Voices for Social Justice in the Gig Economy: Where Labor, Policy, Technology, and Activism Converge
Voices for Social Justice in the Gig Economy, Michelle Rodino-Colocino.
This research discusses the App-Based Driver Association, looking specifically at Seattle. There’s no “there” for gig economy work: previous spaces of organising, such as the shop floor, aren’t available. One space is a parking lot, where people sit waiting to get lifts. There’s one shady tree, where people tend to converge. Another space is an Ethiopian grocery store, as many drivers are East African. The ABDA is largely funded and supported by the teamsters. Drivers interviewed definitely understand that they’re producing for Uber, and that they’re being exploited. They spoke about the challenges of planning – they can’t go watch a movie. Above all, Uber sells drivers’ availability. One driver was told: “we can always get another Mohammed”. Drivers feel dehumanized. They’re not provided with toilets, there’s nowhere to pray. They’re also cautious about organising, as Uber is clearly anti-union.
Work in the European Gig Economy. Kaire Holts, University of Hertfordshire. This research aims to survey and measure the extent and characteristics of crowd work in Europe. Working conditions are characterised by precariousness (including frequent changes to pay levels), unpredictability, work intensity, the impact of customer ratings, abuse from customers, and poor communication with platform staff (including a lack of face to face contact, and no social etiquette). One driver was asked to deliver drugs to a criminal gang late at night. When she told the platform about it they said it was her responsibility to check what was in the bags. Workers face both physical risks and stresses, and issues with mental health. There are some attempts at collective representation of platform workers in Europe. In UK, for example, there’s the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain delivering Deliveroo drivers, and the United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) representing Uber drivers.
Reimagining Work [didn’t quite catch the current title], Laura Forlano. This draws on a project with Megan Halpern, using workshops and games that helped people collaborate to imagine what work might look like in the future. One participation spoke up the importance of the shift from talking around around each other to needing to actually physically move as part of the workshop process. Shifts in work are linked to reimagining the city as a (new, urban) factory, so we need to reimagine relationships between work, technology, and the city to embed social justice values into our future.
Information and the Gig Economy. Brian Dolber.
Talks about shifting from a tenure-track position to adjunct work, and then taking up work with Uber and Unite Here (campaigning against Airbnb). From 2008 to 2012, Silicon Valley received little of the broader critique addressed at capitalism more generally. Silicon Valley can be seen within Nancy Fraser’s concept of ‘progressive neoliberalism’, but we’re also seeing a shift towards an emergent neofascism. Airbnb’s valuation is greater than all the hotel chains, which is odd when we think about ‘hosts’ as small business owners. Airbnb has created online communities called ‘Airbnb citizen’ which aim to mobilise hosts to affect city policy. The narrative is very much about facilitating people staying in their homes, paying medical bills, supporting the creative industries, which Dolber argues is cultivating a petit bourgeois attitude that shifts us towards an emergent neofascism.
The opening speaker (whose name I unfortunately didn’t get) discusses the ways in which pop feminism works, and the complexity of vulnerability. There’s a distorted mirroring of vulnerability between popular feminism and white misogyny.
Polemology: counterinsurgency and culture jamming, Jack Bratich.
We need a genealogy to elaborate and understand the persistence and connection of struggles across time.
Rosemary Clark-Parsons (University of Pennsylvania) will discuss de Certeau’s concept of “tactics” within the context of her ethnographic work among grassroots feminist collectives in the city of Philadelphia. She focuses on ‘girl army’, a secret Facebook group developed as a space for women and nonbinary people to share experiences. Tilly and Tarrow’s definition of contentious politics would exclude this group, which isn’t in line with women and nonbinary people’s solidarity and organising work within the group. De Certeau’s concept of tactics allows us to take the everyday seriously; can teach us about strategies; and allows explicit recognition of agency within systems of power. There are limitations, too, including issues with addressing differential access to agency, and theorizing structural change over time. The strategies/tactics binary can be reductive and reify power relations.
#HashtagActivism: race and gender in America’s Networked Counterpublics. Sarah J. Jackson (Northeastern University). Networked counterpublics theory is one way to understand how marginalised communities create their own public spheres. Mainstream media coverage of the public response to #myNYPD mostly treated it as ‘trolling’, or a PR disaster, that could happen to anyone. In the coverage of #Ferguson, there was a flow of the narrative from ordinary people’s framing through to social movement organisations, and finally the media. #GirlsLikeUs is a useful case, because even within counterpublics, there are people at the margins, who produce their own counter-counterpublics.
