In his latest book (or one of them) David Harvey offers 17 contradictions he says lie at the heart of capital. Contradiction 8 applies to technology, and Harvey says that there are two main contradictions to do with technology; one to do with technology’s relation to nature and one its relation to labor. It is the latter one he takes up here.
Harvey argues that technology is a means to an end for capital. That end is “profitability and capital accumulation” (p. 102). How does it reach such profitability in the context of technologies?
Throughout its history, capital has invented, innovated and adopted technological forms whose dominant aim has been to enhance capital’s control over labour in both the labour process and the labour market.
There are two elements here. One is innovation or more accurately the innovation process and the need for constant innovation. Here innovation is understood not so much for what it produces (the products and services used) but for what it enables and protects, namely profits. On this view, a site such as c|net devoted to reviewing the products is irrelevant to a proper understanding of today’s society, except insofar as it fuels consumerism and the consumption of labor’s outputs.
The other element is control over labor. This control aims at “disciplining and disempowerment of the worker.” This includes a range of technologically manifested conditions; increasing automation, Taylorism and a factory system, emphasis on productivity, prevention of organized labor, etc.
Harvey’s contradiction then is that if docile labor force is a source of all profit, then replacing it with automation in the workplace will undermine that profit. But the evidence cited by Harvey shows that this is happening; for example increasing computer capacity and speed.
A consequence of the Harvey’s contradiction of falling profit margins is to use labor supplies that are ever-cheaper and productivity-driven. This is familiar to us as back-officing and outsourcing. For example, the iPad factories in China, or Samsung’s reported problems with child labor and suicides. Harvey says we are heading into “dangerous territory” (p. 108).
So all this raises a question of how much of this is occurring at the forefront of geographical innovation, namely the geoweb and geolocational technologies**
Harvey’s argument yields a number of testable hypotheses which could roughly be expressed as:
–are geoweb laborers experiencing increasing “control”? For example code jockeys and so-called code monkeys (see Harvey’s comment about “trained gorillas” p. 103)?
–has productivity experienced constant growth? For example, what is the life-cycle of a product (eg a GIS or web-based geoweb app)?
–have geoweb companies outsourced labor to Asia, Africa?
–on the consumer side, how are geoweb technological innovations marketed?
–are we seeing a decreasing regulatory role over labor in this sector of the economy?
I pose these hypotheses not because I know (or suspect) the answer but genuinely. I don’t know how important you find them, but I find them very interesting. It’s leading me to think that only as hands-on study like an ethnography of these companies would provide the answer, conjoined with some kind of economic overview of the geoweb sector. I don’t know if other geographers would find that interesting enough to fund, but somebody do this study!!
**By geoweb I mean the “constitutive production, governance, and technologies of the merging of georeferenced information with the web, as well as the workers and consumers of networked geographic information situated in a neoliberal economy. This includes many forms of mapping, cartography and GIS.”