Aspirational Labor and DO WHAT YOU LOVE Maxim

Image Source: Digital Information World

In the rise of digital media platforms, individuals can engage in all three aspects of immaterial labor at once, including informational, emotional, and cultural work.  Digital media has allowed influencers to embrace the maxim of do what you love (DWYL), such as working from home or creating vlogs (video blogs) while on vacations.  The emergence of emotional and cultural labor shapes the concept of aspirational labor, which is defined as “a forward-looking, carefully orchestrated, and entrepreneurial form of creative cultural production” (Duffy, 2015, p. 7).  Referring to social media as a platform of aspirational labor, this post will examine the aspirational concept by analyzing these three key features: productivity emergence, celebration of realness, and entrepreneurial self-branding.

New forms of media production on social media have emerged the barrier between production and consumption, labor and leisure, and professional and amateur.  In the media production, what are the guidelines or criteria for an individual’s work to be considered professional?  For social media influencers, their DWYL labor consisted of interacting with followers, building creative work, publishing frequent content, and promoting a niche self-presentation.  While individuals subjectively perceive what professional work is, there is not yet a single universal definition to determine professional and amateur.  For instance, fitness influencers present themselves as leading advocates for the body health by sharing their transformation journey to the public sphere.  Some fitness bloggers have health-related studies or certificates, but most of them do not.  Instead, these bloggers are considered as professional fitness trainers in the online community because of their hard work, creative content, and financial income.  At the same, followers who give feedbacks and support the online community also involve in the process of media production.  The interaction between influencers and audiences is a crucial process in producing new content.  As a result, the productivity emergence on the digital space promotes a more efficient marketing communication that intertwines with influencer-follower relationships.  

The second factor in aspirational labor is celebration of realness.  The appeal to originality is necessary for almost every promotional campaigns and media ads.  It is common that many aspirational bloggers stress on their ordinariness that their lifestyles are relatable to everyday people. Most of media influencers downplay their existing social and economic capital to appear more relatable and ordinary to followers.

The last characteristic of the contemporary labor concept is entrepreneurial self-branding.  Aspirational laborers embrace self-branding practices by stating that they only promote positive and passionate products with honest reviews. Compared to traditional advertisements, social media marketing is considered more genuine because of the bloggers’ devotion and creativity in providing reviews and information.  At the same time, producers and advertisers gain more advantages by reducing the amount of investment from massive production to relatable bloggers, such as sending sponsored products to influencers.  The labor of creating fresh and trendy content is handled by bloggers, who have a significant impact on the choice and lifestyle of ordinary audiences.

It becomes noticeable that the prospect of DWYL has turned workers’ focus into a mixed approach between labor and leisure.  Undeniably, the growth of aspirational labor in user-generated media opens various opportunities for influencers to earn economic and social capital.  Although these media achievements seem admirable when looking at a broader lens, the aspirational concept undeniably increases the production concerns in regards to distinguishing the blurry line between exploitation and empowerment, professional and amateur, and authenticity and dishonesty.

Reading material:
Duffy, "The romance of work: Gender and aspirational labour in the digital culture industries"

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