The Time Politics of Home-Based Digital Piecework
Center for Ethics Journal: Perspectives on Ethics, Symposium Issue “The Future of Work in the Age of Automation and AI.” Volume 2020, p 50. Available at https://c4ejournal.net/2020/07/04/v-b-dubal-the-time-politics-of-home-based-digital-piecework-2020-c4ej-xxx/
17 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2020
Date Written: July 12, 2020
Changes in digital technology have radically transformed labor processes of the past century through the re-ordering of physical and cognitive spaces. But central aspects of technocapital’s organization in the 21st century borrow from and intensify previously abolished 20th century production practices. Automation industrialists, for example, have rediscovered production flexibility, speed, and surplus value in a vestige of garment manufacturing: piecework. Like early 20th century U.S. manufacturers who paid women working from home by the piece (Boris 1994), technology industrialists pay dispersed humans along the data supply chain by completion of a task rather than by the hour (Irani 2015). This under-regulated work, which machines cannot perform, forms the building blocks of changes in automation and artificial intelligence. How do today’s digital homeworkers conceive of and experience time in the context of this piecework? Examining narratives of U.S.-based Amazon Mechanical Turk data processors through a historical frame, I argue that although contemporary digital pieceworkers are ostensibly working “on their ‘own’ time,” a politics emerges in which time, visible and accounted for in wage work, becomes an invisible node of power (Sharma 2014). This disciplinary power both mediates the anxious lives of precarious digital pieceworkers and fuels the frenetic pace of technology capitalism. I consider the implications of potential regulatory interventions in this time politics.
Keywords: Gig Work, Piecework, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Hourly Wage, Worker Identity, Welfare State, Time, Chrono-politics, Technology Capitalism, Digital Capitalism
JEL Classification: N22, N32, N42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation