IN THE SHADOWS OF THE DIGITAL ECONOMY: THE GHOST WORK OF INFRASTRUCTURAL LABOR
What does digital piecework have in common with laboring in the warehouse of a large online shopping platform? How is data cleaning related to digitization work and AI training in prisons? This panel suggests bringing these diverse ways of laboring in the digital economies together by considering these practices as infrastructural labor that takes the shape of shadow work (Illich, 1981) and ghost labor (Gray & Suri, 2019). Work and labor in modern, capitalist society imply power, authority and possibility for resistance, and these dimensions are crucial for understanding why and how infrastructures are realized and how they work. Infrastructure labor is ambiguous. It is both visible and invisible depending on the specific tasks and their inherent power relations (Leigh Star & Strauss, 1999). It includes both manual and cognitive labor. It is geared towards innovation as well as repair, maintenance and servitude. The panel aims to paint the contours of infrastructural labor at the margins of digital economies pointing towards forms of alienation and resistance that have for long been part of labor relations, but that are renegotiated in the context of emerging technologies within digital economies that need human labor to be sustained and further innovated.