Is a draft ever really final? Probably not, but after several weeks of work, and hacking and slashing an 18 page document down into a 6 page one, here's the version of my Statement of Research Plan I'll be submitting to the graduate committee for their review.
In the coming weeks, some less formal reflections on my affect studies reading are on the way, as is an initial run at writing about that field for my Long Thesis Proposal.
My proposed doctoral research will consider online labour with a particular emphasis on the role of affect, or the emotional conditions and attachments 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 particular affects and their normative associations with 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.
Proceeding from the claim thataffective relationality is central to how and why online labour occurs, takes particular forms, and is accorded specifictypes of value, my study will emphasize four specific types of online work: fandom, piracy collectives, professional blogging, and crowdfunding campaigns. In each, I contend, affective conditions are foregrounded as a primary purpose, payment, and/or structuring logic of and for the labour. Recent work by Sara Ahmed (2004) , Sianne Ngai (2005) and Lauren Berlant (2011),however, has demonstrated that specific affects “stick”, or create conditions of possibility, unevenly depending on a subject’s structural conditions. Affects, in other words, produce and reproduce differential experiences of privilege and oppression. My study, then, considers affective labour not as a static category with equally consistent effects on both labourers and consumers, but as a dynamic process inseparable from the differential affective, material realities of the bodies involved. My treatments of female-dominated fandoms and piracy communities populated primarily by white, straight men, for instance, will emphasize the ways in which gendered, racial and sexual expectations shape understandings of appropriate labour and compensation. Similarly, I will suggest that the ability of a campaigner to generate and sustain an affective condition which will result in a successful crowdfunding effort is frequently dependent upon normative affective associations with particular subjectivities.
The necessary interrelation of affects with the feeling bodies of the digital workforce, then, is not a tendency I view as limited only to the screen. Rather, the theoretical intervention of the project aims to unsettleaccounts which depict precarity and cognitive/affective labour using the language of immaterial labour (Hardt, Lazarrato). I argue that considerations of affective labour online, particularly given that computers and computing have also historically been depicted as immaterial and disembodied (Wiley) present critical opportunities to complicate easy distinctions between materiality and immateriality. In working toward what I term an affective materialist framework, I will suggest that materialist considerations of the production and circulation of commodities is strengthened by accounting for the necessary connection of those processes with the production and circulation of particular affective conditions and relations.
METHODOLOGY AND PROCESS
Though the question of which objects and communities I will focus on in this study is still open to change, particularly throughout the summer, I am beginning to work through the dominant logic that will shape these decisions. I am particularly interested in practices and populations experiencing what I currently identify as moments of flux with regards to their relationships to capitalism. While this stage of my thought is still provisional, I have identified three particular forms or types of flux as potentially significant: monetization (a major and divisive issue within certain branches of fandom), explicit resistance toward capital (which is often how the practice of piracy is conceptualized), and the use of digital labour as a service or training model for paid and unpaid offline labour (which has been the case in some uses of both blogging and crowdfunding).
On a formal level, I am currently imagining the methodology of the dissertation to involve a mix of literary close reading strategies and ethnography. Certain chapters such those focusing on fandom (on which there already exists a wealth of scholarship, ethnographic and otherwise) and crowdfunding (in which all campaigns are publically accessible), will not require ethnographic work. My chapter on piracy may require an ethnographic approach. Because recent legal actions have placed those involved with piracy and hacking at immense risk, however, that chapter will almost certainly pose the most challenges for finding a balance between balancing academic rigour and my personal, ethical, and institutional imperative to ensure the safety of any sources involved. In addition to the University of Alberta's ethics board and my supervisors, I intend to consult guides produced by the Association of Internet Researchers (2013) and collections such as Netnography (Kozinets 2010) as part of my summer research.
