From The Revenge of the Monsters of Educational Technology, by Audrey Watters, loc 1187:

Many of us in education technology talk about this being a moment of great abundance—information abundance—thanks to digital technologies. But I think we are actually/ also at a moment of great austerity. And when we talk about the future of education, we should question if we are serving a world of abundance or if we are serving a world of austerity. I believe that automation and algorithms, these utterly fundamental features of much of ed-tech, do serve austerity. And it isn’t simply that “robot tutors” (or robot keynote speakers) are coming to take our jobs; it’s that they could limit the possibilities for, the necessities of care and curiosity.

Understanding this relationship between austerity and abundance strikes me as a crucial question of political theory. One which we evade if we reduce the former to the latter or vice versa, seeing abundance as negating austerity (as Tyler Cowen does, for instance) or austerity as negating abundance (by robbing it off its  social significance as a cultural change).

This great post by Martin Weller takes issue with the recent click bait published by the Guardian Higher Education’s anonymous academics series. He argues that they perpetuate an outdated stereotype of academic labour which has no relationship to the reality:

There are undoubtedly more, but when you piece these three together, what you get is a picture of an academic in the 1970s (Michael Caine in Educating Rita maybe) – shambolic, aloof, and unfettered by the concerns of normal working life. It’s a romantic image in a way, but also one that lends itself to the ‘ivory tower’ accusation. It is also about as representative now as the fearful matron in charge of a typing pool is to office life.

These might be the myths non-academics affirm about academics. But what are the myths academics propound about themselves and their labour? To what extent are these myths entrench by an unwillingness to come to terms with the managerial denigration of academic labour and the curtailment of professional autonomy?

This important contrast is outlined powerfully by danah boyd:

From the outside, companies like Facebook and Google seem pretty evil to many people. They’re situated in a capitalist logic that many advocates and progressives despise. They’re opaque and they don’t engage the public in their decision-making processes, even when those decisions have huge implications for what people read and think. They’re extremely powerful and they’ve made a lot of people rich in an environment where financial inequality and instability is front and center. Primarily located in one small part of the country, they also seem like a monolithic beast.

As a result, it’s not surprising to me that many people assume that engineers and product designers have evil (or at least financially motivated) intentions. There’s an irony here because my experience is the opposite. Most product teams have painfully good intentions, shaped by utopic visions of how the ideal person would interact with the ideal system. Nothing is more painful than sitting through a product design session with design personae that have been plucked from a collection of clichés.

This 4S panel looks fascinating:

I’d like to invite you to consider submitting a paper abstract to the panel
I’m co-convening for 4S in Boston this year.

Abstracts are due March 1.

It would be great to have critical internet/digital media studies folks
working with STS to speak to the themes of this panel. Rich, timely topic!
We need your good work!

Thanks for your consideration ~

Monika Sengul-Jones & Amanda Menking

*89. Feelings and Doubt in Technoscience*

*Organized by:* Monika Sengul-Jones, UC San Diego; Amanda Menking,
University of Washington

“Post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016. This
neologism refers to how appeals to emotion—and even deliberate
deception—influence the ignorance of, or rejection of facts. Feelings, and
subjectivities more generally, have long been a focus of STS work. STS
scholars have sought to mete out the complex relationships between
positionality, affects, and networks that lead to knowledge-making claims
and their role in truth-regimes. This panel seeks to address our
contemporary moment’s crises about “truth” in critical retrospective: to
use the methodological tools of STS to offer a nuanced examination of the
longstanding, complex relationships between feelings and doubts about
technoscience historically and today. This panel invites papers that speak
to a range of topics including: feelings of morality and postcolonialism
(see Schiebinger 2004); the feelings that engender the spread of ignorance
(see Proctor 2016); gender, feelings, and science (Harding 1991; Keller
1983); entanglements of affects and biology (Wilson, 2015); commercial
industries and doubt about scientific consensus (Oreskes and Conway 2011);
and gender and attachments to personal beliefs, such as vaccinations (see
Reich 2014). This panel will facilitate inter-generational conversations
around an important topic harmonized with the theme of 4S in 2017.
“Feelings and Doubt in Technoscience” will interrogate thoughtfully and
reflectively the conference’s call to bring attention to “(in)sensibilities
of contemporary technoscience,” by addressing the technological and
cultural means by which feelings about technoscience lead to it being
ridiculed as nonsense, marshaled to incense, and/or make sense.

