36th EGOS Colloquium
Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance
University of Hamburg
July 2–4, 2020
36th EGOS Colloquium
July 2–4, 2020
While digital labour “is the new killer app” (Fish & Srinivasan, 2012), not only labour performed on or via digital
platforms has been transformed by the way contemporary computing finds inroads into management and organization. Our work
lives, for example, have arguably moved from a condition of clocking on/off to being permanently available, permanently in
flux and permanently innovating, as digital media technologies have made work increasingly intimate (Fleming, 2015: 19–21;
Gregg, 2011). At the same time, new algorithmic forms of automation, for example in the “industrial internet of things”, promise
to replace human with machinic labour, while managerial labour can also be delegated to technological fixes in “platform capitalism”
(Srnicek, 2017). How have different kinds of work been affected e.g. in the ways in which work time has been expanded, interaction
is increasingly mediated by computing interfaces, and management delegated to algorithms?
Capital has appropriated the capacities of digital media technologies for including labour in its forms of circulation and its modes of organization. As “algocratic modes of organization” (Aneesh, 2009) are expanded to include more and more aspects of labour, labour itself becomes algorithmic (Irani, 2015) and humans, much like any other part of the computational infrastructure of organization, are made available “as-a-service” (Prassl, 2018). Moreover, computationally mediated organization foregrounds circulation, and it is the knowledges, practices and media technologies of logistics which become dominant, arguably as an “umbrella science” of management (Cowen, 2014). Algorithmic architectures and logistical media such as enterprise resource planning software contain human labour in capitalist circulation, addressing and commanding them through media technologies such as RFID, GPS or wearable technologies (Zehle & Rossiter, 2015; Moore & Robinson, 2016).
At the same time, bodies don’t disappear, but they are addressed and function differently with and through digital media technologies. Bodies might in many ways no longer serve as labour power understood as a source of energy (Rabinbach, 1998), but that is not to say their capacities – manual, affective, cognitive – don’t enter labour processes as valuable resources. The “immaterial bodies” (Blackman, 2012) variously affect and are affected by the contemporary surrounds infused with ubiquitous media that they populate. Cognition, for example, today is distributed while human brains are plugged into elaborate systems of storage and processing of data and information, for example in financial markets (Hayles, 2017). And much of the data mining industry seeks both to capture affective capacities and modulate affect in a kind of “droning of experience” transforming humans themselves into “networked, sensing devices” (Andrejevic, 2015). What happens to bodily flash when humans are mostly addressed at the level of affect and cognition?
As devices imbued with sensory and computational capacities attach not only to things but to human bodies, new arrangements between computation and human labour in organization are produced. What figures inhabit these arrangements? Is the “organization man” (Whyte, 1956) reborn here, both in its familiarity with bureaucracy now reconfigured as algocracy, and in its commitments to the organization now affectively modulated? If already in the “organizational complex” of organization and media of the mid-twentieth century the organization man was “one of many ‘cyborgs’ (or cybernetic organisms) produced by postwar technocracy” (Martin, 2003: 12), is the cyborg a suitable figure for making sense of computing and organization today? And what kind of organizational politics does it bring with it (cf. Haraway, 1985)? Or is a figure such as the Mechanical Turk, of a human hiding in a supposedly automatic machine, alluding both to the delusions of artificial intelligence and to the postcolonial conditions of our relation to media technologies, a more apposite figure (Aytes, 2013; Irani, 2015)?
We seek empirical and conceptual papers exploring how labour and bodies are reconfigured with and through digital media technologies in organizations and the kinds of figures of labour and of organization that these transformations bring forth. Contributions could address but are not limited to the following themes:
Figures of computation and organization: organization man, cyborg, mechanical turk
Algocracy and other conceptions of organization through computation
Manual, cognitive and affective aspects of labour mediated by digital technologies
Organization through big data, algorithms and sensory environments
Algorithmic management on platforms and other forms of organization
Methodological challenges of studying computing or algorithms at work in organization
Reflections on encounters between organization studies, science and technology studies, media studies and other fields