Imagine Otherwise: Josef Nguyen on the Politics of Flexibility

Mar 11, 2022Podcast

The promises and perils of flexibility

In different ways, we’ve all had to learn to be more flexible in our plans recently.

Ironclad schedules and predictable resources really are a thing of the past (if we ever experienced them to begin with), and being able to adapt quickly in response to changing circumstances has moved from being an ideal to just how we can make it through the day.

In some ways, this increased flexibility has opened up new opportunities to us rethink how we want our work and home lives to be and allowed us to forge new socialities grounded in mutual care and creativity.

But this new required flexibility is also challenging, as the labor involved in making constant changes starts to take its toll.

When flexibility is unevenly distributed across communities and individuals, it means marginalized folks bear the brunt of the new “flexible normal.”.

To tackle this question of flexibility, in episode 145 of Imagine Otherwise, I interview Josef Nguyen, the author of a new book about the creative economy and its demand for flexible labor called The Digital Is Kid Stuff: Making Creative Laborers for a Precarious Economy.

In their conversation, Josef and I chat about the promises and perils of flexible planning, especially when environments require new flexibility without funding it.

We also discuss the history of youth creative labor and why cultural anxieties over uncertain futures are so often routed through debates over technology in education, which we’re seeing play out in debates over online versus in-person education during COVID.

Finally, we close out our conversation with ways to put flexibility to use in the classroom, on the page, and in our daily lives in ways that center collective support and more just worlds.

Josef Nguyen wearing a pink shirt. Quote reads: Figuring out where I can be flexible and open up a space to share governance with students is part of building a better educational world, even at a small scale.

Josef Nguyen

Josef Nguyen is an assistant professor of critical media studies in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at the University of Texas at Dallas.

His research and teaching focus on investigating technological labor and design in the political economy of digital culture, with particular commitment to intersectional feminism and social justice.

He is the author of The Digital Is Kid Stuff: Making Creative Laborers for a Precarious Economy (University of Minnesota Press, 2021), which argues that images of and debates over creative digital youth index profound anxieties about emerging digital technologies and precarious employment for “creative laborers.”

Josef’s new book project examines how approaches to consent in digital technological design construct and differentiate subjects in an increasingly informatic world.

Josef also co-directs the Studio for Mediating Play with Dr. Hong-An Wu. Foregrounding intersectional feminist theory to address social and material issues, the Studio treats play both as a significant cultural phenomenon of study as well as grounding for critical research and practice.

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