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City of Loops

My colleagues, Rob, Shannon, Joe, and I recently put together a book of speculative fiction that tries to imagine what cities would be like if run by corporations.

Graham, M, Kitchin, R., Mattern, S., and Shaw, J. (eds). 2019. How to Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables. London: Meatspace Press.

Each of the 38 chapters in the book picks a different company and then envisions a world governed by it. As part of the exercise, I had the opportunity to write about Alphabet (Google’s parent company). The story plays with the idea that companies like Google/Alphabet control an important dimension of our cities: the augmented layers of information overlaid on top of them. But things then start to get weird once people realise that you can layer layers over those layers.

The book is free to download - so head over to meatspacepress.com if you’d like to read it or any of the other 37 stories.

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Mark Graham
New book: How to Run a City Like Amazon and Other Fables
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Should cities be run like businesses? Should city services and infrastructure be run by businesses? For some urban commentators, policy-makers, politicians and corporate lobby groups, the answer is ‘yes’ to both questions.

Others are critical of such views, cautious about shifting the culture of city administration from management to entrepreneurship, and transforming public assets and services run for the common good into markets run for profit.

The stories and essays in our new book, How to Run a City Like Amazon, and Other Fables, explore how a city might look, feel and function if the business models, practices and technologies of 38 different companies were applied to the running of cities. What would it be like to live in a city administered using the business model of Amazon (or Apple, IKEA, Pornhub, Spotify, Tinder, Uber, etc.) or a city where critical public services are delivered by these companies?

Collectively, the chapters ask us to imagine and reflect on what kind of cities we want to live in and how they should be managed and governed.

The book is co-edited by myself, Rob Kitchin, Shannon Mattern, and Joe Shaw, and is available open-access. There’s also a limited print run, with artwork specially designed by Carlos Romo-Melgar and John Philip Sage.

Mark Graham
Call for papers: Digital Work in the Planetary Market (AAG 2020)

Call for papers: Digital Work in the Planetary Market

Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers
Denver, Colorado
April 6-10, 2020

Session Organizers: Mark Graham, Fabian Ferrari

Sponsored by the Economic Geography Specialty Group (EGSG)

Work, and the networks that extract value from it, are increasingly embedded into planetary systems. As ever more work is commodified and traded beyond local labour markets, this session seeks to focus on those systems that purport to pay little attention to the locations in which work is done. Workers embedded into digital production networks produce immaterial outputs. Those outputs can be instantly transmitted to anywhere on the planet. This means that, for work that relies on the production and processing of codified rather than tacit knowledge, proximity is no longer needed between workers and the objects and subjects of their work.

For many, the fact that Amazon contractors in Romania listened to Alexa conversations or that Facebook commissioned Indian workers to read private messages has been a privacy scandal. Beyond privacy concerns, these cases are exemplary of a planetary network of extracting cognitive human labour that happens in real-time. Those developments reflect reshaped value chains and skill requirements. For example, the increasing complexity of AI supply chains dovetails with an increasing demand for high-quality training data labelled by workers in the Global South. Work can now seemingly be deterritorialised at a planetary scale.

The goal of this paper session is to remove some of the opacity of digital work in the planetary market, inviting new theoretical frameworks, methodological approaches, and innovative ways of visualising research findings. Papers in it might address the following questions:

  • What do the global value chains of trans-national networks of machines and digital workers look like? How do we theorise the ways that they are governed and take form?

  • What do digital production networks that fuse automated systems and human production do to create value; and, despite their seeming immateriality, how do they use and create economic geographies?

  • What are the infrastructures that mediate, augment, and extract value from digital work?

  • How should we understand the relative embedded- and disembedded, material and immaterial, and territorialised and deterritorialised natures of digital production?

  • How should we theorise the politics of technological artefacts within the rise of planetary networks of computing?

  • How do we apply infrastructural thinking to holistically studying the actually existing economic geographies of AI design, training and augmentation? In other words, how should we think about the conjunction of innovations in deep learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and autonomous vehicles with the planetary networks of computing and digital production that they rely on to function?

  • What are the economic geographies of globally-traded digital work? What are the ways in which the materiality of digital work is concealed and who benefits from doing so?

  • What are the relationships between the increasing commodification and the disembedding of digital work?

  • What does it mean to work in an international digital production network, what possibilities do workers, in opaque networks of digital production, have to decommodify and improve the conditions under which they work?

If you are interested in participating in this paper session, please send a title and 250-word abstract by Wednesday, October 9th to Mark Graham (mark.graham@oii.ox.ac.uk) and Fabian Ferrari (fabian.ferrari@oii.ox.ac.uk).

Coming soon... The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction


I’m very happy to announce the first sharable details about my new forthcoming book (co-authored with Jamie Woodcock). The book will be out in November, but you can already pre-order it with a 20% discount using this form or the code GIG20 on the Polity Books website.

The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction 

Jamie Woodcock & Mark Graham 

From the reviews: 

‘Challenging and important, giving voice to workers on the front line of our growing gig economy. A must read for trade unionists, policymakers and everyone with an interest in making work better amidst rapid tech change’. 

Frances O’Grady, TUC 

About the book: 

All of a sudden, everybody’s talking about the gig economy. From taxi drivers to pizza deliverers to the unemployed, we are all aware of the huge changes that it’s driving in our lives as workers, consumers and citizens. Drawing upon years of research, stories from gig workers, and a review of the key trends and debates, Jamie Woodcock and Mark Graham shed light on how the gig economy came to be, how it works and what it’s like to work in it. They show that, although it has facilitated innovatory new services and created jobs for millions, it is not without cost. It allows businesses and governments to generate value while passing significant risk and responsibility onto the workers that make it possible. This is not, however, an argument for turning the clock back. Instead, the authors outline four strategies that can produce a fairer gig economy that works for everyone. 

PUBLICATION DETAILS: November 2019 | Paper| ISBN 978-1-5095-3636-8 | £14.99| £11.99 with 20% off