Machinic dispossession and augmented despotism: Digital work in an Amazon warehouse

Amazon e-commerce operations rely upon the living labor of thousands of workers. In the company’s warehouses, barcodes allow commodities to be construed as information to be managed. Work is thus mediated and organized digitally, as algorithms assign tasks and surveil workers. But it would be futile to analyze the technical organization of labor without studying the authoritarian nature of work under capitalist relations. In this paper Delfanti shares evidence from interviews with workers and managers unearth the material and cultural infrastructures that underpin Amazon labor. Early Italian operaismo, or workerist theory, offers a framework to analyze digital capitalism’s strategies to secure workers’ cooperation with machinery. Algorithms datafy worker activity and incorporate it in machinery. Management enacts a form of despotism mediated and augmented by digital tools and cultures. The technical and political rationalities deployed in the warehouse aim at satiating digital capitalism’s appetite for the labor of others.

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Chosen by

Abigail Gilbert

Theme

Amazonian Era

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