Diversity work and digital carework in higher education
First Monday

Diversity work and digital carework in higher education by Roopika Risam

This essay considers digital carework as a frame for the labor required by diversity initiatives in higher education. It situates diversity work in relation to affective labor and uses digital humanities as a case to explore how the emergence of information and communication technologies magnifies the labor demand. Finally, it considers how this hidden labor has important consequences for scholars who undertake diversity work.


The affective labor of diversity
Digital carework in the digital humanities




“Diversity” has become a managerial directive for the twenty-first century university in the United States. In its endless pursuit of diversity, the contemporary academy has required faculty, staff, and administrators to perform diversity work, marshaling the labor of employees to undertake diversity initiatives, often in addition to their stated job descriptions. Participating in diversity work is a trap into which those whose work is guided by an ethical commitment to communities underrepresented in academia and those who belong to these communities risk falling. This phenomenon has a long history, reflecting a tradition of activism performed by people of color, women, and LGBTQ scholars who have demanded that the scholarship of their communities be taken seriously as “academic.” Yet, the advent of social media has added new dimensions to this labor.

As such, what I term “digital carework” has become essential to academic labor. Digital carework, in this instance, is a form of affective digital labor that relies on the deployment of affect through digital media to remediate inequalities within higher education. It ranges from managing affect in the production and distribution of scholarship to providing emotional labor to fellow colleagues and students in response to the challenges faced by those who engage in “diversity work” (Ahmed, 2012). Digital carework around diversity has played a visible role in digital humanities, in which I situate my scholarship. This particular form of digital carework illuminates the confluence of affective and digital forms of labor that are essential to diversity initiatives in the neoliberal university. As in other areas of higher education, this labor preys on the optimism of early career scholars, typically women, people of color, and LGBTQ scholars, or a combination thereof. They undertake diversity work and the digital carework it requires through both explicit and implicit direction from universities and scholarly communities.

In the digital humanities, diversity work seductively appears to offer entrée into scholarly conversations, often beginning with a session organized at an unconference, where those who are new to digital humanities recognize — like those who have participated in diversity work before them — the absences in digital knowledge production. The keen sense of exclusion they feel — as if there is no place where the work they wish to pursue belongs — becomes a locus of community, where affective bonds thrive. With the support of this community, scholarly activism seems possible. Yet, this work is both wanted and unwanted, risking censure and punishment.

What these intrepid scholars do not realize at the time is that diversity work requires significantly more labor than scholarship alone. There may be requests to stand for candidacy on executive councils, join editorial boards, organize conferences, give talks, or write articles. They eagerly sign on, believing in the possibility of making change from within the very structures that have created these inequalities in knowledge production. However, the labor expands into the digital sphere, requiring the expenditure of affect through digital carework that both intervenes in the inequalities in knowledge production and provides support to others who have unwittingly found themselves in the same position.

Yet, the structures themselves are resistant to diversity work because they were not designed to accommodate change. Thus, those who engage in these efforts strive for transformation where it is not welcome, hoping to leverage labor for institutional change, all the while ignoring the growing sense that both diversity work and digital carework have overtaken the will to create projects and invent the methods that are necessary to remediate the digital cultural record itself — the very reason for getting involved in this work in the first place.

This tale is a composite of the accrued experiences of colleagues, as well as personal experience undertaking both diversity work and digital carework in digital humanities. Because this phenomenon is intensely personal and is experienced by people who are already at risk of being marginalized, it is invisible in the academy. Thus, these experiences, like diversity work and digital carework, are not citable or credited in the scholarly record, which makes their existence easy to deny.

This trend is not unique to digital humanities alone. It plays out in departments, units, schools, and professional organizations across higher education. This has been evident, for example, in the ample social media conversations about the International Medieval Congress (IMC) at the University of Leeds, which engendered racist backlash against medievalists of color and their allies who critiqued the whiteness of plenary sessions and panels discussing otherness (Medievalists of Color, 2017). For those in the Medievalists of Color group, managing this situation required significant digital carework around diversity. This included both the production of social media texts in response to the affective challenges of IMC, as well as digital carework provided to each other through social media to navigate the negative affects that emerged. As the experiences of Medievalists of Color suggest, this diversity-related digital carework reflects endless demand for labor from communities that have already been othered across fields and disciplines.

