Across the world, workers labor for profitable businesses without payand it's legal. Labor market trends like outsourcing and technology hide some workers. Others are hidden in plain sight, erased by identity performance mandates and branding. Retail workers function as walking billboards and take payment in prestige or clothing discounts. Wait staff at "breastaurants" conform their bodies to a business model.
Inventory stockers at grocery stores go hungry to complete their shifts.
This work is conceptually invisible and under-regulated by wage laws. This book gathers essays by prominent sociologists and legal scholars to illuminate how and why such labor has been hidden from view.
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About the Author
Marion G. Crain is Vice Provost, Wiley B. Rutledge Professor of Law, and Director for the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Work and Social Capital at Washington University. Miriam A. Cherry is Professor of Law at Saint Louis University. Winifred R. Poster is a Stanford-trained sociologist affiliated with Washington University.
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Hidden Work in the Contemporary World
By Marion G. Crain, Winifred R. Poster, Miriam A. Cherry
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
Conceptualizing Invisible Labor
WINIFRED R. POSTER, MARION CRAIN, AND MIRIAM A. CHERRY
This volume brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to pose two fundamental questions: what counts as work, and why are some forms of work invisible? We focus on labor that occurs within formal employment relationships but is not conceptualized as work and so remains hidden from view — sometimes in the public imagination, sometimes from consumers, and sometimes from the workers themselves. When their work is erased, the workers themselves are sometimes rendered invisible as well. We ask what forces and trends are preventing employers, consumers, and employees from "seeing" the work that is done and blocking regulators and policy makers from addressing its impacts.
Visible labor has traditionally been defined as work that is readily identifiable and overt. It is located in a physical "workplace" and is self-recognized as work by management, employees, and consumers. It is typically paid, occurs in the public sphere, is directly profit generating, and has historically been full-time, long-term, and state regulated.
Starting in the 1980s, however, sociologists began to write about work that falls outside that domain. Arlene Daniels's (1987) article "Invisible Work" solidified and propelled the field, becoming a reference point for the social science literature. Centering on the household and voluntary work performed within it, Daniels's article noted the gendered character of this invisible work, observing that women are often associated with kinds of labor that are widespread throughout society and yet not conceived as work and, moreover, not valued.
Subsequently, Marjorie DeVault's (1994) research on Feeding the Family showed how activities like preparing meals have been considered "act[s] of love" or "expression of a natural role" (Star and Strauss 1999: 10) rather than work activities. Other scholars expanded the analysis to women's work performed inside the home but more clearly associated with income-generating and productive capacities such as piece-rate electronics assembly, auto parts assembly, seamstress work, and snack food production (Boris and Prugl 1996). As DeVault (2014) outlined in her recent Presidential Address to the Eastern Sociological Society meeting on "Invisible Work," many of these early writings (Kanter 1993; Rollins 1987; Smith 1988) were crucial academically, enabling scholars to "see" the work and visualize workers in places previously invisible to conventional sociology.
Our analysis considers how the concept of invisibility applies to a larger range of labor performed inside formal employment relationships. We take our inspiration from Arlie Hochschild, one of the most influential theorists on the dynamics of invisible labor within the context of paid employment. Her early work uncovered how emotions become commodities for employers in the service economy, who compel workers to undergo "feeling management" and present genuine care for their clienteles (Hochschild 1983). The emotion work done by flight attendants, she explained, was a form of labor that generated significant profits for the airlines and represented a core part of the brand marketed to consumers.
In other scholarship addressing the concept of hidden labor within the context of paid employment, invisibility has typically been associated with minimum-wage jobs or the underground economy. This implicit pairing is particularly apparent given scholarly attention to recent expansions of low-wage sectors of the labor force such as low-end service work (Ehrenreich 2010), seasonal farmwork (Griffith and Kissam 1995), and inner-city retail and fast-food work (Newman 2000). The notion of invisibility has also been widely discussed in relation to the Global South, where the marginalized workforce is connected to other dynamics like child labor, urban slums, and the poverty of rural households.
