Reification in the Digital World of Work. A Study of the Contemplative Stances and the Experiential Standpoints of Medium-Qualified Service Workers

Project Description

The thesis aims to provide a theoretical and empirical analysis of the reification experiences of medium-qualified digital service workers. With few exceptions, reification seems to have left since decades the sociological debates on capitalist production and exchange in order to infiltrate theoretical discussions with a different focus. The first goal of the thesis is thus to bring reification theoretically "back to work." By building on the reification theory of György Lukács, I establish the basis of a conceptual framework through which the capitalist reification of labor and exchange can be scrutinized. Furthermore, the thesis relativizes and updates Lukács' framework by putting his theory into a dialogue with existing scholarship from sociology of work and with newer Marxian theories of value. The second goal is to explore how the digitalization of production and exchange intersects with service workers' objective and subjective reification. Concerning the reification of service labor, I am guided by Lukács analysis of the way technology is used to rationalize and put under control the labor process, on the one hand, and the market dynamics, on the other. Thirdly, as a pioneer in the field, the project aims to contribute to the scholarly discussion by providing a first attempt to research reification experiences at work.

The thesis focuses on the spheres of online marketing and risk analysis, which are of key importance for the successful realization of value on the market. The two activities have been changing rapidly due to the introduction of digital technologies. With the help of qualitative research methods, I examine the labor realities of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists and Underwriters in the insurance sector. Firstly, the study aims to understand how these circulation workers are instrumentalized for the production and realization of value. Secondly, it analyses the contemplative stance towards the market associated with this type of instrumentalization. Finally, it turns to the question: what standpoint of experience relates to the contemplative stance, and do suffering experiences arise because of it?

Supervisor:  Prof. Dr. Oliver Nachtwey
Co-Supervisor:  Prof. Dr. Sarah Nies


Mirela Ivanova is a researcher and PhD candidate at the Chair of Social Structure Analysis (Prof. Dr. Oliver Nachtwey) at the Institute of Sociology, University of Basel. She is part of the research team of the project “Digital alienation and appropriation of work: Experiences of alienation in digital service work”.

Previously, Mirela was working as a researcher on two interdisciplinary projects “The algorithm as your boss” and “Workplace surveillance” at the European University Viadrina. The first study investigated algorithmically mediated work in the gig-economy and the second focused on the normalization process of workplace surveillance that comes with the usage of digital technologies. She completed a research traineeship at the European Trade Union Institute in Brussels, where she contributed to a project exploring the dynamics of trade union finances. As a fellow of the ASA-Program of Engagement Global, she conducted a study on youth unemployment in the rural regions of Georgia.

Mirela holds a B.A. in Sociology from Sofia University and M.A in Sociology of European Societies from the Free University of Berlin. Her Master thesis investigated how employee empowerment is discursively constructed as a management technique.

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Mirela Ivanova

Graduate School of Social Sciences
Institute of Sociology
Petersgraben 27
4051 Basel

Phone: +41 61 207 61 49