In light of the lack of attention to this labor, this essay explores digital carework as a frame for diversity initiatives in higher education. I begin by situating diversity work in relation to affective labor, arguing that it confers additional burdens on women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and others who undertake diversity work connected to their own identities, through its demand for emotional, relational, representation, and educational work. Using digital humanities as a case, I examine how the emergence of information and communication technologies intensifies the labor demand at the interface of affective labor and digital labor. The essay further considers how this hidden labor has dire consequences both professionally and personally, as those who engage in this work are tangled in the web of a higher education landscape that professes to desire inclusion but is unwilling to accept the transformation necessary to promote justice and equity.



The affective labor of diversity

Theories of immaterial and affective labor are often invoked to explain the twenty-first century academy, where the post-Fordist information society has led to growth in “intellectual, immaterial, and communicative” labor [1]. The academic landscape is characterized by the flexibility and mobility of immaterial labor, coupled with the need to demonstrate relevance and profitability in an environment of increasing casualization of the labor force. Part of life in the social factory — the autonomist Marxist articulation of how capitalist production has extended beyond the space of production (Tronti, 1962; Dyer-Witheford, 1999) — academic labor threatens to absorb the totality of academic lives (Gill, 2009).

Thus, academic life is implicated in the conditions of contemporary capitalism, where divisions between “home” and “work” are contravened by access to information and computer technologies that facilitate the performance of job functions like research, service, and teaching anywhere, at any time. Double-edged swords, these technologies enable flexibility while simultaneously creating the pressure to be perpetually available (Gregg, 2009). This phenomenon is part of the neoliberal frameworks subtending higher education, where demands for assessment and proof of productivity affect not only employees but also their families and dependents (Christou, 2016).

In addition to being temporal, this function creep (Gregg, 2011) within academia is affective. Autonomist Marxism has addressed the affective dimensions of contemporary capitalism, which Hardt and Negri term “labor in the bodily mode.” [2] Yet, as feminist scholars have argued, autonomist theory merely nods to the significance of affect, obscuring its connection to the role of reproductive work in production (Federici, 2010). As such, it is critical to attend to the connection between affective labor and women’s work to articulate dimensions of social reproduction that are essential to the sphere of production (Jarrett, 2016). This includes the forms of work associated with unpaid domestic labor — child-bearing, child-rearing, caring — which are integral to production. This labor is devalued precisely because it is feminized through its association with housework and mothering (Federici, 2010; Jarrett, 2016), despite the fact that it is not only performed by women.

Affects are part of academic life as well, playing a role in the transformation of labor and the production of socialities. Affective cycles are endemic to academic labor (Mannevuo, 2016), as academic life traffics in what Ahmed (2004) terms affective economies, where emotions circulate between bodies, with the capacity to link or divide them. Such affects, Gill suggests, include “exhaustion, stress, overload, insomnia, anxiety, shame, aggression, hurt, guilt, and feelings of out-of-placeness, fraudulence and fear of exposure.” [3] They fuel academic labor, in the pursuit of publishing or perishing and assessment frameworks. Expressing such affects, however, is anathema to academic culture; they require management and suppression in conformance with the social structure (Gill, 2009). Consequently, affects go unnamed and unrecognized, exacerbating the collapsed distinction between home and work facilitated by information and communication technologies.

Such affects and the labor that must be expended to manage them are unevenly distributed among social positions in the academy. These include job title, permanency or precarity of employment, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, and immigration status, among other categories. An additional burden falls disproportionately on those who belong to communities that have been marginalized within higher education, including people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, and people for whom these categories intersect. Many take on diversity work through explicit and implicit expectation from academic management and the communities of which they are part. They often undertake this work with the goal of improving the material conditions of academia, despite its implications for their careers. However, their efforts are circumscribed by the neoliberal university’s appropriation of diversity in name and its resistance to transformation. This affective labor of diversity has four components — the emotional, relational, representational, and educational — all of which are integral parts of social reproduction in higher education.

