[iDC] Exploitation....

Julian Kücklich julian at kuecklich.de
Fri Jun 12 07:28:08 UTC 2009

Lilly, everybody,

I like this post a lot. MechTurk either never entirely took off, or it
continues to flourish behind the scenes, it's hard to tell. In any
case, it's interesting as an early example of crowdsourcing, a
practice which is now increasingly referred to as deploying
"artificial artificial intelligence." So within the space of a few
years, we have moved from the Turing paradigm to the Philip K. Dick
paradigm. Instead of computers pretending to be human we are dealing
with humans pretending to be computers pretending to be humans. Let's
call it objectification-as-subjectification.

So I would take it one step further and say exploitation is
underwritten not only by processes of objectification but also of
subjectification, and the devenir-machine is joined by a
devenir-humain. Again, I would argue, as with exploitation and
liberation, sub- and objectification are intertwined and embedded in a
form of multitudinous intersubjectivity. I am taking my cues here from
Gotthard Gunther's work on trans-Aristotelian logic (which,
incidentally, can be read as an unfolding of ideas Gunther derived
from reading Asimov), in which he emphatically and methodically
refutes the "tertium non datur" axiom.

This opens up a space for thinking about phenomena that escape the
dualism of being and nothing, and this is precisely the space we need
to think about exploitation. A conjecture: Marx, being a Hegelian, was
deeply invested in the idea that the negation of being (ie
entfremdung, "alienation") could only result in nothing, the reduction
of the human being to a commodity. And this sad state of affairs could
only be reversed by a negation of the negation, ie a revolution. But
what if NOT NOT a != a? This opens up a whole range of new avenues,
one of which is Tronti's strategy of refusal, but there are many
other, less codified forms of refusing alienation, which I am too lazy
to enumerate. To speak with Bartleby: "I'd prefer not to."

But this does not mean that alienated labour and exploitation do not
exist, or that it is easy to avoid them. What I find interesting about
Lilly's example of fertility therapy is that it shows that
objectification (and by extension, exploitation) can be distributed
unevenly within a body's organs (this is more Fantastic Voyage than
Body-without-Organs, or rather it's Body-with-or-without-Organs). You
just have to look at office workers in a park, trying to run away from
their brains, to see this in action. Another way of conceptualizing
the uneven distribution of alienation within the body is to look at
the various biopolitical campaigns (anti-smoking, anti-drinking,
anti-teenage-pregnancy, anti STD, anti-skin-cancer, 5-a-day) that
target different parts of the human body, and the various strategies
of refusal deployed against them.

The Mechanical Turk (a machine within which a human pretends to be a
machine) is a BwowO that is reduced to a brain and hands, the body
itself compressed and hidden from sight. It's a perfect metaphor of
the plight of immaterial labourers on the internet, who are hidden,
yet have to perform with virtuosity. Exploitation bisects them, or
multi-sects them, they are exposed yet anonymous, subject to
surveillance and escaping it through sousveillance. The choreography
of exploitation, to take up Lilly's term, thus emerges as a phenomenon
that challenges us to think beyond the oppositions of labourer and
machine, subject and object, alienation and liberation. We are all
Mechanical Turks now, to a lesser or greater degree and we dance to
the inane refrain of The Machine is Us(ing Us).


