(Ephemera: theory & politics in organization, forthcoming)
In the absence of a professional body, code of ethics, or any other successful form of regulation, web designers deploy a range of strategies to self-regulate their own professional practices. These include the web standards movement and initiatives relating to web accessibility for users with disabilities. Indeed, with regard to accessibility, self-regulation has arguably been more effective than limited attempts to regulate web accessibility which have their origins outside the collective selves of web designers. The success of these self-regulatory strategies calls into question some of the negative readings of self-regulation in the growing body of literature about the cultural industries. What’s more, the ethical foundations of web designers’ self-regulation in relation to standards and accessibility suggest that, in this context, self-blaming (as one form of self-regulation) does not represent an absence of social critique, as has been suggested. Rather, self-blame is social critique.
Web design has come a long way since its early anarchic days. It has undergone a process of professionalisation (Kennedy, 2010) which has seen the emergence of recognizable job titles, core skills, and standards. Web designers themselves are concerned about this process, and express this concern through debate about their own professionalism on the blogs of the industry’s gurus and of lesser known web workers. This debate takes place in the absence of a professional body, a code of ethics or any other successful form of regulation. In place of external regulation, web designers deploy a range of strategies in order to self-regulate. These include the Web Standards Project (WaSP), a grassroots coalition fighting for standardization in web design and development, and a commitment to accessibility, or the inclusion of people with disabilities amongst website audiences. Initiatives relating to standards and accessibility in web design are the subject of this paper.
This article engages specifically with ‘governmentality’ approaches to cultural work, which propose that self-government, self-regulation and self-exploitation practices prevail amongst cultural workers, as a result of the immanent operation of power, which trains workers to ‘reproduce for themselves the precise conditions of their subordination’ (Banks, 2007: 42). In this context, accessibility and standards-adherence can be considered as forms of self-regulation. Web accessibility and web standards are close companions, and often, a website built to the standards advocated by the WaSP will be more accessible than one which is not. But designing an accessible website involves more than writing standardized code, and the best measure of a website’s accessibility, it is often argued, is to test it with disabled web users. An important distinction between standards and accessibility which is central to the concerns of this paper is that, whilst some efforts have been made to regulate accessibility from outside of the web industry, the standards movement has been entirely self-regulatory.
Because of the public good that results from successful self-regulatory practices – websites that are accessible to people with a range of disabilities, for example – this paper questions the negative readings of self-regulation that can be traced in some of the literature about the cultural industries, proposing instead that such self-regulatory practices as those discussed here could also be conceived as an etho-politics, to use Rose’s term (Rose, 1999a). As such, these practices have not entirely negative consequences. It should be noted that the aim of the article is not to celebrate an absence of state regulation, or capitalism’s stealthy absolution from social responsibility, to paraphrase McRobbie (2002a). Rather, it is to suggest...