Platform Workers and the Development of Human-Data Capital

Dr Jathan Sadowski1, Dr Karen Gregory2

1The University Of Sydney, Darlington, Australia,

2The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland


By mediating everyday activities, social interactions, and economic transactions, digital platforms play an increasingly dominant role in both contemporary capitalism and cities. These platforms have excelled at extracting value from spaces/labour/things that have been deemed un(der)productive. While the burgeoning literature on platform capitalism and digital labour has analysed these systems of value extraction, there has been much less attention on how platforms have also undertaken a project of capital growth. Namely, through directing the development of a form of human capital, which is deeply intertwined with the creation of “data capital” (Sadowski 2019).

This paper details how developing the type of human-data capital desired by these platforms requires workers to invest in certain attributes such as flexibility, legibility, and vitality. Ultimately, we argue, this portends a bleak biopolitical regime in which people have to bear the risks of (self-)investment to be maximally productive, while also trading their autonomy for algorithmic administration, all in the hopes of obtaining regular income. This paper builds on empirical research into the practices of people who work for the food delivery platform Deliveroo, as well as political economic analysis into the operation of platforms and position of data in contemporary capitalism.


Jathan Sadowski is a postdoctoral research fellow in smart cities in the School of Architecture, Design, and Planning at The University of Sydney. His current research focuses on how smart urbanism is realised, from imagination to implementation. His ongoing projects include an ethnography with city government about planning smart initiatives and a collaboration with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics about trialling autonomous vehicles. He is writing a book for The MIT Press that critically analyses the design and deployment of smart technologies: the interests embedded in them, the imperatives that drive them, and their impacts on the society.

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