Monday, 13 June 2016

Innovators’ Logistics and Workers’ Tactics: The Case of Amazon Mechanical Turk

Lecture by Lilly Irani

Digitization has become a catch word to describe the ongoing transformation within different areas of life through the deployment of new information and communication technologies. In the realm of labor, one development has been the reorganization of work through intermediary platforms and their digital communities, the so-called crowd work. Work – from microtasks to creative challenges – is outsourced to a crowd of individuals that is globally dispersed and internet-based.

This talk will focus on Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), a popular marketplace platform for microtasks. It has become infamous for demonstrating how computerization reshapes labor and accumulation. Based on five years of design and ethnographic engagement, the labor inequalities and labor ideologies produced through AMT will be discussed. It will be shown how workers´ labor is made invisible and available as infrastructure while programmers construct their work as ´innovative´. However, tactics have also developed to increase worker power within the system, including worker-run forums, as well as two systems that Lilly Irani designed and built with collaborators. One system is called Turkopticon: it is an activist computer system that allows workers to publicize and evaluate their relationships with employers. A second system called Dynamo creates safe spaces for dispersed online workers to convene and explore activist actions.

Lilly Irani is assistant professor researcher at UC San Diego and currently guest researcher at Centre for Digital Cultures, Leuphana University of Lüneburg.