Blog Post

Blog Diss: Statement of Research Plan (1/4)

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.


Part two



If it seems like the second paragraph differs a bit in tone from the rest of the document as a whole, it's because that's the only piece taken almost directly out of my SSHRC proposal. Attempts to re-write it rendered it...well, kind of a mess. So I've left it for now, but would definitely welcome feedback here about how to alter it.


You've got a lot to work with here, and overall, I think this is a good starting point to producing a committee ready revision of the proposal.  What I'm going to do here is comment on each of the four sections separately, but I'll also include "global observations" as they come up, but I'll clearly flag them that way.  Hopefully that won't be too disjointed to make sense for you.

You've started this section out well, but you need to give a lot more detail up front about what the actual argument of the diss will be.  The proposal as a form is a blunt instrument, and it needs to begin with what I think of as the shovel to the head -- here is exactly what I am going to do.  The rest, as they say, is details, but your reader needs that very clear articulation right from the start or we're not sure what it is we're expected to hang the details from.  This needs to be a deductive rather than inductive form of writing.

This, I think, is one of the reasons why you're finding paragraph two here so unwieldy. I think it doesn’t have a real purpose yet because without a referent, everything is potentially admissible.  If it is to be an abstract, as your heading suggests, it needs to simply summarize the claims that will follow it in the proposal, not try to justify them or flesh them out.  That’s the difference between an abstract and a grant proposal, and that’s, I think, why the revision is hard.  Evidence and argument come later; this is the moment to boldly state your claims, theories, methods, and hypothetical outcomes.


Global feedback:

Boldly stating your claim(s) is something I want to push you on throughout this proposal.  Your language choices are often telling – you frequently use malleable and intransitive verbs that let you off the hook in making direct causal connections in your prose.  You should make one dedicated editing pass on the whole document evaluating every predicate.


Okay, so I'm a huge fan of this project.  I think it's smart and exciting and important.  You're right to respond to any sense that online labour is affectively immaterial.  One question that opens up for me that you gesture to here, but which might be one area for expanding reading is this: have more traditional forms of labour (gendered and non-gendered) been subject to more sustained analysis in terms of affect?  Women, for instance, have a reputation for doing emotional labour in all kinds of fields.  How does this history differ (if at all)from the kinds of affective labour you see taking place through online communities?  And further: what difference does the "community" aspect of this make?  What you're describing doesn't seem exactly akin to, say, union cultures, but there might be overlap.  How do you define a community within an economic space for the purposes of your project?  These are some ways what you have above opens up onto questions that could be tasks for your summer workplan.