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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: October 2020

3 - Invisible Work, Visible Workers

Summary

Online care platforms have become major brokers of informal paid caregiving in the U.S., alongside a patchwork of agencies, informal networks, and online job boards. While domestic carework has been considered a paradigmatic example of “invisible” work, platforms like Care.com emphasize workers’ online visibility – through self-branding and online identity management – as key to a successful job search. Based on interviews with careworkers and a content analysis of company materials, we find that careworkers negotiate overlapping and conflicting “visibility regimes,” which are constructed by platforms, and other social institutions that shape their job searches. While some leverage the individualized visibility of platforms as a vehicle for building a “caring brand,” others find themselves lost in a sea of search results that flatten important professional distinctions. We argue that this complicates policy assumptions that pose increased visibility as a solution for invisible or undervalued work. Instead, these new forms of online scrutiny serve platforms’ interests in making workers legible to clients. As careworkers’ livelihoods become more closely intertwined with the decisions, design, and policies enacted by platform companies, more attention should be paid to their legal and ethical responsibilities for working against entrenched inequalities within the industry.

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