Digital, Class, Work

Before and During COVID-19

John Michael Roberts

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Explores the changing nature of digital labour and work both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic

  • Describes and categorises different types of labour, work and the digital
  • Develops theoretically a class perspective, based in critical theory, on contemporary digital labour processes
  • Provides one of the first systematic accounts that analyses and explores the impact of COVID-19 on the digital labour process
  • Includes numerous academic case studies, media reports, policy and government reports, data from global institutions like the IMF, OECD, ILO, and UN; trade union analysis; research from activist organisations; and policy think tanks
  • Maps out degrees of digital exploitation and oppression in the digital workplace before and during the pandemic

This book examines class relations through numerous empirical case studies, reports, and other sets of data before and during COVID-19. It is divided in four distinctive work processes – the global ‘productive’ digital work process, which comprises areas like manufacturing; ‘unproductive’ commercial digital work, which comprises sectors like the creative industries, retail and services; digital gig work practices; and the state and public work sectors. Roberts maps class relations in these work processes to three types of digital work: digital labour (or, what is commonly known as platform labour); digitisation of labour (the application of digital technology to everyday work practices); and digitised labour (when automation and smart machines replace ‘real’ workers in an organisation). Situating the analysis within the broader and global perspective of neoliberalism and financialisation, it demonstrates how the use of digital technology in many workplaces and labour processes has benefited ‘unproductive’ global capital, particularly capital in the unproductive financial sector.

  1. Introduction: Digital, Class, and Work Before and During COVID-19

  2. Digital Prosumer Labour: Two Schools of Thought

  3. Alienated Labour and Class Relations

  4. Neoliberalism, Financialisation and Class Relations Before and During COVID-19

  5. Productive Digital Work Before and During COVID-19

  6. Unproductive Digital Work Before and During COVID-19

  7. Creative Industries and Creative Classes Before and During COVID-19

  8. Digital Labour in the Gig Economy Before and During COVID-19

  9. Digital Work in the State and Public Sector Before and During COVID-19

  10. Conclusions: Towards a Post-Covid-19 Politics of Class Struggle

This is an important book that will be useful to all those concerned with the past, present and future of work in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Roberts deploys a theoretically sophisticated class analysis to discern emergent trends in capital-labour relations amongst firms using digital technologies.

Benjamin Selwyn, University of Sussex
John Michael Roberts is Professor of Sociology and Communications at Brunel University. His previous books include, Contemporary Left-Wing Activism, vols 1 and 2 (edited with J. Ibrahim, Routledge 2019), New Media and Public Activism (Policy Press 2014) and Digital Publics: Cultural Political Economy, Financialisation, and Organisational Politics (Routledge 2014).

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