Our Science, Technology and Society list publishes books that examine the social, political and economic implications of developments in science and technology.
Recent highlights have included Data Lives, The Imposter as Social Theory and We Have Always Been Cyborgs. Path-breaking book series include Dis-positions: Troubling Methods and Theory in STS and Contemporary Issues in Science Communication.
Science, Technology and Society
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This chapter sets out its theoretical foundation before delving into the first part of its analytical framework based on examining alienation. Understanding the development of material production, and thereby social life, as the guiding force of history, its theoretical foundation is informed by an understanding of historical materialism, dialectics and labor theory of value based primarily on Volume I of Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. In doing so, it centers the workers within capitalist class relations and focuses on the systematic analysis of the relations of alienation based on Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. These relations are fourfold: alienation to the labor activity, labor’s product, species-being and fellow humans. When regarded holistically, these relations underline the different dimensions by which workers are estranged and fragmented through their organization and working conditions within capital’s larger circuit of accumulation. The relations of alienations are crucial for the later analysis of the case studies, where their appearance can differ depending on the organization of the platform, demonstrating how these foster atomization and individualization, and, in part, explaining why workers may not organize.
This chapter provides the second half of the analysis of the Amazon warehouse case study by focusing on how such a platform provides both challenges and possibilities for these workers to express their agency. It examines their four power resources in relation to the organization of the platform: structural power, associational power, institutional power and societal power. It integrates in its analysis the larger political–economic context, the larger (trans)national context and Amazon’s union-busting, which can prove to be additional obstacles to the organization of workers, as Amazon continuously attempts to disrupt, undermine and diminish their efforts. Despite weak marketplace power workers may navigate their material obstacles and Amazon’s counterstrategies to instrumentalize their workplace and disruptive power derived from their assembly within warehouses. While labor organizations, from traditional and grassroots unions to transnational and digital movements, support associational and institutional powers to improve their working conditions and fight back against the various facets of alienation, workers are increasingly gaining momentum in organizing themselves and making their movement intrinsic to the wider public debate. In doing so, they are claiming their agency and conceiving of it more holistically in terms of a possible transnational, inter-platform and inter-sectoral movement.
As the second half of the analysis of Amazon Mechanical Turk workers, this chapter looks at their agency to focus on the new challenges and different possibilities created by the organization of the platform and wider political–economic, social and technological conditions. It engages with their structural, associational, institutional and societal power resources in relation to the platform’s web-based gig nature. Despite a weak marketplace and workplace power and having their hands tied on MTurk, workers navigate and, in varying ways, reclaim and instrumentalize the very infrastructure of the Internet for their interests. In doing so, they form solidarity, interact and provide support for one another through alternative spaces of online associations and collectivities beyond traditional unions. This potential of an associational power is not accompanied, however, by any institutional power for MTurk workers, as their precarious status leaves them outside of any governing legal and industrial relations framework. This may be changing, in view efforts to reclassify workers and improve their conditions, thereby also strengthening their societal power. Studying the case of the MTurk workers can shed light on the repercussions of web-based labor and precarization for their agency within and beyond the platform economy, as well as potentialities for collective organization.
This introductory chapter underlines the importance of investigating the platform economy, something that has come to be intrinsic to our social fabric and daily lives. As platforms have instrumentalized the Internet to also mediate labor relations, they have come to shape and reshape our current world of work and workers. This chapter thus focuses on these workers and presents the general question and argument of the book regarding their alienation and agency. In doing so, it gives an outline of the way the platform economy is organized, and this constitutes the foundation for how this book categorizes and approaches different platforms. It looks at these from two perspectives: the nature of the platform and the nature of the work. By engaging with various strands of literature, it identifies its two case studies of location-based traditional time-wage Amazon warehouse workers and web-based piece-wage Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturk) gig workers. This chapter underlines how the contrast between these two case studies, which differing both in their nature of the platform and the nature of the work, can provide insights into their repercussions for their workers and their agency, shedding further light on the continuities and novelties of the world of work(ers). The chapter concludes by sketching out the book’s structure.
This chapter contrasts the power resources of its two Amazon cases, while contextualizing them within the larger platform economy. It discusses the implications of the different configurations of platform organization regarding the larger question of agency. Despite hostility from capital and despite being undermined by the broader context, traditional time laborers like Amazon warehouse workers have mobilized their growing workplace and associational power and show signs of an institutional power. Such location-based workers, including gig ones, hold an advantage over web-based workers when it comes to their societal power because of their visibility in society. Gig workers generally experience, however, overall weaker power resources because of the nature of their work and, in MTurk’s case, additionally the web-based nature of the platform. Yet they have demonstrated alternative ways of forming solidarity and digital collectives, instrumentalizing the very infrastructure of the Internet. This chapter thus highlights both traditional and more bottom-up grassroots and alternative ways of organizing in the platform economy, forming inter- and intra-platform solidarity and showing the potential of a growing labor movement. It ultimately emphasizes that, just as the conditions of the platform economy need to be understood historically and holistically, so too does the agency of workers, as it co-evolves alongside the larger political–economic and technological context.
