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Session Overview
RN18_01a_IC: Academic Labour, Digital Media and Capitalism
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Peter Golding, Northumbria University
Location: Intercontinental - Omikron II
Athenaeum Intercontinental Hotel Syngrou Avenue 89-93 Athens, Greece Floor: Level 1

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Theorising Academic Labour

Thomas Allmer

University of Stirling, United Kingdom

Modern universities have always been part of and embedded into capitalism in political, economic and cultural terms. Situated in this context, the overall task of this paper is to make a critical contribution examining universities, academic labour, digital media and capitalism. Questions that need to be raised include but are not limited to:

What is the historical role of universities and academic labour and how has it changed over time? What kind of workers are academics and how are they related to knowledge, informational and cultural workers? Given that the academic work process is today strongly mediated through digital media, to what extent can academic workers be considered as digital workers, and academic labour as digital labour? How are the working conditions of academics characterised by extension and intensification in the realm of the digital university?

I address these questions based on a critical social theory approach. Firstly, I engage with the history and context of the university. Secondly, I deal with the forms and concepts of academic labour and provide a systematic analysis of working conditions at higher education institutions. Thirdly, the impact of new information and communication technologies on academic labour is outlined. Fourthly, the paper concludes with a summary and discusses political potentials and alternatives.

The paradox of disintermediated knowledge: the unwitting path to marketisation of educative system

Lorenza Boninu

University of Pisa/ MIUR, Italy

In my contribution I assume that the progressive dematerialization of the book is expected to affect the social value of legitimate knowledge transmitted by the school with consequences not so easy to predict, in spite of the enthusiastic claims of political decision-makers. First of all the digital metamorphosis of teaching-learning mechanisms leads into discussion the complex topic about immaterial labour (Lazzarato 1996, Terranova 2000, Gill and Pratt 2008) in the Net. The massive growth of a horizontal, networked, interactive fruition of elearning resources makes it important to highlight the unpaid work that they depend upon. The diffusion of this kind of prosumerism (Toffler 1980, Ritzer and Jurgenson 2012) might irreparably devalue the intellectual labour: if everyone in turn can teach and learn and the results are evaluated by the community of users, with no regard of professional skills and official degrees, as in the case of Wikipedia, the consequence is a general weakening of the teachers' social role (Eijkman 2010). On the other hand we can see a clear attempt to standardize the educational routines on the Net by the intervention of strong subjects, with high reputation and a great economic and organizational set-up (i.e. Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and so on). The consequences of these processes should be set into the frame of general marketisation of education. At last it is worth noticing how the rise of the so called MOOCs in this context could affect in several ways the educational system: it concerns the value socially attributed to scholastic knowledge, the educational policies and the budget cuts, the pedagogical assumption in this kind of practices.

Analyzing «attention economy»: communicative capital, communicative labour and communicative exploitation

Vladislav Dekalov

Saint Petersburg State University, Russian Federation

In the paper I discuss globalization, homogenization and commodification of everyday communicative practices following works of critical theorists such as C. Fuchs and J. Dean. I consider latter’s theory of "communicative capitalism" as a starting point for elaborating and clarifying two concepts, "communicative capital" and "communicative labour". For this purpose I develop P. Candon’s findings on Bourdieusian / Dean’s "capital", and focus on "attention" as a key resource of informational economy.

Communicative capital circulates on different levels of the global computer mediated network. Hypothesis is that all network users are competing and cooperating in the "attention market": they invest their communicative capitals to attract other network users attention and then to converse it into economic / social / cultural capital.

The core contradiction is a dramatic asymmetry in attention distribution between few "stars" and a long tail of "losers". While the first ones are setting the agenda, the second ones react, comment and interrupt them. Having more opportunities to use other types of capital and being more «digital literate», the «stars» concentrate a great deal of network users’ attention, exploit «net-workers» and eventually derive of economic / social / cultural profit (here it’s important to take into account a complexity of «digital institutes» that makes capital dynamic opaque and unpredictable).

In the presentation I will give some illustrations (based on my researching of Russian Internet communities) how common users and «digital professionals» apply different tactics to empower and to protect their communicative capitals. I’ll also outline a number of theoretical issues need to be conceptualized and verified in my future studies.

Workfulness - Disconnection is the new black

Anne Kaun, Carina Guyard

Södertörn University, Sweden

Telenor, one of the major telecommunication companies in Scandinavia, recently introduced the notion of workfulness adapting the well-established idea of mindfulness to the workplace. Workfulness is aimed at companies that are working in digital connected working environments at high-speed. Workfulness encompasses strategies of disconnection for the employees to enhance focus and efficiency including mobile and e-mail free work hours and technology-free meetings. The presentation seeks to investigate the concept of workfulness as part of an emerging trend towards disconnection in digital media industries. While earlier workflow models of companies within the digital economy emphasized increased connection, disconnection has now become a new way to organize the work of stressed laborers. Drawing on a diverse set of materials ranging from a critical textual analysis of Telenor’s workfulness guidebook to the analysis of promotional videos as well as interviews with key persons at Telenor and a manager at a company that has implemented workfulness into their workflows, we are investigating how disconnection becomes valuable by an intensification of the labor process and by taking responsibility of digital stress, thereby preventing a societal backlash against digitalization. At the same time, we are investigating why particularly online technology-intensive companies such as Telenor are forerunners in the field of digital disconnection.

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