Expanding this focus, our analysis considers the meaning and significance of visibility across class and social hierarchies. Our authors examine jobs that span a range of pay scales and workers who hail from diverse social classes, including retail workers, computer workers on crowdsourcing Web sites, sexualized servers, virtual receptionists, college students functioning as brand ambassadors on campus, white-collar workers in organizations, and engineers. We balance our perspective to account for a range of occupational positions that include the middle and professional strata of the workforce. Our authors consider the role of affluent or middle-class workers in retail; the increasing use of unpaid internships that are disproportionately available to college-educated, economically privileged students; and the status of skilled knowledge workers on the Internet.
Broadening the category of invisible labor matters for several reasons. First, work that is not seen is not valued, either symbolically or materially. Second, if workers themselves do not see their efforts as valuable work, they are less likely to organize, appeal for public support, or challenge their working conditions through the legal system. Even if they want to mobilize, the invisibility of their work — and in many cases, of the workers themselves — may make it difficult for them to gain political traction or support from consumers. Finally, and most crucially, if the state and legal systems do not acknowledge the labor, it will not be addressed in policy and law. A prominent theme running throughout this book is how invisible labor is often unregulated.
This book adopts an interdisciplinary approach that integrates perspectives from law, sociology, industrial relations, critical race and feminist theory, science and technology studies, and global and international relations. These varied intellectual traditions offer complementary approaches to provide a wide-ranging (but by no means complete) picture of contemporary invisible labor. Nuanced social science analysis enables us to mark and track subtle dynamics of the labor process that have been overlooked. Structural, policy, and legal approaches facilitate our inquiry into how these uncovered dynamics could fit within the regulatory system. In so doing, they allow us to bring two major fields — sociology and law — into conversation with one another. While the sociology chapters provide ethnographic detail and new conceptualizations of invisible labor, the legal chapters explore the limits of regulation in protecting invisible workers. Together they deepen and complicate the social and legal implications of such labor.
This introduction begins by defining invisible labor, contemplating and mapping its forms along a spectrum. Next, we chart the trends that have spurred the proliferation of invisible labor. Then we outline the chapters in the volume, organizing them around several themes for conceptualizing labor and invisibility: "Exposing Invisible Labor," "Virtually Invisible," "Pushed out of Sight," "Looking Good at Work," and "Branded and Consumed." Finally, we consider the implications of revealing invisible labor for the intersections of gender, race, class, nationality, and disability.
DEFINING INVISIBLE LABOR
The word labor has multiple meanings, and we use the word intentionally here. Labor may refer to work itself or to tasks that are performed ("She labored at the construction site all day"). Within critical social theory, the labor process has referred to the larger context of work, like the sequence of tasks in a production process, the role of a job within an organization, and especially the relations between employees and managers. At the same time, labor may refer to a collective group of workers themselves (the "labor force" or "labor movement").
We define invisible labor as activities that occur within the context of paid employment that workers perform in response to requirements (either implicit or explicit) from employers and that are crucial for workers to generate income, to obtain or retain their jobs, and to further their careers, yet are often overlooked, ignored, and/or devalued by employers, consumers, workers, and ultimately the legal system itself.
We also seek to highlight ambiguous work that lies at the intersection between paid and unpaid labor. For instance, some work within the context of formal labor is unpaid, such as the time spent preparing for the performance of aesthetic labor (which we discuss in more detail below). Some work is underpaid either because employers (as well as others) do not see the full range of tasks that the worker is performing and from which employers benefit, or because the law lacks rigorous regulation in the area, such as tipped service work.
Sometimes invisibility is not strictly related to "seeing" or to a visual act. As our authors discuss, there are many instances when invisibility is a symbolic concept. In this sense, it may refer to market devaluation or to a social judgment that labels some tasks as "not work." Invisibility happens because these tasks are associated (and confused) with leisure, are considered to be part of consumption, are seen as voluntary, and fall outside the legal structure. Of course, the term invisible may also refer to the visual act of not seeing the workers or not understanding that they are performing work. An example is when an Internet platform obscures which tasks are performed by humans and which are performed by computers (Cherry 2009).