2009/6/11 Lilly Irani <lirani at cs.stanford.edu>:
> Hi all -
> I've been thinking a lot about Amazon Mechanical Turk this year (the side
> project that haunts me). I've found Charis Thompson's work (which I've
> encountered through Lucy Suchman) and Donna Haraway's work most though
> provoking in considering a post-Marxist, post-relativist exploitation.
> One take on exploitation might be to see not who gets objectified, but how
> those objectifications and exploitations are choreographed, controlled, and
> assembled, and how they are or are not open to reconfiguration. In studies
> of how particular women voluntarily place themselves under the objectifying
> gaze of a doctor for fertility therapy, Charis Cussins (Thompson) "locates
> alienation not in objectification per se, but in the breakdown of
> synechdochal relations between parts and whole that make objectification of
> various forms into associated forms of agency." Suchman explains that "It is
> this process 'of forging a functional zone of compatibility that maintains
> referential power between things of different kinds' that she names
> ontological choreography." Ontological choreography touches on issues of
> control and feelings of control brought up in this thread, it relates to
> class (im)mobility, and also debates about agency in sex work /
> exploitation. (My reading is from Suchman's "Agencies in Technology Design:
> Feminist Reconfigurations":
> www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/papers/suchman-agenciestechnodesign.pdf )
> Donna Haraway takes on exploitation and labor more directly in her book Ch 3
> ("Sharing Suffering: Instrumental Relations Between Animals and People") of
> the book "When Species Meet." In thinking through animals as *laborers*
> instead of as food or lab animals, she draws links to the ways production is
> often gendered and raced (asian women in semi-conductor factories or
> africans dying in the wars over the coltan destined for our cellphones).
> Critiquing vegans and PETA who base their actions on the logic of
> privileging animals as sacrosanct while saying nothing of the exploitation
> of others (people) who labor and die, she says "try as we might to distance
> ourselves, there is no way of living that is not also a way of someone, not
> just something, else dying differentially." (80) Haraway suggests
> responsibility and responsiveness as an alternate framework for thinking
> about exploitation -- in other words, seeing exploitation as a failed sort
> of relation that has to be judged by time and situation, rather than by who
> has the capital or the breasts.
> Both Cussins and Haraway, then, suggest that exploitation has to do with a
> lack of responsibility, a lack of responsiveness, a breakdown in which fluid
> relations are continually forced into reified ones.
> This helps me think about mechanical turk as not necessarily, essentially
> exploitative, despite the exploitative rhetoric Amazon deploys about what
> the platform is (Turk and the Human API of deraced, degendered human
> cognitive labor accessible 24-7). It suggests that claiming the exploitation
> of low-paid turk workers demands attention to the particular reasons why
> those people are doing turk and how they are (or are not) able to
> reconfigure those relations.
> ~lilly
> 2009/6/11 Julian Kücklich <deludologist at googlemail.com>
>> Hi all,
>> I recently had a long and embittered debate about exploitation at a
>> panel on co-creative labour that Larissa Hjorth and I co-chaired at the
>> COST298 conference. I think I was arguing that what Tiziana calls "free
>> labour" (and which I call "playbour" when I write about things like
>> computer game modification (modding), the policing of virtual space in
>> massively multiplayer games, and the free marketing players provide by
>> digging, blogging, tweeting about games, etc.) is never entirely
>> exploited, nor is it ever entirely free (in the sense of libre). The
>> one-size-fits-all concept of exploitation we have inherited from the
>> Marxist tradition was probably never particularly useful to begin with,
>> but when we talk about forms of living where labour and leisure are so
>> deeply intertwined it is in danger of losing its meaning altogether.
>> One of the counter-arguments from an audience member at the COST298
>> panel was that women's movements didn't view work so much as
>> exploitation than as a liberation from the subservience dictated by
>> chauvinist societies, so this is not necessarily something that only
>> becomes an issue with digital technologies, but rather something that
>> comes into play once we start asking questions about what constitutes
>> productive labour and what makes labourers eligible for renumeration.
>> Traditionally, "women's work" was obviously often unpaid, unrecognized,
>> and pretty much unregulated. The same is true of many of the forms of
>> labour we see arising within digital forms of life today.
>> I could insert the standard blurb about autonomism, refusal, and the
>> multitude here, but you've obviously all read your Negri, your Tronti,
>> and your Lazzarato, so let's skip that for the time being. What I find
>> interesting about Mark's thoughts about exploitation is that he connects
>> the concept to intellectual property and to the question of control. I
>> am interested in both these things as a researcher and a gamer, and I
>> find ludic models of control very useful to describe some of the
>> processes that we are trying to get to the bottom of here. Play is
>> necessarily a process in which the level of control the players
>> experience oscillates during the game (I've written about this in terms
>> of "ruled" and "unruled" space, yadayadayada, but that's neither here
>> nor there), and their perception of their amount of control is not
>> always accurate. Let's call it gote no sente
>> (http://senseis.xmp.net/?GoteNoSente).
>> Two or three things follow from that: 1) It's not so much about the
>> level of control people actually have but about the level of control
>> they perceive as having. 2) Being in control is not always a good thing
>> (e.g. using restrictive licensing for the fruits of your labour limits
>> what Henry Jenkins, for better or for worse, calls "spreadability". 3)
>> Being out of control can be a good thing (for example, Minh Le's name
>> only got firmly attached to Counterstrike when the mod was snapped up by
>> Valve, and redistributed in a commercial version). So IPR, control, and
>> exploitation are enmeshed in a tight mesh of causation, and both
>> exploitation and liberation can be experienced negatively and positively
>> (just as an example, let's remember that many academics like myself
>> still subject themselves to the gangrape of publishing in peer-reviewed
>> academic journals, and wear their bruises with pride).
>> Let's also remember that exploitation feels normal to many people. One
