Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Entrepreneurial Affect: Attachment to Work Practice in San Francisco's Digital Media Sector

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Entrepreneurial Affect: Attachment to Work Practice in San Francisco's Digital Media Sector

Article excerpt


In this paper I examine entrepreneurial work in San Francisco's digital media sector to consider how affect and desire are invested in sites of neoliberal production. Drawing on recent writing on affect, I treat affect as ambivalent and coextensive with the mode of production, suggesting an approach that looks beyond the investment of value in commodities, to how desire is produced and directly located in economic infrastructures. Entrepreneurial affect functions through the embodiment of work as a site of personal "satisfaction," the development of passionate attachments to that work, and the production of working subjectivities characterized by their "compulsory sociality." I argue that affect functions through entrepreneurial forms of digital media work to produce and reproduce attachments to precarious working conditions. Drawing on recent debates on precariousness and precarity, I reflect on the possible consequences of affective attachments to entrepreneurial work as a primary site for the justification of precarious work practices and neoliberal modes of governance in general.


Affect, desire, digital media, cultural industries, precarity, work


To be a good subject of neoliberal labor, one has to emit desire and identification with the affective ties of collegiality to make networks of shared obligation seem more grounded and permanent. (Berlant, 2011: 218)

In this paper I explore the relationship between entrepreneurship and the affective and passionate attachments that entrepreneurs form to their work. I consider how societal attachments to particular kinds of work are a function not only of the need to reproduce effective methods of capital accumulation but are also psychic investments in the efficacy of those methods over others. As noted in the epigraph above by Lauren Berlant (2011), I seek to theorize neoliberal capitalism as a system of investment, which is at once economic and affective. Affect in this paper is defined thus as a structuration of feeling, or infrastructure of desire, that is materially produced and circulates alongside subjects and commodities in the workplace. Through this concept of affect, I examine the visceral configurations of habit and desire that might blind and bind workers to dogmatic systems of governmentality by insecurity (Lorey, 2015) that encourage the production of subjects that identify more with productivist ideals than with other workers, unionization, or systems of welfare (Gibson-Graham, 2006). This paper builds on ongoing empirical research with entrepreneurs and engineers working in early stage digital media firms in San Francisco to examine the emotional geographies of neoliberalism (Cairns, 2013) and consider how work can be a site of subject formation, requiring personal forms of investment in and identification with the mode of production (Weeks, 2011). I link entrepreneurial forms of affect with recent debates on precarity to suggest that the promise of intimacy with one's own personal "human capital" offers a seductive justification for precarious forms of work.

As researchers on the so-called cultural industries have noted, work in these industries can be characterized as intensive, underpaid, flexible, temporary, and precarious (Gill and Pratt, 2008; Ross, 2008). Yet, cultural work is also often characterized as personally rewarding, satisfying, and glamorous, connoting high status and respect (Marwick, 2013; Pratt, 2002). I suggest that workers' romanticization of "cultural" and "creative" forms of entrepreneurial work, and the attachments that they form to the expected promises thereof are coextensive, not separate characteristics. Through an association with the perceived rewards of entrepreneurial work, ambivalent forms of affect may recast precarity itself as a desirable outcome of work. Entrepreneurialism is, then, the optimistic work of "maintaining an attachment to a significantly problematic object," in spite of that object's potentially toxic effects (Berlant, 2011: 24). …

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