The Hustle Studies: Precarity Gaps, Credentialing Schemes and Micro-Entrepreneurship in the Shadows of Technological Transformation

Tressie McMillan Cottom

Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD
Senior Research Professor 
Center for Information, Technology and Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill’s iSchool

Technology firms celebrate platforms as innovation while platform capitalism arguably hollows out already-weakened labor market structures for millions of workers. The resulting “precarity gap” is a labor market where a varied, hierarchical system of non-job jobs afford some workers on-demand services that fill gaps in the social safety net like care work at the expense of the platform-based workers. Though hustling often refers to outside-work activities and informal economies, it has always been and continues to be a mainstay of producing economic security for households across the world. It is also recognized as a property of racial capitalism, as a cultural form that adheres to some bodies but not others, as the hustle is associated with Black women in the United States, for instance, and with similarly gendered, raced, classed, and casted groups throughout the world. In this talk, Tressie McMillan Cottom will trace her research program from marginal credentialing schemes in “Lower Ed” to her work on racializing theories of platform capitalism. The Hustle Studies include preliminary data on patterns of inclusion, desire, and stratification that are produced when ordinary lives are mediated through the mode of digital micro-entrepreneurship.