This analysis attempts to complicate our understandings of the interplay between the work and the worker as center points of invisibility. Even though these two factors are tied together within the labor process, their visibility may vary independently of each other. Critical in this regard is uncovering the complex and multilayered process of foregrounding and backgrounding labor. Many useful typologies have revealed how this process operates (Nardi and Engeström 1999; Star and Strauss 1999): visible work done by invisible people (domestic workers, librarians); visible people whose labor is relegated to the background (the care work of nurses); or the hidden tasks of visible labor (like informal conversations, storytelling, and humor that may aid the work environment). Along these lines, we show many cases of this foregrounding and backgrounding process. An example is when the work is visible, but the worker is invisible (like when a nonperson — a robot or a hologram — performs the work or when a campus brand ambassador markets a brand, appearing in the guise of a voluntary consumer). An opposite case occurs when visible workers perform work that is invisible (like the emotion work performed by Hochschild's flight attendants). We seek here to situate the concept of invisibility in deeper contexts of the political economy of labor.
We also aim to highlight the range of participants in the employment relation who have significant roles in viewing labor. To each, labor may be invisible in unique and consequential ways. Consumers may be unaware of the conditions of the labor for the products they buy or the services they contract. Managers, for instance, may not witness or recognize the range of preparations that workers do for their jobs, sometimes at their own cost (like taking accent lessons to improve diction for sales work). Or consider the example of the worker as viewer. Work may be hidden from the worker himself, as we will show. For example, retail store clerks desire jobs in prestigious brand stores because buying and wearing the company's clothes is to them a form of leisure (notwithstanding that these activities may also be a condition of their employment). These clerks perform such activities without realizing that they are also doing work in promoting the brand. Crucially, some work is invisible as a policy matter: regulatory authorities may be aware of the work, but a choice has been made to underregulate it, as is the case with tipped labor.
But not everything qualifies as "invisible labor" for our purposes. Our authors are concerned with activities that are tied to a job and its rewards, often as required by the employer. Among the range of formal and informal work activities, we focus on those that are performed for the benefit of the employer and from which the employer reaps profits.
Likewise, we do not suggest that invisibility and devaluation are synonymous. To be sure, there are many counterexamples. Some forms of devalued labor are readily visible, such as that of fast-food worker (Leidner 1996) and nail technician (Kang 2010). Alternatively, some kinds of labor that are valued by the market economy may be well hidden from the public, like the shift of stock market traders from open-floor styles of buying and selling futures contracts to trading on electronic platforms (Levin 2005). A critical point, however, is that by "devalued" we do not necessarily mean "lowly paid." Certainly, the value of a task may be signified by remuneration, but that is not the only criterion for invisibility. Instead, we focus as well on a more basic principle of value in labor: whether the task is recognized as worthy of inclusion in the category of "work" — and regulated as such.
SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTING THE INVISIBLE
Conventional approaches would say that the invisible and the visible are manifest in themselves (that is, neutral, or uniformly viewed the same way). The premise of this view, as summarized by Hall, Evans, and Nixon (2013), is that "'things' exist in the material and natural world; that their material or natural characteristics are what determines or constitutes them; and that they have a perfectly clear meaning" therein (p. xix).
Yet sociologists and cultural studies theorists have urged us to understand these categories as socially constructed. This is the idea that social phenomena are products of interactions among individuals, groups, and communities. The related concept of representation explains that meaning is not conferred on objects themselves, but rather created in the way we incorporate cultural objects into our daily lives, the way they come to represent or symbolize ideas and feelings, and in turn, the way those meanings regulate and set norms for subsequent action (Hall, Evans, and Nixon 2013).
