Yeon Kyoung Lim cautions against romanticizing the independent publishing movement afforded by digitalized work flow and free social-media transmission. Keying in on the labor situation, she notes the collapse of work and leisure, which results in free, exploited labor in intensive micro processes of work premised on a group’s affective solidarity. Are performative “techniques of care” an adequate response to the pauperization of activism? What does “agential intra-action” shed light on the issue? What does “technique of care” mean in “agential realism,” which presumes our world to be a set of dynamic relationality between bodies and things? 身在「江湖」的林妍卿著我們別把數碼化工序和社交媒體平台推動的「獨立出版」浪漫化。進步的另一面的現實,是「情感化勞動」以及長時間免費的「微」工序的投入,慢慢導致維權運動的「貧化」。如果人際關係如此重要,怎樣的「關懷技術」才發揮活化的作用?

Part 2 of 2 / …continued from part 1

 

 

Beyond Interaction, Toward Intra-Actions of Independent Publishing 獨立出版的內部運動

We should not romanticize the functionality of technical things concerning independent publishing because it often results in the process of pauperization, such as affective labor and unpaid micro labor.

Digital affective labor 情感勞動數碼式

Contributors of an independent publishing project need to have online relationships with (potential) participants. One reason is that many independent publishing projects are financially dependent on crowdfunding. However, engaging in social media is not only for target marketing to solicit donations, but also for calling participants’ attention toward feminist and queer theories and practices. Sometimes, building online relationships is sheer pleasure, but it also leads to the question of affective labor. Affective labor is an immaterial labor whose product is intangible, such as a feeling of relaxation, playfulness, satisfaction, and passion. Not different from the case of a material product, affect takes forms that are created and manipulated in the process of “affective production” (Hardt and Negri 293). [1] Affective labor has long been bound up with in-person services or caring labor, such as home-offices, day-care centers, nursing homes, and hospitals. (These kinds of caring labor have historically been taken up by women whose labor power has been underestimated.) Actual contact and interaction involved in traditional affective labor now extends to the realm of virtual communication, particularly in collaborative projects. When a member of a community is in face-to-face contact or virtual communication with others, they become “affective laborers” who offer emotional responses to audiences and subscribers in soliciting their attention.

the 4th Unlimited Edition in 2012

In my personal experience of independent publishing, communicating with (potential) participants on social media is a considerable part of my commitment. It entails not only sharing updated information of an independent publishing project, but also exchanging emotional responses to anonymous audiences and subscribers through the act of “liking”(Arcy 2), [2] and the act of “reposting.” For example, on social media, I used to enter the keyword “the Journal of Queer and Humanities Vvira” and click search to check any feedback on the journal or relevant activities. Sometimes it took a minute, and sometimes it took hours. I expressed an emotional response by clicking on the heart icon of the Twitter interface. Many times the act of liking is from my heart. Sometimes, to be honest, doing this is exhausting.

When a deadline is approaching, my co-editors and I would have to focus intensively on public relations. In doing so, we also pay attention to our participants who choreograph with the issues and enter discussions on feminist and queer cultural movements. The downside of this public relation is also evident. Affective labor inherent to public affairs is readily underestimated compared to material labor in independent publishing, such as writings, creating design, or programming social events. This is in part because affective labor online is considered relatively flexible work unbound by time and space. This is partly because such emotional work is temporary, so that the processual effort may be quickly forgotten. Indeed, in crowdfunding for an independent publishing project, affective labor online goes on every day until the end of the project, to solicit potential participants’ solidarity. However, due to the shortage of independent publishing resources, a proper reward for affective labor is often dismissed, even if acknowledged.

 

Oscillating between Unpaid “micro” labor and “Unpaid” micro labor 免費「微」勞工與「免費」微勞工之間的震盪

Tele-technologies enable creators and contributors of an independent publishing project to work online twenty-four-seven, resulting in overwork and labor exploitation. The production process of print-form publications requires bulk assembly and exchange of an enormous amount of data and information, and subsequently the creators and contributors’ close collaboration to fit everything into the template of printable formats. However, in a budget-independent publishing project, due to the lack of workplace, meetings are primarily, but not only, conducted online. Several chatting threads on a mobile messenger are ready for reading and responding whenever I pick up my phone every morning. Such a stressful situation repeatedly happens to me in a variety of situations, and one day it unexpectedly bursts into intimate relationships. A co-editor, my sincere friend, once asked me to add some “emoticons” during virtual chatting. My comrade asked me to do this not only because of her workload but also of the dryness of virtual communication that pushes her into an emotional crisis (presumably because of the lack of human intimacies in the digital realm). After what happened, I came to be a heavy user of emoticon 🙂 . I acknowledged that in this specific situation of independent publishing, virtual interaction requires a more attentive form of affective labor with a technique of care. Otherwise, virtual communication falls into a latest version of an assembly line where a contributor becomes indifferent to what extra-labor generates to the other contributors.

