Blog Post

Blog Diss: LTP Methodology and Process

Here's the final version (for draft one) of my methodology and process section.

Revision history, thus far: Minor stylistic and mechanical changes

 

Methodology

I have developed the archive I will be working with in my study according to a number of factors. First, I emphasize groups and practices that have subcultural elements, in terms of both the identities/positions of members as well as the legal or cultural status of the work being performed. Indeed, much of my investment is in considering how those two elements intersect and influence how affective digital labour is conceptualized and represented. Fandom is distinct from piracy, for example, not just because of the types of labour undertaken, but because of the ways in which the meaning of that work is inflected through the gendered, sexual, and racial positions of those involved. Similarly, the crowdfunding of major motion pictures like Veroncia Mars raises related, but nonetheless distinct questions from the use of such platforms by trans* persons seeking gender/sexual reassignment surgeries, or its use as a tool for supporting unpaid interns.

On a theoretical level, I also emphasize the intersections of subcultural bodies and subcultural labour as an engagement with Fredric Jameson’s (1981) argument that a discussion of capital as a totality is not incommensurable with recognition of the differential forms of marginalization visited upon particular bodies. “Marxism,” he writes, “cannot…be defended as a mere substitute” for what he calls ‘local’ methods such as feminist and critical-race analysis; instead, Marxism is more accurately an “untranscendable horizon”, one that “subsumes such apparently antagonistic…operations, assigning them an undoubted sectoral validity within itself” (10). While I use the term materialism rather than Marxism throughout my work as a means of accounting for essential materialist feminist critiques of Marx’s body of work, I nonetheless proceed in the spirit of Jameson’s claim here. That is, while I understand each of my domains to be working within a space that is always already capitalist (and thus requiring an analysis rooted partially in materialist traditions), I am also interested in considering how capital as a totalizing structure is inflected differently across particular bodies and subjectivities[1]. My turn toward the affective dimensions of digital labour, then, is not only an expression of support for the validity and necessity of this approach in its own right, but a specific claim about affect’s value as a crucial bridge between the total and the local, or its ability to, as José Muñoz has argued, “incorporate understandings of the psychic in the service of understanding the social” (681).

My archive has also been curated in an attempt to represent particular forms of affective digital work, as well as the types of discussions circulating in and around them. That is, because one could convincingly argue that affect plays a critical role in shaping all digital production, specific affective conditions and effects have to be foregrounded to align with the limitations of a single project. As I suggested in my introduction, one site of emphasis in my study is the specific condition or affective attachment known as love. As such, I have selected particular sites or spaces in which I argue that love plays an especially influential role in defining the conditions of the labour and its valuation. This does not mean, as I noted, that the subjective affective experience always feels like love for the labourers involved. Rather, whether it is through the rhetoric of loving what one does (in the case of academic blogging), loving a media object and offering both/either payment for that object, or unwaged labour in its service (in the cases of piracy and fandom), or loving a particular aesthetic and/or personal project (as in crowdfunding), I am interested in how love operates as a dominant structural logic in each space.

A second parameter shaping the boundaries of my proposed archive is the relationship that the types of labour I am taking up have to offline work. While a form like ‘mommy blogging’ is a highly affective site of production (Morrison), for instance, it ultimately raises questions that, though related to mine, are nonetheless distinct; to ask why mommy bloggers are typically unpaid, I would argue one has to ask the related question about why mothering itself is not a paid form of labour. In order to get at what might be distinct about how digital labour functions and is accorded value, then, I have elected to work with forms of labour that are either: 1) recognized and often valued in the form of compensation when undertaken offline, or (2) where distance (both actual and perceived) from a paid offline equivalent is precisely what is deemed politically valuable or resistant about that work. The former, I suggest, is the case for academic blogging (because many academics would be paid for producing the same, or very similar work, offline) and in crowdfunding, which has, in varying forms, been likened to both a patronage model of artistic production (“What is Kickstarter?”) and a method for generating and providing charitable donations (“About Us”). The latter, meanwhile, operates in many fandom and piracy communities, wherein the lack of an easily equivalent offline practice for labour in these online context is used by many to make claims about their power to resist capitalist modes of value and relationality.

Finally, I have also chosen this archive based on the centrality of each of these domains in explicit debates about online labour. Disputes within and around academic blogging, for example, have considered the gendered and racial politics influencing which academics are expected to blog their work without payment, and how these demands are related to offline conditions such as the precarious nature of adjunct labour. The rise of political Pirate Parties in several countries, as well as the foregrounding of pro-piracy documentaries such as “Copy Me” on sites like Pirate Bay, likewise imply that online piracy is significant to broader conversations about the limitations of property-based models of circulation. While each domain is engaged in distinct debates about online work, some of which are even in tension with one another, I argue that they share an explicit investment in actively shaping how digital labour is understood, and in foregrounding how the politics governing these decisions correspond to offline struggles as well.

My reading of my objects works within these parameters and builds upon my interest in the specific and the total by employing a modified version of case-study analysis. In “On the Case”, Lauren Berlant describes the case as a genre, one that “hovers about the singular, the general, and the normative” (664). While employed in what can be radically different ways across disciplines, she argues that what unites all case-study analysis is the “idiom of judgment” (663), or the ways in which “expertise and explanation” are used to argue that the case “points to something bigger…an offering of an account of the event and of the world” (665). The risk of the case-study, then, is rooted in how the ability to offer analysis of the case is often linked to normative associations between expertise and specific bodies and experiences. My own project maintains the importance and utility of the case of a genre, but also attempts to disrupt some of its normalizing tendencies. I work toward the latter by attending not only to the specificities of the objects and communities I am discussing, but also to their circulation, or how they have been characterized as cases by others. My discussion of fandom, for example, is not only a consideration of the content or structure of particular fan products, but an examination of how the figure of the fan has been represented in various spaces, including the forms of media fans themselves are responding to. While my analysis will certainly argue for the validity of certain approaches to these cases over others, my hope is to capture and maintain a dialectical interaction between the cases in all their material specificity and their existence as cases that have already been mediated through the expertise of others.

 

Process

I also intend to approach the questions structuring my research through the form and process of generating the project itself. Recently, I began 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 (or in addition to) 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 of my dissertation related work in this format, I hope to engage with these discussions by constantly foregrounding questions of audience, accessibility, and accountability both to other academics and 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 allow my work to participate in attempts to make academic labour, and its increasingly precarious workforce, a more visible site of emphasis and struggle.




[1]This approach is also implicitly positioned against recent historicizations of feminist and queer theory that have deemed the turn toward questions of identity as representation as a mistake and a distraction from broader materialist projects. I am especially invested in complicating the division Nancy Fraser’s (2003) work posits between recognition and redistribution, which I view as two necessarily complimentary projects.

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