Digital Labor

Safiya Noble


Safiya Umoja Noble is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the Department of Information Studies in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Her research focuses on socio-cultural informatics; feminist, historical and political-economic perspectives on computing platforms and software, critical digital media studies, and technologies as a public good. Her work interrogates culture and technology in the design and use of applications on the Internet. She is currently writing a book about Google and information bias (NYU Press) and is co-editing a collection of scholarly writing on race, gender, power and the Internet in a forthcoming book, The Intersectional Internet

From Extraction to Disposal: Black Women’s Labor in Information and Communication Technology Practices
The study of information and communication technologies requires location in social systems and analysis of economic and social practices at the local and global level, for technology and its labor can be an expression of oppressive social relations — it is not a neutral set of tools abstracted from the creation of work. From the mining of Coltan by Black women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fuel Western computer and mobile phone consumption, to the displacement of Black labor in the United States through global outsourcing practices; political and economic systems of inequality are an enduring feature of social relations embedded in digital technology labor practices. This qualitative research using historical methods and interviews unveils systems of inequality by addressing issues of globalization, oppression and political economy as they affect and are affected by technology. I do this by foregrounding the experiences of women from the Democratic Republic of the Congo about their role in global digital labor practices. This is an approach that prioritizes alternative narratives about Black people in various technology practices, and foregrounds the role of Black labor in the extraction, production, manufacturing, consumption and disposal of digital technologies. This inherently locates Black life at the epicenter of the dark side of capitalism and profit extraction in information and communication technology industries across the diaspora.