Working in the Digital Age
March 24, h 15-18.10
Afternoon: Perspectives from Europe (in English)
15.00-15.10 Greetings, Tiziana Andina (Università degli Studi di Torino)
Chair Valeria Martino
15.10-15.50 Maurizio Ferraris (Università degli Studi di Torino)
From production of goods to production of values
If production was at the heart of the industrial revolution, made up of matter, then consumption is at the heart of the documedia revolution, made up of memory. Machines can produce infinitely more and better than humans. But no machine will ever be able to consume in place of a human, whereas every human is able to consume, and indeed must consume in order to stay alive. Precisely for this reason, consumption, with its physiological urgencies and the social mobilisation it produces, provides an objective for the entire productive apparatus that would otherwise be meaningless. So, it is not only the dirty object deprecated, I do not know how sincerely, in recent centuries, but it should be considered as the great engine of human growth. Reciprocally, it is in the non-automated (because exclusively human and organic) and organic functions of consumption that the future of value production should be identified. Mechanisms only consume in a metaphorical or at least derivative sense: a car without fuel does not die, a human without food does. And non-human organisms satisfy their needs through processes that have nothing to do with consumption, as they are not part of a technical and economic cycle (when they are, it is again with a view to human consumption: farms, pets, etc.). But why should consumption be equated with production? This is the crux of the whole argument, but the answer is simpler than it seems: because it generates documents.
15.50-16.30 Jim Gabaret (Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne)
The Myth of Data. Can internet users claim worker status?
For the past fifteen years, there have been calls for legal regulations of “digital labor”. This “labor” is said to train artificial intelligences and enrich web platforms, which are fed by the activities and data of users. According to Antonio Casilli or Maurizio Ferraris, these activities are actually invisible labor and it should be remunerated. The goal is not to ask for a basic income (conceived as an unconditional natural right for all humans) merely financed by platforms taxes. It is to defend that the wealth produced by the digital economy would not exist without users and that they therefore deserve a part of it as a salary.
However, this neo-Marxist conception of wages has always been based on an implicit “natural right” which implies a very specific definition of labor. In this framework, labor is understood as a relationship between a client and a subordinate who performs a commanded task that he would not have done spontaneously. Yet we can argue that the digital activities of platforms users are “leisure” or “spontaneous social exchanges” rather than orders, and thus cannot be categorized as “work”. Therefore, the use of this notion might not be strategic for political struggles over the redistribution of wealth in the Digital Economy.
Chair Davide Dal Sasso
16.50-17.30 Céline Marty (Université de Franche-Comté)
André Gorz’s Theory of Immaterial Work : Revolution or metamorphosis of the industrial capitalism?
In his last book The Immaterial : Knowledge, Value and Capital (2003), André Gorz explores the categories of classical and marxian political economy in the light of immaterial capitalism. According to him, the traditional concepts of labour, economic value and capital and their measurement instruments have entered a crisis. The private ownership of capital is no longer strictly delimited, labour is no longer just the production of goods or commodities and the economic value increases sometimes independently of the transformation of material base. Gorz sees in this the confirmation of the theory of the general intellect of Marx’s Grundrisse according to which knowledge and human capital become the main productive force in the “cognitive capitalism”.
Gorz interprets this as a crisis of capitalism that creates the possibility of overcoming it. But he also warns against the transformation of its domination over labour and consumption in a “postmodern capitalism”. The digital transformation also raises the question of the commons: labour is no longer only intended for the company that requests it and pays for it but can be shared beyond. Immaterial digital production creates new tools, such as the Internet or 3D printers, which can be used to subvert capitalism, because they allow us to satisfy our needs outside its market.
But is this immaterial economy so radical and revolutionary? Production has not completely lost its material basis, since some immaterial tasks use, upstream and downstream, a lot of material technical and logistical work. Furthermore companies require the performance of specific human work that cannot be reduced to “knowledge”. So has capitalism really become immaterial? On the contrary, the ecological crisis seems to prove its material conditions and limits.
