Labora: an Ethnographic investigation of Vancouver's startup economy

Labora: an Ethnographic investigation of Vancouver's startup economy

Presentation held at the XIX World Congress of Sociology, Toronto, July 2018.

Panel: Organizations and Democracy: Sources of Redress of Social Inequalities, State Failure, and Oppressive Corporate Power. Part II

Abstract: Occupational communities are semi-formal grassroots organizations connecting workers with similar competences and professional interests. Blending elements of leisure and work, occupational communities have proved to be an effective means for fostering collaboration and mutual support amongst workers, thus helping them to navigate the uncertainties of flexible capitalism. Building on this definition of occupational communities, this paper investigates to which extent informal meetings of startup workers can promote collective actions, lead to political mobilization and overcome the limits of flexible capitalism, such as lack of social security, individualization of risk, precarious employment. Occupational communities are therefore investigated as sites of tactical resistance, in opposition to the strategic organization of labour informed by the ‘Agile ideology’ which permeates the startup economy. The research was conducted in Vancouver. Home to three out of five companies comprising the Canada Narwhal Club (companies established after the dot-com bubble burst that have reached a market value of at least $1B CAD), the city hit the 18th position in the global chart of the best cities for startups in 2015 and was rated the most attractive city in Canada for new software ventures. The research protocol is composed of two main components: online data analysis and ethnographic exploration. Through the analysis of publicly available metadata collected from Meetup.com, the research identified and mapped formal and informal communities of tech-professionals operating in the Metro Vancouver area. The outcomes informed the subsequent ethnographic investigation of startup workers’ community. The results collected through interviews with web-developers, computer scientists, marketers and digital practitioners, emphasize the ambivalent nature of occupational communities. If on the one hand they counteract the losses that workers experienced in the passage from industrial to flexible capitalism, on the other hand they promote individualistic approaches to social problem and reinforce current hegemonic forms of managerial power and control.

Ec2696b240887e40b010e6423d742248?s=128

Alberto Lusoli

July 20, 2018
Tweet

Transcript

  1. The Role of Occupational Communities in the Democratization of Labour

    in Startup Companies Alberto Lusoli – Simon Fraser University ISA World Congress of Sociology, July 20th 2018, Toronto Co-working space, Toronto, 2018
  2. From industrial capitalism to the network economy

  3. “If a node in the network ceases to perform a

    useful function it is phased out from the network, and the network rearranges itself – as cells do in biological processes” Manuel Castells
  4. Uncertainty today is woven into the everyday practices of a

    vigorous capitalism. Instability is meant to be normal, Schumpeter’s entrepreneur served up as an ideal Everyman. Richard Sennett (1998)
  5. What people seek Work and self realization Interplay between technology,

    identity and work. Limitations Potential Sed perspiciat unde omnis natus..
  6. What people seek Work and self realization Interplay between technology,

    identity and work. Limitations Potential Sed perspiciat unde omnis natus..
  7. Labour, work practices and identity: Boltanski and Chiapello Julian Orr

    Lucy Suchman Paul Du Gay, Richard Sennett Harry Braverman STS and Critical Constructivism Andrew Feenberg David Lane Digital labour: Gina Neff, “Venture Labour” Melissa Gregg, “Works Intimacy” Andrew Ross, “No Collar” Sign at the entrance of a startup school. Vancouver, 2018
  8. My research is based on an ethnographic exploration of Vancouver’s

    startup community. I have conducted interview with workers, entrepreneurs (aspiring and actual), venture capitalists, mentors, angels, etc. I also attend local startup events as participant observer on a regular basis. Startup Week Hackathon, Vancouver, 2014
  9. Meetups are local events connecting people with similar interests. I

    started attending events, meeting people and conducting interviews. I was “going with the flow”, jumping from one event to the next. This strategy proved to be unsustainable, as it was extremely expensive. Moreover, I was at risk of running in circles around the same groups of people. I needed a way to orient my ethnography towards more diverse and potentially interesting events.
  10. In order to find the most interesting places to investigate,