Jessa Lingel (University of Pennsylvania) focused on “mainstream creep,” referring to the uneasy relationships between countercultural communities and dominant media platforms, where the former uses the latter reluctantly or in highly-limited ways. How do we construct particular bodies as vulnerable: the language of ‘marginalised people’ is important for understanding structures of power, but does it also construct people as essentially weaker?
Gendered Voices and Practices of Open Peer Review
I opened this panel by reflecting on some of the ways in which I am currently trying to understand, and reconfigure, my approaches to both mothering and academia. I’ll put up a blog post about this later.
The Fembot Collective’s Global South Initiatives. Radhika Gajjala, Bowling Green State University. Problems for women in academia in the Global South start with the much-more-oppressive system of neocolonialism. To participate in autoethnography or other feminist methodologies would be a problem because it’s devalued within universities that see it as navel-gazing. Women need to publish in top-tier journals in order to be successful (or even survive) within their academic spaces. How do we as feminist publishers work with women in the Global South to help them access the resources that their institutions value? How do we support them without asking them to do a lot of extra activist work within their institutions? We need to think about power differences within the networks of solidarity and resistance we build across borders. It’s a messy terrain. We need to work to allow women in academia in the Global South to get access to a space where they can speak (and be heard).
Voicing New Forms of Scholarly Publishing. Sarah Kember, Goldsmith’s, University of London. There’s a seismic shift happening at the moment in academic publishing. Revolution and disruption are not the same thing. We need to understand this within the context of efforts to police and politicise scholarly practices: there’s no distinction between these two at the moment. We need to both uphold something (the trust in academic work), but also change it (the opacity of peer review processes). We’re currently seeing a “pay to say” model of academic publishing in open access, at least in the UK. “Openness” works in different ways, with an asymmetrical structure. Goldsmiths has to be open, Google doesn’t. “Open access” publishing is often incredibly expensive, especially where academics are pushed to continue publishing with traditional academic publishers. Kember cites ADA as a big intervention in these models. The disruptions of scholarly publishing models is a by-product of neoliberalism. The disruption of academia isn’t. We need to restate the university press mission, revise it, and rethink it. The policies around scholarly publishing need careful examination. The issue is not about adding ever-more OA panels, which are entrepreneurial, and technicist.
Peer Review is Dead, Long Live Peer Review: Conflicts in the Field of Academic Production. Bryce Peake, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Academics often undertake review because it gives access to particular networks. Women tend to receive much more negative feedback from review, and to engage in (be asked to do?) more peer review. There are different ways of understanding peer review: as enforcer (for example, of particular norms), networker, gatekeeper (of one particular journal), and/or mentor.
Ada and Affective Labor. Roopika Risam, Salem State University. ADA and the peer review process intervenes in scholarly systems, but is at risk particularly because of that. Risam talks about an experience drawing on theory from the margins: journal editors for a journal with a more experimental peer review process decided to shift from post-publication review to the traditional peer review process. Generosity in peer review is not the same as being ‘nice’: it’s about the level of engagement in the process. It means that the community takes seriously the project that the author is engaged in, rather than what they think the author should be doing. This means that the community has developed and perpetuated a set of norms. Even when editors are advising authors that their text is not ready for publishing, they are kind. Too often, ‘rigor’ has been set up as opposing kindness. This kind of peer review presents a challenge to the masculinist mode of academic production: it’s collectivist rather than individualist, seeing knowledge as an open system rather than a closed hierarchy. How can we look at the intersection of rigor and kindness? Scholarship is more rigorous when it makes its multiple genealogies visible, writing voices which have been made invisible back into academia.
Carol Stabile, in beginning discussion, prompted us to read Toward a Zombie Epistomology by Deanna Day, asking whether we should be should be considering a nonreproductive (or even antireproductive) approach to academia: one not concerned with leaving behind a specific legacy, either institutional or theoretical. Radhika’s answer was very much in line with my thinking on this: that in trying to rethink our approach not only to academia but also to mothering, she (and I) want to think of mothering not as a process of reproducing ourselves, but as a way of making space for children (and students, and colleagues) to be their own people. Thinking about the important challenges and prompts that (re)reading Revolutionary Mothering, The Argonauts, and more informal conversations with the many amazing people I know reflecting on their parenting experiences, have given me, I’d add that it’s also important to consider the ways in which feminist practices of peer review (and academia more generally), should not only not be about reproducing ourselves, but should be about allowing ourselves to be changed.
