Digital Labor

Thomas Buechele


Tom Buechele is a PhD candidate in Sociology and Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Culture, Technology and Work at the CUNY Grad Center. He is co-founder and member of the CUNY Digital Labor Working Group with Karen Gregory, Kara Van Cleaf and Andrew McKinney. He teaches Social Theory at Hunter College and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute. His research includes the ways digital technologies work to both intensify, but also possibly counter (through perhaps more often not), productivist ideologies of subjectivity and (neo)liberal individualism. He is interested in using critical theory and rhythmanalysis to explore anxiety and depression as individuated symptoms of productivist (neo)liberal individualism, i.e. and generalized affects of Post-Fordist capitalism, or alienation in the digital age. He is also generally interested in the ways technology transforms the experience of space, time, (space-time), and knowledge. For instance, how do technologies of “big data” transform the philosophical conception and the lived experience of subjectivity?

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.

Tom will be presenting a talk entitled The Crystallization of Risk: Measures of Success and Failure in the Digital Labor Time of Contemporary Capitalism.