Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries
- Co-Winner, 2013 American Sociological Association Section on Communication and Information Technologies (CITASA) Book Award.
210 pp., 6 x 9 in, 8 b&w illus., 3 tables
- Published: January 30, 2015
- Published: April 6, 2012
- Published: April 6, 2012
Why employees of pioneering Internet companies chose to invest their time, energy, hopes, and human capital in start-up ventures.
In the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, employees of Internet startups took risks—left well-paying jobs for the chance of striking it rich through stock options (only to end up unemployed a year later), relocated to areas that were epicenters of a booming industry (that shortly went bust), chose the opportunity to be creative over the stability of a set schedule. In Venture Labor, Gina Neff investigates choices like these made by high-tech workers in New York City's “Silicon Alley” in the 1990s. Why did these workers exhibit entrepreneurial behavior in their jobs—investing time, energy, and other personal resources that Neff terms “venture labor”—when they themselves were employees and not entrepreneurs?
Neff argues that this behavior was part of a broader shift in society in which economic risk shifted away from collective responsibility toward individual responsibility. In the new economy, risk and reward took the place of job loyalty, and the dot-com boom helped glorify risks. Company flexibility was gained at the expense of employee security. Through extensive interviews, Neff finds not the triumph of the entrepreneurial spirit but a mixture of motivations and strategies, informed variously by bravado, naïveté, and cold calculation. She connects these individual choices with larger social and economic structures, making it clear that understanding venture labor is of paramount importance for encouraging innovation and, even more important, for creating sustainable work environments that support workers.
In her rich fieldwork-based report from Silicon Alley, Gina Neff splendidly captures the bravado and the anguish of the late 1990s pioneers who placed risky bets on controlling their future, only to discover that they were simply preparing the way for a future that soon no longer needed many of them or their firms.
Howard E. Aldrich, Kenan Professor of Sociology & Chair, Department of Sociology, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Cutting-edge technology, personal fulfillment, maybe even wealth—in the late 1990s, New York's Silicon Alley promised it all. By showing what became of that promise and the people who believed in it, Gina Neff simultaneously opens a new window on Manhattan at the dawn of the internet age and casts a sharp eye on the increasingly risky world in which we all work today. A fascinating and important book.
Fred Turner, Stanford University; author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture
Gina Neff gives us a poised and invaluable analysis of how young people fashion a livelihood in a high-risk economy built on constantly shifting ground. Her profile of 'venture labor' is a particularly useful way of explaining why financial speculation drives the new patterns of precarious work.
Andrew Ross, author of No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs
Gina Neff's excellent Venture Labor is a must-read study for those who were there, and for those who care about our evolving workforce.