There was also some excellent discussion about the role of institutions (like the committees that evaluate promotions and tenure), and citation practices. In a response to a question about how to balance attempts to create change against the requirements of tenure, Carol and Sarah spoke on the importance of joining evaluation panels, both to get a better understanding of how they work and to intervene in them. Sarah notes that when we’re forced to write and research more quickly, it can be hard to find sources to draw on beyond the standard offerings. (I’ve particularly noted this myself: after managing not to cite any men, I think, in my last publication before giving birth, my writing since referring to work has relied far more heavily on the most well-known literature.) Sarah prompts peer reviewers to actively consider the breadth of sources that research draws on.
Love, Sex, Friendship: LGBTQ Relationships and Intimacies
Lover(s), Partner(s), and Friends: Exploring Privacy Management Tactics of Consensual Non-Monogamists in Online Spaces. Jade Metzger, Wayne State University. In 1986 a researcher surveyed around 3,000 people, and found that 15-28% of that population didn’t define themselves as monogamous, and more recent research has also found that many young people don’t define themselves as not strictly monogamous. Consensual non-monogamy is often stigmatised. How do we understand disclosure of consensual non-monogamy? Metzger notes that one of the main researchers in this area doesn’t engage in consensual non-monogamy herself. Metzger’s research, which included open-ended interviews and self-disclosure, found that self-disclosure varied, including ‘keeping it an open secret’, using ambiguous terms (like ‘friend’ or ‘partner…s’), or using terms open to interpretation (‘cuties’, ‘comets’, ‘cat’). Reasons cited for privacy included family disapproval, repercussions at work, harm to parental custody, and general discomfort. Privacy is often negotiated at the small-group community level: self-disclosure often implicates others. For some, social media is a risk that has to be navigated carefully: blocking family, for example, or using multiple accounts. Often, it can be hard not to be connected online: it can be painful to not be able to acknowledge people important to you online. Some sites don’t allow you to list multiple partners, embedding heteronormativity into their structure. We need to see privacy as negotiated at the community level (as opposed to individually, as many neoliberal approaches to privacy understand it). The transparency of networks on social media places risks and burdens on those wanting (or needing) to remain private.
Does Gender Matter? Exploring Friendship Patterns of LGBTQ Youth in a Gender-Neutral Environment. Traci Gillig, USC Annenberg, Leila Bighash, USC – Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Gender is not a binary, but we constantly encounter spaces structured by the social gender binary, and gender stereotypes. Gender is a major driver of peer relationships among youth, including LGBTQ people. This research looked at the Brave Trails LGBTQ youth camp, which is gender neutral. Gillig and Bighash found that here, were students weren’t separated out by gender, friendship groupings didn’t cluster by gender.
Hissing and Hollering: Performing Radical Queerness at Dinner. Greg Niedt, Drexel University. The word ‘radical’ is often seen as a confrontational challenge to the mainstream, which is certainly a part of it. But radical queerness can also be about more quiet, everyday moments of queerness: the queer ordinary. In discussing radical queer ‘family dinners’, there is an act of radical queerness to reconstituting family as chosen family. Radical Faeries came out of activism in the 1970s, borrowing – or appropriating – from various forms of paganism and spirituality. Harry Hay was particularly central (and some of his statements about what it means to be queer are kind of what you might expect from a relatively privileged white man). Existing research is limited, and focuses on the high ritual and performativity. Niedt focuses, instead, on weekly fa(e)mily dinners in Center City Philadelphia. The research methodology drew on Dell Hymes (1974).
Music in Queer Intimate Relationships. Marion Wasserbauer, Universiteit Antwerpen. Thea DeNora discusses music as a touchstone of social relations, but there’s a dearth of beographical analysis of sociological study of music consumption. Wasserbauer talked about one interview in which a 44-year-old woman tracked the entanglement of her relationship with music, and how after the breakup she’d never experienced music again. Another 27-year-old-woman, who mostly enjoyed classical and 1920s music, found herself almost crying at a Bryan Adams concert she attended because a woman she was in a relationship with loved him so much.
I rounded out the day at an excellent panel with Maria Bakardjieva, Jakub Macek, Alena Macková, and Monika Metykova (I think – the last two were not listed in the program), discussing attacks on media and political freedoms in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Metykova outlined the incredibly worrying range of attacks on independent press and political opposition in Hungary (some of which are outlined here), noting that these have been legal and difficult to fully track, let alone resist. Becasue there a small audience (the last panel on the last day sadly often suffers), it was more of a discussion and I didn’t take notes in the panel, but I strongly encourage you to follow up the speakers’ work – and the situation in Central and Eastern Europe. It was a bit strange to me that ICA as an institution did little to address the specific situation of communications in the Czech Republic – the odd floating ‘placelessness’ of Western-centric academia (with numerous panels addressing US politics).