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/

UC Hastings Research Paper Forthcoming

17 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2020

Date Written: July 12, 2020

Abstract

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

Dubal, Veena, The Time Politics of Home-Based Digital Piecework (July 12, 2020). 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/, UC Hastings Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3649270 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3649270

Veena Dubal (Contact Author)

UC Hastings Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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