In its emotional dimension, this labor is deeply gendered. As Gannon, et al. note, “Caring, networking, and being ‘friendly’ and ‘supportive’ in universities continues to be performed by women and is expected of women formally through workload allocations and informally through work processes and interpersonal interactions.” [4] This is a phenomenon of the personality market of the postindustrial economy, where “personal or even intimate traits of the employee are drawn into the sphere of exchange.” [5] However, this work is a form of feminized labor produced by gendered scripts that presume women have more facility with emotion management, which requires suppressing one’s own feelings in turn (Hochschild, 1983). Women and women of color, for example, engage in “institutional housekeeping,” which is “not optional, nonessential labor; rather, it is vital to the day-to-day and long term operations of the university.” [6] Those who undertake diversity work must engage in such institutional housekeeping to manage the feelings that diversity initiatives engender for those who feel threatened by them, as well as the backlash that they and others who engage with diversity work encounter. These expectations are exacerbated by cultural and communal norms that value emotional labor. For example, indigenous scholars committed to bringing community values for leadership and care into the academy are likely to assume not only emotional labor but also a disproportionate burden of service (Jacob, 2012). Indeed, emotional labor is tied to the well-known phenomenon of women and people of color performing more service to institutions than their white, male counterparts (Onwuachi-Willig, 2012). Furthermore, those engaged in diversity work face the additional responsibility of providing care to each other to mitigate the negative affects that arise from engaging in diversity work itself.

In its relational mode, the affective labor of diversity includes building and sustaining networks of scholars, forging connections both within and outside institutions to sustain diversity work and mentoring. For people of color, this relational labor replicates the practices of forming extended kin and community networks outside of the academy to manage the challenges of structural inequalities and racism (Glenn, 1985). They engage in the same work in their professional lives to create the conditions necessary to continue participating in diversity work. This relationality, which is a feminized form of labor, often requires performing emotional work as well. As such, it compounds the expectation to perform such work outside of the academy, in personal lives that are already being subsumed by academic working conditions.

Another significant demand is for representational labor. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ colleagues are both assumed and expected to provide visible diversity, a “diverse” perspective, and to speak on behalf of others (Stanley, 2006). Yet, they are often only wanted for superficial forms of inclusion (Jones and Calafell, 2012). The neoliberal university expects representation but resists transformation. As Hu-DeHart (2000) suggests, universities are interested in inclusion — bringing people who perform diversity to the table — but do not want to deal with a shift in academic culture. Instead, the representational body is expected to assimilate and remain non-threatening. Representation also compounds service burdens, through expectations to provide “diverse” perspectives on committees and task forces. Moreover, it builds on relational labor, through a sense of responsibility to be visible to those who are part of their networks, so students and other colleagues know that they are leaders in their academic communities (Onwuachi-Willig, 2012).

Finally, this labor is educational, as it requires imparting knowledge to colleagues and students. This takes multiple forms, like providing “teachable moments” to colleagues who profess ignorance about diversity and attribute omissions to their own lack of knowledge. In doing so, those who engage in this labor must mediate the mistakes made by colleagues and administrators. These include all-male or all-white panels, microaggressions, and outright racism. Educational labor also draws on representative labor, particularly when teaching, since the presence of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people shows students that they are intellectuals, gives them experience with interacting with someone who may be different from them, and, quite often, provides diversity in curriculum. Yet, they undertake this work at the risk of their own job security, since the educational work that must be done may produce discomfort among their supervisors. This is particularly risky for those who are pre-tenure or are in roles that do not confer academic freedom. Furthermore, it is exacerbated by the structural inequalities within evaluation, such as the phenomenon in which women and people of color are likely to receive lower ratings on student evaluations than white men, particularly when they address inequity and difference in the classroom (Littleford and Jones, 2017).



