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About a week ago we had a guest lecture by Dr. Janneka Adams on Digital Identity & Reputation Economy. We discussed reputation, digital labour, self branding and late capitalism in today’s economy. The lecture was largely based on Alison Hearn’s journal article ‘Structuring Feeling: Web 2.0, Online Ranking and Rating, and the Digital Reputation Economy’.

Hearn (2010) linked issues around identity and digital identity directly with developments in pro-neoliberal economic conditions. These economic conditions and developments somewhat feed on the social capital that we ourselves create. While feeding data online on a social media platform we tend to create identities and reputations for ourselves. That same social identity is connected to economic conditions in the sense that they become the social capital.

The number of reviews on Yelp, number of likes on Facebook, number of followers on Twitter are all representations of digital reputation – the general sentiment about a product, person or service. Hearn (2010) claims “The over expression of individual feelings and the concomitant creation of a notable digital reputation via blogging, twittering, facebooking, ranking and providing feedback are generally seen to be positive developments, not only have consumers been freed from the top-down directives of a promotional culture, the argument goes, they are now able to draw on the collective intelligence and affective relations of all the Average-Joes around them”. So today even companies seek out individuals with higher social networking and larger social capital.

Moreover, by expressing opinions and feelings individuals feel more empowered in this emerging online economy; “feelings and opinions expressed in the form of ranking and rating for example, build personal reputation, which functions, in turn, as a new form of currency and value” (Hearn 2010). But does this lead to an ethical economy? We may feel more empowered in but in reality our production and our creation is no longer our own. By sharing our opinions or creations on social media platforms we are no longer able to control the distribution. It has become a post-Fordist economy where we are no longer just producers; but in service ourselves.

It could also be argued that activities of online rating and ranking comprise an immaterial labour in a sense that they produce value in the form of digital reputation. Hearn (2010) calls reputation “an extremely fluid, contingent, and precarious personal attribute generated entirely by the perception, attention and approval of others”. Building a strong reputation online is an on-going process involving image making and perception management (Rodden as cited in Hearn 2010). Historically reputation was considered a direct reflection of the quality of a person’s work or achievement. Today, however, reputation seems to be derived from performance of effective attention-receiving activities. In other words, it can be seen as a cultural product, and structured by its own mode of production “This mode of production is generally marked by the perennially exploitative relations between labour and capital as well as by other relations of power based on forms of identity such as race, sexuality and gender” (Hearn 2010). So what is created at the end in the form of reputation surely exceeds the control of the individual involved in its creation.

This power of constantly authorising and approving attention which can arguably lead to the growth of an a rewarding reputation ends up ignoring our uniqueness as individuals.Drawing from Brandy (1977) “reputation and fame are, at least discursively, marked by contradiction – between uniqueness and acceptance, distinction and commonality, and, most of all, the desire for transparency between what one truly is inside and what others see and celebrate”.

Foucault (1990) states that procedures of self presentation have always reflected dominant and cultural interests of the time. Our forms of self production are invariably linked to economic and social context; “the ways we come to internalise or embody these versions of selfhood are always contested and in flux”.  It can also be argued that increased production of immaterial commodities, such as knowledge and communication necessitate new kinds of labour that involve creativity and innovation. So the labour puts his / her own life experience, communicative competence, and sense of self to the respective job.

Hearn claims that the ideas of digital identity and reputation all boil down to self branding. “Branding activities are entirely dependent on the processes of meaning making and sociality of consumers as they not only buy also live through the brand. So, branding practices produce sets of images and immaterial symbolic values in and through which individuals negotiate the world at the same time as they work to contain and direct the expressive, meaning making capacities of social actors in definite self-advantaging ways, shaping markets and controlling competition” (Hearn 2010). We have reached a stage where we are the producer, the product and the consumer.

With every tweet and every image we hope to gain more popularity; which in turn we hope to use as currency or social capital. Our behaviour, relationships and bodies have become the object as well as the subject. As Foucault (1977) very rightly said “the body is directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it, they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies; the investment of the body is bound up with its economic use”.

References:

  • Brandy, L. (1977) The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History. New York: Vintage. as cited in Hearn, A. (2010) ‘Structuring Feeling: Web 2.0, Online Ranking and Rating, and the Digital Reputation Economy’. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organisation, Special Issue: Digital Labour Workers, Authors, Citizens 10 (3/4), 421-438
  • Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage
  • Foucault, M. (1990) Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, Ed. Donald Bouchard. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. as cited in Hearn, A. (2010) ‘Structuring Feeling: Web 2.0, Online Ranking and Rating, and the Digital Reputation Economy’. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organisation, Special Issue: Digital Labour Workers, Authors, Citizens 10 (3/4), 421-438
  • Hearn, A. (2010) ‘Structuring Feeling: Web 2.0, Online Ranking and Rating, and the Digital Reputation Economy’. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organisation, Special Issue: Digital Labour Workers, Authors, Citizens 10 (3/4), 421-438
  • Rodden, J.(2006) ‘Reputation and its Vicissitudes’. Society43(3), 75-80. cited in Hearn, A. (2010) ‘Structuring Feeling: Web 2.0, Online Ranking and Rating, and the Digital Reputation Economy’. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organisation, Special Issue: Digital Labour Workers, Authors, Citizens 10 (3/4), 421-438
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