"It was my own silly fault": the internalisation of responsibility among crowd workers

"It was my own silly fault": the internalisation of responsibility among crowd workers' Kaire Holts and Ursula Huws Hertfordshire Business School, University of Hertfordshire (UK)

domain: sociology, labour studies

Platform work is widely promoted as a new way for workers to achieve a better quality of life through control over their working time. Many of these workers are drawn to autonomy and wish to work where and when they want. It is common for workers, especially for those in culture and new media industries to be drawn to autonomy (Florida, 2000, Gill, 2010, Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2013, Huws, 2014, Michailidou and Kostala, 2016, Neff et al., 2005, Ross, 2003). Working online and at a distance is also often discussed as a way to achieve more autonomy (Huws, 1997, Mazmanian et al., 2013, Pitts, 2016, Schörpf et al., 2017, Webster and Randle, 2016). However, often the opposite is the case and instead of more flexibility, workers find themselves in a situation where their working days are long, unpredictable and defined by external pressures. In other cases, workers have the flexibility that they wanted but lack financial autonomy as they are dependent on another source of income.

This study is situated in the debate about flexible employment and its profoundly ambiguous interrelationships between autonomy and power that feminist writers began discussing in the early 1980s. They revealed a conflicting interplay between employers' need for flexibility and workers' autonomy: employees often pay the price for employers' need for a flexible workforce (Cranford et al., 2003, Fudge and Vosko, 2003, Huws et al., 1989, McKie et al., 1999, Rubery, 1989). Studies that explore these contradictions also point out that workers do not necessarily feel restricted in their autonomy (Burawoy, 1979, Lupu and Empson, 2015, Mazmanian et al., 2013, Michel, 2011). These conflicting accounts have been described as an 'autonomy paradox' (Huws, 1996, Lupu and Empson, 2015, Mazmanian et al., 2013, Michel, 2011), 'caged discretion' (Muhr et al., 2012), 'obscured autonomy' (Charalambides, 2017), 'a false sense of autonomy' (Deetz, 1998) and an 'illusion of autonomy' (Kalff, 2017).

This study draws on over 40 in-depth interviews with various types of platform workers in three European countries. It finds a similar pattern of obscured and conflicting relations of autonomy as among workers in the pre-platform era. The study also finds that crowd workers internalise the responsibility for risks that create precarious work conditions. Many of the platform workers believe that doing what they like is inevitably linked to accepting unpredictability of their income and a lack of social security. This research explores these aspects and the role this internalisation process plays in forming new work identities.

The study was carried out by University of Hertfordshire researchers on behalf of FEPS - Foundation for European Progressive Studies and UNI Europa.


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