Digital carework in the digital humanities

These affective dimensions of diversity work, coupled with the emergence of information and communication technologies that facilitate social media have given rise to a new form of academic labor: digital carework. Digital carework sheds light on the confluences of affective and digital forms of labor when diversity work moves into online spaces. Precisely because of its interventions in transforming the nature of scholarly communication through computational and digital technologies, digital humanities provides a useful example of how the digital dimensions of affective labor influence diversity work in higher education.

Digital humanities engenders a sense of unbridled possibility for using the affordances of digital cultures to remediate the inequalities that have plagued knowledge production. As scholars of postcolonial, African diaspora, and critical ethnic studies, among others, have argued, literary, historical, and cultural texts are implicated in both historical and contemporary inequalities that devalue and erase the contributions of communities pushed to their margins. Yet, the promise of digital knowledge production in this realm remains unfulfilled, in spite of compelling efforts of scholars to the contrary.

Such absences result from structural challenges that impede this work. Scholars who undertake research in these areas do so in the challenging context of this work being marginal at conferences and in publications. This troubling phenomenon is reflected in and compounded by the compositions of boards of professional organizations that facilitate digital humanities scholarship at the international and national levels (Fiormonte, 2016), as well as citational politics that favor white, male scholars in Western Europe, the United States, and Canada (Risam, et al., 2017a).

Within digital humanities, those who perform diversity work often can be found within the vocal and active scholarly communities that explicitly engage with how digital humanities methods and practices might be marshalled for politically progressive ends. These include: Global Outlook::Digital Humanities, #dhpoco or postcolonial digital humanities, #transformDH, and #femDH. The interventions of these groups range from creating networks to foster global cooperation and resist neo-colonial practices in collaboration across Global North and Global South; ensuring that unheard voices become part of the digital cultural record; and defining the practices necessary for making digital humanities scholarship more broadly accessible. Yet, in addition to the scholarly interventions made by these groups, participants are in danger of falling into the trap of diversity work, where it overtakes the time needed for scholarship and risks censure for failing to assimilate to institutional and community expectations for diversity that is visible but not transformational.

Digital media platforms like Twitter and Facebook play a role in constructing the academic community surrounding digital humanities, while blogging is a common genre for scholarly communication. As a result, those who are committed to diversifying scholarship in the digital humanities have increasingly turned to these digital platforms for diversity-related work. Digital carework takes place in this media ecology where the academic community coalesces.

The work of remediation for race, gender, and other absences in the digital humanities, as Miriam Posner argues, “is not only about shifting the focus of projects so that they feature marginalized communities more prominently; it is also about ripping apart the machinery of the archive and database so that it does not reproduce the logic that got us here in the first place.” [7] Lack of attention to the role of affective labor in diversity work and to digital carework in the digital humanities hampers the production of digital scholarship, where the logics of race, gender, and other axes of identity and oppression are influencing the labor practices of digital humanities subtending the machinery of the archive and database that Posner illuminates.

A significant amount of labor supports digital humanities initiatives, spanning job titles as heterogeneous as graduate student, librarian, tenure-line faculty, non-tenure track faculty, #alt-ac or alternative academic positions, curators, developers, administrators, and more. Because the conditions of employment for those engaged in digital humanities scholarship are more diverse than in other areas of study, labor itself has been subject to attention. In fact, digital humanities practitioners are perhaps those in the academy and cultural heritage sector who are most attuned to the need for thorough interrogation of their labor practices. Topic include precarious academic employment (Clement and Lester, 2017), the influence of grants and soft-money on labor practices (Chun and Rhody, 2014), reframing the “service” role of librarians in digital humanities (Munoz, 2012; Risam, et al., 2017b), the relationship between infrastructure and labor (Posner, 2013; Risam, et al., 2017b), and the ethical dimensions of student labor (Di Pressi, et al., 2015; Keralis, 2016).

