Work and the Data Economy
A joint meeting of the Society for Economic Anthropology and the Society for the Anthropology of Work
April 18-20, 2024
Tufts University, Medford, MA
The production, distribution, and consumption of digital data has become an important domain of economic activity. Data is said to upend conventional economic thinking, as a resource that can be transported at negligible cost and used without being depleted. Yet the enactment of the data economy depends on more and less familiar forms of human labor, from the waged work of analysts, modelers, and technicians to the uncompensated and often nonconsensual generation of trace data in everyday life. Sensor networks gathering real-time data have permeated industries from agriculture to shipping, while the digitization of museum holdings and the massification of genetic sequencing have given rise to new value chains that cut across boundaries of public and private. The consequences of these developments are still coming into focus, promising greater efficiency and access but also compounding issues of equity and control. How, we might ask, does data capitalism stand to reinforce inequality along lines of race, gender, class, and disability (Milner and Traub 2021)?
While the advent of the platform-based gig economy has been the object of scholarship and activism in recent years, less attention has been paid to how datafication—broadly defined as the transformation of subjects, objects, and processes into digital data—has influenced more traditional forms of work and economic life (Sánchez-Monedero and Dencik 2019). Yet anthropologists of these domains are increasingly finding their own roles recast as chroniclers and practitioners of diverse types of data work (Douglas-Jones, Walford, and Seaver 2021). This meeting seeks to thematize and build on such scenes of recognition by exploring emergent data practices, ideologies, and valuation regimes, especially in settings not conventionally associated with high-tech or knowledge work. The meeting will foster interdisciplinary exchange by placing the insights of anthropologists in dialogue with local discussants from fields like information science and critical data studies. We welcome empirically grounded papers and posters from across the subfields of anthropology on topics including, but not limited to:
Contests over how data is structured and circulated within and beyond the workplace
Dynamics of job creation, transformation, and loss in the data economy
Embeddedness of the data economy in other social institutions
Failures and blockages in the datafication of work and economic activity
Implications of Indigenous, national, and regional efforts to assert data sovereignty
Disproportionate impacts of datafication on marginalized communities
Representations and erasures of vulnerable populations through datafication
Environmental impacts of data-intensive work practices
Linkages between datafication and financialization
Predigital data economies and the archaeological record
DNA and genetic data as sites for the accumulation of value
Changing approaches to data management in the work of anthropology
Uses of anthropological data in UX research and other applied contexts
Douglas-Jones, Rachel, Antonia Walford, and Nick Seaver. 2021. Introduction: Towards an anthropology of data. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 38(6): 9–25.
Milner, Yeshimabeit, and Amy Traub. 2021. Data capitalism and algorithmic racism. Report, Data for Black Lives. https://d4bl.org/reports/7-data-capitalism-and-algorithmic-racism
Sánchez-Monedero, Javier, and Lina Dencik. 2019. The datafication of the workplace. Working paper, Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University. https://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/id/eprint/125552
Karen Levy is Associate Professor in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University and associated faculty at Cornell Law School. She researches the legal, social, and ethical dimensions of data-intensive technologies. Levy is a New America National Fellow and a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and is the author of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance (Princeton University Press).
Submit and Register
Submissions to the meeting will be accepted through December 15, 2023. Please use this Google form to submit your abstract.
Papers will receive 20-minute presentation slots and will be considered for inclusion in a 2024 special issue of Economic Anthropology devoted to the conference theme. Posters will be featured at an in-person poster session. If your abstract is not selected for a presentation slot, it will be considered for the poster session. All sessions will be scheduled as plenaries so that each presenter has the undivided attention of meeting attendees.
We expect to review all submissions and communicate decisions no later than January 15, 2024.
The registration portal for the meeting is now live on the AAA website; accepted presenters will need to register for the meeting to confirm their place in the program. Registration rates are:
(+20 if not a member of SEA or SAW)
(+10 if not a member of SEA or SAW)
Professional without institutional funding
If you have any questions, please contact the conference co-chairs Marcel LaFlamme <[email protected]> and Alex Blanchette <[email protected]>.
Travel and Accommodations
Tufts University is a student-centered research university dedicated to the creation and application of knowledge. Tufts is committed to providing transformative experiences for students and faculty in an inclusive and collaborative environment where creative scholars generate bold ideas, innovate in the face of complex challenges, and distinguish themselves as active citizens of the world.
The meeting will be held on the main campus of Tufts in the cities of Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts, five miles from downtown Boston and conveniently located on the Green Line of the MBTA public transit system.
Attendees within a day’s drive of Boston are encouraged to take a train, carpool, or use other lower-carbon modes of transportation. All other attendees should plan to fly into Boston’s Logan International Airport. Ground transportation from the airport is available via the MBTA Silver Line and numerous additional options. Parking is available on campus from $8/day.
The organizing team has elected not to reserve a hotel block in order to provide attendees with maximum flexibility.
The hotel closest to the Tufts campus is the Hyatt Place Boston/Medford, a 20-minute walk from campus, which offers rooms from $240/night. Less expensive rooms are available at the hotels along Monsignor O’Brien Highway near the Lechmere MBTA station, including the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Boston/Cambridge. Attendees can also consider staying at a hostel or a property rented through sites like Airbnb.