I’m looking for two great postdocs to join me for at least 3.5 years to study how ICTs are being used to transform the labour market, through online labour marketplaces, ride hailing apps, and similar digital platforms. The purpose of this post is to address some of the questions that I’ve received about these positions via email. The closing date is 26 November, or ten days from now.
As the job ad indicates, the positions are part of my ERC-funded project iLabour: The Construction of Labour Markets, Institutions, and Movements on the Internet. The selection criteria are detailed in the job description document, but I’m especially looking for social scientists with qualitative research skills and theoretical backgrounds relevant to examining the social construction/shaping of markets, technologies, and labour movements — especially economic sociology/anthropology, organization studies, and STS. Using selected platforms as cases, the postdocs will study online labour markets’ formal and informal rules, how these rules are made and how they influence participants, and how participants are attempting to influence the rules in this digital economy of private and algorithmic regulation.
The two new postdocs will work together with me and Dr Otto Kässi, a labour economist/data scientist postdoc who is joining OII to run the project’s quantitative aspects. Beyond the iLabour project, OII has quite a bit of other critical mass in this area as well, with people such as Mark Graham, Isis Hjorth, and Alex Wood, projects like Geonet and Microwork and Virtual Production Networks, several graduate students, and great international collaborators.
Background literature and theory
The job description document mentions two working papers from our earlier and ongoing projects, which are linked below (plus a bonus third one):
- Algorithms That Divide and Unite: Delocalization, Identity, and Collective Action in ‘Microwork’
- Online labour markets – leveling the playing field for international service markets?
- Do platforms connect clients directly to providers? The new network patterns of digital work
Note that in these earlier efforts, the empirical focus is on online labour markets impacts’ on workers, and on socioeconomic development in low-income countries. In the iLabour project, we are at least as interested in “disruption” in mature labour markets and industries, and on the processes and politics of technology-fuelled institutional change, rather than only its consequences.
The theoretical focus is probably also going to be somewhat different. My earlier projects and papers draw on labour process, management, and value chain literatures, but in the iLabour project I think we’ll find it useful to draw more on varieties of new institutionalism and social shaping of technology. Two blog posts I wrote earlier this year illustrate an institutionalist perspective to online marketplaces and their politics:
- Why are citizens migrating to Uber and Airbnb, and what should governments do about it?
- Uber and Airbnb make the rules now — but to whose benefit?
Questions and answers
Q: Which platforms and field sites are you targeting?
A: We’ll start by developing an overview of online labour markets around the world, to get a sense of the size and scope of the phenomenon — not just in the English-language market, but also in other major languages and geographies. After this, we’ll choose cases based on factors such as economic significance, theoretical interest, practical data access, and postdocs’ personal interests.
Q: How will the results be published?
A: The main target is obviously high-impact academic journals. As a multidisciplinary team, we’ll make sure that everyone gets to publish in journals relevant to their career development, as well as collaborating with others on their papers. I’m an economic sociologist, and though my publishing record is fairly eclectic, in this project I’ll personally be aiming at quite core disciplinary journals such as Work, Employment & Society. We’ll also highlight results in conference presentations, blog posts, talks given to policy and practitioner audiences, and stories published in popular media. We’ll absolutely minimize the amount of bureaucratic project report writing, but there may be some of that, too. The project has a fairly generous conference travel budget.
Q: When does the job start?
A: We are looking for someone who could start “immediately”, which in practice means up to 1-3 months from the offer. Interviews are scheduled for December 21st, and offers are likely to be made very soon after. So we are looking at a January to March start.
Q: Can I work part-time?
A: We are primarily looking for full-time postdocs, but it’s not out of the question that a different arrangement might be negotiated with a successful candidate.
In closing, I think these are really quite exciting positions in that they are situated in a fantastic department and research cluster at the University of Oxford, and deal with theoretically interesting and extremely policy-relevant topics. I’m hoping to get applications from top-tier candidates who are thrilled about the topic and serious about theory and methods. I’m happy to respond to any additional questions via email or Twitter.