IIPC Debate 6 November

IIPC Debate #58
Thu 6 November, 4-6 pm Janus Hall (Kaivokatu 12, Turku)
Professor Andrew Herman (Wilfrid Lauriel University, Canada & Aarhus University, Denmark):
Media Materialities, Affective Labour and the Moral Economy of Cultures of Innovation in Digital Capitalism

This paper will report on my on-going research project into comparative cultures of innovation of “high-tech” start up sectors within national formations of digital capitalism. This research project examines the spatial registers and digitally mediated work practices of the cultures of productions of regional tech sectors in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Israel. The overall research project is an on-going, multi-modal ethnography of the performativities of digitally mediated labour in the tech sector, an assemblage of material and imaginary elements that I felicitously term “Blackberry™ capitalism”. The research project is animated by an analytical framework that is located at located at the interstices of the epistemological concerns of radical empiricism and new media materialism, one the hand, and the ontological concerns of theories of digital capitalism and immaterial labour on the other. For my talk in Turku, I will discuss one phase of the (much) larger ethnographic project. This phase is focused on a digital media business “accelerator” in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada called “the Communitech Hub”. Prior to its transformation into a “node in the national network” of Canadian informational capital, the building that houses the Hub was home to the Lang Tannery, which, in its heyday, was the largest tannery operation in the British Empire. Where animal skins were once turned into materials for worker’s clothing, work is now transmogrified into play as “big ideas are turned into big companies” within the friendly confines of the Hub’s metaphorical sandbox. I will explore how the imaginary of technological innovation and entrepreneurship of the Hub is organized around and through the socio-technical affordances of mobile media forms. Such media forms, I argue, are essential to the successful propagation of “project” based networks that are the primary vehicles (literally and figuratively) for the accumulation and movement of informational capital. Yet part and parcel of the creation and sustenance of such projective networks is an affective bearing of people in the project towards their work and its goal that is thoroughly mediated by the materialities of mobile media they work with and on. This, in turn, creates differential mobilities of power within the Communitech Hub between funders, project leaders, and designers. Thus, contrary to many contemporary analyses of affective labor in digital capitalism that emphasize its “immaterality”, such labour is always-already material in fundamental ways.

Andrew Herman is an associate professor of Communication Studies in the Faculty of Arts on the Waterloo campus. He received his BA in Government from Georgetown University and his PhD in Sociology from Boston College. Before joining Laurier in 2004, he taught at Drake University, Boston College, College of the Holy Cross, and York University. He has been chair of the Communication Studies department and Director of the MA Program in Cultural Analysis and Social Theory. He has written widely in the field of social theory, media and culture and his appeared in scholarly journals such as Cultural Studies, Critical Studies in Media Communication, South Atlantic Quarterly, and Anthropological Quarterly. Among his many publications are The “Better Angel” of Capitalism: Rhetoric, Narrative and Moral Identity Among Men of the American Upper Class (Westview, 1999) and his edited collections, Mapping the Beat: Popular Music and Contemporary Cultural Theory (Blackwell, 1997), The World Wide Web and Contemporary Cultural Theory (Routledge, 2000) and Theories of the Mobile Internet: Materialities and Imaginaries (Routledge, 2014).

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