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Photo via Improv Everywhere 

The photo above, of an Abercrombie model posing with customers, embodies the sociological concept of aesthetic labor. Sociologists have been particularly interested in this phenomenon, which is the inclusion of an employee’s ‘look’ or ‘feel’ into the workplace. In many places, including some elements of the retail industry and the modeling industry, being a good or desirable employee is defined not just by the skill with which work is done, but also by the aesthetic qualities of employee.

We are posting a three part commentary today discussing the phenomenon of aesthetic labor. The initial post by Ashley Mears describes her work as a model in New York City’s fashion industry. The second post, by Emily Cummins, describes aesthetic labor, gender and the wedding industry. Finally, we are pleased to feature some commentary by Jeff Sallaz on the concept of aesthetic labor itself.

Photo via Improv Everywhere

This response is posted on behalf of Jeff Sallaz.

The idea of aesthetic labor is a fascinating one.  What does it mean to get paid to create beauty?  A beautician by definition engages in aesthetic labor, but so too does an avante-garde film-maker.  Are we justified to compare what happens in a hair salon with what occurs in a movie studio?   In both cases we find work that is extremely difficult to routinize or mechanize.  (Are you a Flowbee user?  Nuff said.)  And in both cases we find that acts of production and consumption are united in a way that complicates Marx’s notion of commodity fetishism (witness the cult of the auteur).

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