I alsointend toapproach the questions structuring my research through the form and process of generating theproject itself. Recently, Ibegan blogging all of my dissertation-related writing through HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory). My co-supervisors, Nat Hurley and Maureen Engel, will also be providing the bulk of their feedback in the form of comments on the blog rather than in privately circulating documents. This approach is aligned with a number of academic, political and ethical aims, all of which are directly relevant to my project. First, there are extensive and ongoing conversations in digital humanities work(Weller, Hager, Lindemann, Maitzen)about the political and academic benefits of public writing. By producing all (or most) of my dissertation related work in this format, I hope to engage with these discussions by constantly foregrounding questions of audience, accessibility, and accountability to not only other academics, but the types of online and offline publics I will be discussing.Given that precariously situated academics such as graduate students and non-tenured faculty are increasingly amongst those asked to work in the service of affects like love, I also hope that making the process of my dissertation as public as the eventual product will also allow my work to participate in attempts to make academic labour, and its increasingly precarious workforce, a more visible site of emphasis and struggle.
POTENTIAL CHAPTER BREAKDOWN
Chapter one will establish the theoretical intervention of the study. Here I will draw upon affect theory (Berlant, Ahmed, Ngai), materialist analysis (Jameson, Federici, Williams), and current applications of both in the fields of new media and digital humanities (Gregg, Liu, Nowviskie) to argue for the value and necessity of an affective materialist approach.
The second chapter will consider the labour of fan cultures. Because of the size and multiplicity of fandoms, as well as the large number of existing studies about these domains, limiting the scope of this chapter is challenging. Currently, my primary interest is in how both popular media and fandom itself understand fans and their labour. As such, my archive will likely focus not upon specific products of fan labour, and more on discussions within and about fandom. These representations may include blogs, newspaper and television coverage, discussion board comments, and accounts of particular moments of debate within fandom, such as a reactions to 50 Shades of Grey’s commercially successfultransition from fanfiction to novel.
In the third chapter of my project, I will consider academic blogging. As a para-academic practice, blogging has been positioned as a way to use low-stakes writing to increase productivity, promote oneself as a public intellectual,and make academic work more accessible to a general audience (Weller). Yet, when scientist Danielle Lee declined an opportunity to submit provide her work to a blog without compensation, she was openly attacked inmisogynistic terms(Lee). This case suggests that blogs also function as a site for the reinforcement of normative assumptions regarding for whom particular affectsare pre-supposed to be compensation enough for online work. Through Lee’s case and others, this chapter considers how the affective work of blogging might challenge the privatization of knowledge under capitalism at the same time as the question of compensation for this work, and its being cast as a method of unpaid training, may continue to reflect capital’s inequalities. Assuming that the blogging of my own work continues, I would also use this chapter to reflect upon the affective labour involved in producing my own work digitally.
The fourth chapter of my study will take up piracy, or the illegal circulation of media protected by intellectual copyright laws. These communities, I suggest, emphasize love for other pirates rather than a media object or its producer. Yet, because they are also composed primarily of white, heterosexual, cis-gendered men (Phillip), the central question of interest in this chapter will be what expressions of loving are pre-supposed as revolutionary, anti-capitalist acts, and how these limitations reinforce various modes of inequality capital depends upon to function. My current intention (subject to the safety concerns noted above) is to focus specifically on closed organizations, or piracy collectives. I emphasize these groups rather than piracy in general because the rules and restrictions governing these sites are a key space in which pirates’ understandings of and attitudes toward their labour appears to be articulated.
In the final chapter, I consider the role of crowdfunding. My archive will focus on individual efforts across a variety of platforms, with particular emphasis on campaigns related to unpaid internships and medical expenses, for these are uses of crowdfunding in which affect, labour, and the livability of life are joined in particularly visible and unique ways. Case studies may include several campaigns on YouCaring, a platform primarily devoted to raising funds for health care costs, and the crowdfunding of unpaid internships. The relative lack of existing scholarship on crowdfunding to date means that my conclusions thus far are especially provisional. However, I am interested in moments where the affective force of the crowd can be seen as extending beyond the moment of monetary exchange, troubling instead the conditions that made this exchange necessary.
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