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Book Review: Venture Labor in Contemporary Sociology

Thank you Michael Indergaard for the scholarly review of Venture Labor in Contemporary Sociology.

What advice do you give to young folks about jobs? I could tell them I made some investments in my employability, but it is equally true that I mostly muddled through the uncertain career paths of our times. In Frank Knight’s classic formulation, efforts to manage “uncertainty” turn it into “risk.” This idea is the starting point for Venture Labor, Gina Neff’s rich study of New York internet workers who embraced risk during the dot-com boom. This internet cluster, known as Silicon Alley, became the site of new forms of media and work. Neff seeks lessons from this first wave of digital start-ups even as a new wave tries to capitalize on social media, big data and the like. She wants to understand why such workers came to accept the idea that they are individually responsible for managing employment uncertainties. She offers a synthetic account of agency that contributes to debates about the role of calculation in economic action—a position usually in tension with established claims about action’s structurally-embedded or culturally-constituted nature.

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Book Review: Venture Labor in American Journal of Sociology

Thank you to Vicki Smith for the scholarly review of Venture Labor in the American Journal of Sociology.

A great deal has been written about employment risk in the 21st century. Many agree that institutional bases of employment are shifting, jobs and careers have become more tenuous, and risks associated with employment increasingly have been transferred to individuals. Yet, to date we don’t have many in-depth, fine-grained studies of how individuals or groups experience these transformations. Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk makes a significant contribution to this important and multifaceted topic. Gina Neff’s analysis of the mutually constitutive processes through which people’s cultural frames and understandings of the risks of employment fueled the growth of an industry, and how industry practices both rewarded and benefited from those frames, is nuanced, smart, and insightful.

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Book Review: Venture Labor in Forbes

Thank you Tom Watson and Forbes for reviewing Venture Labor.

They called it “Silicon Alley,” a clumsy play on words meant to evoke an East Coast urban version of the California place where microchips made fortunes grow and digital devices work. It was a marketing play really, designed to lure public funding and convince established business to locate in New York. But the term was always flawed. For one, few of the small-time entrepreneurs and dreamers who created the tiny and fragile Internet scene in mid-1990s New York ever touched silicon or worked on a chip. And for another, where were the alleys? Ancient tilting walk-ups, former garment center sweatshop floors, crumbling converted townhouses, semi-abandoned finance towers, nooks and crannies of the abundant and under-used spaces that created a buyer’s market for offices – these were the mis en scene for the happy band of under-achieving writers, editors, photographers, designers, artists, tramps and thieves who formed the core of “Silicon Alley.” But these places fronted on streets and avenues, the grid of lower midtown and Chelsea and the Flatiron District, and the crazy Dutch patchwork of lower Manhattan.

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