3 -5 novembre 2022, Atene, Grecia

Features and futures of digital labor

Nell’ambito della conferenza, il team di ricerca di Weplat ha presentato il paper:

Platform as an institutional logic: the case of welfare platforms


The extensive literature on platforms has mainly analyzed them as infrastructure (Plantin et al. 2018), as a marketplace (Kirchner and Schüßler 2019), and as a mechanism for matching supply and demand for goods and services (Möhlmann et al 2021). The study of the platform as an organisational model has received less theoretical attention (Eurofound 2018; Stark and Pais 2020) and has promoted less empirical analysis. This paper aims to fill this gap by proposing an organisational analysis of welfare platforms.

The scholarly attention paid to platforms tend to analyze them as a homogeneous corpus. Cansoy et al. (2020) have already questioned this presumed homogeneity, analyzing the heterogeneity of workers; we intend to propose a similar analytical exercise by examining the organizational model.

Our hypothesis is that the platform is an institutional logic, which is declined differently in the encounter with other institutional logics of a given organizational field. Hence, it follows that the platform model is not neutral with respect to goods/service they intermediate.

The paper presents the first results of the WePlat research project (Welfare systems in the age of platforms: drivers of change for users, providers and policy makers, https://www.weplat.it/). The choice to analyze the welfare is dictated by the importance of the relational dimension of platform-mediated interactions in this sector (Ticona, Mateescu 2018; Huws 2020; McDonald, Williams, Mayes 2021). We have mapped the welfare platforms present in Italy, identifying and analysing about 100 of them and we are carrying out the case study of 9 platforms.

As organization scholars have increasingly claimed, technologies and artifacts play an active role in structuring and shaping organizational fields (Pentland and Feldman 2008; Alaimo 2022). According with this hypothesis, we empirically investigated how the adoption of digital affordances (Autio et al 2017; Bucher and Elmond 2017) underlying the platform logic take on the features of institutionalized myths (Meyer and Rowan 1977). Initial results show that adopting platform logic reinforces isomorphism between digital welfare platforms and platforms in other sectors while increases heterogeneity within the welfare sector. This slows down the process of institutionalizing the organizational field of welfare platforms. Moreover, institutional complexity related to the adoption of platform logic seems not to be transitional, but balances can change over time. Case studies show different strategies for managing institutional complexity: the emergence of one logic at the expense of others, the compartmentalization of logics or the creation of new professional figures.

This research can bring several contributions to digital labor studies. First, it contributes to the elaboration of the very definition of digital labor. Jarrett (2022) identifies three categories that fall under this conceptual umbrella: user labor, platform-mediated workers, formal worker. If the work in some of the welfare platforms we analyzed undoubtedly falls into the platform-mediated workers category, other platforms digitize existing services while maintaining the pre-existing labor contract. Thus, they are “formal workers” but with very different characteristics from those analyzed in the literature. Previous research on welfare platforms (McDonald, Williams, Mayes 2021) has excluded this category due to paucity of empirical cases. In our empirical field, by contrast, these are prevalent. Secondly, Marxist approaches have been a dominant feature of existing studies of digital labor. The analysis of cases in which platform organization is not associated with an employment condition of precariousness and instability makes it necessary to adopt other interpretive approaches, which can bring an original contribution to digital labor studies.



Francesco Bonifacio, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Cecilia Manzo, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Ivana Pais, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore


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