In his Uberworked and Underpaid, Trebor Scholz draws out an important parallel between the platform capitalism of YouTube and the near universally praised Wikipedia:

Unsurprisingly, YouTube hires countless consultants to better understand how to trigger the participation of the crowd. They wonder how they can get unpaid producers to create value. But equally, on the not-for-profit site, Wikipedia is asking how they can draw in more female editors, for instance.

Both involve an orientation to their users which sees them as objects of management, even if we might see the ends to which they are being managed in very different terms. This makes a lie of what Nick Couldry describes as the ‘myth of us’: the imaginary of platform capitalism which sees it as facilitating the free expression of natural sociability which older socio-technical systems had constrained

From Uberworked and Underpaid, by Trebor Scholz, loc 1290:

I am using the term “platform capitalism,” introduced by Sascha Lobo77 and Martin Kenney, to bypass the fraudulent togetherness of terms like “peer,” “sharing,” and “economy.” How can we talk about genuine sharing or innovation when a third party immediately monetizes your every interaction for the benefit of a small group of stockholders? Platforms are replacing firms, and subcontracting practices direct big payouts to small groups of people. Even occupations that previously could not be off-shored, the pet walkers or home cleaners, are becoming subsumed under platform capitalism.

From Uberworked and Underpaid, by Trebor Scholz, loc 1290:

I am using the term “platform capitalism,” introduced by Sascha Lobo77 and Martin Kenney, to bypass the fraudulent togetherness of terms like “peer,” “sharing,” and “economy.” How can we talk about genuine sharing or innovation when a third party immediately monetizes your every interaction for the benefit of a small group of stockholders? Platforms are replacing firms, and subcontracting practices direct big payouts to small groups of people. Even occupations that previously could not be off-shored, the pet walkers or home cleaners, are becoming subsumed under platform capitalism.

One of the things that I liked about Platform Capitalism, by Nick Srineck, was its concern to avoid analysing the tech sector as sui generis. By situating it in social and economic history, we are left with a much richer account of where it came from, why it is the way it is and where it is going. The myth of exceptionalism concerning technology militates against this, as the protagonists of grand disruptive projects don’t take kindly to being regarded as mundane organisations driven by environmental constraints and enablements like all others. 

The consequences of this exceptionalism aren’t just analytical though. Exceptionalism licenses a view of the digital economy as disembedded, obscuring the manifold ways in which it is dependent on the wider context. This section from Uberpaid and Underworked, by Trebor Scholz, loc 1014 illustrates this powerfully:

Rarely acknowledged are also the networks of care that sustain contingent workers. Just for one moment, think about the families that are paying the price for just-in-time scheduling of work hours. Who is caring for their children when they face unpredictable work schedules, often decided only days or hours in advance? And let’s not forget that government programs like the Food Stamp Act of 1964, introduced by President Lyndon B. Johnson, are essential in providing subsistence for crowdworkers and Walmart “associates” alike. In this way, personal networks of care, global supply chains, American taxpayers, academia, and the military sustain the digital economy.

Recognising this context makes it easier to see the grim reality underlying the lofty rhetoric of the sharing economy. From loc 1290:

What if the engine of the “sharing economy” is not the instinct to share, but rather economic desperation? Just consider the 8–10 million Americans who are unemployed and the almost eight million who are working part-time because they cannot find full-time work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 78 They are piecing together a living wage by working with companies like Uber but only few make a good living in the Hunger Games.

This is interesting. I’m instinctively sceptical of it for a number of reasons but I’m very interested to see how it unfolds:

Meetup has always served as an organizing platform for a wide range of political views, welcoming everyone from the Howard Deaniacs to the Tea Party. Meetup will always welcome people with different beliefs.

But after the recent executive order aimed to block people on the
basis of nationality and religion, a line was crossed. At a time when core democratic ideals feel under attack, we feel a duty to spark more civic participation.

Last week, we created 1,000+ #Resist Meetup Groups to act as local hubs for actions on behalf of democracy, equality, human rights, social justice, and sustainability. Already 50,000+ people have joined.

These #Resist Meetups are open to anyone who want to create a bright future that’s rich with opportunity and freedom for all.

Meetup exists to connect people so they create opportunity and make the world they want. We hope members take these Meetups forward to be powerful together.

