Upcoming Talk: ASA 2013, “Voces Móviles and the Precarity of Work and Play in Online/Offline Spaces”

Next weekend I’ll be in Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting of the American Studies Association. One of my favorite conferences, this year I’m especially excited, since I’ll be on a kick-ass panel of digital media scholars, including Daniel Greene, Laura Portwood-Stacer, Lisa Nakamura, and Tara McPherson will be responding. Our panel, Session # 307, “Identity Work and Identity Play Online” will be on Sunday at 10am, and we’ll be discussing some pretty important issues around online identity. With such an amazing array of scholars, I’m feeling a little anxious, but I’m excited nonetheless!

Here’s an excerpt from our panel proposal:

This panel brings together four scholars working in diverse fields of American cultural studies to consider the stakes of identity performance online. We discuss the ways in which the making of selves online shifts between work and play, political act and consumer choice, exploited labor and pleasurable performance. We hope to prompt discussion of the shifts in cultural studies of the internet and the material conditions to which they have responded. Cultural critics responded to early moral panics about the commercial Web by analyzing neoliberal investments in advertising a world without race or gender, or in asserting the privilege to perform another race or gender as an act of ‘identity tourism’ in MUDs and chat rooms (Nakamura 1995). Contemporary cultural criticism has become less concerned with the free play of identity online, and more concerned with how that play becomes, through the ubiquitous surveillance of the ‘social Web’, free labor producing a profitable data profile from which users are alienated (Anderjevic 2012). It is of course a privilege to be thus surveilled and so we also link the exploitation of identity performance to more traditional accounts of exploitation in factories, fields, cities, and suburbs.

I will be speaking about VozMob, which I’ve spoken and written about briefly in other contexts, mostly in comparative readings with other collaborative narrative projects (for example, my article “Dark Mass” for The Journal of e-Media Studies), so this will be my first time speaking about VozMob on its own. (Sidenote: I’ve been trying to get in contact with the VozMob people now that I’m down in LA but having some difficulty. If anyone has some leads, I would appreciate any assistance!)

Here’s my abstract:

California has approximately 44,000 day laborers seeking work daily, with about forty-four percent of those workers in Los Angeles County alone. With little recourse in terms of labor rights and protections, these workers make up some of the most exploited and marginalized inhabitants of Los Angeles County. In addition, day laborers also often find that they do not have power over their own representations. Instead, they are often represented in critical, sensational, and politicized images found in news media, television, radio, and film. Voces Móviles, however, offers a space outside of commercial media where day laborers, often undocumented, can archive their experiences, organize politically, and educate the community. A social justice experiment made possible through a collaboration between scholars and volunteers at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at USC and the Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA), Voces Móviles was designed to give day laborers of Los Angeles County a forum to document their experiences through the use of appropriated Information Communication Technologies.

A product of local groups invested both in the material conditions of a local population and in the communicative potential of new and mobile technologies, Voces Móviles is an important site of inquiry for issues of labor, agency, and voice in new media spaces. Informed by literary, new media studies, and ethnic studies—this talk examines Voces Móviles as a site of identity production and story telling rooted in a local community. Also serves as an important case study through which we can examine the range of labor that make such an online space work: from the volunteer work that maintains the content management system, the training of the laborers, or jornaleros, who produce content, and the jornaleros themselves to take on the work of documenting their experiences in addition to the labor that provides them necessary income.

Additionally, as a space for narrative production, Voces Móviles utilizes mobile media and the socially networked blog form to provide a democratic and immediate, though haphazard, platform for education, communication, and activism. Jornaleros do this work from a range of diverse settings and circumstances through an array of media (Spanish or English blog entries, digital pictures, videos, etc.). In the process, some of their identities are obscured or hidden, while others who have citizenship or residency status cultivate their online identity to become outspoken representatives for their communities. Such discrepancy highlights the material danger and precarity that these jornaleros negotiate on a daily basis, and questions the criminality and indebtedness that is imposed upon them from host communities that feel threatened by their presence. This experimental platform, thus provides not only an opportunity for the marginalized and misrepresented day laborer population to gain control over their representation, but it also provides a new mode of interaction where readers and community members must invest time and labor to make meaning of the nonlinear, fragmented, and disconnected stories and media to become intimate with the trials and hopes of Los Angeles day laborers.

As with my past talks, I’ll try to post the talk after the conference. If anyone is still around on Sunday, I’d love to see you!

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