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Cyborg Workers: The Past, Present and Future of Automated Labour 

Dates: 14-15 June 2023
Venue: Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies

Will machines finally replace our jobs? If so, how will wealth be generated and distributed in an increasingly work-less future? And what will become of the people who no longer are required to work? These questions feature prominently in contemporary discussions about the impact of automation on human work. Our interdisciplinary conference aims to challenge some of the assumptions underlying this debate. Bringing together historians, philosophers, and scholars from the social sciences, we will explore the long and contested history of mechanized and automated labour. This will help us to better understand how mechanization in the past differs from automation in the present, and how workers and employees have responded to technological advancement and machine-driven rationalization over the course of the past two centuries.

We attempt to scrutinize the commonly held belief that we currently experience an unprecedented transformation radically changing how our work is organized, managed, assessed, and controlled. By facilitating an exchange between past, present, and future perspectives, our international conference will make an important contribution not only to the research on historical and contemporary work, but also to public debates about the future of work.

For a detailed description of the background and the objectives of our conference, please read more here.

Keynote speakers


Wednesday 14 June

9.00 – 9.15  Welcome & Introduction

9.15 – 10.15  “The Ambiguity of Progress: Workers and Machines in the Modern Age”

  • Keynote Lecture by Marcel van der Linden (International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam)

10.15 – 10.45  Break

10.45 – 12.15  Automation and the Labor Process: Challenges and Workers’ Responses, Part I

Chair: Mary Hilson, History Department, Aarhus University

  • Janine Berg (International Labour Organization, Geneva), “Digital Taylorism and the Struggle for Labour Protection” (online)
  • Jacopo Ciammariconi (University of Trier), “Lavoro Zero, Reddito Intero, tutta la produzione al automazione: Work Automation and Imaginaries of the Future in Social Movements in Italy in the 1970s”
  • Bjarke Refslund (Aalborg University): “Digitalisation and Job Quality: An Ambiguous and Complex Relation”

12.15 – 13.15  Lunch

13.15 – 15.15  Automation and the Labor Process: Challenges and Workers’ Responses, Part II

Chair: Luis Mireles-Flores, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki

  • Mikołaj Ratajczak (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw): “Political History of General Intellect: Operaist and Post-Operaist Critique of the Automation of Labour in Late Capitalism”
  • Richard Bachmann (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor): “The Strains and Stresses of Automated Labour: Michigan Autoworkers, Industrial Psychologists, and the Intersection of Automation on Mental Health Concerns During the Long Sixties (1955-1973)”
  • Nahuel Aranda (National University of Córdoba): “Automation, Labour Process Transformation and Composition of the Working Force in the Argentine Manufacturing industry 1980-2010: The Case of ARCOR”
  • Michael Koch (Aarhus University and FIND Centre), Erik Engberg (Örebro University & Ratio Institute, Stockholm), Magnus Lodefalk (Örebro University & Ratio Institute, Stockholm), Sarah Schroeder (Aarhus University & FIND Centre): “AI and Tasks: Evidence from Germany”

15.15 – 15.45   Break

15.45 – 16.45  Automated Work and Non-Work in Literature, Philosophy, and the Arts, Part I

Chair: Iwona Janicka, Department of Art History, Aesthetics & Culture and Museology, Aarhus University

  • Kristof van Baarle (Antwerp University), Sozita Goudouna (Goldsmiths, University of  London), Eero Laine (University at Buffalo), Sarah Lucie (New York University / Marymount Manhattan College), Rumen Rachev (Auckland University of Technology), Aneta Stojnić (Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, New York City): “Driving a Driverless Train: Exhausting Extras and Automated Performance”
  • Eva Krivanec (Bauhaus University Weimar): “Automata on the Popular Stage: Performing Machines—from Wonder to Horror and back—in 19th-Century Europe”

16.45 – 17.00  Break

17.00 – 18.30  Automated Work and Non-Work in Literature, Philosophy, and the Arts, Part II

Chair: Marion Kathe Godman, Department of Political Science, Aarhus University

  • Joel Bock (DePaul University, Chicago): “Bernard Stiegler’s Philosophy of Work and Leisure in the Age of the Anthropocene” (online)
  • Tugba Yoldas (University of Alberta): “E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops: Technology, Values, and AI Ethics” (online)
  • Mads Rosendahl Thomsen (Aarhus University): “Adjusting to the Age of Automated Writing”

18.30  Reception


Thursday 15 June 

9.00 – 9.15  Welcome & Introduction

9.15 – 10.15  “The Social Relations of Semi-Automation: Consent and Risk Issues for Working Data Subjects”

  • Keynote Lecture by Phoebe V Moore, University of Essex (online)

10.15 – 10.45  Break

10.45 – 12.15  Automated Affect: Sex Work and Care Work

Chair: Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam, Department of Art History, Aesthetics & Culture and Museology, Aarhus University

  • Natasha Lushetich (University of Dundee): “The Elizas: Assistive Automatons and Gendered Labour”
  • Sarah Earnshaw (KU Eichstätt-Ingolstadt): “Working in the Shadow(ban)s: Sex, Tech, and Anti-Workplaces”
  • Anne Küper (Ruhr University Bochum): “Availability and Loss: The Chatbot as a Performer of Intimate Labor”

12.15 – 13.15  Lunch

13.15 – 14.45  The Science and Technology of Automated Work: Discourses and Realities, Part I

Chair: Peter Fazekas, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University

  • Giorgi Tskhadaia (Caucasus University, Tbilisi): “The Automation Discourse in the United States: Comparing the Post-War Era Debates with the Present Day”
  • Michele Santoro (University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’): “Running by Machines: The Electronic Interpretation of Administrative Facts at the National Institute of Social Insurance (INPS)”
  • Arianna Petrosino (University of Naples Federico II): “Coercion and Consent in Algorithmic Management”

14.45 – 15.00  Break

15.00 – 16.00  The Science and Technology of Automated Work: Discourses and Realities, Part II

Chair: Maja Hojer Bruun, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University

  • Gleb Koran (European Humanities University, Vilnius): “Post-Soviet Taxi Drivers as Cyborgs: becoming 24/7-Application” (online)
  • Rabih Jamil (University of Montréal): “Uber Applications as Multifunctional Systems of Code-Based Machines”

16.00 – 16.15  Break

16.15 – 17.45  Management of the Workplace: Perspectives and Criticism

Chair: Charlotte Jonasson, Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Aarhus University

  • Aída Ponce Del Castillo (European Trade Union Institute, Brussels): “Discussing human-in-the-loop: Workplace implications”
  • Bidisha Chaudhuri (International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore): “Humanising Data Work: A Critical Enquiry into the ‘Human-in-the-Loop’ Technique in the Production of Artificial Intelligence”
  • Barbara Lorenz (Independent Researcher, Graz): “The Concept of Digital Responsibility on a Corporate Level and Potential Impact on the Future of Work”

17.45 – 18.00  Break

18.00 – 18.30  Concluding Panel

18.30  Reception


Registration is open and free for the academic programme. You may need to pay a fee for catering if you wish to join social meals. Sign up here. Registration deadline: 1 June 2023. 


The conference has received funding from Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, the Carlsberg Foundation and the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University.