Arendt in the Platformised World: Labour, Work and Action on Digital Platforms

Timothy Charlton-Czaplicki

Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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Platformisation—how institutions, organisations and cultural practices are reorganised on and through digital platforms—is a central area of research in the social sciences. The platformisation of work in particular receives scrutiny in academia and mainstream media. However, existing theories about a platformised future of work have focused predominantly on economic factors and leave a blind spot about how a transformation of our basic activities affects political life, i.e. our capacity for pluralistic interaction. This dissertation draws on Arendt’s political theory to investigate this connection by mapping the impact of platformisation on human activity—labour, work and action—using an abductive research process composed of three empirical analyses: a sequence analysis of gig workers’ careers, a topic model of remote gig workers’ discourse and a qualitative content analysis of open source intelligence and investigation communities.
Interest in Arendtian political theory is cyclically resurgent and her ideas are regularly invoked to flag totalitarian developments in politics, law and technology. Yet, nowhere does Arendt formalise a theory to evaluate emergent phenomena. This dissertation engages with Arendt’s writings and sources to construct a suitable analytical framework. By linking Arendt’s ontology of activity with the qualities of the public realm, it becomes possible to trace how changes to the configuration of labour and work through platformisation can destabilise the worldly foundations of our political interaction. Arendt’s central message is that the way we work and our capacity for political action are intimately connected. Work is not itself political, but it creates the necessary conditions for individuals to withdraw from their private lives into the public and openly engage in deliberative politics. Understood from an Arendtian perspective, the question about the future of work on platforms is always also a political question.
The findings suggest that platformisation both inhibits and enables political life by undermining the quality of the work process and allowing for new platform-enabled forms of hybrid work-action to be performed. Using the ‘factory’ and the ‘polis’ as leading images, this dissertation unpacks the duality of platformisation to define a set of recommendations for platform design and governance. It continues a tradition of applying social theory in Information Systems research by introducing an underutilised philosophical perspective to the scholarly discourse on platformisation. It further contributes to Arendt scholarship by developing a normative perspective on technology based on the vita activa and demonstrating how it can be used to analyse contemporary technologies 65 years after it was first published.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
Number of pages214
ISBN (Print)9788775682010
ISBN (Electronic)9788775682027
Publication statusPublished - 2023
SeriesPhD Series

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