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Venture Labor

Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries

Gina Neff
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Venture Labor
    Book Description:

    In the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, employees of Internet startups took risks--left well-paying jobs for the chance of striking it rich through stock options (only to end up unemployed a year later), relocated to areas that were epicenters of a booming industry (that shortly went bust), chose the opportunity to be creative over the stability of a set schedule. In Venture Labor, Gina Neff investigates choices like these made by high-tech workers in New York City's "Silicon Alley" in the 1990s. Why did these workers exhibit entrepreneurial behavior in their jobs--investing time, energy, and other personal resources that Neff terms "venture labor"--when they themselves were employees and not entrepreneurs? Neff argues that this behavior was part of a broader shift in society in which economic risk shifted away from collective responsibility toward individual responsibility. In the new economy, risk and reward took the place of job loyalty, and the dot-com boom helped glorify risks. Company flexibility was gained at the expense of employee security. Through extensive interviews, Neff finds not the triumph of the entrepreneurial spirit but a mixture of motivations and strategies, informed variously by bravado, naïveté, and cold calculation. She connects these individual choices with larger social and economic structures, making it clear that understanding venture labor is of paramount importance for encouraging innovation and, even more important, for creating sustainable work environments that support workers.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30130-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 The Social Risks of the Dot-Com Era
    (pp. 1-38)

    “How could we have been so stupid?”

    Sophie had been a heroine, of sorts, during the rapid growth of the Internet industry.¹ She joined the great dot-com boom of the 1990s and worked her way up from an administrative assistant with an advertising agency to a project manager for a web design firm. Sophie and her husband moved from New York in 1998, a time when the money was good and growth was steady, to Silicon Valley in California where the dizzying, frenzied pace of start-up activity held the promise of fantastic money coupled with phenomenal potential for business growth....

  6. 2 The Origins and Rise of Venture Labor
    (pp. 39-68)

    The year 1994 was a turning point in the history of the U.S. economy. It marked the launch of a “new economy”—and a symbolic end to the old economy value of corporate loyalty to employees.

    That year, Netscape Communications Corporation launched Mosaic Netscape, the first commercially available graphical browser for the Internet. It was based on a program, Mosaic, that Marc Andreessen had written while an undergraduate work-study student at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. Before Netscape, most people surfed a bare web of text and lists and asterisks and lines. Writing in...

  7. 3 Being Venture Labor: Strategies for Managing Risk
    (pp. 69-100)

    In the last two chapters, I addressed the shift of economic risk from institutions and organizations onto individuals and how the narratives of creativity and renewal supported the rise of an Internet industry. In this chapter, I look at how people are managing those risks through narratives about choice of jobs and through their discursive framing of their careers. People talk about economic risk personally, not as a social phenomenon, and their justifications, rationalizations, and strategies for risk are tied to very personal ways of evaluating the world. Within innovative industries, these ways of talking about risk are how people...

  8. 4 Why Networks Failed
    (pp. 101-132)

    When Silicon Alley began to reel from the effects of the dot-com stock crash, one of its central figures called for people to show how they were managing. Bernardo Joselevich ran a small dot-com business and published a weekly email newsletter about networking in Silicon Alley. His call for strength was not for more advertising, or financing, or for lectures on best practices. It was instead for people to go out to parties. He wrote, “What a privilege to be in a place and time where you can prove your resilience simply by showing up at parties.¹ Later that month...

  9. 5 The Crash of Venture Labor
    (pp. 133-148)

    One of the main contributions of the discipline of communication is the attention to the ways in which phenomena are framed and how frames are analyzed in political and economic life. In this chapter, I examine the multiple framings of the dot-com crash and the impact of these contestations for people working in Silicon Alley and more broadly for our relationship to market structures.

    In his essay on the work of French economic sociologist Michel Callon, Don Slater argues that anthropologists and economic sociologists should be studying how people calculate values within market settings, rather than denying that such calculation...

  10. 6 Conclusion: Lessons from a New Economy for a New Medium?
    (pp. 149-166)

    In December 2000, just a few months before the stock market crash that effectively ended the dot-com culture of Silicon Alley, Josh Harris, the founder of online video streamer Pseudo, told60 Minutesthat his goal was to put the CBS television network out of business. At the time, less than 5 percent of American homes had broadband Internet access, and Harris’s claim that web-generated and distributed video could one day threaten the dominance of an old media network sounded ludicrous. Harris’s bravado came to symbolize the arrogance and brashness of Internet entrepreneurs. Journalists reported on Pseudo’s extravagant loft parties...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 167-176)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-188)
  13. Index
    (pp. 189-196)