In keeping with current Covid-19 recommendations, this workshop will follow a hybrid format. The presentation will occur in-person with a small audience of Penn faculty and students and will be streamed via Zoom for all those wishing to join remotely. Participants on Zoom will be able to participate in the Q+A.
Venture Capitalism: Startups, Technology, and the Future of Work
Benjamin Shestakofsky, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania
In my book project, I investigate how venture capital investors play an outsize role in shaping technological innovation and the future of work. Drawing on 19 months of participant-observation research inside a venture-backed firm that ran a digital platform connecting buyers and sellers of local services, I examine the consequences of breakneck, high-risk organizational change for a tech startup’s workers and for the people who rely on the platform to find gigs. I find that managers’ attempts to meet investors’ expectations generated new interdependencies between algorithmic systems and human labor, as well as divergent workplace cultures across the company’s three divisions located in San Francisco, the Philippines, and Las Vegas. I show that when the imperatives of financiers drive continual technological flux, workers’ degrees of exposure to and control over that change become important axes of organizational inequality. I conclude by arguing that centering capital in our examinations of work and technology can open our eyes to alternative models for funding innovation that can lead to better outcomes for workers.