I hope I have made my case clear by now that tele-technologies are facilitating as much as it is de-humanizing. The plasticity of technologies enables distant collaboration on the same set of data despite the shortage of physical space in Seoul, which is infamous for high rent. The downside of this is that creators and contributors are stuck online; as a result, the idea of overtime salary diminishes as workers are always available. Since the technical milieu itself is the entire property of a collective independent publishing project, feminist and queer contributors naturally become unpaid “micro” laborers. The situation in question might not be the problems of the feminist/queer communities alone; instead, it is a more widespread social issue hampering practitioners of independent publishing in general. However, non-married feminist and LGBT/queer creators and contributors are more susceptible to this problem of “unpaid” micro labor; they are the disenfranchised group in society deprived of some common social resources, such as the right to apply for housing.

 

Reorientation through the Technique of Care 透過關懷的技術重整勞動的座標

In Karen Barad’s parlance, a “thing” is not only about the functionality of our technical milieu itself but rather the interactive or intra-active performativity between the technical things and the technique of care. For Barad, “agential intra-action” is a crucial concept for agential realism ontology because “a phenomenon is a dynamic relationality that is locally determinate in its matter and meaning as mutually determined… through specific causal intra-actions” (Barad 820). [3] While the word “interaction” postulates the preexisting, transcendent relata before actions, the newly coined concept of “agential intra-action” does not presuppose an agent before actions, which is Barad’s attempt to focus on the entangled conditions of a phenomenon. Such conditions of phenomena are “immanent and historical rather than transcendental or phenomenological” (819). That is to say, every cultural phenomenon is singular and situated in a specific socio-cultural context of a society. Reality becomes dependent on “things-in-phenomena” rather than “things-in-themselves,” nor “things-behind-phenomena” (817). Reality is not static, nor predetermined. Instead, it is not a stable equilibrium, but a set of dynamic relationality between bodies and things. Feminist and queer independent publishing is not an epiphenomenon to add a diversity to the whole landscape of independent publishing culture. Rather, it constitutes a certain reality that takes shape through the non-predefined intra-actions of feminist/queer practices. Thus a proper understanding of the world is to recognize ourselves as agential bodies to activate a cultural phenomena and how we take care of our encounters within the intra-actions.

A poster as the reward for having the 3rd issue of The Journal of Queer and Humanities Vvira (Image: Sung Kim)

Independent publishing for the feminist and queer movement is the location of agential intra-action. What is important to understand is the dynamic relationality between agential bodies and things. Cultural desires of bodies in disenfranchised communities drive into material processes to produce, exchange, and enjoy their knowledge and discourses in printed products. Cultural practices of independent publishing for the feminist/queer contingently encounter the technical setting of virtual contact and interaction in creating and manipulating the material processes for publications. Such practices integrate with an industrial setting of Post-Fordist vision of production in utilizing flexible forms of machines and labor. From cultural desires to a techno-cultural setting and a socio-economic setting, in Baradian sense, they take up interconnected things-in-phenomena of independent publishing whose effect is mutually determined through dynamic infra-actions. In feminist and queer independent publishing, cultural desires, a technical setting, and the socio-economic setting of Seoul in the mid-2000s inter-determine the sense of reality of what an agential body of the disenfranchised feels. Our sense of reality becomes a performative imagery responding to participants’ intra-actions for the feminist/queer cultural movement. In doing so, a cascading set of agential intra-actions turns to a collective circle in flow, not a one-off event. Feminist and queer independent publishing has been bifurcating into different shapes to the present. What makes the shapes different in the process of forming reality is the “technique of care” toward agential intra-actions. The technique of care here refers to an attentive force to form a solidarity where different agential bodies insist on their right while advocating their mutual dependence on others’ bodies and things.

The subcultural movement of independent publishing affects our bearing on the technique of care. What made independent publishing in Seoul around 2010s dynamical relied not only on the technical but also on participants’ roles and attitudes in response to the affordance and tyranny of digital technologies on the spot. In doing this, they become new archivists of time and their milieu. In the digital era, technical things necessitate more care because their distractive interface easily makes us lose the attention we should devote to politics and aesthetics. Therefore, the skill of care is not only for the effectiveness and efficiency of creative projects but also for the participants’ ethos toward the cultural practice. The technique of care resonates with how we reorient, remediate, re-materialize our time, where we are heading, and where we wish to dwell.

3rd issue of The Journal of Queer and Humanities Vvira

The technique of care may start with feeble actions in everyday attentiveness: to care for the processual exchange in-between social labors and relations, not being obsessed with the final product of cultural production, but to care for those who physically exist behind virtual windows and frames; to individually reflect upon who owns and manipulates the production system of reality (including affective product) and whose faces and voices are missing amid this cultural production and exchange; and, most importantly, to take care for the self who somehow opens to Others with care. (28 May 2020)

/…end of 2 of 2

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I thank Dr. Linda Lai for editing this article and giving me many warm suggestions to make it better.

 

CITATIONS

[1] Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Harvard University Press, 2001.

[2] Arcy, Jacquelyn. “Emotion work: considering gender in digital labor.” Feminist Media Studies 16.2 (2016): 365-368.

[3] Barad, Karen. 2003. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28 (3): 801–31. doi:10.1086/345321.

 

RELATED READING:

LIM Yeon-kyoung / Independent Publishing in South Korea in the 2010s (1): The Cultural Movement Reinventing Feminist and Queer Intimacies 南韓的獨立出版運動(2010以來):重整戰友的親密