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Public Lecture: Annie McClanahan, “Tipwork, Microwork, Automation”

September 18, 2019 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

The Modernisms/Modernities Colloquium invites you to

“Tipwork, Microwork, Automation” 

A talk by Annie McClanahan (Associate Professor, University of California, Irvine)


This talk takes the measure of contemporary work life. It begins by offering a historical account of what I argue are the three central paradigms for 21st century labor—tipwork, gigwork, and microwork. I argue that the defining characteristic of 21st century work is low wages, but also that low-wages must be understood as a qualitative as well as quantitative measure insofar as today’s low wages structure the working experience as such, ensuring intense bodily, social, and reproductive precarity. Even apparently abstract or technical changes in the organization of work—the shift systems of tipwork, the self-harrying of gigwork, the pay-by-results structures of microwork, and the absence of minimum wage and union protections for all these forms of work—are vividly, often painfully experienced by workers themselves, especially when the wages do not provide for workers’ basic needs. I also discuss a number of works of microwork art and scholarship that use platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk either to exploit international labor or to critique that exploitation.

Annie McClanahan is an Associate Professor of English at University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and 21st Century Culture (Stanford UP), which was awarded the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present Best Book of 2016 Prize. She has published widely, including in Los Angeles Review of Books, COMMUNEsymploke, Representations, The Journal of Cultural Economy, and Theory & Event.


September 18, 2019
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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