Precarious Privilege: Productive Consumption Among Silicon Valley's Emerging Elites

Plater, Allister, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Pugh, Allison, AS-Sociology, University of Virginia

This dissertation seeks to understand the ways in which the religion of work reproduces itself in various aspects of social life. I argues that culture stems from national economic landscapes and manifests in the seemingly non-work parts of our lives. In particular I demonstrate how certain aspects of the U.S. economic landscape such as market power contribute to what I term “precarious privilege.” I have found that precarious privilege produces a culture of exceptionalism which can be seen in how young professionals experience “productive consumption.” Their experience of productive consumption results in instrumental hedonism, a type of productive consumption masked in self indulgence and personal pleasure. I chronicle the lived experiences of young tech professionals in San Francisco and the industry consumer culture that they move in and between. Through ethnographic fieldwork, I illuminate San Francisco's tech industry not simply as a microcosm of the national economy but as a critical space where exceptionalism is produced and maintained. By emphasizing their precarious privilege, I argue that, while a key point of appeal for tech workers lies in the ostensible participation in the carefree, ‘authentic’ environment of San Francisco, in reality, such horizons of opulence come with a cost first to the tech worker who is locked in a precarious system that offers little protection, predictability, or care. And second, to society who is forcibly caught up in a culture of putative meritocracy and luxury that both hides and celebrates the hegemony of overwork and a monopoly over the future.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
consumption, silicon valley, culture, work, elites
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: