Future ways of working in the digital economy


Work Package Leader: Christoph Lutz


In this work package, we look into inequalities, participation and distinction mechanisms in new forms of work. Focusing on platform-mediated work and using a plurality of methods, we investigate matters of inclusion and exclusion as well as social stratification. To do so, we adopt a multi-dimensional perspective that is inspired by scholarship on digital inequalities more broadly. A first conceptualization of the topic is provided in a comprehensive literature review that was intended to map the research area from a digital inequalities perspective (Lutz, 2019). 



Firstly, we are interested in physical and material access to platform-mediated work (e.g., devices, infrastructure) as well as platform affordances and constraints. This work follows literature on the first-level digital divide, which studies individuals' access to technology. We are particularly interested in differentiated access and investment in technology, depending on workers' situation more broadly. The work has resulted in first publications on the materiality of online task crowdwork (Amazon Mechanical Turk) and the role of device type (Newlands & Lutz, 2020). 

Secondly, we are interested in the social structuration of work modalities and practices. This area of research follows literature on the second-level digital divide, which studies how digital skills, use of technology and online participation are affected by social categories and inequalities. In our ongoing research, we investigate the types of platform-mediated work individuals from different backgrounds perform. The work has resulted in first publications by our collaborators that point to strong social stratification and call for a differentiated understanding of the platform economy (Hoang, Blank, & Quan-Haase, 2020). 

Thirdly, we are interested in the benefits and harms workers experience in the digital economy and their social structuration. This area of research follows literature on the third-level digital divide, which studies tangible outcomes of Internet use, for example in economic, cultural and social terms. We are interested in the lifelihoods of platform workers and whether this type of work is seen as a long-term career option. Within this area, we are also interested in the distinction and self-presentation strategies workers employ to advance their standing within the digital economy. In that capacity, we aim to study the role of platforms, providing different avenues for distinction and competitiveness on the one hand and collaboration and solidarity on the other hand.

Finally, we are working on research that deals with the public perception - and potentially stigmatization - of platform work and its role within society. Here, our goal is to go beyond workers and focus on consumers/requesters as well as public opinion more broadly to explore the social acceptability of platform work. In a first step, we use the sociological theory of (in)conspicuous consumption to study the cultural and social underpinnings and perceptions of platform-mediated work. 



We have presented the ongoing research within this work package at several key conferences in our field. Earlier versions of now published papers were presented at the 2019 ICA Conference, the 2019 IAMCR Conference, the 2019 Social Media and Society Conference, the 2019 Weizenbaum Conference and at a breakfast seminar at the University of Zurich. Upcoming events include presentations at the Reshaping Work Stockholm Conference, the 2020 ICA Annual Conference and a panel on "Challenges and Inequalities of Digital Work" at the 2020 ASA Meeting (organized by Anabel Quan-Haase and Christo Sims). 



Büchi, M., Fosch-Villaronga, E., Lutz, C., Tamò-Larrieux, A., Velidi, S., & Viljoen, S. (2019). The chilling effects of algorithmic profiling: Mapping the issues. Computer Law & Security Review, online first. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clsr.2019.105367

Hoang, L., Blank, G., & Quan-Haase. A. (2020). The winners and the losers of the platform economy: who participates? Information, Communication & Society, online first. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2020.1720771

Lutz, C. (2019). Digital inequalities in the age of artificial intelligence and big data. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 1(2), 141-148. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbe2.140

Newlands, G., & Lutz, C. (2020). Crowdwork and the mobile underclass: Barriers to participation in India and the United States. New Media & Society, online first. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444820901847



University of Oxford, University of Western Ontario



For all enquiries, please contact christoph.lutz@bi.no