An under-examined form of labor, however, is the digital carework that characterizes diversity work in digital humanities. This labor is gendered in nature, as it relies on the feminized labor of care. My framing of digital carework for diversity is informed by the few acknowledgments of affective labor in digital humanities scholarship. Cecire (2017) has asked practitioners to consider how much emotion work subtends digital humanities projects, while Anderson, et al. (2016) articulate the affective dimensions of academic labor in digital humanities, such as networking and sharing of expertise, which traffic in communication, rather than compensation. Digital carework also draws on scholarship that considers carework as a digital humanities practice, though the subject of care is predominantly data and source material (Nowviskie, 2015; Klein, 2015). Yet, attention has not been paid to the intersections of diversity work and affect, the relationship of carework to the two, and the influence that information and communication technologies have on them. Digital carework for diversity in digital humanities takes multiple forms, all of which exhibit the four dimensions of digital carework that I have articulated: the emotional, relational, representational, and educational. The two examples under discussion here — the creation of angry bibliographies and of backchannels — are examples of the relationship between digital carework and the production of scholarship as well as its role in negotiating social relationships. As such they have resonances in other fields and institutions and serve as a model not only for how digital carework subtends diversity work in digital humanities but also the academy more broadly.

Digital humanities is a useful case study for several reasons. As a community of scholars, it is interdisciplinary in nature, its participants come from many countries, and it relies on information and communication technologies for both creating knowledge and sustaining the scholarly community. Moreover, the affective expectations within digital humanities have been clearly articulated through community values that privilege niceness (Scheinfeldt, 2010). Niceness has not been recognized as a form of labor that digital humanities practitioners are asked to perform, precisely because it is a feminized notion typically understood as being interior. Yet, in digital humanities, diversity work and the imperative to be “nice” can come into conflict because pointing out or recognizing injustice can be perceived as not being nice to those who receive criticism or are part of the structures being challenged.

The creation of affect-driven bibliographies is a form of digital carework in the digital humanities that intends to intervene in a lack of diversity. As in other fields, the composition of all-male panels has been a subject of debate, as has the question of citation — who is being cited by whom in scholarship and who is not. Frequently, the response given to criticism of the lack of diversity in panels and publications has been that the scholarship does not exist or that there are simply no women or people of color engaged in relevant scholarship. Very often, that is patently untrue: the work is there but is not being cited or recognized. Jacqueline Wernimont is one of the digital humanities practitioners committed to diversity and social justice who has responded to this phenomenon through the production of what she has called “angry bibliographies” (see Figure 1).


Tweet from Jacqueline Wernimont beginning an angry bibliography
Figure 1: Tweet from Jacqueline Wernimont beginning an angry bibliography.


Wernimont’s bibliographies have responded to a number of events in the digital humanities community that have engendered strong affective response. The “Justice and Digital Archive” bibliography, for example, emerged from frustration among digital humanities practitioners committed to social justice at the SHARP 2017 conference. The social media conversations that incite these bibliographies express frustration, anger, and sadness by scholars who feel that their own work and their colleagues’ work has been elided, particularly in keynotes by white men. Wernimont typically starts a bibliography on the topic, inviting others to contribute sources via hashtags on Twitter or through posts on Facebook. The logic of these bibliographies is to make visible sources that are claimed not to exist.

As digital carework for diversity, the angry bibliography genre embodies the emotional, relational, representational and educational dimensions of affective labor found in diversity work. In their emotional dimensions, angry bibliographies are repositories of ire and anguish at the exclusions of digital scholarship. As a relational exercise, it brings together people who care about these issues through social media platforms. The angry bibliography is also representational in its goal of making visible scholars whose work related to diversity has gone unrecognized. Moreover, it is educational in that it offers a teachable moment for those who fail to recognize the importance of diversity of scholarship on panels and in publications or that these scholars do, in fact, exist.

The angry bibliography itself may be understood as a piece of digital scholarship, engaged in important bibliographic work that harnesses the tools of the production of digital knowledge to write back to the dominant status quo that denies the existence of the work represented in them. Because the work of bibliography itself is not appropriately valued in mechanisms like tenure and promotion, however, this important work does not receive the credit it deserves. This is compounded by the fact that diversity work itself is poorly valued. As such, it raises the question of where the affective labor that subtends the production of digital scholarship is recognized, whether in these bibliographies or other forms of digital scholarship that emerge from similar affective economies. In both, the affective labor that motivates their creation is rendered invisible in the final product.

