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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 

Society and the Internet: How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives (second edition) now out!

I’m thrilled to announce that the second edition of Society and the Internet is now out!!

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The book has been fully updated since the first edition and contains new chapters on topics such as fake news, memes, digital health, and the platform economy. The volume contains 24 chapters from authors who speak from a diverse range of disciplinary perspectives: from sociology, geography, economics, and political science to law, computer science, and network science.

Society and the Internet aims to give readers a broad overview of existing scholarship in key areas (e.g. memes, fake news) whilst grounding those topics in primary and unique contributions from each author. Following a foreword by Manual Castells, we introduce some of the key issues in Internet Studies. The chapters are then organised into five focused sections: The Internet in Everyday Life; Digital Rights and Human Rights; Networked Ideas, Politics, and Governance; Networked Businesses, Industries, and Economics; and Technological and Regulatory Histories and Futures.

It was a pleasure getting to work with so many talented scholars, and with my wonderful co-editor and collaborator Bill Dutton. I hope you all enjoy the collection.

Society and the Internet. Table of Contents

Foreword, Manuel Castells

Introduction, William H. Dutton and Mark Graham

Part I: The Internet and Everyday Life

1: The Internet in Daily Life: The Turn to Networked Individualism, Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman

2: Internet Memes and the Twofold Articulation of Values, Limor Shifman

3: Internet Geographies: Data Shadows and Digital Divisions of Labor, Mark Graham, Sanna Ojanperä, and Martin Dittus

4: Internet Cultures and Digital Inequalities, Bianca C. Reisdorf, Grant Blank, and William H. Dutton

5: Older Adults on Digital Media in a Networked Society: Enhancing and Updating Social Connections, Anabel Quan-Haase, Renwen Zhang, Barry Wellman, and Hua Wang

6: Internet Skills and Why They Matter, Eszter Hargittai and Marina Micheli

Part II: Digital Rights, Human Rights

7: Gender and Race in the Gaming World, Lisa Nakamura

8: Data Protection in the Clouds, Christopher Millard

9: Building the Cybersecurity Capacity of Nations, Sadie Creese, Ruth Shillair, Maria Bada, and William H. Dutton

10: Big Data: Marx, Hayek, and Weber in a Data-Driven World, Ralph Schroeder

Part III: Networked Ideas, Politics, and Governance

11: Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shapes Collective Action, Helen Margetts, Scott Hale, and Peter John

12: Social Media and Democracy in Crisis, Philip N. Howard and Samantha Bradshaw

13: The Internet and Access to Information About Politics: Searching Through Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and Disinformation, William H. Dutton, Bianca C. Reisdorf, Grant Blank, Elizabeth Dubois, and Laleah Fernandez

14: Digital News and the Consumption of Political Information, Silvia Majó-Vázquez and Sandra González-Bailón

Part IV: Networked Businesses, Industries, and Economics

15: The Internet at the Global Economic Margins, Mark Graham

16: The Political Economy of Digital Health, Gina Neff

17: The Platformization of Society and its Discontents, Antonio A. Casilli and Julian Posada

18: Scarcity of Attention for a Medium of Abundance: An Economic Perspective, Greg Taylor

19: Incentives to Share in the Digital Economy, Matthew David

Part V: Technological and Regulatory Histories and Futures

20: Three Phases in the Development of China's Network Society, Jack Linchuan Qiu

21: The Politics of Children's Internet Use, Victoria Nash

22: Looking Ahead at Internet Video and its Societal Impacts, Eli Noam

23: The Social Media Challenge to Internet Governance, Laura DeNardis

24: The Unfinished Work of the Internet, David Bray and Vinton Cerf

Open access: Contradictory Connectivity: Spatial Imaginaries and Technomediated Positionalities in Kenya's Outsourcing Sector

One of my papers is newly open access. The paper takes a case study of changing connectivity in East Africa, and by probing the spatial imaginaries of economic actors in the region, is able to ask questions about what digital connectivity actually is, means, and does.

Graham, M. 2015. Contradictory Connectivity: Spatial Imaginaries and Techno-Mediated Positionalities in Kenya's Outsourcing Sector. Environment and Planning A 47 867-883

Abstract:

East Africa has traditionally been characterized by stark barriers to nonproximate communication and flows of information. It was the world's last major region without fibre-optic broadband Internet access, and until the summer of 2009 had been forced to rely on slow and costly satellite connectivity. This all changed when the first of four fibre-optic cables was connected in Kenya: bringing with it the promise of fast and affordable Internet access for the masses, and the ability of the country to move towards a knowledge-based economy. Within the context of this moment of change, this paper explores the ways that managers of outsourcing firms envisage ‘connectivity.’ Over the course of forty-one interviews, contradictory spatial imaginaries were discovered. When describing their perceptions of the country's new technomediated positionalities, many interviewees repeated visions that allowed geographic frictions to evaporate. But when managers were asked about their actual mediated positionalities, they presented a very different world: one of barriers, frictions, and the very real role that distance continues to play in the world's economic peripheries. The goal of this paper is to interrogate why we see such stark disconnects between perceptions and practices of connectivity. The contradictions could be seen as an exposition of a scalar schism between internationally operating regimes of truth (ie, powerful discourses that have their origin nonlocally) and local experiences and practices in Kenya. Alternatively, we can think about the contradictory accounts of connectivity as emergent from strategic spatial essentialisms that are practised to achieve particular goals. By focusing on the contradictions embedded into the ways in which people speak about connectivity in the Kenyan outsourcing sector, we can learn much about how arguments about the entanglement of connectivity, growth, and development are operationalized. ‘Connectivity’ is offered as a necessary, and sometimes even sufficient, condition from which growth and economic development can be brought into being: a set of spatial imaginaries that conveniently support a national development strategy of remaking Kenya in the contemporary knowledge economy.

Related work:

Graham, M. 2019. Changing Connectivity and Digital Economies at Global Margins. In Graham, M. (ed) 2019 Digital Economies at Global Margins. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. 1-18.

Graham, M., and Anwar, M. A. 2019. The Global Gig Economy: Towards a Planetary Labour Market? First Monday. 24(4). doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i4.9913.

Mann, L and Graham, M. 2016 The Domestic Turn: Business Process Outsourcing and the Growing Automation of Kenyan Organisations. Journal of Development Studies 52:4, 530-548, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2015.1126251.

Graham, M., Andersen, C., and Mann, L. 2015 Geographical Imagination and Technological Connectivity in East Africa. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40(3) 334-349.

Graham, M. 2013. Geography/Internet: Ethereal Alternate Dimensions of Cyberspace or Grounded Augmented Realities? The Geographical Journal 179(2) 177-182.

Graham, M. and L. Mann. 2013. Imagining a Silicon Savannah? Technological and Conceptual Connectivity in Kenya's BPO and Software Development Sectors. Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries. 56(2). 1-19.