Accordingly, we argue that many social actors are involved (directly or indirectly) in the generation and promotion of labor as visible or invisible. For instance, authors in this volume examine how the act of seeing and the visible are socially constructed. Chapter 7 discusses Berger's seminal writing on this topic in his book Ways of Seeing (1972), noting how artists have historically represented smiling laborers in their paintings for the wealthy. Several of our chapters (9 and 10) examine the labor of frontline service workers and the role of stylists, cosmeticians, breast enhancement surgeons, and others in cultivating the "right look" for women employees. This exploration echoes the writings of feminist media scholars such as Walters (1995) on the way that women's appearance is crafted for viewing by men.
Dynamics of visibility, therefore, may serve to obscure and even misrepresent those being viewed. This is especially common when marginalized groups are objects of the visible. The field of cultural studies has been important in exposing patterns of inequality within representation and demonstrating how systems of patriarchy, classism, heterosexism, and imperialism (Said 2014) shape what appears in the media, culture, and society. Visibility, in this sense, is problematic because it can be a tool of power. The act of putting people (like workers) on display can be harmful to them in certain situations. Foucault's (1979) theory of visibility provides an example of how this is carried out through the dominating practices of observation and surveillance.
Excerpted from Invisible Labor by Marion G. Crain, Winifred R. Poster, Miriam A. Cherry. Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS FOREWORD: INVISIBLE LABOR, INAUDIBLE VOICE - ARLIE HOCHSCHILD PART ONE. EXPOSING INVISIBLE LABOR 1. INTRODUCTION: CONCEPTUALIZING INVISIBLE LABOR WINIFRED R. POSTER, MARION CRAIN, AND MIRIAM A. CHERRY 2. THE EYE SEES WHAT THE MIND KNOWS: THE CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS OF INVISIBLE WORK JOHN W. BUDD 3. MAINTAINING HIERARCHIES IN PREDOMINANTLY WHITE ORGANIZATIONS: A THEORY OF RACIAL TASKS AS INVISIBLE LABOR ADIA HARVEY WINGFI ELD AND RENÉE SKEETE PART TWO. VIRTUALLY INVISIBLE: DISEMBODIED LABOR VIA TECHNOLOGY AND GLOBALIZATION 4. VIRTUAL WORK AND INVISIBLE LABOR MIRIAM A. CHERRY 5. THE VIRTUAL RECEPTIONIST WITH A HUMAN TOUCH: OPPOSING PRESSURES OF DIGITAL AUTOMATION AND OUTSOURCING IN INTERACTIVE SERVICES WINIFRED R. POSTER PART THREE. PUSHED OUT OF SIGHT: SHIELDED FORMS OF EMBODIED LABOR 6. HIDDEN FROM VIEW: DISABILITY, SEGREGATION, AND WORK ELIZABETH PENDO 7. SIMPLY WHITE: RACE, POLITICS, AND INVISIBILITY IN ADVERTISING DEPICTIONS OF FARM LABOR EVAN STEWART 8. PRODUCING INVISIBILITY: SURVEILLANCE, HUNGER, AND WORK IN THE PRODUCE AISLES OF WAL-MART, CHINA EILEEN M. OTIS AND ZHENG ZHAO PART IV. LOOKING GOOD AT WORK: INVISIBLE LABOR IN PLAIN SIGHT 9. THE FEMALE BREAST AS BRAND: THE AESTHETIC LABOR OF BREASTAURANT SERVERS DIANNE AVERY 10. THE INVISIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF AESTHETIC LABOR IN UPSCALE RETAIL STORES CHRISTINE L. WILLIAMS AND CATHERINE CONNELL 11. FROM INVISIBLE WORK TO INVISIBLE WORKERS: THE IMPACT OF SERVICE EMPLOYERS’ SPEECH DEMANDS ON THE WORKING CLASS CHRIS WARHURST PART V. BRANDED AND CONSUMED 12. SELF-BRANDING AMONG FREELANCE KNOWLEDGE WORKERS ADAM ARVIDSSON, ALESSANDRO GANDINI, AND CAROLINA BANDINELLI 13. CONSUMING WORK MARION CRAIN 14. CONCLUSION WINIFRED R. POSTER, MARION CRAIN, AND MIRIAM A. CHERRY ABOUT THE EDITORS AND CONTRIBUTORS INDEX