Austin Walker (University of Western Ontario) is a doctoral candidate studying the contemporary relationship between play and labour as the two intersect in work places, play spaces, and new markets. Specific research interests include EVE Online, Twitch.tv, the Steam marketplace, fan labour, and gamification. Walker additionally works with the Digital Labour Group’s on their SSHRC-funded project, “The Future of Organized Labour in the Digital Media Workplace.” There, he researches recent developments in the television industry in order to address how the emergence online content streaming, the web series, and “hope labour” practices have affected the wages and living conditions of creative labourers in Canada.
Digital Labor and Geographies of Crisis
Capital, as value in motion, often leaves local labor behind in the search for higher profits. But capital must be fixed into place for production to occur, creating a whole sociotechnical infrastructure whose form changes with the mode of production: Ford’s factories and Facebook’s platforms, Ma Bell’s wires and Equinix’s server farms. Over time this spatial fixity becomes a barrier to higher profit rates and so leads to overaccumulation and devaluation. Capitalism is constantly seeking a ‘spatial fix’ to these local problems before they can bloom into full-blown crises: A move to new geographies is sought, where new sociotechnical infrastructure can be built to elicit consumption, outsource production, or accumulate cheap labor (Harvey, 2007). This roundtable debates how these geographies of crisis are formed within digital spaces, and how digital labor is segmented, distributed, pushed and pulled across digital spaces in the lead-up to and fallout from crises. Social media may provide new spaces and times of accumulation, but free labor is often pushed elsewhere (e.g., from MySpace to Facebook) while the platforms remain, in a manner analogous to white flight (boyd, 2011). Communications infrastructure allows for financiers to trade billions of dollars across the globe in seconds, but crashes can spread just as quickly (Golumbia, 2013). Questions we’re interested in include: What does a bubble feel like from the inside and how does that experience resonate across networks? How does the primitive accumulation of digital labor compare to the industrial experience? How do digital technologies open up new modes of resistance to the speed-ups and outsourcing which capitalists use crisis to justify?
Austin Walker will address the politics of labor in online digital games.
The Future of Organized Labour in the Digital Workplace: Reports from the Digital Labour Group
Amid the proliferation of media devices, formats, and new technologies, work in industries such as film, journalism, and television has become increasingly competitive and insecure, despite continual claims of the “digital,” “knowledge-based,” and “creative” nature of our economy. Workers in media industries that used to be regulated by union contracts are finding that work is more uncertain than ever. How are media workers and their unions and guilds responding to the transformation of work in a digital age? And how should they respond?
This paper reports on the findings of an academic-union partnership on digital labour funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada), and conducted in collaboration with the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, the Writers Guild of Canada, and the Canadian Media Guild. Based on political economic analysis, interviews and surveys, the research assesses the implications of digital technologies for working conditions in general, and for organized labour in particular, in three industries: acting, screenwriting, and journalism. In addition, the paper discusses the collaborative research process between scholars at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies and our labour partners.