>> of my friends recently lost her job, and has tried to find a new one for
>> the past three months. She is resigned to the fact that when she
>> eventually finds a job, it will be just as mind-numbing, meaningless,
>> and degrading as the last one, but despite my attempts to get her out of
>> this mindset, she desperately scours jobsites, newsletters, even (gulp)
>> newspaper job ads. London being a city that provides for people with
>> much less in terms of financial resources, I find it hard to accept that
>> someone would cling to this kind of negative normativity so strongly,
>> but my friend is not the only one. I see the same kind of desperation in
>> many social networks where you "pay with your life" (and all its mundane
>> lacunae) for the privilege of not being a freak. It's this kind of
>> motivation, however bourgeois we may find it, that we might have to
>> consider when we talk about exploitation in the digital age.
>> Julian.
>> Mark Andrejevic wrote:
>> > Howard's post got me thinking about the need to tighten up
>> > an understanding of what we might mean by the term "exploitation." The
>> > very broad sense in which it is often used -- to indicate that someone
>> > else benefits from our labor -- isn't a particularly useful one.
>> > Theoretically it remains amorphous (how might it distinguish between
>> > collaborative labor and working in a sweat shop?) and practically it
>> > isn't much of a rallying cry ("Help, I'm being exploited because the
>> > value of my neighbor's house went up when I painted mine!").
>> >
>> > I'd suggest (as a preliminary foray) that a meaningful political sense
>> > of the term (one that allows us to critique exploitation) would have
>> > to include at least two aspects:
>> > 1) a sense of loss of control over the results of our own productive
>> > activity (especially when these are turned back against us) and
>> > 2) structured relations of power that compel this loss of control,
>> > even when it looks like the result of "free" exchange.
>> > I don't feel a loss of control over my own productive activity when
>> > I contribute to a Wikipedia entry that may benefit others. On the
>> > other hand, I might be more likely to feel this loss of control when I
>> > discover, say, that details of my online activity have been collected,
>> > sorted, and packaged as a commodity for sale to people who may use it
>> > to deny me access to a job or to manipulate me based on perceived
>> > vulnerabilities, fears, and other personal details about my mental or
>> > physical well being. If I find myself in a position wherein I have to
>> > submit to this kind of monitoring as a condition of access to
>> > resources that I need to earn my livelihood or maintain my social
>> > relations in a networked era, I might be more likely to think of this
>> > situation as a truly exploitative one.
>> >
>> > When it starts to become tricky -- at least conceptually -- is when my
>> > work on Wikipedia (or tagging, or participating in other forms of UGC
>> > production) gets folded into the
>> > demographic/psychographic/geographic/(eventually biometric) forms of
>> > profiling that form the basis for the emerging online commercial
>> > economy. Still a meaningful conception of exploitation might help
>> > distinguish between the different productive roles of our online
>> > activity -- and between infrastructures that are more or less
>> > exploitative.
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> > On Sat, Jun 6, 2009 at 7:11 AM, Howard Rheingold <howard at rheingold.com
>> > <mailto:howard at rheingold.com>> wrote:
>> >
>> >     Trebor asked me to introduce myself in regard to his post and the
>> >     conference on "The Internet as Playground and Factory"
>> >
>> >     I've written "Tools for Thought," "The Virtual Community," and
>> > "Smart
>> >     Mobs." Two of those books are online at http://www.rheingold.com
>> >     <http://www.rheingold.com/> . I
>> >     teach "Social Media" and Berkeley and Stanford and "Digital
>> >     Journalism" at Stanford.
>> >
>> >     I agree with much of what you say, Trebor, but I would only add that
>> >     I'm entirely delighted to let Yahoo stockholders benefit from
>> > flickr.
>> >     It's not only a great service for sharing my own images, but a place
>> >     where I can find Creative-Commons licensed images to use in
>> >     presentations and videos. Maybe that at the same time we look
>> > closely
>> >     at the way commercial interests have colonized public behavior, we
>> >     ought to look at the way profit motives have made available useful
>> >     public goods. May Yahoo and Google live long and prosper as long as
>> > I
>> >     can view and publish via Flickr and YouTube. And if this means that
>> >     I've blurred the line between my recreation and my labor, I have to
>> >     testify that even after reflection I don't mind it at all. It's
>> >     pleasurable, in fact. And I'm equally delighted that Google gives
>> > away
>> >     search to attract attention, some of which Google sells to
>> >     advertisers. I remember that when I first got online with a modem,
>> > the
>> >     cost of accessing skimpy information online via Lexis/Nexis and
>> > other
>> >     paid data services was way beyond my means. Now I get answers for
>> > any
>> >     question in seconds. How many times a day were  YOU exploited by
>> >     searching for something without paying a charge for the service?
>> >     Informed consent seems to me to be crucial -- I choose to be
>> >     exploited, if exploitation is how you want to see my uploading and
>> >     tagging my photographs and videos. More people ought to reflect on
>> > who
>> >     is profiting from their online activity, and it seems entirely
>> >     reasonable to me that many would decide not to be exploited. I would
>> >     never argue that people should refrain from witholding their labor,
>> > if
>> >     that's what they want to do. Otherwise, I'm all for asking all the
>> >     questions Trebor proposes, which is why I assign students to read
>> >     "What the MySpace generation needs to know about working for free."
>> >
>> >     Howard Rheingold howard at rheingold.com
>> >     <mailto:howard at rheingold.com> http://twitter.com/hrheingold
>> >     http://www.rheingold.com <http://www.rheingold.com/>
>> >      http://www.smartmobs.com <http://www.smartmobs.com/>
>> >     http://vlog.rheingold.com <http://vlog.rheingold.com/>
>> >     what it is ---> is --->up to us
>> >
>> >
>> >
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>> --
>> dr julian raul kuecklich
>> http://playability.de
>> M: +447833193467
>> L: +442032395578
>> http://flickr.com/cucchiaio
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> --
> Lilly Irani
> University of California, Irvine
> http://www.ics.uci.edu/~lirani/

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