The Role of Occupational Communities in the Democratization of Labour in Startup Companies. a Data-Driven Ethnographic Approach

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Alberto LUSOLI, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
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.