17.30-18.10 Denise Celentano (Radboud University)
‘Be Your Own Boss’? Moral Concerns of Algorithmic Management in the Gig Economy: Reclaiming Agency at Work through Algorithmic Counter-Tactics
Algorithmic management is an organizational form that automates and de-personalizes the work relationship, allowing unprecedented forms of surveillance and control. With the exception of the virtue ethics approach, the distinctive philosophical interest of this organizational form – mostly addressed by disciplines such as law, economics, and the social sciences –, is yet to be fully explored. In this presentation, I focus on its application in the gig economy with particular attention to ride-hailing companies, from an alternative perspective than virtue ethics. By embracing an ‘ethnographic sensibility’ (Herzog & Zacka 2019) approach to philosophical inquiry, I explore the implicit normativity shown by gig workers engaging in “tricking the algorithm” practices. Examples include workers simultaneously logging off the Uber app to determine an increase of the price otherwise unilaterally determined by the company via the algorithm, or making orders via the app to spread the word of protests, given the lack of workplace sociability (a structural condition for unionization) in gig labor. Inspired by Michel De Certeau’s concept of ‘tactic’ – ‘an art of the weak’ –, I frame these as “algorithmic counter-tactics”: Contingent and reactive forms of organizational creativity aimed at reclaiming agency, constrained by aspects of algorithmic management. This tension between organizational forms and workers’ agency is a valuable source of normative information: Following a multidimensional account of agency in social cooperation, a normative threshold of ‘algorithmic work fairness’ can be identified. That is, requirements that morally preferable organizational forms should meet with regard to the epistemic, relational, protective, and participatory dimensions of agency.
March 25, h 9.30-17.30
Morning: Perspectives from Africa (in English)
9.30-9.40 Opening of the works
Chair Tiziano Toracca
9.40-10.20 Stefano Merante (ITCILO)
Which is the skillset required to drive Africa’s inclusive and sustainable digital transformation?
The ILO’s Abidjan Declaration (2019) sets the high-level goal of making decent work a reality for Africa’s youth, developing skills, technological pathways and productivity for a brighter future. This is subject to the capacities of all to benefit from the opportunities of a changing world of work, thanks to – among other policy measures – public-private efforts to improve lifelong learning to leverage technology and the jobs it helps create.
The intervention focuses on the abounding upskilling and reskilling initiatives within the vibrant African labour markets and on their innovation ecosystems, aiming at an inequality-reducing growth and promoting digital inclusion of Africans, in particular of youth and women in the rural and informal economy.
The linkages of lifelong learning with labour migration-driven opportunities – to be enhanced by the AfCFTA – will be deepened and a thorough reflection on the impact of the digital revolution on youngsters’ transition from school to work to leverage Africa’s demographic dividend will be conducted. Will also be presented some of the most promising approaches to put technologies at the centre of the transformation the African Union is aspiring at with its Agenda 2063 vision of a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.
10.20-11.00 Nicholas Mugabi (Makerere University)
Shaping the Informal Sector: Digital technologies, opportunities and adaptation in Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has witnessed massive penetration of digital technologies ranging from simple mobile phones to complex internet-based platforms. This has been enabled by the agency of end users as well as physical infrastructure, government policies and social structures. This paper examines the impact of digital technologies on the nature of work in the informal sector, which employs 70% of the population. I interrogate how work in the informal sector is being reconfigured? Which technologies work or not work for the informal sector? and what is the nature of technology adaptation? This paper demonstrates that the most prominent technology used by informal sector players is mobile phones for real time information exchanges with clients, service providers, suppliers and peers, while internet-based services are the least used. Mobile phones mainly facilitate services such as financial inclusion through mobile money transfer, digital savings, easing access to social services by creating synergies with the formal sector. Internet-based platforms and social media are least used due to illiteracy, limited affordable and suitable devices, limited technical capacity and costs of the internet. Notwithstanding the challenges, digital technologies create digital business communities, networks and business interconnectivity as well as deconstruct the geographical borders of doing business. To harness the digital transformation, the informal sector should further adapt their work and invest in technologies to enhance work resilience and efficiency, and the government should reduce digital barriers to the informal sector to make it more inclusive.
Chair Giovanna Santanera
11.20-12.00 Basile Ndjio (University of Douala) – online
The Instagrameuses: Web ladies, boss women and the ambivalence of digital work in West and Central Africa
In a number of Central and West African countries, the rapid development and spread of internet and other digital technologies have been accompanied by the emergence of new opinion and social media leaders commonly referred to as instagrameuses(adepts of Instagram), “influenceuses du net” (female internet influencers) or “boss ladies”. Over time, these successful young internet-savvy women who are very active on social media have become the iconic figures of the booming online ventures and activities, which range from digital media, entertainment, online marketing, advertising, fashion, modelling, lifestyle, personal branding, sales, shopping counselling, consulting businesses, sex education, relationships, to local events. Some of the high profile Instagrameuses such as the Cameroonians Coco Emilia, Murielle Blanche and Nathalie Koah or the Ivoirians Emma Lohoues, Eunice Zunon and Sery Dorcas who have more than a million of followers on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, have gained fame and celebrity to the point that many are now on high paid contracts with numerous corporates and well-known brands and labels of which they have even become ambassadors.
