Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION

Between Unemployed Employees and Employed Freelancers? The Coordination of Work in the Digital Age

  • Prof. Dr. Eva Kocher (u.a. Europäisches und Deutsches Arbeitsrecht)
  • Prof. Dr. Anna Schwarz (Vergleichende Politische Soziologie)
  • Prof. Dr. Jochen Koch (BWL/Unternehmensführung und Organisation)
  • Isabell Hensel (Arbeits-, Zivilrecht und Rechtstheorie)
  • Daniel Schönefeld (Soziologie)
Fritz Thyssen Foundation

Due to the impact of new digital technologies traditional forms of coordination of employment are subject to major changes. Boundaries of firms and by that boundaries of employment are about to blur. New hybrid forms of independent and dependent work emerge and replace traditional processes of division of labor.

The phenomenon of crowdworking is paradigmatic for these ongoing changes. On the basis of an interactive and web-based digital platform crowdworking facilitates a new form of gainful employment beyond markets and organizations. "Crowdsourcers" call for an indefinite number of participants (so called "crowdworkers") in order to carry out simple, operational, and predefined or even complex, creative and innovative tasks. Digital platforms coordinate that process and are often provided by third parties ("intermediaries"). Finally, crowdsourcers evaluate, select and pay the (best) results or cumulative contributions and integrate them into their value creation process.

In this project we focus on how crowdworking occurs as a new and potential enduring form of gainful employment and as a striking form of decentralization and externalization of work. The project adopts the analytical perspective of the liminal sphere and focuses on the ongoing processes of the re-structuring of employment. Spatial, temporal and social distant economic agents in the periphery of business organisations are integrated and employed in an independent-dependent way.

Up to now, this phenomenon is only partially studied and mainly adressed in a single disciplinary perspective. For that reason crowdworking is usually reduced to either a coordination problem for management, a risk of precarity for workers or as a judicial field in need of new legal regulations (on the basis of the ideal of conventional labor contracts). Hence, such limited and restricted perspectives cannot adequately capture the innovative character of crowdworking.

Consequently, in this inter- and transdisciplinary project, we develop a more complex perspective on crowdworking, which combines organizational, subject-focused and legal-theoretical analyzes. This allows us to study the potential of crowdworking for a reciprocal reinforcement of autonomy and control as well as flexibilisation and stability for both, organisations and subjects.  Additionally, we adopt a normative perspective on crowdworking, which allows us to analyze the coordination potential of the emergent forms of order in the interaction practices among crowdsourcer, web-based platform, crowdworkers and the crowd.

The third party-funding for this project has successfully been raised by the seed money project "The Changing Boundaries of Employment - Transdisciplinary Research on Subject, Organization and Law" and by the research group "Regulatory Questions of Transnational Work - Perspectives of Interdisciplinary Research" at Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION.


Concluding conference "Unselbstständige Selbstständigkeit: Crowdworking zwischen Autonomie und Kontrolle", 16.11.2017

Publication series [Arbeit | Grenze | Fluss] - Work-in-Progress interdisziplinärer Arbeitsforschung