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Control from on High: Cloud-Computing, Skill, and Acute Frustration among Analytics Workers in the Digital Publishing Industry


This chapter addresses research on worker skill, technology, and control over the labor process by focusing on routine immaterial labor or knowledge work. Based on participant observation conducted among analytics workers at a digital publishing network, I find that analytics workers appear paradoxically autonomous and empowered by management while being bound by ever-evolving, calculative cloud-based information and communication technologies (ICTs). Workers appear free to “be creative,” while ever-evolving ICTs exert unpredictable control over work. Based on this finding, I argue that sociology’s tendency to take organizational boundaries and technological stability for granted hampers analyses of contemporary forms of work. Thus, sociologists of work must extend outward – beyond communities of practice, labor markets, and the state – to include the ever-evolving, infrastructural, socio-technical networks in which work and organizations are embedded. Additionally, research on the experience of immaterial labor suggests that ICTs afford pleasurably immersive experiences that bind workers to organizations and their fields. Complicating this emerging body of research, I find workers acutely frustrated by these unpredictable, ever-evolving, cloud-based ICTs.

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