Algorithms that Divide and Unite: Delocalisation, Identity and Collective Action in ‘Microwork’

Part of the Dynamics of Virtual Work book series (DVW)


Marx posited that labour is ‘disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production’ (1906: 836–37). The regimented nature of factory work and life in an industrial community provided the material basis for collective action and for the shared identity required to support it. But is this still true of the mechanisms of twenty-first century informational capitalism? Castells notes that in informational capitalism, ‘[t]he work process is globally integrated, but labour tends to be locally fragmented’ (Castells 2000: 18). The exploitation of global wage, skill, and regulatory differentials means that workers are often physically, temporally, and administratively detached and desynchronised from each other (Ashford et al. 2007). In the extreme case, coordination of workers’ efforts is achieved algorithmically, that is, by automated data and rule based decision making (O’Reilly 2013), leaving no opportunity for human-to-human communication. Under such dispersal and disconnection, it would seem difficult for a common identity, let alone effective organisation, to arise among workers.


Collective Action Collective Bargaining Online Community Organisational Identity Class Identity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oxford Internet InstituteUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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