The Transformations of Knowledge Work in the Post-Crisis Economy. Digital Technologies, the Death of Unions, New Models of Work, New Forms of Inequality

Friday, 3 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
CLM.3.06 (Clement House)
Alessandro Gandini, Middlesex University, London, United Kingdom
This article draws from a collective research project that comprises interviews with freelance workers in Milan and London, interviews, surveys and participant observation in Italian co-working spaces and digital as well as physical ethnographies of European peer production communities, to offer an interpretation of the relationship between late capitalism and work in the aftermath of the crisis. It will do so by focusing on the ‘transformations’ involving ‘digital’ knowledge work – that is experiencing a frenzy for startups, coworking spaces, freelancers, ‘makers’ and ‘makerspaces’ which gets to define workers as pioneers or ‘changemakers’ of the rising ‘collaborative’ and ‘sharing’ economy in a discourse that envisages an incoming ‘third industrial revolution’.

This ‘new work’ enables new modes of organization and production as much as it marginalizes the presence of unions. It enables the proliferation digitally-mediated socio-economic contexts such as the ‘online labour markets’ where trust among actors originates from online reputation systems and algorithms of different sorts – the control and functioning of which remains often undisclosed and object of profit. It will be argued that these new conceptions of value reproduce old forms of inequality and produce new ones, especially for workers. As digital technologies get integrated into productive processes, knowledge work becomes centered on self-branding practices and a rising role of reputation at the interception between capital and labour in the digital age. This article will explore the controversial aspects of this scenario, discussing the new ‘digital’ inequalities of work and its contradictory relationships with neoliberalism.