Social Science Seminar - DingTalk and Digital Workplace Surveillance in Times of COVID-19
12:00pm - 1:15pm
Online Via Zoom

The lockdown imposed across China as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the notion of the workplace as workers are forced to stay at home and complete their tasks remotely. Tech work, seems especially suited during this disruptive transition as much of existing labor practices are already digitally-mediated via software and platforms. Drawing from an autoethnographic and ethnographic account of my own experiences working in the tech industry in China during COVID-19, this project examines the imbrication of software and productivity tools into one’s working routines that coincided with the increasing use of digital surveillance as part of China’s COVID-19 lockdown. Specifically I am looking at the popular productivity software DingTalk that tech workers must interface in their everyday working lives. DingTalk, a product of the Chinese tech titan Alibaba, uses a mix of geolocation and time-stamping to track when and where workers should be working despite being relegated to telecommuting from home. This digitally-mediated workplace conforms to what Mark Andrejevic considers as the notion of the “digital enclosure” where all interactions with software become incorporated as forms of labor that can be monitored and commodified.  In doing so I want to dissect the various institutional and infrastructural limits imposed on productive tech labor via digital software that opens for new ways of thinking about worker agency and means of resistance. I argue that while software-mediated workplaces imposed new risks and precarity in regard to surveillance and exploitation, there are also distinct strategies and tactics employed by workers to circumvent and undermine such intrusive modes of digital oppression. 

Online Via Zoom
Recommended For
Faculty and staff, General public, PG students, UG students
More Information

Yizhou (Joe) XU is a PhD candidate in Media & Cultural Studies at UW–Madison's Department of Communication Arts. His research interest deals with the mobile tech industry in China, particularly at the intersections of platforms, labor, and state policy. Prior to the UW–Madison, he was a documentarian and broadcast journalist based in Beijing working for news agencies including CBS News, NPR, and Swiss TV. He has published in journals such as Social Media + SocietyJournal of Cultural Economy, and Communication and the Public.

Host: Prof Wenfang TANG
Head of Division of Social Science, HKUST 

Speakers / Performers:
Yizhou XU
PhD Candidate, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Division of Social Science

Humanities & Social Science
Science & Technology