Digital Labor

Payal Arora


Payal Arora PhD (Columbia University) is the author of Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas (Ashgate 2010), The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0 (Routledge, 2014; winner of the EUR Fellowship Award), as well as co-author of Crossroads in New media, Identity & Law: The Shape of Diversity to Come (forth, Palgrave) and Poor@Play: Digital Life beyond the West (in contract; Harvard University Press).She has consulted numerous organizations including GE, World Bank, hp, Shell, and Sotheby’s. She sits on several boards: the Global Media Journal, UNT’s South Asian Media, Arts & Culture Research Center and the World Women Global Council in NYC. She is based in the Department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Factory Pleasure Gardens, Social Visionaries and Emotional Labor: A Historical Investigation of ‘Playbor’ Geographies
Work for work’s sake is hardly inspirational. We are constantly seeking and extracting meaning from our places of employment. When we toil, we also dream. We dream of belonging to a larger cause and embedding ourselves in terrains of self-expression. The business sector has at times risen to the occasion to shape this progressive social vision. In the industrial era of the nineteenth century, leisure was already being viewed as a potential tool to motivate and mobilize. The modern question of leisure in our work life was not just driven by workers demanding more freedom from their chores or statesmen with a new utopic dream to sell. It was also driven by certain industrialists that were beginning to believe that productivity was intrinsically tied to leisure practice. In an age of increasing urbanization, nineteenth century industrialists and the state were concerned about losing control over the socialization of the working class. Providing ‘normal’ leisure spaces became fundamental to channeling angst and enhancing emotional intelligence, a quality tied closely to competence. Back in the 1880s, a new type of designed green space appeared in the industrial landscapes of Europe and the USA – the factory pleasure garden. These companies sought to hire the very architects who were instrumental in designing public parks (also a radical spatial architecture then) and thereby extended such aesthetics to work arenas. Viewed as ‘recreational welfare capitalism,’ the efforts of carving park spaces around factories was seen by corporate visionaries to add economic, social and cultural value to the company by contributing to a more healthy, stable and productive workforce and enhancing the company’s profile in the local and public realm. Today, there is much hype about the novelty of ‘playbor’ practice brought on by new media technologies and pervasive tensions of what constitutes as virtual work and play. There is ongoing and expanding usurping of social leisure networks for corporate benefit: to foster more intimate organizational cultures, enhance loyalty of employees and create spaces of sharing, with the hope of promoting the circulation of ideas. Hence, this paper offers the historical lens of the factory pleasure gardens as leisure geographies of productivity, challenging the novelty claims of playbor practice. This paper critically analyzes the spatialization of playbor and its roots that go well beyond the Web 2.0 era, offering a more nuanced understanding of what counts as new labor practices today.

(Not) Getting Paid to Work & Play
Fri, November 14
10:45 AM - 01:15 PM