ISA Forum of Sociology

Last month I had the pleasure of presenting at the IV ISA Forum of Sociology. The conference was supposed to take place in 2020 in Porto Alegre, Brasil. Because of Covid, ISA decided to push the forum to 2021 and to do it online rather than in-person. ISA is always a stimulating and welcoming organization, and I look forward to attending the next World Congress.

The conference was the perfect opportunity for sharing some of the outcomes of my Ph.D. research into occupational communities in the Vancouver digital industry. In addition, I presented the paper I have written with Frederik Lesage on media ethnography. A paper that was recently accepted for publication and that I look forward to sharing publicly.

In the meantime, below you can find the abstracts and the slide decks of my presentations.

Occupational Communities and the democratization of Startup Labor

This research investigates to which extent informal meetings of tech workers and creative practitioners can promote collective actions, lead to political mobilization and overcome the limits of flexible capitalism, such as lack of social security, individualization of risk and the normalization precarious forms of employment. We therefore study the potential of “occupational communities”, i.e. grassroots organizations connecting workers with similar competences and professional interests, as sites of tactical resistance, in opposition to the strategic organization of labour informed by the ‘Startup Culture’, which constitutes the ontological and epistemological reality of many creative practitioners, hi-tech workers and startup employees.

The research was conducted in on of the highest rated startup ecosystems/creative hubs in North America. For the exploration of the field we relied on “platform ethnography”, a combination of online data analysis and classic ethnographic practices. Through the analysis of publicly available data about tech-related events, we identified and mapped formal and informal communities of tech-professionals operating in the city. The outcomes informed the subsequent ethnographic investigation of startup/tech workers’ community.

The results collected through interviews with software engineers, freelancers and creative practitioners emphasize the ambivalent nature of occupational communities. If on the one hand they counteract the losses that workers experienced in the passage from industrial to flexible capitalism, on the other hand they promote individualistic approaches to social problem thus reinforcing current hegemonic forms of managerial power and control.

Figurations of Mediation: Social Movements, Collective Actions and Social Change in the Media Manifold

The growing ubiquity of ready-to-hand digital media platforms as means of social interaction raises some epistemological implications which scholars should consider when studying the relationship between digital media and social movements. In particular, the supposed deterritorialization of the field, and the increase in digitally mediated interactions, require us to rethink our research practices in face of the increasingly complex digital mediascape. Building on, and extending, the session’s goal, i.e. “to revisit the contemporary relationship between digital media and social movements”, in this paper we problematize the relationship that we, as researchers, establish with digital media technologies in the study of social movements.

We advance the concept of methodological figurations to problematize how digital platforms open possibilities for different kind of interactions between researchers, digital media and research subjects. Countering the supposed transparency and neutrality of digital platforms, we propose to conceive digital media as multistable objects that are capable of redefining, in multiple ways, the relations between us, them and the research subjects, e.g. participants to social movements. We claim that digital media, as in a Gestalt shift, can be framed according to different methodological figurations that generate multiple conceptions of the same social phenomenon.

Conceiving digital media as inherently multistable quasi-objects means becoming attuned to, aware of, and responsive to, the ways in which they colour the interrelationships between researcher, research subjects and the research field. On the contrary, ignoring digital media multistability might lead us to either overlook the substantive role they play as part of social movements or, far worse, extend and legitimize their datafication logic.

To demonstrate how methodological figurations are well placed to account for digital media multistability, we examine a test case involving the event-planning platform Meetup as part of an ethnographic investigation into the organization of labour in the Vancouver creative industry.

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