Towards a Digital Workerism: Workers’ Inquiry, Methods, and Technologies

Woodcock, Jamie (2021). Towards a Digital Workerism: Workers’ Inquiry, Methods, and Technologies. NanoEthics, 15(1) pp. 87–98.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11569-021-00384-w

Abstract

Digital technology is playing an increasingly visible role in the organisation of many people’s work—as well as large parts of their lives more broadly. The concerns of emancipatory technology studies, or other critical accounts of technology, are often focused on finding alternative uses of technology. In many workplace contexts—from call centres to platform work—the imperatives of capital are deeply written into these technologies. Yet at the same time, many capitalist technologies are playing a key role facilitating emerging workers’ struggles. For example, in the case study examined here, Deliveroo drivers rely on communication technologies like WhatsApp to organise against algorithmic management. Drawing on an ongoing workers’ inquiry, this paper seeks to consider what a workerist approach to digital technology can add to these debates. The paper outlines the challenges and opportunities for a “digital workers’ inquiry,” considering how this approach combines research with organising. The argument is divided into two main parts: first, the need for inquiries in digital work and the importance of these and second, how the process of inquiry and co-research (and the methods these involve) can be adapted and refined with digital technology. By starting the critique of technology from the workplace, this paper proposes a workerist account of how technologies can be destroyed or re-appropriated, starting from a reading of workers’ struggle.

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