“Are We All Porn Workers Now?”: Gigwork & Radical Flexibility with Heather Berg & Michelle Chihara

Apple Podcasts


Resonate Recordings

This is the second episode of “The World’s Work,” a series on the “tiresome history, exasperating present, and potential futures of work,” as Matt Seybold put it in the first episode. To see the full lineup for this series, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Today’s episode focuses on gigwork, which has emerged at the dominant mode of labor under the regime of platform capitalism. But, as Seybold outlines in his intro, gigwork isn’t new, and it further proliferation is not inevitable.

To get a sense of why gigwork has reoriented U.S. labor relationships, Seybold speaks with two scholars who have been studying the experiences of workers in industries at the vanguard of the platform economy: porn and ridesharing. How did these industries get colonized by the platforms? And what can the workers in them teach us about how they make gigwork work for their interests?

Heather Berg is Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She is author of Porn Work: Sex, Labor, & Late Capitalism (UNC Press, 2021). In 2021, she also edited a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly on “Reading Sex Work.” (Twitter: @DrHeatherBerg)

Michelle Chihara is Associate Professor of English at Whittier College. She is co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018) and the Economics & Finance Section Editor at Los Angeles Review of Books. Most recently, she has published a study of ridesharing in California – “Radical Flexibility: Driving For Lyft & The Future of Work in the Platform Economy” – in Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory. Dr. Chihara has also appeared twice before on The American Vandal Podcast. (Twitter: @thisblueangel)

This season also includes special theme music, “Work Song” by Dan Reeder, courtesy of the artist and Oh Boy Records. Please check out Dan Reeder’s extraordinary catalog of music on Apple & Spotify. (Twitter: @DanReeder)

“The World’s Work” is hosted by Matt Seybold, who is executive produce of The American Vandal Podcast and resident scholar at the Center For Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College. (Twitter: @MEASeybold)

Episode Bibliography:

Heather Berg, Porn Work: Sex, Labor, & Late Capitalism (UNC Press, 2021)

Heather Berg, “Reading Sex Work: An Introduction” (South Atlantic Quarterly, Summer 2021)

Michelle Chihara, “Radical Flexibility: Driving For Lyft & The Future of Work in the Platform Economy” (Distinktion, November 2021)

Michel Feher, Rated Agency: Investee Politics in a Speculative Age (Zone Books, 2018)

David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (Simon & Schuster, 2018)

James Livingston, “Fuck Work” (Aeon, 11.25.2016)

James Livingston, No More Work: Why Full Employment Is A Bad Idea (UNC Press, 2016)

Annelies Orleck, “We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now”: The Global Uprising Against Povery Wages (PenguinRandomHouse, 2018)

Sanjukta Paul, “The Enduring Ambiguities of Antitrust Liability for Worker Collective Action” (Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, Spring 2016)

—– “Why Trust In Antitrust? with Sanjukta Paul & Marshall Steinbaum” (American Vandal Podcast, 7.1.2021)

Trebor Scholz, Uberworked & Underpaid: How Workers Are Disrupting The Digital Economy (Polity, 2016)

Matt Seybold, “Astride the Dark Horse: T. S. Eliot & The Lloyds Bank Intelligence Department” (T.S. Eliot Studies Annual, 2017)

—– “Mark Twain, James Redpath, & The Vigilante Origins of American Police” (American Vandal Podcast, 11.23.2020)

Irene Silt, “The Tricking Hour” (Tripwire Journal, 2020)

Studs Terkel, Working (Pantheon Books, 1974)

Kathi Weeks, The Problem With Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, & Postwork Imaginaries (Duke UP, 2011)