There’s an interesting passage in Uberworked and Underpaid, by Trebor Scholz, in which he discusses the contrasting experience of Amazon Mechanical Turk by users and workers. From loc 719:

While AMT is profiting robustly, 11 it has –following the observations of several workers –not made significant updates to its user interfaces since its inception, and the operational staff appears to be overwhelmed and burned out. Turkers have written and shared various browser scripts to help themselves solve specific problems. While this is a wonderful example of mutual aid among AMT workers, it is also yet another instance of how the invisible labor of Turkers remains uncompensated. While people are powering the system, MTurk is meant to feel like a machine to its end-users: humans are seamlessly embedded in the algorithm. AMT’s clients are quick to forget that it is human beings and not algorithms that are toiling for them –people with very real human needs and desires.

It’s easy to slip into characterising platforms in terms of our familiar experiences of them as end-users. This is an important reminder that their user-friendly character is a contingent expression of the interests the corporation has in maximising user engagement, rather than anything intrinsic to the technology of the platform itself. 

This is important for analytical reasons, but it’s also a crucial prop to the ideology of platform capitalism, sustaining an idea of platforms as user-friendly spaces which mediate interactions determined by external factors. As opposed to deeply rule-governed systems, with the content of those rules being determined by commercial imperatives. From loc 735:

Mechanical Turk starts to look even less positive when considering that in the case of labor conflicts, Bezos’s company remains strictly hands-off, insisting that AMT is merely providing a technical system. Why would they have anything to do with the labor conflicts occurring on the platform? This would be like Apple owning the factories in Shenzhen where its iPhones are assembled, but then rejecting any responsibility for the brutal work regimes and suicides of the workers in these factories because Foxconn controls daily operations.

From Uberworked and Underpaid, by Trebor Scholz, loc 685-704:

“Users happily do for free what companies would otherwise have to pay employees to do,” says former Wired editor turned drone manufacturer, Chris Anderson. It’s a capitalist’s dream come true. “It’s not outsourcing, it’s crowdsourcing. Collectively, customers have virtually unlimited time and energy; only peer production has the capacity to extend as far as the Long Tail can go.” 10 Following a decade-old trend, crowdwork is globally dispersed. The crowd is no longer understood as riotous; it does not have to be feared because globally distributed individuals are avaricious, selfish, and for the very most part isolated from each other. According to Anderson, as long as people are submitting themselves, they must not find it objectionable. What is missing from this analysis is that, systemically, there is no choice for these workers.

A speech by Ronald Reagan at Moscow State University on May 31st 1988. Reprinted in One Market Under God, by Thomas Frank, Loc 7341-7365:

“Like a chrysalis, we’re emerging from the economy of the Industrail Revolution—an economy confined to and limited by the Earth’s physical resources—into, as one economist titled his book, The Economy in Mind, in which there are no bounds on human imagination and the freedom to create is the most precious natural resource. Think of that little computer chip. Its value isn’t in the sand from which it is made but in the microscopic architecture designed into it by ingenious human minds. Or take the example of the satellite relaying this broadcast around the world, which replaces thousands of tons of copper mined from the Earth and molded into wire. In the new economy, human invention increasingly makes physical resources obsolete. We’re breaking through the material conditions of existence to a world where man creates his own destiny. Even as we explore the most advanced reaches of science, we’re returning to the age-old wisdom of our culture, a wisdom contained in the book of Genesis in the Bible: In the beginning was the spirit, and it was from this spirit that the material abundance of creation issued forth.”

This excellent essay by Jan-Werner Müller in the London Review of Books raises an important issue about the forms of political mobilisation facilitated by social media: 

Trump has called himself the Hemingway of the 140 characters. He has ‘the best words’. He loves Twitter, he says, because it’s like having one’s own newspaper, but without the losses. Twitter shares something of the echo-chamber effect of Facebook, but it also makes possible a form of direct identification between the individual citizen and the supposedly sole authentic representative of the people. It is hard to see how this might have been possible before, at least as a matter of daily experience: perhaps going to a party rally and feeling a direct connection with the leader while surrounded by others who feel exactly the same thing. Now, that sense of a direct link is just a click away, day and night: ‘Hey, I’m up at 3 a.m., and so is he, and he’s thinking exactly what I was just thinking!’