    I developed a system for downloading data from Meetup.com and represent events on a map and on a timeline. This system allowed me to develop a broader perspective on the Vancouver’s startup community and to identify the most relevant events to attend and analyze.
  11. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum consequat

    augue lorem, eu varius quam hendrerit id. Nunc auctor commodo leo, in luctus felis tempus id. Donec risus purus, faucibus at ultricies ut, fringilla at mauris. Nullam sit amet sapien sollicitudin, aliquam mauris ac, pellentesque ante. Nulla suscipit eget est suscipit pulvinar. Quisque convallis nibh vel Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum consequat augue lorem, eu varius quam hendrerit id. Nunc auctor commodo leo, in luctus felis tempus id. Donec risus purus, faucibus at ultricies ut, fringilla at mauris. Nullam sit amet sapien sollicitudin,
  12. Expand their networks. Hunt for new jobs. Almost all Meetups

    have planned networking sessions. Some are just for networking. In many cases, people attend meetups as a way to start projects (AKA side hustles). Some meetup groups provide education, through peer to peer lectures and seminars.
  13. Expand their networks. Hunt for new jobs. Almost all Meetups

    have planned networking sessions. Some are just for networking. A casual event for project managers and creatives in town. The event was hosted at [COMPANY NAME], a digital marketing agency. No one really knew each other and for all the people I talked to, it was the first time attending an event organized by [ORGANIZATION NAME]. However, almost all said they attend meetups regularly. Several young creatives looking for a job. A more experienced UK immigrant also looking or a job as project manager. A youtuber, which I want to interview in 2018, and some other web designers, marketers, SEO, social media managers. […] Free beer, free cookies, pizza. approx.35 people in the room. Personal Diary, December 2017
  14. In many cases, people attend meetups as a way to

    start projects (AKA side hustles). Experience in the first place. Not anything else. it's all about experience, and that's the reason why I want to extend my portfolio. […] I have to build a portfolio. If you look at other professionals' portfolio, you see they showcase all their projects and companies they worked with. And even if the projects were like "1 week project". But the credibility is there. Unfortunately that's how it works. If it did not work that way, I would not even bother. Interview with R2,
  15. Some meetup groups provide education, through peer to peer lectures

    and seminars. I think you have to be self motivated to find these events. They are not coherent set of events, you need to be a self direct learner, to say "I have to go there" and find the gaps and gather resources. Interview with S1
  16. Julian Orr in “Talking About Machines” describes the occupational community

    of Xerox repair technicians. He describes how through informal meetings at the local restaurant, technicians were capable to socialize and overcome some of the issues they faced during their work. Might the same role be played by Meetups today?
  17. None
  18. It is encouraging to see how themes of social justice

    and inequality are gaining traction. One of the most popular meetups groups in Vancouver is about gender discrimination (Women in the Tech Industry). However, outcomes emerging from my on field investigation reveal that in the majority of the cases, the discourses circulating through meetups reinforce an individualistic approach to systemic problems of flexibility. Instead of challenging the norms of flexible employment and proposing alternatives, meetups reinforce hegemonic forms of managerial control. Graffiti, co-working space, Vancouver, 2017
  19. None
  20. The goal of my research is understand how to stimulate

    reflexivity in meetup groups. Through reflexivity (Lash & Urry, 1994), I hope people might engage in critical reflection about their role in the flexible economy and challenge rather than internalize the new forms of alienations they are facing. This is in part achieved right now through interviews, as I act as “sounding board” for the people I am following.
  21. All photos used in this presentation are either Creative Common

    or in the public domain. Photo Credits: • Aditya Chinchure • The Creative Exchange • Jon Tyson • Annie Spratt • Ricardo Gomez Angel • Mathew Schwartz • Sebastien Gabriel • Markus Spiske ALBERTO LUSOLI ALUSOLI@SFU.CA HTTPS://LABORA.CO/ TWITTER.COM/ALBERTOLUSOLI Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)