Year of Publication

2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Dr. Matthew Zook

Abstract

In this dissertation I examine work practices in the 21st Century, looking in particular at how categories such as labor and value are changing in the context of technological shifts and the valorization of entrepreneurial work. I take the example of digital media workers in San Francisco to show how work is changing in relation to correlative changes in the capitalist mode of production and the devaluation of labor under neoliberal models of reason. This approach interrogates how attachments toward work are produced and reproduced to ask why work has become such a naturalized and unquestionable category in everyday life. Rather than demanding less or better work, entrepreneurs in San Francisco work more and harder, while providing a romanticized ideal of work for others. I ask if standards of precarious, insecure, flexible, and discriminatory work practices are transmitted beyond the confines of digital media work, and become a normative and hegemonic standard for workers in general.

By examining these working practices and ethics of software developers in San Francisco’s digital media sector, I address recent calls in cultural economic and critical human geography to pay closer attention to the micro-spatiality of the workplace (rather than the more typical industry- or market-scale focus) and to consider issues of embodiment, emotions, affect, gendered performativity, and the production of sexuality at work. This dissertation attends to topics of inter-disciplinary appeal, including the production of software, precarious labor in a cultural industry, and the role of culture and emotions in the workplace. I view the workplace as a site not just for the production of economic forms of value, but also behaviors and attitudes toward work, working subjectivities, and structures of affect and desire.

I take up three main topics: (1) entrepreneurs’ and other workers’ personal attachment to their work, (2) users of social media platforms as unremunerated producers (or ‘prosumers’) of value, and (3) the use of the sharing trope to form a justification for flexible and contract work in the on-demand economy. I draw on eighteen months of fieldwork in San Francisco with workers for digital media firms, presenting data collected through interviews, participant observation, and discourse analysis.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

http://dx.doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2016.305

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