Journal Name: Information, Communication & Society:
Volume 5, Number 1, 2002
Keeping Up: Web Design Skill and The Reinvented Worker
By Nalini P. Kotamraju
The flexible reinvented worker figures prominently in accounts of informationage work (Touraine 1971; Bell 1976; Zuboff 1988; Block 1990; Aronowitz and DiFazio 1994; Castells 1996; Rifkin 1996; Sennett 1998). These accounts argue that new media workers, in particular, need to be flexible, to often readjust to new technology and to reskill constantly. While these arguments normally emphasize the role of changing work conditions, in this paper, I investigate the formation of skill in the new media industry. Specifically, I ask how employers in the late 1990s framed a particular new media skill, web design, and how this skillset dealt with upgrades and changes. Using classified job advertisements, trade publications, informant interviews, and fieldwork, I document the articulation of web design skill and its boundaries. My findings highlight how skill definition, rather than work conditions, affects new media work. I show that the web design skill-set: 1. emerged as a fluid, rather than narrow and technically defined, set of competencies; 2. thrived in a tension between art (design) and code (development); 3. utilized web technology itself to create professional institutions; and 4. required constant skill maintenance and upgrading, what I, echoing an informant, call 'keeping up'. I conclude by suggesting that the definition of what constitutes a skill is essential to one of the greatest challenges of new media work: the phenomenon of re-skilling.
Hot Jobs in Cool Places. The Material Cultures of New Media Product Spaces: The Case of South of the Market, San Francisco
By Andy C. Pratt
This paper explores the localization of new media production in San Francisco. It is contextualized within a debate about the material culture of cyberspace. Much rhetoric has been expended in 'reading off' idealized 'online' worlds into probable 'off-line' worlds: the 'death of geography' is a case in point. The case is made for a corrective to both the idealist-culturalist, and the materialist techno-economic, accounts of cyberspace that accords an opportunity for both to infuse one another. The paper uses the concept of the material cultural practice of making products, underpinned by the notion of product space, to argue in favour of a co-construction of the 'off-' and 'online' worlds. The case study illustrates the point of how the most ecstatic 'online' community is rooted in a particular space and place, and how 'off-line' practices are essential to its 'online' presence.
Occupational Technologists as an Occupational Community: Ethnographic Evidence
By Daniel Marschall
This paper uses qualitative research data, obtained from ethnographic fieldwork at a US software development firm, to demonstrate that a group of skilled workers in the Internet economy constitute an 'occupational community'. A conceptual framework for identifying occupational communities is described, along with relevant findings from previous ethnographic research on skilled workers in computer-related occupations. The Internet technologists at the company share collaborative work practices, identify closely with one another, adopt a distinctive use of language, and possess other characteristics indicating their participation in an occupational community. These findings are part of a longitudinal research study of the firm's organizational culture.
Cool, Creative and Egalitarian? Exploring Gender in Project-Based New Media Work in Europe
By Rosalind Gill
The new media industries are popularly regarded as cool, creative and egalitarian. This view is held by academics, policy-makers and also by new media workers themselves, who cite the youth, dynamism and informality of new media as some of its main attractions. This paper is concerned with what this mythologized version of new media work leaves out, glosses over and, indeed, makes difficult to articulate at all. Themes include pervasive insecurity, low pay, and long hours but the particular focus of the paper is on gender inequalities in new media work. Despite its image as 'cool', non-hierarchical and egalitarian, the new media sector, this paper will argue, is characterized by a number of entrenched and all too old-fashioned patterns of gender inequality relating to education, access to work and pay. Moreover, a number of new forms of gender inequality are emerging, connected - paradoxically - to many of the features of the work that are valued - informality,autonomy,flexibility and so on. Drawing on a study of 125 freelance new media workers in six European countries, this paper explores these issues and argues that the new forms of sexism in new media represent a serious challenge to its image of itself as cool, diverse and egalitarian.
Trusting Strangers: Work Relationships in Four High-Tech Communities
By J.A. English-Lueck , Charles N. Darrah , Andrea Saveri
For the last ten years, anthropologists have been studying work, family and technology in Silicon Valley. Using intensive observation and ethnographic interviews, we have investigated the daily life of people in Silicon Valley in an ecosystem of research endeavours we have dubbed the Silicon Valley Cultures Project, supported by grants by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, as well as through partnerships with the Institute for the Future. The latter collaborated to conduct ethnographic interviews on the details of work and technologically mediated communications in Bangalore, India, Dublin, Ireland, and the Taipei-Hsinchu corridor in Taiwan, revealing the complexities of global interconnections in families and workplaces. These projects have explored the penetration of work, technology and global interconnections into the daily lives of the people. We used a comparative approach, a multisite research design, to yield different research questions. Cross-site analysis allows us to see that differing social and technical infrastructures shape the way trust is built and maintained. Locating research sites in different locations also emphasizes the problematic nature of technologically-mediated relationships, since networks built at a distance and maintained virtually have risks that locally constructed networks do not. Workers in Silicon places are simultaneously inwardly-focused and embedded in a local context and connected to global economic and communications nodes. Interdependent high-tech work, often using technologically-mediated communication, requires a high degree of trust. The cultural construction of 'trust', and the culturally situated negotiation of trust relationships need to be explored in this context. High-tech knowledge work is done by networks of interdependent global workers that must share information, act under a severe time constraint, and establish effective relationships at a distance. The management of interpersonal and organizational expectations that is embodied in the concept 'trust' is an example of how locally constructed cultural realities are enacted on a global stage.
Playing at work: Understanding the Future of Work Practices at the Institute for the Future
By Lonny J Brooks , Geoffrey Bowker
This paper analyses the latest management assumptions and theories of playing at work, by examining how management strategies, especially relating to new media, invoke elements of play to create distinct and competing genres of discourse. After a brief overview of the latest management crisis of innovation, we will provide a few definitions of play, followed by a short summary of where play and other competing dialogues converge and overlap at worksites historically. This context will then enable us to present an ethnographic account of play at work at a non-profit forecast research firm known as the Institute for the Future, a site where notions of play are linked to a number of business and cultural discourses about the future of new media and presented in full relief. What we find is that while elements of play exist, the discourses that arise from it do not necessarily belong in the realm of play at all. Instead, notions of play at work are tied to wider historical frameworks acknowledging earlier 1960s American counter-cultural appeals for new values in management and worker self-actualization, and linked to a process for transforming that renewed impulse into the service of a networked economy in the 1990s.
(This journal is available online: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/routledge/1369118X.html)
Posted with permission from the publisher.