Denise Cheng has an eclectic background as a subject matter expert and practitioner in community building, the future of news, civic technology, and labor in the peer economy. Denise has spoken, written, and been quoted widely by NPR, Harvard Business Review, NextCity, the New Museum, and others about the sharing economy. In the past, she co-founded and structured a citizen journalism outlet that became a national model for hyperlocal and citizen journalism. Denise has trained news groups on content distribution and community engagement, she was a Tow-Knight entrepreneurial fellow at CUNY J-School, and a former Peace Corps volunteer. She received her M.Sc. from MIT, where she was a research affiliate with the Center for Civic Media and MacroConnections, both at MIT Media Lab.
Research Provocations: A Call for Applied Research in Digital Labor
Although digital labor reflects other historical work models, it is still a relatively new field of study. These manifestations—Mechanical Turk, crowdsourcing, peer economy platforms such as Uber and Airbnb—spark concerns around exploitation, ethics, systemic discrimination, and civil unrest. Having researched the peer economy for the last few years, I put forth a call for research beyond the usual suspects (i.e.: is it exploitative? What do we call it? Is it really sharing?) Instead, I suggest that we need inquiries which lend themselves to programmatic implementation to support a changing workforce. Coming from a scenario where gigs are the new normal, inquiries could span the role of functional employers, whether financial gain can promote diversity in peer-to-peer participation, events over time that impact digital labor adoption, and whether private-public cooperation in peer-to-peer marketplaces can actually increase services and choice in redlined neighborhoods.