Conducting research on situated practices of work

Learning objectives:

  1. Conducting research on situated practices of work
  2. Connecting situated practices to interfaces, algorithms, and social forces
  3. Communicating about science and technology

In Part I, we’ll be working to understand what it is like to work through, on, and for internet platforms. Why work? Play is important but people often have to work to survive, so it is an important place to begin our analysis of the social impacts of the internet industries.

Fieldwork Research
Choose one of two methods: participant-observation or informational interviews. Our goal is to understand how platforms affect work and livelihoods.

Platforms affect a wide range of people, including:

People who work through a platform, such as Amazon Mechanical Turk, Lyft, Uber, Postmates
People whose work heavily depends on a platform, for example, artists on Twitter, headhunters on LinkedIn, social media marketers on Facebook, fashion bloggers on Instagram, resellers on eBay or Craigslist
People whose work has been radically changed because of the competition or transformation introduced by a platform, such as taxi drivers, delivery drivers, transcriptionists, pet sitters and walkers.
Are you already one of the kinds of people whose work is affected by platforms? (See bulleted list above.) Or do you want to experience it first hand, like journalist Taylor Soper? Sign up for a platform of your choice. (Warning: It can take several days for platforms to approve you as a worker so start early.)

The living wage for a single adult in San Diego County is $15.01 (source: MIT)

The minimum wage in City of San Diego is $11.50 (source:

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to earn $15.01 an hour for 6 hours of work, after you subtract any expenses — that’s $90.06 net earnings.

As you go, take notes on your experience. You can take selfie videos as an easy way of logging your thoughts, reactions, feelings, frustrations, and insights as you go along.

Identify someone whose work has been affected by platforms (see the bulleted list above).

To get a deep perspective, find someone who has been doing the work for at least six months. The person can be paid or partially unpaid, but they should spend enough time doing the work in question that they can offer you deep insights into the process and the experience.

Before the interview, locate at least three informed sources on this form of work (e.g. long-form journalism, scholarly articles, firsthand accounts). You should spend at least an hour interviewing the person. Record the interview and transcribe the most interesting parts. Include a photo of your interviewee and their workspace, if they give you permission.

Sample interview questions you can draw from | Thomas Conner’s Amazing Interview How-To

Analysis + Deliverables
Write a 1000 word reflection on your learnings:
Explain the most interesting or surprising aspects of the work
Explain any pleasures and frustrations of the job
Reflect on how laws, competition by other workers, company policies, and tech or interface design affect the work
Put your observations in conversation with at least two readings from the course
Woodcock and Waters is one good model of how to reflect and write on work

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