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Exploring Crowdworker Voice on Digital Work Platforms

Exploring Crowdworker Voice on Digital Work Platforms

 
Thomas Gegenhuber, Leuphana University Lüneburg
Markus Ellmer, University of Salzburg,
Elke Schüßler, Johannes Kepler University Linz
Division: Sociology & Humanities
 
How digital work platforms organise work relations with crowdworkers has become the subject of controversial discussions in the past few years. Given platforms’ considerable influence on organising work relations (Kirchner and Schüßler, 2019), scholars in various research fields increasingly suggest viewing crowdwork as a new form of ‘non-standard’ work and the unfolding ‘employment’ relations (Kalleberg and Dunn, 2016; Kilhoffer et al., 2017; Kuhn, 2016; Kuhn and Maleki, 2017; Meijerink and Keegan, 2019). One central element in work relations is voice, defined as having the opportunity to speak up to seek change instead of exiting the current work arrangement (Hirschman, 1970; Lavelle et al., 2010; Wilkinson et al., 2013). Extant crowdwork literature disagrees regarding platforms’ disposition to provide crowdworkers opportunities voice, suggesting crowdsourcing platforms mediating routine tasks (e.g., clickworking such as tagging images) refrain from providing crowdworker voice (Fieseler et al., 2017; Irani and Silberman, 2013), while platforms offering creative tasks (e.g., design) embrace voice (Boons et al., 2015; Gol et al., 2019; Troll et al., 2018).
Drawing on data from covert participatory observations, document analysis, and interviews with six German-based digital work platforms, we consider why and how platforms enable crowdworker voice. We find that platforms offering routine and creative tasks alike establish voice mainly to retain crowdworkers and increase output quality. Competition amongst platforms and worker-oriented values are drivers for platforms establishing a functional – and not democratising – voice platform regime. Considerations, such as organising costs, the desire to have control over voice and crowd heterogeneity shape the platforms’ voice regimes, pointing to a multitude of external economic, legal, and socio-cultural, but also platform-related contingencies shaping platform voice regime (Kaufman, 2015).
Our study contributes to the crowdsourcing literature by demonstrating the utility of a voice lens in understanding workers’ sustained willingness to contribute (Boons et al., 2015; Deng and Joshi, 2016; Gol et al., 2019; Jabagi et al., 2019), and to the industrial relations literature by translating the voice concept into the context of digital work platforms (Wilkinson et al., 2018).

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