Digital Labor

Saskia Sassen


Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, is the author of several books, among which The Global City and Guests and Aliens. Her new book is Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Harvard University Press 2014). Her books are translated in over 20 languages. She has received diverse awards, multiple doctor honoris causa, and been chosen as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers in multiple lists. Most recently, she was awarded the 2013 Principe de Asturias Prize for the Social Sciences, and was elected to the Netherlands Royal Academy of the Sciences.

A “neighborhood/low-wage workplace” digital platform:

Digitization can help transform the neighborhood into a social back-up system. The home and the neighborhood have long been support spaces for the working class. Today, the workspace and the neighborhood are underperforming when it comes to support, mostly due to changes in the condition of low-wage workers.

Myquestion is: Can digitization help construct the neighborhood and workplace as a platform when it comes to key daily life issues –from support to organizing. The high-end worker is already a full and effective user of these technologies, and in the US, most digital applications have been geared to the middle classes and high-end workers and households (and to scientists). They have access to enough connective digital tissue to have in effect a platform that binds key elements of their daily routines. It is inconceivable today that the high-end worker can or does simply leave it all behind when closing the door of her/his office for the day — on those few days every week when s/he might actually work in the office. We might say the correlation for the low-wage worker is that it is a fiction that s/he can simply leave it all behind when s/he closes the door of her/his home and goes to work.

Very little has been developed to meet the needs for low-income workers, their families, and their neighborhoods. My proposal is that what would most enable low-wage workers is the extension of digitization to the larger space within which these workers operate: not only the workplace narrowly understood, but also, and very importantly, their neighborhood. While this may sound a bit extreme, it is already a fact among high-end workers: digitization has become a way of restructuring not only the workspace but also the living space of these workers. For low-wage workers, the correlate is that the neighborhood is active –that it begins to function as a social-back up system. I see this also a first step in the mobilizing of the neighborhood towards larger goals, including connecting transversally with other low-income neighborhoods.

Conditions of Possibility
Fri, November 13
11:00 AM - 12:50 PM