Digital Labor

Karen Gregory


Karen Gregory is an ethnographer and theory-building scholar whose research focuses on the entanglement of contemporary spirituality, labor precarity, and entrepreneurialism, with an emphasis on the role of the laboring body. She is currently a lecturer in sociology at the Center for Worker Education/Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the City College of New York, where she heads the CCNY City Lab. Karen co-founded the CUNY Digital Labor Working Group and her work has been published in Women’s Studies Quarterly, Women and Performance, The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, and Contexts. Karen is currently at work on a publication that explores the relationship between the financialization of daily life, algorithmic architectures, and the metaphysics of “abundance.”

Digital Labor and Geographies of Crisis
Capital, as value in motion, often leaves local labor behind in the search for higher profits. But capital must be fixed into place for production to occur, creating a whole sociotechnical infrastructure whose form changes with the mode of production: Ford’s factories and Facebook’s platforms, Ma Bell’s wires and Equinix’s server farms. Over time this spatial fixity becomes a barrier to higher profit rates and so leads to overaccumulation and devaluation. Capitalism is constantly seeking a ‘spatial fix’ to these local problems before they can bloom into full-blown crises: A move to new geographies is sought, where new sociotechnical infrastructure can be built to elicit consumption, outsource production, or accumulate cheap labor (Harvey, 2007). This roundtable debates how these geographies of crisis are formed within digital spaces, and how digital labor is segmented, distributed, pushed and pulled across digital spaces in the lead-up to and fallout from crises. Social media may provide new spaces and times of accumulation, but free labor is often pushed elsewhere (e.g., from MySpace to Facebook) while the platforms remain, in a manner analogous to white flight (boyd, 2011). Communications infrastructure allows for financiers to trade billions of dollars across the globe in seconds, but crashes can spread just as quickly (Golumbia, 2013). Questions we’re interested in include: What does a bubble feel like from the inside and how does that experience resonate across networks? How does the primitive accumulation of digital labor compare to the industrial experience? How do digital technologies open up new modes of resistance to the speed-ups and outsourcing which capitalists use crisis to justify?

Karen Gregory will be connecting emergent spaces of unpaid digital labor to longstanding feminist critiques of emotional and informal labor.

The CUNY Digital Labor Working Group Roundtable: The Place, Politics, and Function of Measure
What are the metrics that measure the “success” and “failure” of neoliberal subjects and which allow them to determine whether a life has been truly made a living? Part of the process of becoming a “worker” in a capitalist economy has generally been the transposition of activity done outside of a wage relation into activity done within a wage relation. The wage itself operates as the universal abstraction of labor activity. However, in the case studies of digital labor that we are exploring here, it is not free activity transposed into waged activity but the mundanities and passions of everyday life transposed into a form of labor most often not waged. Without the universal metric of the wage, we argue that what makes it “work” or “labor” is that it builds value for someone (at times the laboring the subject, but more often than not an entity

that is not the laboring subject) through diffuse processes of measurement. Indeed, these processes of measurement are built into the architecture of web 2.0 and, as Clough points out, such “open processes of computation are becoming resources for culture, politics, and the economy” (Clough 2013).

Our work unpacks specific online places and practices behind such “open processes of computation” to better understand how such processes incite subjects to labor. The datalogical turn folds previous labor/gender/political strategies of resistance, psychic mechanisms, and care into digital production where everything becomes yet another source of content. Our panel carefully considers how such a digitizing of experience feeds back on subjectivity leading to the creation of an enterprising, risk bearing subject who recognizes themselves as such. But, we argue, it is not these subjects who become valuable but the processes of computation themselves that are producers of value through the constant modulation of the metrics of success and failure.

Karen Gregory will be presenting a talk entitled “Good Wives: Algorithmic Architectures as Metabolization.”