Based on both online ethnography and field research conducted over the past three years in the cities of Douala in Cameroon and Abidjan in Ivory Coast, the present research aspires to provide some insight into the amazing phenomenon of influenceuses du net. The paper argues that though these influential web ladies incarnate the growing feminisation of digital work and activity in contemporary Africa, they also embody their contradictory representation by ordinary Africans. It will be demonstrated in this respect that many of these so-called independent and dynamic women are admired by their followers for their entrepreneurial spirit, and especially for their flamboyant lifestyle seen by many as both a sign and a symbol of a successful life; but at the same time there is a general tendency to associate their online activities to high prostitution or to profile them as prostituées de luxe (high-class prostitutes) or gold diggers who allegedly use their beauty and charm to attract wealthy and powerful men.
12.00-12.40 Lucrezia Cippitelli (Accademia di Brera)
Digital Cultures in Africa. Narrations, Assumptions, Deconstructions through the lenses of artistic and cultural production
The feature of digital transformation in Africa and its consequences on organizational structures and cultures reveals how a very open and essentialist topic like digital cultures in the continent may raise multiple questions and challenge assumptions which are so relevant to a wider, global debate. An increasingly young population, the growth of urbanized communities, the expansion of metropolis with the extension of urgent demands in terms of employment, health, education, access. Africa is inventing new strategies to fit into a world order that is itself in total upheaval. Environmental constraints require the integration of agile organization principles, frugal approaches and dynamic rootedness.
Mapping digital practices in Africa is a powerful tool to deconstruct colonial assumptions: the Joseph Conrad syndrome is overcome by the fact that some of the most populated megalopolises in the world (Cairo, Lagos, Kinshasa, Johannesburg) are African, and their youth produces, consumes and distributes culture through mobile devices and networks.
While acknowledging infrastructural challenges – for instance one over two Africans does not have access to electricity – we observe how the spread of digital initiatives challenges cultural production and distribution, builds communities, connects the continent from within, proposes decolonized visions over access to knowledge, natural resources, economic inequality, ecosophies.
Afternoon: Roundtable (in Italian)
“Che fare? Ripensare il lavoro nell’età del digitale”
“What is to be done? Rethinking work in the digital age”
Torino, Campus Universitario Luigi Einaudi, Sala Lauree Blu
25 Marzo, h. 15-17.30
La conferenza internazionale “Working in the digital age” – che si terrà all’Università di Torino il 24 e 25 Marzo 2022 – esplora le conseguenze della tecnologia, in particolare digitale, per il lavoro e la sua sostenibilità. La tavola rotonda “Che fare? Ripensare il lavoro nell’età del digitale” costituisce il momento finale della conferenza, dove l’indagine teorica si trasferisce sul piano applicativo, guardando alle specificità della realtà locale – italiana e piemontese. L’obiettivo è riflettere su opportunità e criticità delle trasformazioni in atto, anche alla luce dell’accelerazione digitale imposta dalla pandemia, al fine di immaginare possibili nuove direzioni da perseguire per il futuro.
The international conference “Working in the digital age” – that will take place at the University of Turin on 24 and 25 March 2022 – explores the impacts of technology, in particular digital technology, on work and its sustainability. The round table “What to do? Rethinking work in the digital age” is the final moment of the conference and shifts the theoretical discussion to its applicative dimensions, by looking at the specificities of the local reality, i.e. Italian and Piedmontese. The goal is to reflect on the opportunities and criticalities of current transformations, also following the digital acceleration imposed by the pandemic, in order to imagine possible new directions to pursue for the future.
Modera Fausto Corvino (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa)
Tiziana Andina, Università degli Studi di Torino
Marco Bentivogli, Base Italia
Sonia Bertolini, Università degli Studi di Torino
Tiziana Dell’Orto, EY
Maurizio Ferraris, Università degli Studi di Torino
Tatiana Mazali, Politecnico di Torino
Cecilia Pennacini, Università degli Studi di Torino
Samuele Rocca, Domethics
Daniela Ropolo, CNH
Michele Rosboch, Università degli Studi di Torino, Fondazione CRT
Sergio Scamuzzi, Università degli Studi di Torino