Future ways of working in the digital economy

Recognition, Reification, and Human Dignity in the On-Demand Economy

Work Package Leader: Gemma Newlands


Gig work is usually typified by four characteristics: irregular work schedules; workers providing some or all capital (e.g., mobile phones, cars, or bikes); piece-rate work remuneration; and work being arranged and/or facilitated by digital platforms. Another key development which has received less attention is a weakening in workplace relationships because of digital intermediation: between workers themselves, between workers and the platform organisation, and between workers and clients.

Digital intermediation, via a web platform or mobile application, can strengthen some social bonds. Workers can now chat via social media, share knowledge, and create their own communities. However, digital intermediation can also act as a impenetrable organisational boundary, preventing workers from developing the social bonds that are fundamental in the creation of self-confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem.

Firstly, digital intermediation can reduce organisational knowledge about the material, embodied experience of workers. Over-reliance on algorithmic surveillance can lead to management of the worker’s digital representation, rather than the worker themselves. Secondly, digital intermediation in appraisal and feedback can result in workers being communicated with in a mechanistic, automated fashion, lacking any ‘human touch’. By ‘cutting out the middle manager’, gig workers are left with few individuals with whom they can share their concerns, grievances, or ambitions. Thirdly, digital intermediation between workers and clients can result in confusion over whether the work being produced even has a human source, or whether it has been produced by artificial intelligence. Indeed, greater sophistication in natural language processing and AI-driven social agents (i.e., chatbots) has resulted in an increased blurring of the lines between human and non-human work.

In this work package, we therefore research the relational implications of platform intermediaries and digital agents. Taking a worker-centric approach, we combine both qualitative and quantitative methods to explore how gig workers’ social relationships and identities are supported or hindered by digital intermediation. The work package is driven by three key research questions:

a) How do workers experience recognition in a platform-mediated context?

b) How do workers experience recognition from non-human agents?

c) How do workers experience recognition when their ontological status (i.e., human or non-human agent) is obscured?



Newlands, G. (2019). Algorithmic Surveillance in the Gig Economy: The Organisation of Work through Lefebvrian Conceived Space. Presentation at the 69th Annual International Communication Association Conference. Washington DC, USA. **Winner of Best Student Paper Award (Organisational Communication Division) and Winner of the B.E.S.T. Presentation Award**

Newlands, G. (2019). Workplace Dignity and the Gig Economy: Recognition, Heteromation, and Pseudo-AI. Invited Guest Lecture at the University of Twente, The Netherlands.

Newlands, G. (2019). Recognition, Reification, and Human Dignity in the Gig Economy. Presentation at the International Network on Digital Labor Conference (INDL). Paris, France.

Newlands, G. (2019). Pseudo-AI: The workplace implications of Ontological Obfuscation. Presentation at the Human-Machine Communication Pre-Conference. 69th Annual International Communication Association Conference. Washington DC, USA.

Newlands, G. (2019). Pseudo-AI: The Workplace Implications of Ontological Obfuscation. Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S). New Orleans.


University of Amsterdam



For all enquiries, please contact gemma.e.newlands@bi.no