First, a huge thanks to everyone who reached out in various forms to express support for this project. I feel very blessed to be working amongst such a wonderful and supportive group of people. In addition to relying on the HASTAC community for commentary and discussion, I am also working with two generous and supportive co-supervisors. In electing to produce my scholarly work in this form, I am adding in a very material way not only to my own workload, but to theirs as well, and I’m very grateful that they’re both willing to embark on this experiment with me!
Though now, I suppose, I should actually get to the working! What follows in the next several posts (I’ve broken up the document in order to avoid a wall of text) is a very early draft of my statement of research plan, organized by sections. My provisional reading lists, which I’ll probably split into fields, will be posted over the course of the next several days. I welcome feedback on any/all of this, and will also try to answer any questions that come up about either the content or the aims/structure of the statement of research plan (which I briefly described in my previous post).
My proposed doctoral research will consider online labour in a variety of communities, with a particular emphasis on the role of affect, or the emotional conditions surrounding the generation and dissemination of digital media. A growing number of people are producing online content, and affect is, I contend, not simply an effect of particular digital outputs, but a critical condition determining their production and valuation. Whether a labourer is compensated for their work, for instance, is frequently a decision expressed through and justified by using particular affects and their relationships to specific subject positions. Rather than separate from or secondary to larger discussions about contemporary labour under late capitalism, then, this project considers affective digital labour as situated within an ongoing set of struggles regarding labour and its articulation through race, gender, sexuality, and ability.
A central tenant of my project, then, is to place pressure upon discourses that have historically characterized both computing and affective labour as immaterial processes. Affect is frequently considered either outside of or secondary to materialist concentrations on the production of commodities by labouring bodies and the subsequent entrance of those objects into capitalist processes of exchange. Critical theorist Michael Hardt, for example, refers to affective work as ‘immaterial labour’. Due to what he sees as an increasing demand for its use, Hardt deems this affective work as increasingly important to capital’s production (and thus a critical site at which resistance can be centred). While the latter claim in particular remains important to my analysis, the fact that Hardt separates material and immaterial practices still de-emphasizes both historical existence of this labour (primarily by women and racialized subjects), as well as the necessary interconnectedness of affective labour with other modes of production and circulation. Computers and the act of being online, meanwhile, have been figured as immaterial in terms of their constituting a fundamental break with notions of materiality. In other words, computing is often presented as outside of concerns about embodiment and differential lived experiences. Early cyberfeminists, for example, suggested that the utopian potential of the Internet lay in the ability of users (particularly women) to abandon embodied identities and their associated forms of oppression (Wiley). Recently, contemporary academics have challenged both these conceptions of immateriality. Affect theorists, most notably Sara Ahmed (2004, 2010), have argued that characterizing affect as immaterial neglects the ways in which the production and circulation of particular affects, such as happiness, are necessary conditions for the successful production and circulation of commodities and capital. Matthew Kirschenbaum (2007) similarly calls for a ‘forensic’ approach to that accounts for computers and computing as intensely material, requiring distinct processes and interactions between objects and bodies. I argue that these calls are not only independently valuable, but necessarily linked in ways that existing research has not yet emphasized. Many forms of digital labour remain unpaid, and are conceived of as purely affective projects. However, because distinct affects are demanded in unequal ways of specific bodies, the negotiation of the relationship between affect and materialist production by particular users and communities cannot be meaningfully discussed outside of those practitioners’’ embodied realities. By accounting for the existence of digital labour at various intersections of materialism and materiality, I argue we can create a unique space from which to consider how digital economies can best support and be supported by the feeling bodies constituting their workforces, a particularly urgent aim as these workforces continues to grow both in Canada and worldwide.