An Institutional Analysis of Crowdwork

I’m a bit of a sucker for institutional analyses after I first encountered the concept in a class during my Phd program. I wrote a few papers on ‘is the Internet an institution?’ back before the internet was an institution (at that time I didn’t think it was, as there were no systems for sanctions at that time).

This new essay explores the institutional nature of crowdwork, and while it doesn’t talk about MTurk per se it provides an interesting perspective suggesting we have to consider any type of crowdwork distinctly from existing institutions.

From the introduction: “In this paper I make two main arguments. The first is that analyses of the platform economy should place it in proper historical and comparative contexts. Without such context, analyses are liable to produce technologically determinist declarations of platforms’ effects on economy and society. The second argument is that we should nevertheless be open to what is novel about platforms as a mode of economic coordination. We should not simply equate platforms with either markets or hierarchies, but approach them as a potentially distinct institutional form or forms. This way, we will be better placed to examine their full societal implications. Finally, based on a set of cases including Uber and Upwork, I will outline some of the distinct institutional characteristics of the platform mode of coordination.”

The author argues that using standard employment as a yardstick to assess the gig economy, it suffers from what the author calls a type of myopia: what we now consider standard employment is not standard globally but really something offered to affluent societies in the past sixty years or so. The author also argues that this construct of standard employment was really offered primarily to men.  The author concludes:

“For instance, the taxi industry that Uber is now challenging has long been characterized by migrant labourers, nonstandard working arrangements and unpredictable pay. It is not clear whether Uber is more threatening to the drivers or to taxi license owners’ profits. ”

It is an interesting piece and surely will spur some controversy.

Citation: This is a conference presentation that will be presented in June. Here is the link:


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