36th EGOS Colloquium

Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance

 

University of Hamburg

July 2–4, 2020


Hamburg, Germany

 

 

:

Sub-theme 11: [SWG] Computing and Organization: Algorithms, Labour, Bodies

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Convenors:
Armin Beverungen
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
Ann-Christina Lange
Innovation Centre Denmark, Tel Aviv, Israel, & Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Timon Beyes
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany, & Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Call for Papers


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

 
 

References

  • Andrejevic, M. (2015): “The Droning of Experience.” The Fibreculture Journal, 25, 203–218.
  • Aneesh, A. (2009): “Global labor: Algocratic modes of organization.” Sociological Theory, 27 (4), 347–370.
  • Aytes, A. (2013): “Return of the Crowds: Mechanical Turk and Neoliberal States of Exception.” In: T. Scholz (ed.): Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge, 79–97.
  • Blackman, L. (2012): Immaterial Bodies: Affect, Embodiment, Mediation. Theory, Culture & Society. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Cowen, D. (2014): The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Fish, A., & Srinivasan, R. (2012): “Digital labor is the new killer app.” New Media & Society, 14 (1), 137–152.
  • Fleming, P. (2015): The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists despite Itself. London: Pluto Press.
  • Gregg, M. (2011): Work’s Intimacy. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Haraway, D.J. (1985): “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In: D.J. Haraway: Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 149–182.
  • Hayles, N.K. (2017): Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Irani, L. (2015): “Difference and Dependence among Digital Workers: The Case of Amazon Mechanical Turk.” South Atlantic Quarterly, 114 (1), 225–234.
  • Martin, R. (2003): The Organizational Complex: Architecture, Media, and Corporate Space. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Moore, P., & Robinson, A. (2016): “The quantified self: What counts in the neoliberal workplace.” New Media & Society, 18 (11), 2774–2792.
  • Prassl, J. (2018): Humans as a Service: The Promise and Perils of Work in the Gig Economy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Rabinbach, A. (1998): “The End of the Utopias of Labor: Metaphors of the Machine in the Post-Fordist Era.” Thesis Eleven, 53 (1), 29–44.
  • Srnicek, N. (2017): Platform Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Whyte, W.H. (1956): The Organization Man. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Zehle, S., & Rossiter, N. (2015): “Mediations of Labor: Algorithmic Architectures, Logistical Media, and the Rise of Black Box Politics.” In: R. Maxwell (ed.): The Routledge Companion to Labor and Media. London: Routledge, 40–50.
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Armin Beverungen is Junior Professor for Organisation in Digital Cultures at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany. He works at the interstices of media, cultural and organization studies, currently on the phenomenon of algorithmic management. He is one of the founding editors of ‘spheres: Journal for Digital Cultures’.
Ann-Christina Lange is a post-doctoral scholar of the Sociology of Finance and currently works at Innovation Centre Denmark in Tel Aviv, Israel. She is affiliated to the ERC-funded project on algorithmic finance (ALGOFinance) at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. Her research focuses on high-frequency trading and its relation to the new social.
Timon Beyes is Professor of Sociology of Organisation and Culture at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany, and at Copenhagen Business School’s Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Denmark. He is interested in a media theory of organization.
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