Award winners archive

2022 Winners

*Book Award*

Winner: The Labor Tech Research Network is delighted to announce Ergin Bulut’s A Precarious Game: The Illusion of Dream Jobs in the Video Game Industry as winner of the inaugural LTRN Book Award. The book, published by Cornell University Press analyzes labor in the video game industry from a political economy perspective. The author provides an ethnographic account of the politics of labor and play in a video game company, Desire, where work is racialized, gendered and stratified despite the prevailing imaginary of meritocracy. Bulut adroitly weaves feminist perspectives and critical race theory into study of an environment synonymous with technomasculinity. Through references to the broader economic climate during the research, the book further highlights a rather stark dependence of creative work on corporate financial structures that introduce another layer of precarity in an already complicated industry. Bulut’s work also combines perspectives in media studies, sociology and history of labor, and while it is situated in an American company, the book speaks to how the pleasure of a few privileged workers in companies like Desire is built around the exploitation of others located even as far as the global south. 

Ergin Bulut is a professor in the Department of Media and Visual Arts at Koç University in Istanbul Turkey.

*Honorable Mention*: Latinas on the Line: Invisible Information Workers in Telecommunications by Melissa Villa-Nicholas (Rutgers University Press 2022)
Melissa Villa-Nicholas’ effortlessly shows the intersection of race and gender in a subaltern history of labour and technology. The author’s approach gives voice to workers whose experiences and contributions are easily ignored in mainstream narratives of information work that center white masculinity. She situates the stories of Latina information workers in efforts by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to include people of color in telecommunications. The book connects research areas in History and Media Studies. It is written to preserve the voices of the various workers whose oral histories are combined to create this compelling story that challenges prevailing myths of neutrality in information technology work. The book ends with a fascinating personal account of one of the study’s participants who delineates between structural conditions and individual performance, a tension that continues to exist in neoliberal culture.

Dr. Villa-Nicholas is an assistant professor in the Harrington School of Media and Communication and the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

Graduate Student Paper Award

*Winner*: The Labor Tech Research Network is delighted to announce that Di Wu is the winner of our inaugural Graduate Student Paper Award for her forthcoming paper, “‘We Make AI Smarter, Not the Other Way Around’: Disability Expertise and Artificial Saviorism in AI Data Work in China.” The paper uses ethnographic methods to explore how workers with visual or physical impairments annotate training data for a commercial smart home system. Wu demonstrates how AI companies profit from the skilled labor and expertise of disabled workers, as well as the wider structural ableism in the labor market that excludes these workers from many jobs. In accounting for both structural discrimination and local meaning-making practices, Wu develops the concept of ‘artificial saviorism’ to capture how Chinese tech companies are able to position themselves as engaging in philanthropy when hiring disabled workers, thus obscuring the labor these workers put into making AI systems ‘smart.’ Detailing the disability-informed labor practices of these workers, Wu highlights the potential of disability expertise in creating more just labor conditions. 

The paper strongly speaks to our mission at Labor Tech: not only does the paper draw attention to a context largely understudied by labor and technology scholars in the Global North, but it builds on existing studies of disabled tech workers from several countries, including India, Argentina, and Australia, as well as Indigenous communities in the U.S. Wu also brings in her experience working professionally in disability inclusion programs in China to inform her findings. We offer our sincere congratulations to Di and look forward to seeing what comes next in her promising career.

Di Wu is a PhD Candidate in the History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) Program at MIT.

*Honorable Mention*. The Labor Tech Research Network is also happy to announce that Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya and JS Tan are being awarded an Honorable Mention for their book chapter, “The Role of Workers in AI Ethics and Governance,” which was recently published in The Oxford Handbook of AI Governance. The chapter draws on a decade of AI-related worker activism to develop a typology of AI workers; the criticisms they make of the products they help create; and how they claim jurisdiction over AI governance. The authors also develop a model for explaining how workers report harms related to AI in their workplaces. We believe both the model and the typology will be generative for future research on labor activism in high-tech workplaces in many national and transnational contexts. Please join us in congratulating Nataliya and JS.

Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya is a PhD Student in the Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley and a member of Collective Action in Tech.

JS Tan is a former tech worker, member of Collective Action in Tech, labor organizer, and graduate student with MIT’s Media Lab.

We encourage you to watch this short video of award acceptances in which the authors share why they were inspired to do their research and how it reflects on labor and technology.