Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
JS_RN09_RN17_07: The Gig Economy: Bright and Dark Sides of the Future Labour Market III
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Alberto Veira-Ramos, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Session Chair: Bernd Brandl, Durham University
Location: BS.4.06B
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Fourth Floor, North Atrium Oxford Road


Peer Surveillance In Aesthetic Labour

Laura Vonk

University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The

Research has shown the importance of employees’ aesthetics in interactive service work, particularly by stressing the role of employers in commodifying workers’ capacities and attributes (e.g. Warhurst et al., 2000). Based on 25 “wardrobe interviews” (Woodward, 2007), this paper examines the role of peer surveillance in aesthetic labour. Interactive service employees, all working in precarious (and often multiple) jobs, were interviewed in front of their wardrobes, using items of clothing to elicit narratives and reflections on practices of dressing and grooming for work. Due to the flexibility of their employment, these workers cannot rely on routing or set norms in their daily presentation of self. Analyses show that corrections by peers are highly salient in respondents’ experiences of learning and adapting to aesthetic standards in the workplace. This article therefore suggests the importance of peer group mechanisms in studying lookism (Warhurst et al., 2009) in contemporary – and arguably future - labour markets.

Warhurst, C., Nickson, D., Witz, A., Cullen, A.M. (2000). Aesthetic labour in interactive service work: some case study evidence from the ‘new’ Glasgow. Service Industries Journal, 20(3),1-18.

Warhurst, C., Van den Broek, D., Hall, R., & Nickson, D. (2009). Lookism: The new frontier of employment discrimination?. Journal of Industrial Relations, 51(1), 131-136.

Woodward, S. (2007). Why women wear what they wear. Oxford: Berg.

Superconductr: Artistic Interventions in Digital Platform Labour

Matthias Kispert

University of Westminster, United Kingdom

superconductr is an artistic research project whose investigations focus on structural conditions and contradictions in digital platform labour. superconductr’s work aims to make these visible through artistic methods including delegated performance and interventions that utilise the functionalities of existing digital labour platforms, through participation in activism for precarious workers’ rights, and through theoretical investigations. The name superconductr refers to Michel Foucault’s definition of power as the conduct of conduct. Conduction is here seen as the transmission, control and mining of data streams in networks that facilitate the mobilisation, capture and extraction of human labour power.

This paper will present a number of superconductr’s projects, including 'Workers leaving the cloud factory,' which through videos sourced on Amazon Mechanical Turk and Microworkers restages the Lumière brothers’ 1895 film 'Workers leaving the factory,' to explore the dissolving of both spatial and temporal boundaries between work and non-work. 'Work hard dream big' and 'Doing and nothingness' enact and document Bartleby-esque refusals of participation in normative paradigms of sanguine entrepreneurial self-exploitation on Fiverr. 'Capitalism doesn’t love me' and 'Workers laughing alone for money' deal with anxieties brought about by precarious working conditions, and the auto-affective labour necessary to function in a world of compulsory and competitive self-optimisation. superconductr is a project by artist Matthias Kispert.

Cultural Ideals of Gigwork in Popular Management Literature

Juhana Venäläinen

University of Eastern Finland, Finland

The presentation analyzes the cultural ideals of the gig economy and gigwork as they are represented and circulated in popular management literature. The research material consists of 13 “pop-management” guidebooks, published in 2016–2018, around the topic of gig economy. The analysis of the books was based on an iterative coding process that incorporated both qualitative and quantitative approaches, seeking answers to the following questions: 1) How is the gig economy defined in the literature? 2) What are the recurring concepts that are harnessed in portraying the transforming landscape of work? and 3) What are the motivations, opportunities, and requirements related to the gig economy from the perspective of a prospective gigworker? The presentation demonstrates that in the pop-management literature, the gig economy is represented as a field of drastic change, often highlighting its sudden and abrupt character while at other times positioning it in a longer continuum in the transformations of work and the economy. The traits expected from an “ideal gigger” were identified as entrepreneurialism, prudence, self-development, malleability, and sociability, whereas the motivations of participation and the opportunities that the gig economy offers were categorized through the notions of versatility, meaningfulness, and self-determination. In addition to providing empirical analyses to discuss the discursive construction of the phenomenon of the gig economy, the paper discusses critically the role of the pop-management books as tools of self-education that contribute to building a hyper-individualized entrepreneurial self.

Embodied Precariat And Digital Control In The ‘Gig Economy’. The Mobile Labour Of Food Delivery Bicycle Couriers

Cosmin Popan

Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom

The promises of flexible and autonomous work promoted through mobile apps are the latest trend within a ‘gig economy’ relying on a workforce of independent contractors whose conditions of employment, representation and social protection are often exploitative. Driven by the ‘lean platform economy’, developed after the financial crisis of 2007–2008, the ‘gig work’ received several criticisms in recent years. They range from its contribution to the dissolution of jobs into atomised tasks that undermine the role of jobs as anchors of the social structure (Pesole et al. 2018), the algorithmic management of work which enhances digital control (Rosenblat 2018; Rosenblat and Stark 2016) and the challenges they pose to workplace organisation and unionisation (Woodcock 2017). This presentation proposes the investigation of mobile work undertaken by cycle couriers using delivery apps such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats to account for how the precarious nature of these jobs and their digital surveillance are embodied, negotiated and contested. The paper draws on an ongoing ethnographic research, which involves participant observation as a Deliveroo rider in East London and interviews conducted with fellow workers. It considers the following questions: What is the impact that big data analytics, communications capture and mobile device design have on worker surveillance on and off the job? How is the increased flexibility advocated by platform mobile work influencing the precarious nature of contemporary jobs? How is the algorithmic management of platform mobile work affecting workplace solidarity and organisation? In what ways is the data collected by Uber and Deliveroo informing transport planning practices? What is the role of lean platforms such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats in facilitating transition towards low carbon mobility futures?