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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

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).