The Affect of Labor: The Production of Authenticity and Intimacy in Etsy, Kiva and Twitch



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The rise of digital micro-entrepreneurship has been defined in part by a reliance on affective appeals to create a sense of intimacy between users and thus engender followings and transactional relationships. I argue that the ubiquity of certain affects can be particular to political economic contexts – in this case neoliberalism – and tied to ideologies of this era and its cultural and technological particularities, which I am labeling historical affects. While I postulate that historical affects can be evinced in various historical moments, I examine those affects that are crucial to neoliberalism and late capitalism, and specifically within a digital context. The overarching neoliberal affect examined here is authenticity, a mode of self-representation that aligns with dominant neoliberal ideologies and platform-specific corporate narratives, as well as those affects that are particular to gendered and racialized representations and responses. The deployment of markers of authenticity fosters an affective public that coheres around the amplification and performance of shared sentiments such as feminine displays of passion and exuberance tied to postfeminist ideologies on Etsy, neocolonial celebrations of empowerment and a hardworking entrepreneurial spirit through the microlending organization Kiva, and the cultivation of celebrity by and identity-based and crowd-fueled attacks against streamers of Twitch. The imbrication of various affects with specific neoliberal ideologies and platforms functions differentially in each iteration to produce an affective matrix, or the constitutive formation of affect in each object. Varying affective formations, or matrices, and similar affective appeals or discursive representations, can have different meanings and implications dependent upon cultural context as well as other factors; the contexts create different affective realities and iterations of ideological imperatives as well as representations and embodied experiences.