Literacy Work in the Reign of Human Capital

Literacy Work in the Reign of Human Capital

Literacy Work in the Reign of Human Capital

Literacy Work in the Reign of Human Capital

Synopsis

In recent years, a number of books in the field of literacy research have addressed the experiences of literacy users or the multiple processes of learning literacy skills in a rapidly changing technological environment. In contrast to these studies, this book addresses the subjects of literacy. In other words, it is about how literacy workers are subjected to the relations between new forms of labor and the concept of human capital as a dominant economic structure in the United States. It is about how literacies become forms of value producing labor in everyday life both within and beyond the workplace itself.

As Evan Watkins shows, apprehending the meaning of literacy work requires an understanding of how literacies have changed in relation to not only technology but also to labor, capital, and economics. The emergence of new literacies has produced considerable debate over basic definitions as well as the complexities of gain and loss. At the same time, the visibility of these debates between advocates of old versus new literacies has obscured the development of more fundamental changes. Most significantly, Watkins argues, it is no longer possible to represent human capital solely as the kind of long-term resource that Gary Becker and other neoclassical economists have defined. Like corporate inventory and business management practices, human capital--labor--now also appears in a "just-in-time" form, as if a power of action on the occasion rather than a capital asset in reserve.

Just-in-time human capital valorizes the expansion of choice, but it depends absolutely on the invisible literacy work consigned to the peripheries of concentrated human capital. In an economy wherein peoples' attention begins to eclipse information as a primary commodity, a small number of choices appear with an immensely magnified intensity while most others disappear entirely. As Literacy Work in the Reign of Human Capital deftly illustrates, the concentration of human labor in the digital age reinforces and extends a class division of winners on the inside of technological innovation and losers everywhere else.

Excerpt

Over the past decade the growing use of unpaid interns has drawn legal as well as political attention. Lengthy analyses have appeared in Atlantic and the New York Times, among other publications, and a quick Web search can turn up a number of sites that offer help with lawsuits for those who feel victimized. The concern, of course, is that employers are simply taking advantage of the soft job market to extort free labor from applicants desperate for positions. The 29 January 2010 Department of Labor guidance letter for training and employment identifies education as the primary purpose of unpaid internships, and the six criteria for unpaid trainees that it spells out are strict. The first of the six is that the training offered should be similar to what might be given by an institution for vocational or academic education. The second is that the training must be for the benefit of the trainees. Neither criterion precludes the individual from performing typical operations required at the workplace. The fourth criterion, however, forcefully states that the employer cannot gain immediate advantage from trainee activity and adds that from time to time employer operations may . . .

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