From Commodification to Free Labor: The Gendered Effects of the Etsy Platform on Work and Family
Jourdain, Anne (2019), From Commodification to Free Labor: The Gendered Effects of the Etsy Platform on Work and Family, 31st Annual Meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE), 2019-06, New York, United States
TypeCommunication / Conférence
Conference title31st Annual Meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE)
Conference cityNew York
Conference countryUnited States
MetadataShow full item record
Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Sciences Sociales [IRISSO]
Abstract (EN)Today, 1.8 million creators commodify their handmade products (bags, clothes, jewelry...) on the Etsy web platform. 88% of them are women. This female phenomenon of commodification is fostered by discourses about “New Domesticity” which encourage middle-class women to work at home in order to better balance their work and family life. This “having it all” ideal has been conceptualized as one of the features of the “Post-Fordist sexual contract” (Adkins & Dever, 2016). For women, online commodification would be synonymous with social upgrading and empowerment.However, according to our data, the revenues coming from the platform are extremely low and only 1% of Etsy sellers earn the equivalent of the French minimum wage (with an overrepresentation of men). Actually, most sellers are hobbyists who are employed in firms unrelated to craft and who do not intend to professionalize their hobby. But even those who try to set a business – following the platform’s tagline “turn your hobby into a business” – generally do not manage to make a living via Etsy. Both cases raise the question of free labor: paradoxically, online commodification generates extra-money but also forms of work which are not monetized. Free labor seems to be a recent issue in digital media studies (Scholz, 2013), but has already been conceptualized by feminists about domestic labor (Jarrett, 2015).The commodification on Etsy implies two forms of free labor. The first form, which concerns all Etsy sellers including the most successful ones, has to do with the intensive “digital labor” required by the platform. Indeed, Etsy sellers spend much time managing their online shop on the platform, taking good pictures of their products, choosing adequate tags for their items, posting on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest about their new creations... This work, which economic value mostly benefits the platform, can be analyzed as free labor. Paradoxically, and like domestic labor, it is associated with both pleasure and exhaustion.The second form of free labor particularly affects the numerous women on Etsy who endorse the “having it all” ideal and who set their business at home, sometimes after leaving an unsatisfactory salaried job in a big company. In this case, free labor refers to traditional domestic labor (housekeeping, child care...) and benefits male partners. Gender inequalities within households grow with the establishment of the craft business.Our communication will tackle these two forms of free labor and explain why women engage in them. Our empirical data is both quantitative and qualitative. Using web scraping, we collected statistical information on the 14,415 Etsy French shops. We also conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 Etsy sellers and with 3 employees working for Etsy in France. We met other Etsy creators during ethnographic observations of craft fairs.
Subjects / Keywordshandmade productions; Marketisation
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