Between digital bohemia and precarity. Work and performance in the crowd


Digital work performed online by the crowd creates a new, globally dispersed and internet-based form of work. Despite the high social and economic relevance of crowdwork, little empirical evidence exists on its spread and functioning. From the perspective of the workers, the question arises, which factors make crowdwork attractive despite its inherent insecurity. From the perspective of the companies, controlling the quality of work and data security as well as exchange of experience and knowledge are difficult to organize.

Main content

To date, only few reliable and systematic data exist on the mechanisms of performance regulation and the perception of the work situation by the crowdworker. Findings of the few existing studies suggest that crowdwork platforms develop novel mechanisms of performance regulation and thereby shape a new societal form of work. In the area of microtasks, new forms of automated work control as well as self-regulated assessments by peers and through reputation systems are being developed. In the area of more complex macrotasks, a mode of performance regulation based on competitions has emerged.

While we expect that crowdwork may be taken up for different reasons, we assume two motives to be central. The first one is a practical one and related to labor market conditions: crowdwork is taken up by persons who rely on this form of internet-based work because they have no access to other forms of employment due to their limited spatial or temporal mobility or who face other disadvantages. The second motive refers to the work preferences of a specific social group: we assume that due to particular lifestyle reasons crowdwork will be popular among a group that can be referred to as “digital bohemia”.

Against this background, the research project examines two key research questions:

1. How do the mechanisms of performance regulation within crowdwork affect the objective working conditions and the subjective perception of the work situation of the crowdworker?

2. How does the socio-cultural background of crowdworker affect the motives for and the attractiveness of crowdwork?

The project examines the performance regulation and working conditions in German and North American crowdwork platforms. It combines qualitative, semi-structured interviews with a survey among crowdworker of different platforms. The overarching objective of the research project is to conduct a differentiated empirical analysis of the work situation and performance regulation within crowdwork. On the basis of this, our goal is to draw conclusions about the development potential of crowdwork and to review existing theoretical interpretations which describe crowdwork as new form of work.

Selected Publications

Gerber, Christine/Krzywdzinski, Martin (2017): "Schöne neue Arbeitswelt? Durch Crowdworking werden Aufgaben global verteilt". In: WZB-Mitteilungen, H. 155, S. 6-9.
01.07.2016 - 30.06.2019
Fritz Thyssen Stiftung