Exploring Organization through Contributions: using Activity Theory for the Study of Contemporary Digital Labour Practices

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This chapter focuses on peer-production as a form of collaborative digital work, closely allied to crowdsourcing and other contemporary working practices that are mediated by digital platforms. Such platforms are a growing form of digital work; however, they raise complex methodological issues. First, although often a single collaborative platform coordinates groups, work can be distributed globally. Second, multimodal approaches require the researcher to transition between online and offline media. Finally, it can be challenging to identify what is ‘work’ as activity boundaries are blurred. It is argued that the use of Activity Theory overcomes some of these issues and its utility in an analysis of the production of the open source software, Drupal, is demonstrated, highlighting the potential for Activity Theory to enable cross-contextual comparisons and proposing the concept of ‘socio-technical systems of contribution’ as a way to understand interactions between networks of collaboration. The limitations of the approach and potential future developments are noted.
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