Management of the Self in Virtual Work: Self-Organisation and Control Among Professional Online Poker Players
This study is set in the broad context of the changing world of work that is characterised by the dissolution of full-time stable employment and the emergence of precarious, insecure forms of work (see e.g. Gorz, 1999, Hardt and Negri, 2005, Huws, 2016, Lorey, 2015, Ross, 2003, Ross, 2009, Smith, 2001, Standing, 2011). As a response to these labour market uncertainties a growing number of individuals are managing multiple areas of the self as part of their work or occupation. This trend has been termed 'the new worker-subjectivity' or 'the entrepreneurial self' that is formed through practices of self-management (Bührmann, 2005, Lorey, 2009). Despite increasing awareness of the emergence of the entrepreneurial worker-subjectivity, research into practices of self-management has only focused on occupational groups in formal work. Knowledge about the trend in the context of virtual workers who operate outside of conventional working relations and have no publicly recognised work identity is largely missing. In order to address this gap, this study explores how entrepreneurial worker-subjectivities manifest in professional online poker players as an emerging online occupation. It investigates how these workers manage themselves in the absence of formal organisational control and socially recognised occupational norms, and asks what are the effects of this self-management on the quality of their working lives? The study is based on 39 in-depth interviews with people involved in online poker or other similar activities such as online gaming or trading. The interviews were conducted either face-to-face in Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania and UK or over Skype between December 2012 and May 2014. The study develops an analytical framework for researching entrepreneurial worker-subjectivities in the context of an emerging occupation and a three-stage-model of the trajectory that provides a basis for exploring the career paths of professional online poker players. Using these framework, the study finds that professional online poker players manage various areas of the self by following informal occupational rules and that their sense of professionalism is largely derived from various practices of self-management that help them distinguish from recreational players. The study also discovers conflicting relations of autonomy and control among the workers and a range of negative effects that self-management practices have on professional online poker players. It concludes that professional online poker is not a sustainable long-term career option. These findings contribute to a better understanding of virtual work, the emergence of online poker playing as a form of work and the development of the entrepreneurial worker-subjectivity.