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Dr Alex Wood (Oxford Internet Institute): "Algorithmic control and digital resistance in the gig economy" - 5 December 2018

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The human resource management group of King's Business School organises bi-weekly research seminars in human resource management.


This week we welcome Dr Alex Woods (Oxford Internet Institute). 


"The shape of labour relations to come: structured antagonisms, collective action and the gig economy"



The gig economy refers to people using online platforms to sell their labour (Taylor et al., 2017). These platforms enable the automation of core management functions such as task allocation and labour control. In particular, these platforms attempt to use algorithms instead of managers or supervisors to efficiently allocate tasks and control spatially and temporally fragmented workforces.

Local gig economy platforms, such as Uber and Deliveroo have attracted much public attention. However, similar numbers of workers are actually working remotely, usually in their home, via gig economy platforms (Pesole et al., 2018). This platform-based digital work is growing rapidly and includes: data entry; admin; translation; transcription; internet marketing; content creation; online research; website design and programming; graphic design (Kässi and Lehdonvirta, 2016). Yet while the more visible local gig economy has been the focus of much public concern, much less attention has been paid to the experiences of remote gig workers. I seek to rectify this situation by drawing on cross-national research of remote gig economy workers in both the high-and-middle-income countries.

The findings are based on semi-structured interviews (N=70) with 35 remote gig economy workers in the Global North (N. America and the UK) and 35 in the Global South (the Philippines), and 11 with freelancer community advocates; and participant observation of 15 freelancer community meetups and events (in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Manila and London). This data highlights the importance of platform reputation systems. That workers’ reputations only exist on a particular platform means that workers can become locked into that platform and thus dependent on it. This creates a new form of precarity in which workers’ livelihoods are reliant on platform rankings created by opaque algorithms which workers’ have little direct control over. In turn the dependency of gig economy workers on platforms generates ‘structured antagonisms’ over platform rents, pay and labour and social rights. These structured antagonisms are found to generate desires for greater voice and even unionisation as well as producing embryonic forms of collective action.



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5 December 2018