This is an illusion, but it is a powerful one. Media-savvy politicians can exploit it in unprecedented ways. For instance, in Italy the anti-establishment Five Star movement emerged from Beppe Grillo’s blog. ‘Hey folks, it works like this: you tell me what’s going on and I will play the amplifier,’ he’d written to his followers. Grillo had been a well-known comedian before entering politics. He has never merely amplified the concerns of ordinary people; the way il popolo speaks is decisively shaped by his leadership even though he has no official position of authority. Trump of course had also been a TV star, someone partly famous for being famous. But the peculiarity of Trump is that he seems the equivalent of Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi merged into one person. Whenever he was accused during the campaign of being just an entertainer, he could point to his competence as a businessman; whenever it was pointed out that his ventures mostly went bankrupt, he could respond that he was primarily a media star.

What forms of political organisation emerge from such a dynamic? Fleeting and fragile ones, predicated on imagined links with the leader rather than relational bonds between the followers. This gives reason to be hopeful but it also creates dangerous incentives for the leader, inviting them to escalate their rhetoric in order to mobilise a base over whom, at least as a collective, their hold remains unreliable. The problem is, as he puts it later in the essay, “The supply of enemies is inexhaustible.”

This is why it’s so important to refuse the story such populists tell about their own success. They ascribe an outcome with complex origins to their own quasi-magical powers to connect with ‘the people’:

Liberals have been wringing their hands at their seeming inability to reach citizens with ‘fact-checks’ and incontrovertible demonstrations of Trump’s continual self-contradictions. It’s curious that in their despair they have resurrected some of the clichés of 19th-century mass psychology. While disputing virtually every claim made by populists – especially their supposedly simplistic policy solutions – they buy without question the story that populists sell about their own successes. When Arron Banks proclaims that ‘Facts don’t work … You’ve got to connect with people emotionally,’ they just nod. But it isn’t true that ‘the masses’ are emotional basket-cases ready to be seduced by a charismatic demagogue. For a start, the neat distinction between reason and emotion is misleading. People are angry for a reason, and usually they can articulate that reason, as part of a larger story about what went wrong in their lives. Trump gained some trust as an outsider and, even more, as a credible exemplar of what it means to be unprofessional in politics. Some trusted him because he told it like it is; but in other cases the trust came first, and led them to believe that he was telling them the real story. 

Our opening talk at the second Accelerated Academy conference in Leiden in December:

Some two years ago the two of us started discussing Hartmut Rosa’s theory of social acceleration and how it manifests in the present condition. Though we found his theory fascinating and provocative we also noted important conceptual and empirical problems with his account, namely the incomplete notion of agency in his conceptual scheme and Rosa’s overall tendency of treating acceleration as some sort of a sweeping mega-force colonising human lifeworld in its entirety and irreducible complexity. We were compelled to explore such Rosa’s theory and intuitively felt that not only individuals might step back and reflect upon accelerating modernity, but also that many embrace it without necssarily associating it with neither capitalist forces nor with what is now labelled as ‘accelerationism’. We begun thus to think about acceleration in a more nuanced way and concentrated on our own environment – the academy. 

For both us the phrase ‘accelerated academy’ signifies a research trajectory, one we’re pursuing collectively but also through our own independent projects. Filip’s research concern encompass sociology of time and specifically then ‘hidden rhythms’ in and of academia. In his current project he examines the causes and manifestations of temporal pressure in the lives of scientists in the Czech Republic and its personal and epistemic consequences. Focusing on theoretical, experimental and applied physics he and his colleagues investigate what ‘lost time’ means for scientists and how scientific institutions ‘trade’ (with) time. Mark’s particular interest is in digital technology within the university, particularly the implications of social media for the future of intellectual life. Too often framed in terms of the personal gains to be accrued for individual careers, the full significance of social media has often been missed. This encompasses positive dimensions (such as new forms of solidarity and new capacities for political mobilisation) as well as more negative ones, such as the intensification of labour and the possibilities for expanded surveillance by university managers. Building on his book Social Media for Academics, his current project seeks to develop a broader theoretical framework within which the digitalisation of the university can be understood. 

But we also saw ‘accelerated academy’ as an assembly device, a provocative way of bringing together researchers from different disciplines and traditions in order to find new ways of understanding and intervening in the transformations going on around us. This could be seen in the diversity of the participants at last year’s conference in Prague, encompassing scholars of education, time, political economy, labour, science, organisations and metrics as well as natural scientists. But it could also be found in the sheer range and quality of the papers themselves, as well as the dialogues they gave rise to before, during and after the event itself. 

