Open Networks, Open Books: Gender, Precarity and Solidarity in Digital Publishing Public Deposited

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  • The nature of work is changing, from secure, full-time jobs to a ‘risk regime’ characterized by alternative work arrangements and a pervasive sense of insecurity [Beck, U. (2000). The brave new world of work. Polity: Malden, MA]. While these conditions resemble those long endured by cultural workers, scholarly exploration of these similarities has stalled: Digital optimists extoll the value of self-enterprise, while critical cultural scholars decry such claims as a smokescreen for deteriorating labor conditions, which inevitably promote insecurity (or ‘precarity’). This paper attempts to end the stalemate by proposing three measures of insecurity and applying them to a group of cultural workers—romance authors. Through a survey of 4270 romance authors, I show their median income nearly doubled after the rise of digital self-publishing, while other authors’ incomes dropped. Interviews with 78 authors and editors suggest this resilience relates to professional tactics developed in the 1980s amidst pervasive gender bias. Specifically, romance authors developed an ‘open-elite’ network, an arrangement historically associated with innovation, which was later amplified by interactive communication technologies [Powell, W. W., & Owen-Smith, J. (2012). An open elite: Arbiters, catalysts, or gatekeepers in the dynamics of industry evolution. In The emergence of organizations and markets (pp. 466–495). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press]. This research contributes to debates around self-employment, cultural work and precarity. It shows increased insecurity is not inevitable in the risk regime, but rather that specific professional practices, enhanced by ICTs, can increase workers’ resilience.].

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  • 2020-11-17
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  • 1468-4462
  • 1369-118X