Sociologists Examine Hackathons and See Exploitation | Wired

Study sociology long enough, not only does the world look different, but you’ll start to forget it does. This is lightweight from Wired, naturally, but this is something the tech world has become very good at. Abstraction of value from labour in its myriad forms.

One pair of sociologists recently examined hackathons and emerged with troubling conclusions. Sharon Zukin, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, spent a year observing seven hackathons, mostly sponsored by corporations, in New York City, interviewing participants, organizers, and sponsors. In a study called “Hackathons As Co-optation Ritual: Socializing Workers and Institutionalizing Innovation in the ‘New’ Economy,” she and co-author Max Papadantonakis argue that hackathons create “fictional expectations of innovation that benefits all,” which Zukin writes is a “powerful strategy for manufacturing workers’ consent in the ‘new’ economy.” In other words, institutions use the allure of hackathons, with sponsors, prizes, snacks, and potential for career advancement, to get people to work for free.

This is not unique to the collective wager of hackathons, there are mundane examples everywhere. For instance, I very casually check-in on a discussion group for a popular ‘tech’ podcast hosted on a major social media platform. The forum is run by listeners, who volunteer time — in some cases, a seemingly inordinate amount of it. Listeners are generating content, giving product recommendations that are turned into affiliate links on the show, and so on. Like I said, mundane. An yet, if you are going to talk about the so-called ‘new’ economy 1, like everything you have to consider how it scales. The underlying economic socialisation equates to the same thing.

 

  1. Which incidentally, is a bullshit term.