The phrase has indeed seemed to resonate with many. There is an apparently pervasive sense in the contemporary scientific world that things are speeding-up incessantly – scientists report chronic busyness, psychological discomfort, anxieties and insufficient time for research-related activities. They are expected to publish more papers, read more texts, meet strict deadlines, ‘fundraise’, engage in science administration, press ahead. Similarly as the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass it seems that scientists simply need to run ever-faster but only remain where they are. This widespread experience in the contemporary academy needs to be nonetheless contextualised with rapid other important trends in science organisation, administration, evaluation and culture. However, we also note that recent propositions offered by slow science movement and similar initiatives are rather problematic and that acceleration in/of academic life cannot be reduced solely to the aforementioned pathologies and differs significantly across disciplines, institutions and national contexts.  

We hope that the ‘accelerated academy’ can continue to be a useful device to facilitate interdisciplinary conversations about the transformation of the university. Ones that link the psychological and the social, connect technical systems to lived experience and couple a critique of managerial power with an analysis of how the affectivity and concerns of academics leave them entangled and sometimes complicit within these power structures.

In September this year Milena Kremakova organised one-day symposium on acceleration and anxiety in academic life. The papers and discussion addressed how contemporary ‘accelerated academy’ induces anxiety environment and how careers, working lives and identities of scholars and academic institutions are affected. We’re hoping to have one or even two events in the UK next year, subject to success with funding. Hopefully there can be further events beyond this and we can sustain these conversations on an ongoing basis.

This isn’t solely a matter of face to face meetings. We are extending last year’s series of blog posts on the popular LSE Impact Blog and we’re inviting everyone here to contribute to these discussions. There are many podcasts and videocasts from last year’s conference, hosted on The Sociological Review’s website. We’re hoping that the Accelerated Academy website and Twitter feed can provide a platform for further projects and events going forward, using the affordances of social media to facilitate ‘accelerated’ conversations in the best sense of the term.

I’ve recently found myself thinking back to an argument which Jeff Weeks makes in The World We Have Won. From pg 7:

The real achievement is that inequality has lost all its moral justification, and this has profoundly shifted the debate. Inequality now has to be justified in ways it never had to be before.

I take his point to be that the burden of justification has shifted from inequality to equality. This does not necessarily entail a diminution in oppression, but rather a cultural shift in how oppressors seek to legitimate their action e.g. patently Islamophobic sentiment is articulated in terms of a concern for gender equality.

Trump and his supporters are pushing against the boundaries of this framework, but it is still for now in place. What gets dismissed as ‘political correctness’ is something we should fight for. This much shared passage from Richard Rorty illustrates what is at risk if we don’t:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers – themselves desperately afraid of being downsized – are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

I’ve helped organise this session at IS4S 2017, see here for full application details:

DIGITAL NETIZENS AT THE CROSSROADS OF SHARING AND PRIVATISING

Organizers

SIG Emergent Systems, Information and Society (supported by the Leibniz-Sozietät der Wissenschaften zu Berlin and the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science) and the Institut für Design Science München

Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science, Vienna, Austria; Institut für Design Science München

José María Díaz Nafría, University of León, Spain; Universidad Estatal Península de Santa Elena, Ecuador; Munich University of Applied Sciences, Germany; Institut für Design Science München

Call for papers

In 1997, a review was published of the development of the Net (“a new social institution, an electronic commons”) pushed by the Netizens, as Michael Hauben baptised them. These were people online who “understand the value of collective work and the communal aspects of public communications”, but who at that time were already challenged by “the increasing commercialization and privatization of the Net” (R. and M. Hauben: Netizens, On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet). The dynamics of capitalism itself has mixed up what seemed to be two kinds of poles with respect to the production of goods and services. Indeed, as Hardt and Negri observed, “producers increasingly require a high degree of freedom as well as open access to the common, especially in its social forms, such as communications networks, information banks, and cultural circuits” (Hardt and Negri: Commonwealth).

Two decades later, it’s time to ask: Where do we stand today? Which hopes have  come true? What setbacks do we need to report? And where are we heading? Are these dynamics of digital capitalism contributing to a new social order grounded on the commons?

