Institute for Advanced Study Presents

Therapy Apps & Virtual Nurses: Of Meaning, Machines and the Future of Connective Labor

IAS Thursdays
Nov 2019
About the Event

Some jobs have relationship at their core, depending upon a personal, emotional connection between practitioners and recipients. Efforts to make such "connective labor" more standardized, predictable, even automated, often depend on the premise that checklists or apps are "better than nothing." The expansion of data needs shrinks the available time practitioners have to pursue the relationships they view as integral to their success. Yet perhaps surprisingly, low-income people sometimes prefer the alternatives. Based on 100+ interviews and 300+ hours of observation, Allison Pugh, Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, argues that the contemporary degradation of connective labor, particularly for disadvantaged people, makes its automation more acceptable. She asks what connective labor has in common across fields, and how we might make that work more systematic without getting in its way.

Cosponsored by the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication; the University of Minnesota Informatics Institute (UMII); the University of Minnesota Medical School Program in Health Disparities Research; the Digital Arts, Sciences, & Humanities (DASH) program; and the Departments of Anthropology, Sociology, and Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems.

Allison Pugh is Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia. Her research and teaching focus on collisions of economic life and intimacy. Her current research, recently awarded NSF support, explores the rationalization – and automation – of service work that relies on relationship. Her first book, Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture, documented how children and parents manage the commercialization of childhood. It won the 2010 William J. Goode award and the 2010 Distinguished Contribution from the ASA section on children and youth. Her 2015 book The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity is a study on the broader impacts of job precariousness, specifically how gender and class inequality shape the effects job insecurity has on intimate life.