SITUATION WITHIN FIELDS
This project will be situated in four primary fields: affect theory, materialist theory, new media/digital humanities scholarship, and oppositional media studies (that is, feminist, critical race, queer, and disability studies-focused approaches to media).
While there have been critical moments of intersection between some of these fields, particularly between affect-based and materialist analysis and the fields of new media/digital humanities work and oppositional media studies, the collection of all four in the form of singular project brings together what seems to be a disparate set of voices and commitments. Yet, this approach seems a necessary way in which to grapple with the increasingly complex nature of digital media production and consumption. By combining insights from these fields, I hope to grapple with the ways in which new media is indeed new, producing specific communities, forms and modes of identification related to labour, at the same time as many of those practices and subjects have also inherited and are reproducing online modes of production and circulation which long precede the digital context. So while particular forms and genres of affective online production engender unique sites of possibility, I also contend that they exist within and respond to a broader set of structural conditions, such that many online tensions and debates cannot be adequately grasped without viewing them as extensions of larger struggles.
The alignment of affect theory with the other three fields listed is particularly important because while digital media has been a site of academic and popular focus for several decades now, attention has only recently turned (Tokumitsu, Berens) to the important ways in which affective conditions create particular forms of digital labour and labourers. I therefore intend to focus heavily on recent interventions into affect studies, particularly the work of Sara Ahmed, Sianne Ngai (2004), and Lauren Berlant (2011). All have complicated the valorization of positive affects, noting how rejections of the negative are often used as tools for the erasure of marginalized subjectivities and experiences. Yet Berlant and critical race scholar bell hooks (2001) have also speculated about the potential power of a radical, disruptive form of love, which could function to destabilize various modes of normativity. Rather than a rejection of affect, then, all are invested in a reorientation toward the radical potentiality of affective relationality. These insights offer an important means by which the conditions currently creating and regulating digital labour might be both better understood and more powerfully contested.
Melissa Gregg, whose work takes up both questions of affect and of digital labour in particular, will importantly bridge the fields of affect studies and new media/digital humanties. Her recent monograph, Work’s Intimacy (2013) in particular provides a nuanced reading of digital labour as a site of intensely affective pleasures which are also shaped (though not entirely overdetermined) by capitalist conditions of production and its related modes of gendered, sexual and racial normativities. The Internet as Playground and Factory, a collection arising from a 2009 conference, similarly indicates how digital labour functions by intertwining the material, affective conditions of work and leisure (or ‘playbour’). I will also turn to the work of DH/new media scholars including Alan Liu (2004), Tara McPherson (2012), and Lisa Nakamura (2012). Each attends, though in distinct ways, to how racial, sexual, and gendered forms of precarity are at times both literally and figuratively built into digital technologies, thereby shaping the types of labour that are produced by and through users.
The assemblage of approaches I have termed oppositional media studies provides a similar emphasis on the digital management of difference. I differentiate between this field and new media/digital humanities scholarship, however, partially because while the work I characterize as new media/DH primarily emphasizes practices and processes of computing and digital production, what I am calling oppositional media studies extends beyond specifically digital work and emphasizes the consumption and circulation of media rather than its production. Included in this field, then, will be Rhiannon Bury’s (2005) study on female fandom, multiple articles from journals such as Feminist Media Studies and Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, as well as hashtags such as #blacktwitter. While it is by no means my intention to focus exclusively, or even primarily, on consumption or reception practices, the fact that many of the communities I am studying (such as fans and intellectual property pirates) are also necessarily consumers of digital and non-digital content suggests the need to consider how subcultural labour and labourers in particular are conceptualized by and through specific practices of consumption.
Finally, I will engage with the field(s) of materialism and its complex relationship to digital production. In order to attempt to both historicize digital production and its relationship to other forms of labour while also emphasizing the role of affective relationality and various systemic inequalities, I will likely be using a selection of theorists whose work is at times openly in tension. While foregrounding thinkers such as Theodor Adorno and Fredric Jameson, for example, whose respective studies on capital’s increasing control over ‘free time’ (1991) and the alignment of various cultural forms with specific phases of capitalism (1991, 1998), I will rely equally heavily on feminist interventions into these modes of materialist thought. Scholarship and activism such as those of Silvia Federici (2004), Rosemary Hennessy (1997) and Kathi Weeks (2011) are not mere supplements to more traditional understandings of labour and materialism in their gestures toward such the types of erasures prevalent in such analysis. Rather, their work provokes critical and necessary questions about how labour’s various forms (including the digital) are both predicated upon and capable of powerful resistance toward those erasures.