I found a broader concern about the way platforms use algorithms to control participants. Platforms’ algorithms create an invisible cage for platform users, because workers have no way of reliably accessing how their data is being processed or used to control their success on the platform. As a result, the platform’s algorithm claims to “know” the workers better than they know themselves, yet in ways that are inaccessible to them.
Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital, although the single most influential work in labor sociology in the post–Second World War period, is often viewed narrowly as a theory of the labor process and labor degradation. However, the central focus of Braverman’s analysis was the structure and dynamics of the working class as it evolved in the period of monopoly capitalism. While the labor process was key to unlocking class dynamics, including changing class composition and increasing precariousness within the working class, Braverman never failed to emphasize how the labor process was intimately intertwined with contradictions and tendencies buried deep within contemporary monopoly capitalism. Indeed, Marx’s theory of the reserve army of labor, which Braverman used as a basis for explaining the degradation of labor and the generalization of precariousness, formed a crucial link between Braverman’s analysis and that of monopoly capital theory. In this essay, we reengage with these neglected dimensions of Braverman’s analysis making it possible to address contemporary problems such as increasing worker precariousness and the internationalization of production, in a broader and more comprehensive context. In the course of the analysis, we develop fresh perspectives on the continuing significance of Braverman’s work.