The example of angry bibliographies in the digital humanities has resonances with other public forms of scholarship from other disciplines or interdisciplinary formations. A similar phenomenon is in public efforts to develop syllabi in response to current events. Examples include the Charleston Syllabus, Trump Syllabus, and Brexit Syllabus. These projects offer reading lists for a public audience that shed light on these topics. Losh has articulated the affective dimensions of such syllabi: “Often such work compromises scholars’ sustaining social networks, saps their emotional energies, and makes them vulnerable to trolls and harassers both inside and outside of the academy.” [8] The difference between the public syllabi and Wernimont’s angry bibliographies is that the latter is directed towards diversity work in the context of academic communities.

Another place where digital carework in response to diversity work can be seen is in the proliferations of backchannels to negotiate the experience and effects of participating in diversity initiatives. Backchannels are not exclusive to digital humanities and form in a number of contexts where communication outside of broader channels is necessary. In the digital humanities, backchannels range from hashtags like #transformDH or #dhpoco that have sought to bring together likeminded scholars engaged in social justice work to conversations that take place one-on-one or in smaller groups through social media platforms or messaging apps. Like the angry bibliography, the backchannel exemplifies the emotional, relational, representational, and educational dimensions of diversity work.

Emotional labor of the backchannel involves mediating negative affects incurred by those whose work is grounded in a commitment to social justice and amplified for those whose commitments to diversity are deeply tied to their own identities and the communities of which they are part. An overlooked, feminized form, the emotional labor of the backchannel also produces bonds and socialities that define its relationality. These are spaces where mentoring occurs — whether peer mentoring or more traditional top-down forms of mentoring. These backchannels are representational in the sense that they are places where those engaged in diversity work can be visible to each other. Moreover, they are educational because they offer opportunity for sharing information, appraising each other’s work, testing out ideas, and making decisions about how to effectively engage in diversity work.

The backchannel is especially significant for those engaged in diversity work because of the politics of power that surround academic relationships. Gersick, et al. (2000) suggest that academics choose their most important relationships and networks based on collegiality, admiration, support, and validation. These are networks and relationships from which women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals are often excluded. As such, they do not receive the same form of social supports, particularly informal ones that feature networking and access to collaborations (Jackson, 2004; Ponjuan, et al., 2011). As Christou (2016) notes, women academics, for example, tend to have less access to sponsors for their work, whether within their institutions or at different ones. The backchannel becomes a place to form these networks of their own and responds directly to the patronage system at work in the academy.

The dimensions of diversity-related carework in digital humanities are amplified by virtue of the fact that they are digital in form. Labor expended to create angry bibliographies and tend to backchannels is atemporal and spans distance. Like academic employment itself, it does not fit the boundaries of a nine-to-five job or a division between work and home. Although the affective labor that takes place is necessary to sustaining the morale of those who engage in diversity work, it draws time and attention away from personal lives as a form of unpaid overtime. The backchannel, in particular, blurs the lines between professional relationships and friendships. Thus, those who participate in backchannels may feel like they are freely choosing to use time “off the clock” to attend to their friendships, but this labor is integral to the explicit and implicit demands for diversity from the neoliberal university. Therefore, it raises questions of whether this is, in fact, friendship or exploitation.

The labor of digital carework for diversity bears some similarity to what Nakamura terms “unwanted labor”: “the hidden and often stigmatized and dangerous labor performed by women of color, queer and trans people, and racial minorities who call out, educate, protest, and design around social environments in digital media.” [9] The difference is that digital carework in the digital humanities and in the academy more broadly is not directed at digital media environments per se — though it can be — but at the structures subtending knowledge production. Additionally, unlike “unwanted labor,” the labor is wanted in ways dictated by explicit and implicit expectations from universities and academic communities — but not in ways that confer agency on those who undertake this work.

