By Trebor Scholz
- Ours to Hack & to Own; The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work & a Fairer Internet (2017)
- Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers Are Disrupting the Digital Economy (2016)
Uberworked and Underpaid is about the rise of digital labor. Companies like Uber and Amazon Mechanical Turk promise autonomy, choice, and flexibility. One of network culture's toughest critics, Trebor Scholz chronicles the work of workers in the "sharing economy," and the free labor on sites like Facebook, to take these myths apart.
In this rich, accessible, and provocative book, Scholz exposes the uncaring reality of contingent digital work, which is thriving at the expense of employment and worker rights.
Uberworked and Underpaid is meant to inspire readers to join the growing number of worker-owned "platform cooperatives," rethink unions, and build a better future of work. A call to action, loud and clear, Uberworked and Underpaid shows that it is time to stop wage theft and "crowd fleecing," rethink wealth distribution, and address the urgent question of how digital labor should be regulated and how workers from Berlin, Barcelona, Seattle, and São Paulo can act in solidarity to defend their rights.
Anthony Lloyd on Information, Communication & Society wrote:
"What sets Uberworked and Underpaid apart is Scholz’s interest in establishing an alternative to what he terms 'platform capitalism' in favor of more equitable labor practices that increase workers’ power and control in the digital economy. [...] Scholz sets his sights high in an attempt to provide typologies of digital labor, to create a new language for crowd fleecing, and ultimately in his desire to envision an alternative via platform cooperatives. While the concepts are interesting, this ambitious book deserved more careful editing than it received. Better integration of some of the examples offered would have resulted in a more concise read, though the current outline with sub-headings for each theme does provide needed structure. Additional endnotes would have also provided important context for references to less known platforms and cooperatives. The book lays out a solid argument for embracing platform cooperativism as an avenue to resisting digital exploitation. For a book that seeks to be broadly comprehensive, however, other strategies for worker organizing, such as traditional unionization, worker centers, and online forums are explored in far less detail. This points to an important gap in existing literature that requires investigation. In short, Uberworked and Underpaid is among the first books to explore workers’ organizing strategy in the burgeoning area of platform capitalism. The book is written in a style that straddles academic and popular audiences. It will be of interest to anyone in search of an overview of current trends in digital labor."
"Scholz’s work is an important contribution to the sociology of work and the literature on the digital economy. It highlights the exploitation and harms of the on-demand economy links it to a macro-level analysis of the consolidated ownership of platform capitalism. Making the relationship between the macro level of platform capitalism and the micro level of individual‘solo workers’connects Scholz’s work to the wider literature on labour market transformation and wider political-economic change. In delineating the features of the‘on-demand’ economy and offering a typology of work, the book provides a useful resource in defining the features of this new form of labour. Finally, in the concept of‘crowd fleecing’, Scholz offers a critical analytical counter to some of the received positivity behind online communities and crowdsourcing; it recognises the hidden exploitation taking place in the background as consumers enjoy the convenience afforded by privately controlled platforms which profit on the back of enclosure and exclusion within a consumer capitalist culture driven by the demands of immediacy. The hidden exploitation underpinning that must be brought to the fore and this book does that. In suggesting possible routes out of this impasse and beyond the confines of shareholder capitalism, Scholz creates a platform (pun intended) for further debate and discussion."
Table of Contents of Uberworked and Underpaid
- Introduction: Why Digital Labor Now?
- Black Box Labor and the Creative Wrecking of Employment
- Play at Work
- Defining Digital Labor
- Crowd Fleecing
- On Motivations
- i. Confronting the Legal Gray Zones of Digital Labor
- ii. On Tactical Refusal, Defection, and Withdrawal from Data Labor
- iii. Think Outside the Boss: Platform Cooperativism for the Sharing Economy
About Trebor Scholz
Trebor Scholz, scholar-activist, is Associate Professor for Culture & Media at The New School in NYC, where he convenes the Digital Labor conference series. His articles and ideas have appeared in The Nation, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Le Monde, and The Washington Post.