Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Westminster Student Blog Series

We have been posting a series of blogs written by University of Westminster Postgraduate students. They are all based on their research of social media, and come with a YouTube video as well. This is the last blog of the series - thank you to all of the students who contributed their work.

Social Media users: The Digital Housewife?
Valerie Kulchikhina (@v_kulchikhina) is a student at the University of Westminster for the Social Media Master's Degree program. She earned her Bachelor's Degree in journalism and advertising after graduating from the Lomonosov Moscow State University.


New social media platforms are created every few years. For instance, after the success of MySpace in 2003 and Facebook in 2004, came the launch of Twitter in 2006.  In addition, there has been an emergence of image and video-based applications, such as Instagram and Snapchat (released in 2010 and 2011 respectively).
The main source of income for these companies is data: basic information about a website’s members; their likes, comments, photographs, videos and sometimes even user-generated content (e.g. YouTube, Pinterest). Consequently, some scholars have regarded this process as the exploitation of users’ labour. This subject has been explored in Digital Labor by Trebor Scholz, in Digital Labor and Karl Marx by Christian Fuchs, as well as in other books and publications.

However, Dr. Kylie Jarrett provides a new critical model for the issue of digital labour exploitation by applying Marxist feminist theorisation. According to Jarrett, there are notable similarities between the exploitation of domestic workers’ labour and online users’ labour. For example, in both instances their work remains unpaid, even though it is integral to the capitalist market. These ideas are presented and explored in her new book, entitled Feminism, Labour and Digital Media: The Digital Housewife. There, Jarrett also addresses a variety of topics, from Marxist works to identity politics.

In order to find out more about Jarrett’s perspectives, we reached out to the author herself and conducted a short but very informative interview. First, we examined the intriguing concept of the ‘digital housewife’ that allowed the author to explore the feminised experience of labour. Second, we discussed how Jarrett came across this concept of ‘feminisation of labour’ for the first time while reading neoliberal economics and politics. That idea later evolved into the term ‘housewifisation’, which the author discovered in the influential works of Maria Mies. Third, we analysed several similarities between domestic labour and online labour that initially captured Jarrett’s attention. For instance, the author notes, ‘they are both providing inalienable commodities that are part of the alienated commodity exchanges’. Moreover, both types of labour participate in developing ‘meaningful subjectivity’. However, Jarrett emphasizes that even while sharing so much in common, they are not the same.

In addition to that, the author explained her opinion on the importance of feminism. She notes how feminist theorisation showed the economic influence of domestic work that previously was simply considered a ‘natural’ labour. Thus, feminist critique helped to demonstrate the valuable role which consumer labour plays in the capitalistic world. 
She also mentions several reasons why the framework for housewives’ unpaid work has not garnered more attention over the years. For example, she reminds us that for a long time domestic work was perceived to be organic labour and, therefore, ‘not productive’.

Furthermore, Jarrett describes orthodox Marxism as ‘incoherent’ towards women, whose work was often discussed in the same context as nature.  Within this framework, it is not surprising that feminist theorisation was not able to gain more visibility for a long time.  
Jarrett also contemplated the possibility of building an online world where user labour is no longer exploited. During this discussion, Jarrett mentions that feminist theorisation shared some models of creating a harmonious medium. However, she highlights that ‘we do need to challenge a lot more than exploitation’.

In her book, Jarrett references numerous scholars, including feminist thinkers and other theorists. For instance, the author addresses the opinions of Mark Andrejevic and Tiziana Terranova, who believes that ‘free labour … is not necessarily exploited labor’. It was interesting to discover Jarrett’s responses to these notions, namely: ‘Yes, you are right but also…’ She uses a simple example of liking someone’s Instagram post to show that it is a social interaction, but also it is an action that is exploited structurally.

In summary, Jarrett manages to successfully utilise the framework of ‘unpaid reproductive work’ and apply it to the current discourse of online labour exploitation. Using different examples and her own personal experience, she makes a seemingly complex topic more accessible to students and scholars alike. Hopefully, readers will find the accompanying video to be an interesting introduction to Jarrett’s recent work. Perhaps it will help to further endorse the significance of feminists’ works in the field of digital media studies. 



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