[iDC] Hyperemployed or Feminized Labor?

Ian Bogost ian.bogost at lmc.gatech.edu
Sun Nov 17 18:10:15 UTC 2013

Thanks for all this thoughtful evaluation, Karen. 

> What I am curious about, however, is the use of the term “hyperemployment.” As Trebor suggested, the term is contradictory for workers who are refused the designation of “employee.” Trebor mentioned crowd-sourced labor, but the fight simply to be recognized as an employee has been a long and well-documented struggle for workers who were excised from the National Labor Relations Act, namely agricultural and domestic workers. While there is agency in simply offering the term “employment” to certain activities (waged or unwaged), I am wondering if what Bogost is drawing attention to has less to do with “employment” than with the uneven redistribution and privatization of the labor of social reproduction, an antagonism that feminist theorists have been writing about for more than thirty years. Bogost writes, “hyperemployment offers a subtly different way to characterize all the tiny effort we contribute to Facebook and Instagram and the like. It’s not just that we’ve been duped into contributing free value to technology companies (although that’s also true), but that we’ve tacitly agreed to work unpaid jobs for all these companies.” This tacit agreement, however, extends beyond social media and e-mail and is really a form of housework and maintenance for our daily lives. In that regard, I wonder if calling the cozy arrangement between digital technologies, data economies, and invisible labor “employment” runs the danger of side-stepping the deeper (gendered and racialized) antagonisms inherent in the distinction between what is considered labor and what is considered “care.”

This is probably the commonest criticism of my piece, and I do understand it. However, it was a calculated gambit. I think it can be turned around: does calling the cozy arrangement you describe "exploitation" do anything to overcome or even resolve those antagonisms? 

One of the reasons I wanted to write this piece and explore a different verbal frame is because I think the answer is "no." While this one salvo isn't enough to lead to definitive conclusions, framing labor-without-benefit as employment might help show exactly the contradiction you and Trebor (and others) highlight. I hope it's clear that we don't disagree on the unfortunate scarcity of "true" employment. It's really two sides of the same coin: Trebor might say, hey, these jobs don't bear some of the key features of employment! And I might respond, yes, and even weirder they simultaneously exhibit MORE of the key features of employment too! 

This is also where I think my argument diverges from Crary's 24/7, incidentally. Rather than argue that such a reality is no longer possible or desirable, I'm suggesting that recasting our weird worklives as lives of hyperemployment, we can better depict the present circumstances in a manner that those who aren't already convinced of its troublesome nature might appreciate.


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