Work, Consumption and Social Relations: Processual Approaches to the Platform Society

Convenors: Chiara Bassetti (University of Trento), Annalisa Murgia (University of Leeds) & Maurizio Teli (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute)

In the last decades, the widespread adoption of digital technologies has been characterised by the increasingly intense use of “platforms” that burst into our everyday professional and personal lives (Huws, 2014; Kalleberg, Dunn, 2016; Srnicek, 2016), from consumption to working activities, from intimate relationships to new forms of organising as both workers and citizens (Scholz, 2016; Schor, 2016; Armano et al., 2017). Governments, companies, unions, and the academic community alike seem to converge on the idea that digital platforms represent a game-changer for economic, political and social activities and relationships. This is what we refer to as the “platform society”, in which such platforms are supposed to change, when not to innovate, almost every aspect of social life.

The aim of this session is to critically engage with such an assumption, by focusing on platforms not only as techno-economic objects, but as processes of agencement (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980; Gherardi, 2016), in which subjects, artefacts, regulations, geographical contexts, technologies, knowledge, politics and economics may connect in different ways, in a mixture of continuity with previous experiences and emerging practices. What is new, in the platform society, and what is a rearrangement of well-known economic and social processes – as the polarization of economic resources – is a crucial question which is not satisfactorily answered yet. Adopting a processual approach to the study of digital platforms allows challenging monolithic views of their nature and to understand the domination or emancipatory effects they may produce.

How are digital platforms designed, developed and implemented? Is it possible, and how, to re-appropriate their use and to challenge the current neoliberal economic model (Bassetti et al., 2017)? To answer these questions, a pluralistic and interdisciplinary analysis is necessary, in order to understand how digital platforms can be regulated, how computable algorithms are applied to several social activities – from consumption to employment relations – and how new forms of organising, involving both trade unions and social movements, can defend the rights of platform-workers at the global level. Finally, if we want to engage in a critical debate of the uses and effects of platforms, we should also interrogate our practices in using platforms both as individuals and in studying/designing them as a research community. An ethnographic approach able to look into the details of everyday practices of use, design, research and interaction, and the discourses surrounding and shaping such practices, represents a powerful tool to tackle the questions above by avoiding rhetoric and unilateral answers.

In this session, we solicit ethnographic and qualitative contributions, including comparative ones, that explore how digital platforms are enacted through different technologies, territories, timings and practices. Contributions may examine any of the following or related aspects:

  •     Ethical registers beyond digital platforms;
  •     The regulation of online platforms and the protection of workers’ rights;
  •     Workers and  clients in the gig- and sharing economy;      
  •     The introduction of HR information platforms;    
  •     The design and development of mainstream and alternative platforms;
  •     Platform cooperativism and the counter-use of digital technologies;
  •    Emerging forms of organising of trade unions and social movements in        the platform economy;    
  •     The use of  platforms for political actions.

In this session, we invite an interdisciplinary conversation, and we welcome participation by academics, activists and unionists. Young scholars with “work in progress” papers are welcomed. We are interested in empirical contributions as well as empirically grounded theoretical explorations.

References

Armano E., Murgia A., Teli M. (2017) (eds.) Platform Capitalism e confini del lavoro negli spazi digitali. Milano: Mimesis.

Bassetti C., Teli M., Murgia A. (2017) Tin Hat Games – Producing, Funding, and Consuming an Independent Role-Playing Game in the Age of the Interactive Spectacle. In M. Briziarelli, E. Armano (eds.), The Spectacle 2.0: Reading Debord in the Context of Digital Capitalism. London: University of Westminster Press.

Deleuze G., Guattari, F. (1980) Mille Plateaux. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Gherardi S. (2016) To start practice theorizing anew: The contribution of the concepts of agencement and formativeness. Organization 23(5): 680-698.

Huws U. (2014) Labor in the global digital economy: the cybertariat comes of age. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Kalleberg A.L., Dunn M. (2016) Good Jobs, Bad Jobs in the Gig Economy. Perspectives on Work 20: 10-14.

Scholz T. (2016) Platform cooperativism. Challenging the corporate sharing economy. New York: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Schor J. (2016) Debating the Sharing Economy. Journal of Self-Governance & Management Economics 4(3): 7-22.

Srnicek N. (2016) Platform capitalism. London: Polity Press.

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