Making Sense of Crowdwork: A Grounded Approach to the Political Economies of Digital Labor

April 1, 2014 - 12:00pm to 1:45pm
Campus Center Room 903

Dr. Mary Gray, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research Institute, New England will present her ongoing research.

The paper offers preliminary findings from a longitudinal study of what legal scholar Alek Felstiner (2010) describes as "the process of taking tasks that would normally be delegated to an employee and distributing them to a large pool of online workers, the 'crowd,' in the form of an open call"--in other words, crowdwork. We draw on ethnographic and qualitative methods as well as computational analysis of backend metadata to understand the cultural meaning, political implications, and ethical demands of crowdsourcing. This paper specifically unpacks labor exchanged through's Mechanical Turk (MTURK) platform, focusing on 40 workers based in several cities across South India. We argue that before we can establish the legal, economic, and social regulatory regimes to manage crowdwork, we must have a clearer sense of the people doing this work, what it means to them, and how it fits into their daily lives.

This talk is sponsored by the Department of Communication.