“What’s that behind you?” — self-curation for remote working | by Areesha Banglani | Nov, 2021

Earlier, I mentioned certain background themes that kept coming up when I conducted my research. Let’s take a deeper look into that starting with displays of books.

What can I say about books and identity that hasn’t already been said?

It was 2019, when Marie Kondo became a household name, a meme and then public enemy number one for suggesting people should have less than 30 books (misunderstandings of her words that were based not only in racism but also in capitalism). Kondo’s suggestion against hoarding books caused such an uproar because books have come to occupy the status of a sacred object (commodity fetishism) through which, we not only create ideas of ourselves but also commoditize ourselves (subjectivity fetishism). Who am I if not my top five favorite books that give you an insight into the complexity of my being?

In the same line, humorous memes, clean/home environments, and company/branded backgrounds, all speak to how we curate ourselves. The first giving a peek into one’s personality, the second giving the illusion of a look into our personal home environment (implying certain comfort and accessibility but not really) and the third, I find the most interesting.

On the one hand, it can be read as establishing firm boundaries between personal and professional life but on the other — in Bauman’s reading — it blurs the boundaries between the two while also pledging allegiance to the latter (similar to branded LinkedIn cover photos). How many of us answer the question “What do you do?/ Tell me something about yourself”, with our job titles as opposed to our hobbies, qualities, and interests.

If you follow my writings, you know that while I find Bauman highly inspiring, there are things I disagree with him specifically with, what I call, his ‘doomsday’ approach. For me, it is not as dystopian as it is for Bauman. In typical poststructuralist fashion, for me, power is productive and that allows room for resistance and disruptions. Thus, I am not fully convinced that these backgrounds are always a case of subjectivity fetishism in the Baumanian sense. Further research is needed (and so, this series will continue).

Finally, I want to mention two examples of backgrounds that weren’t necessarily a theme but were interesting nevertheless.

One of my research participants, speaking of her colleague, mentioned that her virtual background is that of “a beach.” I found this particularly interesting as this falls into a different category: aspirational. While still giving a look into her life, the aspirational background tells not only of who she is but also who she wishes to be; a bigger slice of her life.

Another participant spoke about her colleague who “did not care” and even had alcohol bottles in the background. Has she been able to reject the confines of subjectivity fetishism? Not exactly since the participant did speak about her with certain judgement. However, I do believe this is an interesting avenue to further research into with regards to the disruptive potential. As disruptions, in line with the decolonial as well as poststructural schools of thought, aren’t always necessarily about outright resistances but also, moments of negotiations.

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