We ask for one-page abstracts that are concerned with, but not restricted to, the following topics:

  • Dynamics of cultural, social, economic and political interaction in digital networks
  • Digital commons and co-operation vs. digital privatisation and commodification
  • New forms of participation and empowerment in the information society
  • Sharing, networking and self-exploitation
  • Prosumers, new DIY cultures  and consumerism
  • Hacking and capitalism
  • Work between freedom and necessity
  • Bubbles and rational vs. irrational discourse on social media
  • Cross-cultural comparison: methodological challenges and research paradigms
  • The influences of values on information societies (regarding intercultural and transcultural dimensions)
  • The representation of the Western information society in the Asian academic discourse

Invited speakers

Jens Alwood, Department of Applied Information Technology, University of Gothenburg
Fredrika Lagergren Wahlin, Department of Applied Information Technology, University of Gothenburg
Luca Rossi, IT University of Copenhagen
Christina Neumayer, IT University of Copenhagen

Programme committee

Mark Carrigan, Digital Fellow, The Sociological Review, UK
Christopher Coenen, Institut für Technikfolgenabschätzung und Systemanalyse, Karlsruher Institut für Technologie, Germany
José María Díaz Nafría, University of León, Spain; Universidad Estatal Península de Santa Elena, Ecuador; Munich University of Applied Sciences, Germany; Institut für Design Science München
Klaus Fuchs-Kittowski, Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Technik Berlin, Germany
Thomas Herdin, University of Salzburg, Austria
Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Vienna University of Technology; Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science, Vienna, Austria; Institut für Design Science München (Chair)
Rainer E. Zimmermann, Institut für Design Science München; Munich University of Applied Scienc

An admirably concise definition by Trebor Scholz on loc 432 of Uberworked and Underpaid:

This term can be briefly described as follows:

First, it is about cloning the technological heart of Uber, Task Rabbit, Airbnb, or UpWork. Platform cooperativism creatively embraces, adapts, or reshapes technologies of the sharing economy, putting them to work with different ownership models. It is in this sense that platform cooperativism is about structural change, a transformation of ownership models.

Second, platform cooperativism is about solidarity, sorely missing in an economy driven by a distributed and mostly anonymous workforce: the interns, freelancers, temps, project-based workers, and independent contractors. Platforms can be owned and operated by inventive unions, cities, and various other forms of cooperatives such as worker-owned, produser-owned (producer-user –produser), multi-stakeholder, co-ops.

Third, platform cooperativism is built on reframing concepts like innovation and efficiency with an eye toward benefiting all, not just sucking up profits for the few. I propose ten principles of platform cooperativism that are sensitive to the critical problems facing the digital economy right now. Platform capitalism is amazingly ineffective in watching out for people.

One of the most interesting things about so-called sharing economy companies is their mobilisation of users in defence of their political objectives. This is something which can prove uniquely urgent because of the sheer number of municipalities in which they operate, leaving them exposed to regulatory backlash particularly given their tendency to self-righteously disregard laws they see as antiquated. It’s easy to characterise these mobilisations as manipulative, but it’s important to recognise the self-interest and/or commitment of those who are mobilised in this way. Loc 4251 of The Upstarts, by Brad Stone, describes an Airbnb group in San Francisco which was (seemingly) entirely grass-roots:

Kwan decided to gather a group of hosts together to share information and navigate the emerging complexities of the so-called home-sharing economy. He announced the formation of his club on Craigslist and held the very first meeting of the Home Sharers of San Francisco in his living room in 2013. The group would eventually attract twenty-five hundred members. Seeking to avoid any conflicts of interest, Kwan decided the group would not allow Airbnb employees or city or state government workers to join. Kwan’s group got so large that eventually it had to start gathering in public libraries instead of living rooms. They shared hosting tips, talked about issues like insurance, and swapped stories of nightmare guests (always the most enjoyable discussion). Then things got serious. In the wake of Airbnb’s agreement to collect hotel taxes, the city’s board of supervisors was considering legalizing short-term rentals. The Home Sharers lobbied to keep the names and addresses of hosts private and to maximize the number of nights they could rent out their properties each year.

But the company also seeks to encourage these groups in a top-down fashion. I’m interested in the cultural resources deployed to this end, how the opportunity to participate in the great disruptive project is framed in a way which facilitates engagement by users. See for example the description on loc 4333-4347 of the Airbnb community festival:

The crowd stood and cheered repeatedly during the event, responding to rousing proclamations (“ You are truly revolutionaries!”), as if the speakers were blowing dog whistles. Occasionally the audience was yanked back to the other reality. “This generous idea is growing in Paris,” said Jean-François Martins, deputy mayor in charge of tourism, on the first morning. “But big ideas need some regulation to protect them from people who want to use it in a not very generous way.” Chris Lehane also appeared onstage and spoke to the gathered hosts as if they were infantry in the French marines. “We are going to have more fights and we are going to have more battles in the days, months, and years to come,” he said. “When this community is empowered to be a movement, we cannot be beat.”