Gender and Aspirational Labor in the Social Media Economy
Brooke Erin Duffy, Temple University
Against the backdrop of profound transformations in the technologies, economies, and politics of creative labor, legions of enterprising young women are flocking to social media platforms with aspirations of capitalizing on their passion projects. For these digitally networked content creators, fashion blogs, YouTube, and Instagram represent prospective paths to successful and rewarding careers. But to what extent do their creative investments pay off? In this talk, I draw upon in-depth interviews and fieldwork reports to show how these female digital-content producers engage in “aspirational labor,” a highly gendered, forward-looking, entrepreneurial mode of productivity. Aspirational laborers pursue creative activities that hold the promise of social and economic capital; yet the reward system for these aspirants is vastly uneven. Indeed, while a select few may realize their professional goals—namely to get paid doing what they love—this labor ideology obscures the work and capital required to compete for visibility in an attention economy. Moreover, despite the rhetoric of creative production, the aspirational labor system ensures that female participants remain suspended in the highly gendered consumption and promotion of branded commodities.
Brooke Erin Duffy, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the School of Media and Communication at Temple University. Her research interests include digital and social media; creative labor/media work; feminist media studies; and promotional culture. She is the author of Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age (University of Illinois Press, 2013) and the forthcoming monograph Aspirational Labor: Women and Creative Work in an Age of Social Media (Yale University Press). Her work has been published in such journals as Critical Studies in Media Communication; Communication, Culture & Critique; the International Journal of Cultural Studies; Feminist Media Studies; and Social Media + Society, among others. She holds a Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.