Prospects and Limits of Platform Control: Relating Algorithmic Management to Worker Agency

Workshop | May 4–6, 2022

Researchers investigating workers’ experiences of algorithmic control do not typically focus on the perspective of those who put these measures into place – often in part due to data limitations. Conversely, the organizational literature about companies’ choice of control technologies often neglects the perspective of the workers being controlled. This workshop wants to bring researchers from the two camps together to understand the dialectical relationship between the two sides and thus the stakes of algorithmic control for the future of work.

Crucial questions examined by scholars of work include how technologies of control affect workers’ experiences, including material wellbeing, identity, agency, and mobility, how platform work fits into workers’ broader work lives, and how workers carve out spaces for resistance in response to these technologies. From the perspective of organizations, the dominant questions are how field effects, political dynamics, product characteristics, and managerial imperatives motivate the choice between different strategies of control. Researchers explore how companies’ attempts to create value for customers and their search for profits dictate different ways to organize and control work processes, and how these control processes vary and shift across different political economic regimes and contexts. We are interested in exploring how these two sides relate to each and how they are, in turn, affected by the third parties of algorithmic control: consumers.

  • We anticipate this conference will address some of the following questions:
  • How have technologies of control, as well as workers’ responses, evolved over time, and how do they vary across geopolitical contexts?
  • Where and when do structural contradictions emerge between worker wellbeing and “effective” control?
  • Which control strategies tend to produce the greatest resistance on the side of workers, why, and with what consequences for worker power?
  • How does this differ by industry, organizational structure, and strategy?
  • Where are the limits for new technologies of control across different contexts, and how does this relate to worker and consumer behavior?
  • How do different types of organizational goals lead to more or less invasive control techniques?
  • What guides the selection of control techniques that workers experience as most problematic? What undermines them?

The goal is to illuminate and contextualize the wide range of control mechanisms, to uncover the organizational rationales behind them, and to examine how workers - or in some cases consumers - respond to, and reshape, these techniques. We hope that the workshop can generate new insights for the two research streams and foster an agenda for work on the relation between algorithmic control and workers’ agency and experiences.

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