Once hidden behind the veils of entrepreneurship, it is now clear that platforms are reshaping the world of work, and Amazon has been a forerunner in setting the trend.
This book examines two key and contrasting Amazon platforms that differ in how they organize workers: its e-commerce platform and digital labor platform (Mechanical Turk). With access to the people who are working at the heart of these platforms, it explores how different working conditions alienate workers, and how, despite these conditions, workers organize within their political-economic contexts to express their agency in traditional and alternative ways.
Written for social scientists, studying and researching the platform economy, this is a timely and important analysis of work and workers on the (digital) shop floor.
It is becoming increasingly clear: platforms, formerly hidden behind the veils of entrepreneurship, are (re)shaping the world of work and workers. As Amazon has become a forerunner in setting these trends, this book examines two key and contrasting Amazon platforms: its e-commerce platform and its digital labor platform, Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). By accessing the workers of the (digital) shop floor, it explores how different organizations of platforms estrange and alienate workers, and how, despite these conditions, workers organize within their political-economic contexts to express their agency. To do so, it differentiates between the nature of the platform and the nature of the work. While the former can be location-based or web-based, the latter refers to a traditional time-wage or gig wage. The case of Amazon's e-commerce platform, meaning the workforce in its warehouses, resembles a location-based traditional time-wage platform, whereas MTurk is an example of a web-based gig piece-wage platform. By investigating these platforms within their political-economic context and approaching their workers on a (digital) shopfloor level, this book argues that the nature of the platform and the nature of the work organize and alienate workers in different ways, with different repercussions for their collective organization, which make themselves felt in traditional and more alternative ways. In doing so, this book shares insights into the different ways in which platforms are structured and reproduce historical continuities in organizing workers and their labor, as well as into contemporary developments that reshape labor realities and how workers organize themselves within these.
Under what technoscientific conditions might the scarcity of food be understood as contingent on heterogeneous actors? And how might the possibilities of food abundance be approached as a reparative project of valuing their manifold relations? Blockchain promises to be an infrastructure that presents both productive imaginaries and also challenges to such restorative and sustainable work. In a series of workshops, we critically experimented with these possibilities and challenges. Working with diverse participants including community growers, organizers, artists and technologists we used a variety of playful methods to act out fictional scenarios set in 2025, when all of London had been transformed into a city farm. For organizations and participants, reparation meant working in the aftermath of social and environmental collapse to bring into being more-than-human-value systems that radically decentred human knowledge and experience.
Building in a relationship between scientific artifacts and affect, we reflect on the possibilities of a crossing inspiration among sciences to inspire alternative forms of ecological repair. Colombian páramos are considered strategic ecosystems for water supply, pushing policies that have focused on partially prohibiting agriculture. Environmental authorities, supported by natural scientists, developed maps to delimit paramo, while social scientists studied the intimate relations between páramo and campesinos to inform the consequences of restrictions. We argue that the conservation of páramos requires repairing relationships beyond the páramo as "nature." The biodiversity sciences would benefit from participating in sophisticated conjunctions with other disciplines and campesino’s knowledge, which we imagine as ecologies of affections that feed sciences that risk novel articulations. One first step in this direction would be to learn to be affected by ‘inexact materials’; as landscape drawings that offer clues about affective worlds beyond those of science and the state.
With the 2019 Chilean estallido social we write-think-feel the myriad images that actors of the outburst covered the walls of Santiago streets. We read those images as an archive written from the wounds that colonialism-capitalism inflicted on bodies and territories that are together. Albeit ephemeral (authorities can delete them), the images expose mutilations of bodies-territories that are never to be erased, always to be cared for. Composed of presences both unimaginable (the dead, walls, dogs) and imaginable (music, people, images), the outbursts are those wounds. Their presence haunts usual politics: without teleology or leadership – let alone representation – outbursts do not disappear for their mission is to pursue life against destruction. Pursuing life, they roam the streets like mutts, and very specifically like the Chilean kiltro dogs – their decision to negotiate independence and accompaniment as way of life may be an inspiration of another politics: a kiltro politics.