Machines & Measures

Friday 16th February 11.30 – 18.00
Leicester Creative Business Depot
11:30 Registration
12:00 – 5:30 Talks & discussions

Register at Eventbrite
Conference of Socialist Economists (CSE) South Group and Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy (CPPE), University of Leicester School of Business present:

Machines & Measures

How are machines being used in contemporary capitalism to perpetuate control and to intensify power relations at work? Theorizing how this occurs through discussions about the physical machine, the calculation machine and the social machine, this workshop re-visits questions of the incorporation and absorption of workers as appendages within the machine as Marx identified as well as new methods to numerate without, necessarily, remuneration. Speakers ask to what extent control is underway via intensified methods to capture labour power, including affective and emotional labour; and will identify how calculation and numeration serve to abstract labour through prediction, prescription, monitoring and tracking; on the streets, in homes, offices and factories. The ‘black box’ argument currently fashionable in debates, where digitalized management methods are a(e)ffectively obscured, is challenged, by identifying precisely how algorithmic decisionmaking, automation and machine learning processes operate to control workers and by theorizing the implications of measure inside human/machine experiences of relations of production.

Kendra Briken (University of Strathclyde) ‘Welcome within the machine. Human-machine relations on the shop floor’

Frank Engster (Helle Panke, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung) ‘Measure Machine Money’

Alessandro Gandini (King’s College, London) ‘Labour Process Theory and the Gig Economy’

Simon Joyce (Leeds University) ‘Digitalized Management Methods. Black Box or Hidden Abode?’

Phoebe Moore (University of Leicester) ‘Quantification of A(e)ffective Labour for Change Management’


Welcome within the machine. Human-machine relations on the shop floor.
Kendra Briken (University of Strathclyde)

This paper will discuss new technologies that lead to qualitatively new human-machine relations (data gloves, co-bots, data glasses, handheld scanner) used on the shop floor in manufacturing (in a broad sense, encompassing also work in fulfilment centres). Based on the (few) existing empirical studies as well as on company and consultancy reports, the aim is to re-visit the incorporation and absorption of the human worker as a mere appendage within the machine as described by Marx. With machines the more and more said to be involved in problem solving by communicating with each other, the question is: What role for the human? Opposed to the debates about the robots taking over jobs, the paper argues that we will instead see a (longer) transition phase where workers might end up in becoming a new appendage in the workplace. Not being off work but also no longer controlling the machines. The paper wants to overcome the well-known debates about de- and upskilling by using the works of i.e. Donna Haraway to focus on the connexion between the body and the machines.

Measure Machine Money.
Frank Engster (Helle Panke, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung)

In capitalisms, machines become specific capitalist machines simply because, as e.g. Heidegger, Simondon or Deleuze and Guattari have shown, we must understand the machine from their context: from their non-technical essence, from their connection with other machines, and from the essence of the machinic. This context, first of all and in the last instance, is the relation with the capitalist economy. This determination by capitalist economy can be shown for three different machines: the physical machine, the calculation machine and the social machine: money. What all three have in common and almost defines them as machines is that all three quantify. The classical physical machine quantifies the relation of nature, the calculation machine quantifies information and meaning, and the money machine quantifies social relations.

Labour Process Theory and the Gig Economy.
Alessandro Gandini (King’s College, London)

This article aims to develop a labour process theory approach to address the forms of labour increasingly often referred to as a ‘gig economy’. Supported by empirical illustrations from existing research, the article discusses the notions of ‘point of production’, emotional labour and control in the ‘gig economy’, to argue that labour process theory offers a unique set of tools to observe the way in which labour-power comes to be transformed in a commodity in a context where the encounter between supply and demand of work is mediated by a digital platform. This is characterised by a subjection of social relations to processes of valorisation centred on data and metrics – particularly feedback, ranking and rating systems – that serve purposes of managerialisation and organisation of work in a context where managers and workers are not physically co-present.

Black Box or Hidden Abode: Control and Resistance in Digitalized Management.
Phoebe Moore, University of Leicester and Simon Joyce, Leeds University

Digitalized management methods (DMM) are becoming widespread with the use of big data and algorithmic distribution of work, the use of people analytics, bogus self-employment and an ‘always on’ culture of work and boundary permeability, in the streets and in homes as well as factories and offices. Resistance to these methods has been relatively fast to emerge, however, both at the individual informal level, or with ‘everyday forms of resistance’ a la de Certeau, and in the formal collective responses which are now being seen in trade union responses internationally. In that light, the paper first outlines the control and resistance model seen in labour process research. Secondly, we outline the environments where digitalization is occurring and the DMM seen therein. Peppered with empirical evidence obtained by the current authors, we note the significance of the methods being applied and how, precisely, they work to abstract labour via quantification. We claim that the ‘blackbox’ response is a mythology that obscures power relations underpinning the control aspects of DMM, where many techniques seen in DMM reflect age-old approaches. Thirdly, we outline where resistance is emerging. We conclude that while there has been significant uptake in DMM in several sectors in ways that make it look like we are dealing a nearly universal ‘uberized’ work paradigm that has begun to infiltrate labour markets across the world, resistance emerging and their integral negotiations indicate that this trend is not a fait accompli. Rather, it is to be seen to what extent digitalized methods will become hegemonic.

Quantification of A(e)ffective Labour for Change Management.
Phoebe Moore (University of Leicester)

Sensory and tracking technologies are being introduced into workplaces in ways Taylor and the Gilbreths could only have imagined. As corporate wellness initiatives proliferate, work design experiments seek to merge wellness with productivity measure and modulate and quantify the affective and emotional labour of resilience that are necessary for surviving the turbulent early days of Industry 4.0, where workers are expected to take symbolic direction from machines. The Quantified Workplace project (QW) where algorithmic devices were used to quantify labour during a period of corporate merger in Rotterdam over the course of one year, demonstrate how affect is measured during a move toward agile systems and thus the seemingly inevitable conditions of transformation and disruption-because machines accelerate and transform, workers must do so likewise. Projects like QW are evidence of capital’s accelerated attempts to capture more areas of work and to facilitate the conversion of labour power into a source of value, using new technologies. Participants’ responses to participation in the project reveal tensions in the labour process when affect is measured in processes of corporate change.

Please email for any other information at and/or from 02/01/18

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