Bonnie Ruberg and 'Doing it for free'

01 Aug, 2016

Bonnie Ruberg and 'Doing it for free'

BCNM alumna Bonnie Ruberg had her article 'Doing it for free: digital labour and the fantasy of amateur online pornography' published in a special issue on Porn Labour in Porn Studies at Taylor and Francis Online.

Bonnie is a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Southern California, where she works in the Interactive Media and Games Division (IMGD) on issues of gender and sexuality in digital cultures. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature, New Media, and Gender, Women, and Sexuality from UC Berkeley in the summer of 2015.

Bonnie is the lead organizer and co-founder of the annual Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon), as well as the co-editor of the forthcoming volume Queer Game Studies: Gender, Sexuality, and a Queer Approach to Game Studies. She is also the author of a number of articles on sexuality in digital cultures. Prior to her time at Berkeley, Bonnie worked as a technology journalist writing for venues like The Village Voice, The Economist, and Wired. She is currently teaching an original course called “Gender and Sexuality in Video Games.”

To date, scholars of digital labour have not turned sufficient attention to online sex work, which constitutes a sizeable portion of contemporary web-based labour. In particular, the rise of unpaid amateur pornography, circulated through YouTube-style tube sites, points toward an important shift in how adult content is being produced and distributed in digital spaces. This shift also raises questions about the cultural narratives that surround sexual labour. This article explores the labour politics that underlie the unpaid work of do-it-yourself (DIY) porn performers who are populating highly lucrative tube sites with hundreds of thousands of amateur videos. In doing so, the article argues for understanding DIY porn in relation to the increasing popularity of other digital maker movements. As feminist scholars of digital media have noted, crowdsourcing platforms like Wikipedia are commonly idealized as empowering and democratizing, yet they often reinforce existing social biases and obfuscate conditions of difference. I assert here that a similar utopian fantasy operates around online amateur porn, which is frequently figured as ethically superior to pornography for which performers are paid. Recognizing the production of DIY porn as digital labour offers the opportunity to challenge this narrative and make the network of capitalist forces that drive free amateur online content once again visible. This also presents a valuable framework through which to critique the harmful misconception that sexual labour is superior if it is done for pleasure rather than for profit.

Read the article online here