(Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love


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Gender and Aspirational Labor in the Social Media Economy

Brooke Erin Duffy

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An illuminating investigation into a class of enterprising women aspiring to “make it” in the social media economy but often finding only unpaid work

Profound transformations in our digital society have brought many enterprising women to social media platforms—from blogs to YouTube to Instagram—in hopes of channeling their talents into fulfilling careers. In this eye-opening book, Brooke Erin Duffy draws much-needed attention to the gap between the handful who find lucrative careers and the rest, whose “passion projects” amount to free work for corporate brands.
Drawing on interviews and fieldwork, Duffy offers fascinating insights into the work and lives of fashion bloggers, beauty vloggers, and designers. She connects the activities of these women to larger shifts in unpaid and gendered labor, offering a lens through which to understand, anticipate, and critique broader transformations in the creative economy. At a moment when social media offer the rousing assurance that anyone can “make it”—and stand out among freelancers, temps, and gig workers—Duffy asks us all to consider the stakes of not getting paid to do what you love.

Brooke Erin Duffy is associate professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. She is the author of Remake, Remodel: Women's Magazines in the Digital Age and co-author of Platforms and Cultural Production.

"Duffy chronicles, with clarity and compassion, what she calls “aspirational labor”—an intoxicating desire to forego the realities of today’s soulless and uncertain labor market for the allure of a more soulful connection to meaningful work. Using today’s dizzying world of social media microcelebrity to make her case, Duffy accomplishes that rare thing: advances theory with elegance, challenging all easy reads of late capitalism, while helping readers see themselves in the book’s careful, detailed accounts of people’s lives."—Mary L. Gray, Indiana University and Microsoft Research

"A necessary antidote. Duffy deftly reveals the sweat of young women content creators, offering a new perspective on gender and the digital economy."—Leslie Regan Shade, University of Toronto

“A fascinating, meticulously researched study that shows how these creative women exemplify modern workers. Her lessons are essential for all those interested in fashion studies, gender studies, and the creative economy.”—Angela McRobbie, author of Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries

“Duffy is an excellent guide to the contemporary anxieties of aspirational labor, showing both the very calculated nature of investments these women are trying to make in their futures, while pointing to the larger social forces that shape and constrict their possibilities.”—Gina Neff, author of Venture Labor

“Duffy’s seminal work unearths once and for all what it’s truly like to work in the influencer economy of blogging and social media.”—Julia DiNardo, FashionPulseDaily.com

“This rich, original, and insightful book introduces a new concept—aspirational labor—for thinking about contemporary creative work and shows how gender and social media are intimately entangled with it. Highly recommended!”—Rosalind Gill, author of Gender and the Media

“This immensely valuable book reveals the trapdoor for female workers who pursue their talents on social media. Duffy expertly dissects a system which attracts many, rewards a few, and exploits the rest.”— Andrew Ross, author of Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times

“Contrary to optimists who hoped that the internet would bail women out of the family-career bind, Duffy finds that female ‘digital-media hopefuls’ rarely get paid for their work. The phenomenon Duffy describes is fascinating.”—Frances McCall Rosenbluth, coauthor of both Forged Through Fire and Women, Work, and Politics

"Smart and original. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews with fashion bloggers and vloggers, Duffy unpacks the pressures of self-branding, status-seeking, and audience-building inherent in the gendered struggle to get paid doing what you love."—Laura Grindstaff, author of The Money Shot

“Duffy's critically astute study reveals the intersection of pleasure and power in contemporary capitalism and clearly articulates an essential new perspective on digital labor.”— Kylie Jarrett, author of The Digital Housewife

“[A] thoroughly researched and considered work.”—Choice

“Duffy’s book skilfully casts light on what drives people to push themselves so hard to make it in online worlds of ‘content creation’ – and she provides a convincing feminist analysis of how this ‘aspirational labor’ is deeply gendered.” — David Hesmondhalgh, co-author of Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries

 "This book is particularly helpful for those studying social media, gender, and the digital economy, and opens up many questions about media industries, aspirational labor, and the merging of creative expression and entrepreneurial ideologies."—Zoetanya Sujon, International Journal of Communication

“Duffy’s exploration of sexism, as well as her probe of the gig economy, makes this an interesting and informative read for anyone—even those who aren’t following Instagram’s foodies and fashionistas.”—Wired.com

“Duffy refutes the idea that anyone can make a living doing what they love online—whether they’re a food or fashion influencer or any other kind of gig worker. Women, especially, get exploited as the line blurs between hobby and career, she explains.”—Entrepreneur

“Duffy does a superb job. . . . This book will be a welcome addition on the bookshelves of scholars interested in the intersection of new media and labor, in personal branding, and in how young middle-class women imagine working for passion under precarious labor conditions.”–Ilana Gershon, ILR Review

“A timely contribution to the wider debates around digital content creation.”—Kait Kribs, Journal of Cultural Economy

(Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love is an engaging read, thanks in large part to Duffy’s effervescent prose and palpable empathy for her subjects. It is strongly recommended.”—Austin Morris, Media Industries

“Duffy is a talented interviewer and observer who offers a thorough, well-researched description of the world of social media aspirants, and sociologists will find much to like about this book.”—Christin L. Munsch, American Journal of Sociology
ISBN: 9780300264753
Publication Date: March 8, 2022
320 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
8 b/w illus.