Digital Labor

Astrid Mager


Astrid Mager, Dr. Phil, is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA), Austrian Academy of Sciences, and lecturer at the Department of Science and Technology Studies, University of Vienna. At present, she is leader of the project “Glocal Search. Search technology at the intersection of global capitalism and local socio-political cultures” (funded by OeNB Anniversary Fund, project number 14702). Her background is in Science and Technology Studies (STS) and her research interests include new media and society, search engine politics, privacy, digital methods, capitalist ideology, and critical theory. Recent publications: „Is small really beautiful? Big search and its alternatives“, in: R. König and M. Rasch (eds) Society of the Query Reader. Reflections on Web Search, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2014; “Defining algorithmic ideology: Using ideology critique to scrutinize corporate search engines”, tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 2014; “Algorithmic ideology. How capitalist society shapes search engines”, Information, Communication & Society, 2012. Visit, email:, Twitter: @astridmager.

Digital Labor, Capitalist Ideology, and Alternative Future
Along with the spread of internet technologies new forms of labor have emerged. The factory reappeared in online environments in the form of crowdsourcing internet marketplaces such as Amazon Mechanical Turk where users perform micro tasks for a few cents. Besides, mundane forms of digital labor have co-evolved with online services provided by Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Pinterest and co. A number of critical internet scholars have argued that IT companies of this sort exploit user practices to create surplus value (Terranova 2004, Pasquinelli 2009, Fuchs 2011). They collect vast amounts of personal data, turn them into sophisticated user profiles, and sell them to advertising clients. Profit is generated due to heavy sharing, liking, poking, messaging, watching videos, creating content etc on the part of users.

However, users are not forced to use these online services, but do so of their own free will. They are not only exploited by IT companies, but clearly benefit from their services too (Mager 2012). The internet is both a playground and factory after all (Scholz 2013). Following this line of thought this presentation will discuss how ideology critique can help us to understand the gridlock of digital labor. It will show that we need to go beyond the political economy of new media and include social practices, material cultures, and hegemonic value-systems in the analysis. Focusing on corporate search engines, Google in particular, and drawing on philosophers like Althusser, Marx and Gramsci it will elaborate how individual users relate to “transnational informational capitalism” (Fuchs 2011) as a whole, how they contribute to Google’s business model, and how the capitalist ideology spreads through algorithmic logics. It further argues that hegemony needs to be constantly renewed, which means that Google has to motivate users to contribute mundane forms of labor, and that users may opt out of Google’s capital accumulation cycle any time. What role “organic intellectuals” (Gramsci 2012) can play in challenging hegemonic actors like Google and their capitalist ideology and what obstacles need to be conquered on the road towards an alternative, more democratic digital future will be finally discussed.

Search, Data Flows, & Vertical Extraction
Fri, November 14
02:15 PM - 04:45 PM

Final Reflections
Sun, November 16
11:00 AM - 11:30 AM