that stands out. With Graeme there’s “no bullshit”.
The university, as we know, has religious origins. In the absence of other guiding beliefs, it is an institution in which I have sought refuge on many occasions. The Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies was a home away from home, for me – just as the CRN helped in the transition to other places since. Like any affiliation, however, there is always a need for guidance and solace along the way. When I feel confused, I have to confess that I no longer turn to the church, or even the university. In fact, I am often known to mutter to myself “What would Graeme do?” If I am no longer religious, it is at least partly because I have been lucky to have the wisdom of elders who make me – as I said – reassured that there is a right way to proceed. I know a lot of people have been wondering what the field of cultural studies, indeed what the Humanities in Australia will do without Graeme. In this we should feel confident that there are many who are well equipped and inspired to carry on his work. I am also sure his involvement and investment in the field will only continue free from the labour of administration. But on a personal note, I do want to take this occasion to say to Graeme thank you for everything you have done for me, and on my behalf. I certainly mean it quite literally when I say: I don’t know what to do without you. So please keep taking my calls!« go back — keep looking »