14 February 2014

Hidden Deviant Labour 1

In an age where social media and online profiles make work more visible than ever, it sometimes feels like everyone’s job title is on display for the world to see. Some jobs have always invited identification through clothes and locations – the chap in the pilot’s uniform marching purposefully into the cockpit of a Boeing 747 and being welcomed by the cabin crew is almost certainly going to fly you from Gatwick to Boston. Other jobs are hard to place by sight alone: without checking out her LinkedIn profile, it’s difficult to tell whether the woman in the striped blouse and black trousers is a team leader at a call centre or a front-end developer at a digital agency.

But there are still lots of types of work which are hidden, socially unacceptable, or both. Some work goes unseen, taking place thousands of miles away from the place where its final products are sold; the shiny electronic goods made in Foxconn’s factories have far greater physical presence in most people’s lives than the workers who labour up to 12 hours a day to produce them.

Other work is deeply embarrassing, shameful even; not something you’d want your loved ones to do, a pain to explain when you meet new people. Following the global economic crisis and the associated hi-jinx of the banks, much of the glitter fell away from previously alluring finance jobs with industry researchers reporting 'the stark and worrying conclusion that only a small percentage of high achieving 16-18 year olds aspire to a career in financial services.' American sociologists, Blake Ashforth and Glen Kreiner, have identified what they describe as ‘dirty work’ – jobs which are perceived by society to be somehow socially degrading, even deviant. Sometimes it can be dispersed and hidden, an idea which Stephanie Rothenberg and Jeff Crouse explore this idea through their piece Laborers of Love (LOL) in the Time and Motion exhibition at FACT.

Laborers of Love is an adult entertainment website that uses Amazon Mechanical Turk to create participants’ fantasies – although the site is over-18s only, the actual tasks which each mTurk performs anonymous and micro-sized, a tiny grain of sand which collectively contributes to an enormous X-rated beach but which alone are unidentifiable.

‘Dirty work’ itself still varies by status, power, quality of work, education, and income. Both slaughterhouse workers and corporate tax accountants may shy away from mentioning their jobs on their OkCupid profiles, yet one wields considerably more prestige and money than the other. 

Join us on Valentine’s Day for a workshop when we’ll explores these darker, hidden sides of modern work, and examine the problem that, in an age of austerity and zero-hour contracts, can we afford to be picky about the work we take? Or when social media and surveillance technologies shine a light into our ever-intertwined personal and working lives, does the reputation of our jobs matter now more than ever?

The workshop is free but booking is required. Please visit the What's On page for more information and to reserve your place.