Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
SP03: Boundaries, Barriers and Belonging in Digital Labour Capitalism - with Phoebe Moore and Jamie Woodcock
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Angela Wigger, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Session Chair: Thomas Allmer, University of Stirling
Location: BS.G.27
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Ground Floor Oxford Road

Session Abstract

organised by RN06 and RN18

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Artificial Intelligence and Humans as Resource

Phoebe Veronica Moore

Leicester University, United Kingdom

Interest in artificial intelligence (AI) has reached hyped levels simultaneous to concern for human intelligence, as we face seeming intractable social issues caused by decades of technological developments in human resources and algorithmic and surveillant management practices with accelerated integration of the role of technology into workplaces, accompanied by shifts and experimentation in modes and relations of production. From the 1950s, humans have asked to what extent humans should or can compare our minds to machines. Earlier views on AI, so-called ‘GOFAI’, were representationalist, where researchers considered domains of experience to be fixed and context-free, where principles that determine behaviour are systematic. However, this line of reasoning relies on a transcendentalist ontology. This paper argues that the flaws in AI research have been ontological, where human’s bodies and affective labour have not been considered relevant for intelligence and work. How affective resources will be acknowledged within AI practices is yet to be seen.


Phoebe V Moore is an Associate Professor in Political Economy and Technology at the University of Leicester School of Business, Division of Management and Organisation. Her research looks at the impact of technology on work from a critical perspective. Moore’s most recent book The Quantified Self in Precarity looks at quantification through wearable tracking and algorithmic decision-making as a set of management techniques, with evidence of creative new controls of affective labour and various forms of worker resistance to corporeal capitalism arising. In 2018-19, Moore published one report for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) workers’ bureau, ACTRAV, and will publish one further paper for the European Union agency for Safety and Health (EU-OSHA) on the risks that digitalization and artificial intelligence pose for workers. Previously, she was funded by the British Academy / Leverhulme (2015-2017) to carry out a research project looking at digital tracking in office work in the Netherlands. Alongside her Associate Professorship, in Autumn 2018, Moore is carrying out a research fellowship at the WZB in Berlin working closely with two research groups on artificial intelligence and quantification at the Weizenbaum Institute.

Digital Workerism: Tracing the Recomposition of Workers’ Struggle in Digital Labour Capitalism

Jamie Woodcock

University of Oxford, United Kingdom

The rise of digital labour capitalism has become a key part of contemporary debates on how work is changing, the future of work/ers, resistance, and organising. Workerism took up many of these questions in the context of the factory – particularly through the Italian Operaismo – connecting the experience of the workplace with a broader struggle against capitalism. There are, of course, many differences between those factories and the new digital workplaces in which many workers find themselves today. However, the methods of workers’ inquiry and the theories of class composition remain a useful legacy from Operaismo, providing tools and a framework to make sense of and intervene within work today. However, these require sharpening and updating in a digital context. This talk discusses the challenges and opportunities for a “digital workerism”, understood as both a method of research and organising. It takes the case study of Uber to discuss how technology can be used against workers, as well as repurposed for their struggles. By developing an analysis of the technical, social, and political recomposition taking place on the platform, it is possible to move beyond determinist readings of technology, to place different technologies within the social relations that are emerging. In particular, the talk focuses on how these new forms of workers’ struggles can be circulated. Through this, the talk argues for a “digital workerism” that develops a critical understanding of how the workplace is becoming a key site for the struggles of digital labour capitalism.


Dr Jamie Woodcock is a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. He is the author of Marx at the Arcade (Haymarket, 2019) about videogames, and Working The Phones (Pluto, 2017), a study of a call centre in the UK – both inspired by the workers' inquiry. His research focuses on labour, work, the gig economy, platforms, resistance, organising, and videogames. He is on the editorial board of Notes from Below and Historical Materialism.