PANOPTIWORK TALKS/9: What Should a Good Concept of Labour Do? Conceptually engineering ‘digital labour’.

On May 22ndMiguel Rudolf-Cibien will give a talk as part of our mini-lecture series. It is called What Should a Good Concept of Labour Do? Conceptually engineering ‘digital labour’. Miguel is a Research Master’s student at the Faculty of Philosophy of the RUG as well as the student assistant in Panoptiwork. His talk will present his in-writing Master’s thesis. The talk and subsequent discussion take place from 17h to 18h30, and will be followed by drinks.

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Hereunder you can read the abstract of the presentation:

In recent years, the concept of “digital labour” has sparked considerable debate within critical media studies and related fields. A key contention revolves around the appropriateness of labelling certain unpaid activities as ‘labour’. This debate has not reached a conclusive outcome, and the term ‘digital labour’ continues to be employed ambiguously and contentiously. This thesis contributes to this debate through the lens of the conceptual engineering of political concepts, notably influenced by the works of Sally Haslanger, which suggests that political concepts can be “ameliorated” or refined to better serve their designated political functions. This approach shifts the focus of the digital labour debate from its theoretical or representational qualities (“can we legitimately define X as ‘labour’?”) to its functional implications (“for what purpose should we define X as ‘labour’?”).

Drawing on Axel Honneth’s intellectual history of the concept of work, I propose that ‘digital labour’ is aptly viewed as a recent phase in the ongoing struggle for social recognition of previously misrecognised activities, a dynamic that has shaped the modern evolution of the concept of work. This perspective reinforces the argument that ‘labour’ is fundamentally a political concept, designed to fulfil critical political functions, and thus it can and should be intentionally shaped to enhance its effectiveness in these roles. Moreover, this view situates the concept within a framework of evolving recognition structures, offering valuable insights for the targeted refinement of the concept. A good concept of work, therefore, is one that addresses and rectifies feelings of misrecognition within society. This, in turn, allows us to assess the significance of various interventions in the digital labour debate in terms of their connection to existing structures of recognition.

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