Furthermore, the communication backchannels through which this affective labor is performed participate in circuits of digital labor, generating content and traffic for social media platforms. Thus, it fits what Jarrett describes as “cognitive and affective efforts in building and sustaining interpersonal relationships online in communicating and coordinating activity with others in producing and sharing content.” [10] Through angry bibliographies and in backchannels, gifts of affect are exchanged and are central to sustaining both digital carework and diversity work. Yet, they are also part of reproducing digital labor. As Arcy (2016) notes, mechanisms such as “liking” on social media constitutes a gift exchange that create affective connections between users, which in turn generates a bond to the platform itself and encourages user engagement.

As Brown notes, “All of this [digital] labor, the work of generating content and posting it to websites, creating and maintaining networks, sharing images, stories, news, videos, soundclips and personal thoughts is undertaken and accomplished free of the wage relation, and pivotally, free of any kind of management oversight or supervisory directive.” [11] He argues that digital labor has five qualities: its inherent autonomy, exploitative nature, instances of resistance and struggle, intrinsic cooperation and collaboration, and the biopolitical impact on the constitutions of subjectivity. This is true of digital carework more generally (e.g., the affective labor rendered to friends through social media channels). However, digital carework undertaken in relation to diversity within higher education operates in a different register because it is not fully autonomous and is linked to diversity imperatives in the academy more broadly. Thus, digital carework exists in the liminal space between waged and unwaged labor.

This work is also subject to the repercussions that characterize diversity work more broadly. Those who engage are subject to cultural taxation (Padilla, 1994; Hirshfield and Joseph, 2012). They are obligated to perform emotional, relational, representational, and educational labor for the institution, despite the fact that it is not personally rewarded. This cultural taxation is a burden that is not equally shared, as others in the academy are not expected to perform the same labor. Those undertaking this work are also subject to battle fatigue (Smith, 2004). This is a response to the continual performance of affective labor that results from engaging in diversity work. There is also a double bind for those who choose to undertake diversity work, since it is both expected and unrewarded. At times, it is even punished, given the expectation to be visible but not transformational. As such, this work is marked by cruel optimism (Berlant, 2011), which keeps those who are engaged in diversity work continually performing labor towards a goal to which the university is structurally resistant. It further reflects Ross’ (2008) argument that academics endure terrible working conditions because they believe in the greater good.

Given the implication of digital carework for diversity in the directives of the neoliberal university, can it facilitate the alternative modes of organization in the service of resistance? Christou (2016) suggests that embracing the messiness inherent in the blurry lines between friendship and personal life can be transformational because of its potential for challenging the individualistic nature of academic labor. Moreover, the affective labor performed produces bonds and socialities. However, this labor raises an essential question: are those who engage in diversity work simply improving the material conditions of undertaking diversity work itself, thus participating in the reproduction of diversity work and digital carework as laboring forms within the academy? End of article


About the author

Roopika Risam is Assistant Professor of English and Chair of the Program Area for Content Education at Salem State University.
Web: http://roopikarisam.com
E-mail: rrisam [at] salemstate [dot] edu



I gratefully acknowledge my fellow diversity workers and the anonymous peer reviewers whose careful reading and insights on previous drafts were invaluable.



1. Hardt and Negri, 2000, p. 29.

2. Hardt and Negri, 2000, p. 293.

3. Gill, 2009, p. 229.

4. Gannon, et al., 2015, p. 194.

5. Mills, 1951, p. 182.

6. Pyke, 2010, pp. 86–87.

7. Posner, 2016, p. 35.

8. Losh, 2017, n.p.

9. Nakamura, 2015, p. 106.

10. Jarrett, 2016, p. 9.

11. Brown, 2014, n.p.



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Editorial history

Received 22 January 2018; accepted 7 February 2018.

Creative Commons License
To the extent possible under law, Roopika Risam has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to “Diversity work and digital carework in higher education.”

Diversity work and digital carework in higher education
by Roopika Risam.
First Monday, Volume 23, Number 3 - 5 March 2018
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v23i3.8241

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