Finding Meaning in the Digital Economy
Work Package Leader: Eliane Bucher
This work package takes on a micro-perspective on the individual worker and value creator at the heart of the digital economy. Workers on Upwork, Amazon Mechanical Turk or Airbnb increasingly face automated decision-making mechanisms, which govern their access, visibility and reputation on the platform. In taking on such central functions in the platform ecosystem, AI and algorithms increasingly shape not just work environments but also work practices and work outcomes in the digital economy. However, even though they are ubiquitous and hyper-present during the platform experience, AI and algorithms often are opaque and non-transparent to individual workers who struggle to meaningfully retrace, reverse-engineer or repeal automated decision-making processes.
In this work package, we will combine qualitative and quantitative methods to gain an in-depth understanding of such individual platform experiences. In particular, we are interested in understanding how workers can ensure meaning and mattering the digital economy. The research conducted within this work package will help address several key questions such as: How do digital workers conceptualize their own identity and agency vis a vis increasingly automated decision-making mechanisms? How do expectations of mattering and meaning differ across different kinds of digital work such as creative work (e.g. on Fiverr), unwaged hope labor (e.g. on Instagram), or unskilled piece work (e.g. on Amazon Mechanical Turk)? Which implications does the ability to contextualize one’s own work have on individual happiness and productivity?
Our goal is to re-focus ongoing debates surrounding the platform economy on the individual worker and value creator so as to provide a basis for designing balanced, inclusive – and workers-centric – platform experiences. To this end, this work package investigates several overarching themes:
Alone in the Crowd - How do digital workers conceptualize meaning and mattering in a globalized digital work environment?
First, we will shed light on how individuals in different work contexts perceive both mattering and meaning (positive) as well as alienation and disenfranchisement (negative) as part of their platform experience and how these experiences translate into work engagement and exhaustion respectively. In particular, we investigate how workers perform identity work as a way to reconcile challenging aspects of digital work with their continued commitment to the digital work environment.
Dancing with the Algorithm – How do digital workers cope with and ‘hack’ automated decision-making?
Second, as digital platforms increasingly surveil and nudge their workers towards specific behaviors and outcomes within the digital platform environment, we want to learn more about workers’ compliance and resistance strategies vis à vis algorithmic management. In particular, we are interested in how individual workers anticipate and reverse-engineer algorithmic decision-making and how they turn to online-communities to co-develop behavioral strategies aimed at ensuring their own mattering – both on and off the digital platform.
Entrepreneurs, friends or employees – Who are digital platforms envisioning as their users and how can they ensure inclusive and fair platform experiences?
We aim to understand how platforms and organizations can ensure fair and inclusive platform experiences. Here, we will take on a holistic perspective encompassing not just the view of the worker, but also viewpoints of clients and platforms. We are interested in how these other parties in the triadic platform relationship view their own role and responsibility in ensuring meaningful platform experiences. Here, are also looking at traditional organizations to see how worker-centered measures (e.g. HRM) may be translated and enacted in the platform context.
Overview on the Academic and Practice Discourse on Mattering and Meaning
We will curate research in the fields of Internet science, employment, management studies, business ethics, and adjacent fields to develop an understanding of what constitutes meaning and mattering for individual workers in the digital economy.
We will collect both quantitative and qualitative data across different platform contexts to ensure validity and transferability of our insights.
- Meaning and Mattering in Crowdwork: Longitudinal Survey among Crowdworkers on AMT
- Meaning and Mattering in Online Creative Work: Qualitative Interviews and Sketches among visual artists on Fiverr
- Meaning and Mattering in Hope-Labor: Interview study of Influencers on Instagram
- Meaning and Mattering in Online Discourses: Scraping large-scale discourse data form online discourses on Reddit
We will present and discuss our work in leading management journals and conferences.
- E.g. Presentation at the main colloquium of the European Group for Organizational Studies in Edinburgh, UK.
- E.g. Presentation at the 79th annual meeting of the Academy of Management Conference in Boston, US.
- E.g. Presentation at the DIGIERA conference in Locarno, CH.
Bucher, E., Fieseler, C., Lutz, Newlands, G. (2019). Shaping Emotional Practices in the Sharing Economy. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 0/0, accepted for publication.
Bucher, E., Schou, P. & Frischherz, F. (2019). Don’t poke the algorithm. The emergence of self-disciplinary practices in the face of algorithmic governance. 79th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management (AOM), Boston.
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