Algorithms at work

Just read a new, critical & constructive piece by Kellogg, Valentine & Christin on algorithms at work.

Let me offer a very brief summary:

I. Affordances of algorithmic systems: 1. Comprehensive 2. Instantaneous 3. Interactive 4. Opaque.

II. Algorithmic control: Direct workers (1. Restrict 2. Recommend), Evaluate workers (3. Record 4. Rate), Discipline workers (5. Replace 6. Reward).

III. Worker experience: 1. Manipulation 2. Disempowerment, 3. Surveillance 4. Discrimination 5. Precarity 6. Stress.

IV. Forms of algoactivism to resist control: 1. individual action 2. collective platform organizing 3. discursive framing around algorithmic fairness, accountability & transparency 3. legal mobilization on employee privacy, discrimination, worker classification & data ownership.

V. New forms of work & occupation: Algorithmic 1. Curation 2. Brokerage 3. Articulation.annals

The abstract: The widespread implementation of algorithmic technologies in organizations prompts questions about how algorithms may reshape organizational control. We use Edwards’ (1979) perspective of “contested terrain,” wherein managers implement production technologies to maximize the value of labor and workers resist, to synthesize the interdisciplinary research on algorithms at work. We find that algorithmic control in the workplace operates through six main mechanisms, which we call the “6 Rs”—employers can use algorithms to direct workers by restricting and recommending, evaluate workers through recording and rating, and discipline workers by replacing and rewarding. We also highlight several key insights regarding algorithmic control. First, labor process theory helps to highlight potential problems with the largely positive view of algorithms at work. Second, the technical capabilities of algorithmic systems facilitate a form of rational control that is distinct from the technical and bureaucratic control used by employers for the past century. Third, employers’ use of algorithms is sparking the development of new algorithmic occupations. Finally, workers are individually and collectively resisting algorithmic control through a set of emerging tactics we call algoactivism. These insights sketch the contested terrain of algorithmic control and map critical areas for future research.

DFG Network “Digital Strategizing”

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved funding for a new scientific network on strategizing in a digital economy. Digital technologies increasingly affect the process of strategy-making – they impact how actors craft, understand, and execute strategies. Despite the impact of the ‘digital’ on strategy-making, strategy research on this topic is still in its infancy. The goal of this research network is to build a community of scholars interested in the topic of digitalization of strategy-making, to develop a joint research agenda, and to stimulate high-quality research on this topic.

The network is organized by Thomas Gegenhuber (principal investigator), Maximilian Heimstädt, Georg Reischauer, and Violetta Splitter. As a member of this scientific network I enjoyed our first meeting at WU Vienna in November 2019. More to come.