The successful self-regulation of web designers
(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...
References: Adam, A. and D. Kreps (2006) ‘Enabling or disabling technologies? A critical approach to web accessibility’, Information Technology and People, 19(3): 203-218.
Banks, M. (2007) The Politics of Cultural Work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Benkler, Y. (2006) The Wealth of Networks: how social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Brothercake (2007) ‘Technology is the last, best hope for accessibility’, March 13 2007, http://www.brothercake.com/site/resources/reference/hope/, visited October 2009.
Bruns, A. (2008) Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: from production to produsage. New York: Peter Lang.
Budd, A. (2005) ‘Accessibility and the law’, Blogography, 16 June 2005, http://www.andybudd.com/archives/2005/06/accessibility_and_the_law/, visited October 2009.
Clark, J. (2002) Building Accessible Websites. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
Clark, J. (2006) ‘To Hell with WCAG 2.0’, AListApart, May 23 2006, http://www.alistapart.com/articles/tohellwithwcag2, visited June 2007.
Clark, J. (2008) ‘This is how the web gets regulated’, AListApart, 18 November 2008, http://www.alistapart.com/articles/thisishowthewebgetsregulated, visited May 2009.
Clarke, A. (2005) ‘Accessibility and a society of control’, Stuff and Nonsense, June 2005, http://stuffandnonsense.co.uk/blog/about/accessibility_and_a_society_of_control/, visited October 2009.
Clarke, A. (2006) Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design. Berkeley, CS: New Riders.
Coyne, K. and J. Nielsen (2001) Beyond ALT text: making the web easy to use for users with disabilities. Fremont, CA: Nielsen Norman Group.
Deuze, M. (2007) Media Work. Cambridge: Polity Press.
du Gay, P. (1996) Consumption and Identity at Work. London: Sage.
Florida, R. (2003) The Rise of the Creative Class: And how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Basic Books.
Kelly, B. (2002) ‘An accessibility analysis Of UK university entry points.’ Ariadne Issue 33.
Lawton Henry, S
Lazar, J., A. Dudley-Sponaugle and K.D. Greenidge (2004) ‘Improving Web Accessibility: a study of webmaster perceptions’, Computers in Human Behaviour, 20(2): 269-288.
Leadbetter, C. (1999) Living on Thin Air: The New Economy. Harmondsworth: Viking.
McRobbie, A. (1999) In The Culture Society. London and New York: Routledge.
McRobbie, A. (2002a) ‘Clubs to Companies: notes on the decline of political culture in speeded up creative worlds’, Cultural Studies 16(4): 516-531.
McRobbie, A. (2002b) ‘From Holloway to Hollywood: happiness at work in the new cultural economy?’ in du Guy, P. and Pryke, M. (eds) Cultural Economy. London: Sage.
Meyer, E. (2000) CSS: The Definitive Guide. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.
Moore, P. and P.A. Taylor (2009) ‘Exploitation of the self in community-based software production: Workers’ freedoms or firm foundations?’, Capital and Class 97: 99-119.
Moss, T. (2006) ‘WCAG 2.0: The new W3C accessibility guidelines evaluated’, Webcredible, September 2006, http://www.webcredible.co.uk/user-friendly-resources/web-accessibility/wcag-guidelines-20.shtml, visited June 2009.
Rose, N. (1999a) Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self. London: Free Association.
Rose, N. (1999b) ‘Inventiveness in politics’, Economy and Society, 28(3): 467-493.
Ross, A. (2003) No-Collar: the humane workplace and its hidden costs. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Sampson-Wild, G. (2007) ‘Testability Costs Too Much’, AListApart, June 26 2007, http://www.alistapart.com/articles/testability, visited June 2007.
Sennett, R. (1998) The Corrosion of Character: personal consequences of work in the new capitalism. Norton & Co: New York and London.
Terranova, T. (2000) ‘Free labor: producing culture for the digital economy’. Social Text 18(2): 33-57, http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0004/msg00013.html, visited October 2001.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) (2008), http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/, visited on various dates.
Web Standards Group (2005) ‘Ten questions for Patrick Lauke’, October 11 2005, http://webstandardsgroup.org/features/patrick-lauke.cfm, visited October 2009.
Wittel, A. (2001) ‘Toward a Network Sociality’. Theory, Culture and Society 18(6): 51-76.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document