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death piles, dead labor and dead white man's clothes

Examining the US secondhand online markets through feminist economics

Ethnographic, Design and Creative Methods


Adopting a feminist economics approach to discard studies, my dissertation delves into online reselling in the US, especially within the secondhand fashion markets. The research explores the power dynamics resellers face, influenced by platform governance, financial constraints, cultural environments, and other factors. The study aims to understand how online resellers organize their labor, adapt and resist platform changes, and offers feminist economic perspectives for envisioning alternative futures for online resale. I rely on ethnographic, design and creative methods.

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2 years

(2022 - 2024)


Carl DiSalvo (advisor),

Sarah Fox,

Chris LeDantec,

Noura Howell, Richmond Wong


  • Conduct Mixed methods study on aspects of computing and platform mediated labor in online reselling

  • Use design fiction for participatory approaches

  • Conduct creative autoethnographic design research to examine ethical and wicked questions


The research aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the cultures and practices of online secondhand fashion resellers in the US. It seeks to highlight the existing ways resellers and third parties engage in forms of commoning, while also identifying the frictions stemming from neoliberal political subjectivities. The study is rooted in a commitment to feminist standpoint strategies, emphasizing the importance of reflexivity and the researcher's positionality in the process.


The realm of secondhand fashion reselling is a complex ecosystem, deeply intertwined with global dynamics, personal experiences, and technological advancements. My journey into this world began not as a researcher, but as an individual navigating the streets of Bogota, Colombia. Living in the impoverished area of Las Aguas, I was introduced to the informal flea markets that dotted the streets every Sunday. These markets, filled with trinkets, used clothing, and various oddities, became a ritualistic exploration for me.

However, the allure of these items, especially vintage fashion dolls and old rags, was not just about their aesthetic or nostalgic value. They hinted at deeper stories and global connections, revealing a paradox. On one hand, these items serve as archives of human experience, evoking nostalgia and preserving cultural memories. On the other, they are emblematic of a capitalistic, globally unequal, and unsustainable lifestyle. The very existence of these items in the markets of Bogota speaks to the vast global networks of consumption and discard, where items produced and discarded in one part of the world find new life in another, often carrying with them the weight of their origins and the systems that produced them.


The first 'item' I sold on Ebay was this collectible 'Side part American Girl' Barbie from the 60's. I shipped it from Colombia to the US. With the money I got, I bought the laptop I type from today.

This personal connection to the world of resale, combined with my academic pursuits, led me to delve deeper into the sociotechnical aspects of online secondhand fashion reselling in the US. My research is driven by a desire to understand the intricate relationships between resellers, the platforms they use, and the broader socio-economic and ideological contexts that shape these interactions.


I utilize a blend of traditional and experimental methods to validate my findings. Social science techniques like ethnography and content analysis address evaluative queries. Meanwhile, humanities and design-inspired methods, including fabulations and creative autoethnography, aid in exploring futuristic and world-building perspectives. Here's how I approach my research questions.

Adam Caar


Exploring the use and regulation of worker-focused automation technologies in Poshmark.

Mixed-methods study around the use of bots and third party digital tools by online resellers. I was answering the questions:

  1. Why do resellers use automation tools despite being against the platform TOS?

  2. What effect does it have on the platform's community?


Trash Work Futures: A Design Fiction

Design Fiction Ecosystem exploring ethical dimensions around labor, automation and globalized labor markets. This paper got the Best Paper award in the CHIWORK symposium in 2022.

You can check the artifacts here.

You can read the paper here.


Reframing Design Methods through Creative Autoethnography.

To interrogate the global dimensions of resale and its colonial dimensions from a situated perspective, I am using autoethnography combined with designed methods. This study uses decolonial theory to create autoethnographic instruments that alter standardized design methods like 'cultural probes' or 'design fictions'.


Ethnographic and Action Research of online reselling economies.

I am engaged with reseller communities ethnographically through both direct encounters and digital interactions. Beyond data accumulation and insights, I am employing methods that seek to communicate my research and engage the communities politically. The deeper intent of this research is to critically examine and potentially influence the structures and norms of reseller cultures, aiming for a transformative impact.

Theoretical Foundations

The theoretical underpinnings of this research are deeply rooted in feminist economics, decolonial feminism, discard studies, and critical platform studies. These frameworks provide a multifaceted lens to dissect the complexities of online reselling.

Feminist Economics: This perspective challenges the traditional economic paradigms by emphasizing the importance of understanding gender's role in economic processes. It underscores the often invisible labor, especially in sectors dominated by women, and highlights the intersectional conditions for diverse workers. In the context of online reselling, a feminist economics lens allows for a nuanced understanding of how gender dynamics play out in the digital marketplace, from the roles women play to the value assigned to their labor.

Decolonial Feminism: Informed by the work of global south and diasporic scholars, decolonial feminism critiques the lingering effects of colonialism in contemporary societies, especially concerning gender and power. By applying this lens, the research illuminates how colonial legacies influence the structures and dynamics of online reselling, from platform governance to labor practices.

Discard Studies: This emerging field focuses on waste and society's practices of discarding. In the realm of online reselling, discard studies offer insights into the lifecycle of products, from production to disposal, and the societal implications of these processes. It provides a critical reflection on consumer culture, sustainability, and the intricate relationship with digital infrastructures.

Critical Platform Studies:  This framework critiques the dominant narratives around digital platforms, challenging technodeterministic views and emphasizing the socio-political contexts in which platforms operate. It offers insights into the power dynamics, governance structures, and the agency of users within these digital ecosystems.

By intertwining feminist economics with decolonial feminism, the research highlights the gendered and colonial intricacies of platform labor. It moves beyond present diagnosis, interrogating the systemic issues that shape the online reselling landscape.

The application of discard studies illuminates the materiality and global supply chains of the products being resold, offering a fresh perspective on the value and lifecycle of secondhand goods in a digital age.

Furthermore, by adopting a critical platform studies approach, the research moves away from a technocentric view of online reselling. Instead, it emphasizes the socio-political, economic, and cultural contexts that shape these platforms, highlighting the intricate web of relations between platform workers, governance structures, and broader societal systems.

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