Digital Labor

Doris Allhutter


Doris Allhutter is a scholar in Science and Technology Studies with a background in political science. She is interested in how information infrastructures co-emerge with ideologies and hegemonies. Referring to concepts of ideology, performativity and agentive materiality, her current work takes a socio-political perspective on semantic technologies and work practices in this field.

She was a visiting scholar at the CSS at Lancaster University and at the University of California, Berkeley. Currently, she holds an Elise Richter Position at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and teaches at the Department of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Vienna.

Doris has published on practices of information systems design, gender-technology relations and a book on digital pornography and internet policies of the European Union.

Crowd Microtasking for the Semantic Revolution: Of ‘Working Ontologists’ and ‘High-Quality Human Components’
Considering the technical pillars and production practices surrounding the ongoing configuration of the semantic web, information systems are currently undergoing a paradigm  change that can be politicized in terms of two entangled characteristics: 1) The emerging ‘meaning-centered’ computational infrastructure is based on the application of ontologies, i.e. a formal specification of a domain of interest that entails the capability to reason about the objects in the domain and the relations between those objects. Apparently, semantic systems emerge with a set of practices that relate different knowledge areas and their socio-political implications to each other. The predicted ‘evolution of human knowledge as a whole’ (Berners-Lee 2000) relies on the ‘working ontologist’ (Allemang/Hendler 2011) who engages in a ‘politics of ordering’ (Bowker/Star 1999) that brings forward hegemonic ecologies of knowledge. 2) As recent conferences of the scientific semantic web community promote unsolved challenges in entity extraction and linking, ontology mapping, semantic annotation, conceptual modelling, or query resolution and processing can be approached by “assemblies of scalable, automatic and high-quality human components” (ISWC 2013). Whereas ‘working ontologists’ are skilled experts or scientists, ‘human components’ are gathered by microtask crowdsourcing. Scholars of digital labor have analyzed related ideologies of participation and the exploitative class, gender and race relations they are based on (Aytes 2013; Fuchs 2011; Scholz 2012).

My paper presents a conceptual mapping of the technical framing of the mentioned development practices, the epistemological and economic narratives they draw from and the actual implementation tasks carried out by ‘working ontologists’ and othered ‘human components’. Referring to materialist accounts that focus on socio-economic power structures and to approaches to the performativity of human/non-human assemblages, I will sketch a framework for the analysis of co-emerging computational and economic practices that grasps the entanglement of capitalist structures with ideologically invested micro-work practices. In this way, I connect the question of which theories help us to research the gridlock of digital labor with how class, gender and race play out in terms of a global division of labor and in terms of implicit knowledge informing work practices in the design of information systems.

Algorithmic Hegemony & the Droning of Labor
Sat, November 15
10:00 AM - 12:30 PM