The IAG Conference is the annual meeting of the Institute of Australian Geographers. The 2019 conference – entitled Geographies of emergence, divergence and convergence – was held at Wrest Point in Hobart (Tasmania, Australia), a location that provided us with some spectacular views over the harbor during the coffee and lunch breaks.

Wrest Point, Tasmania
Presenting at the IAG

This was my first conference in Australia and a good opportunity to meet colleagues working within Australia but also within the broader Asia-Pacific region (and a few beyond). The conference included over 250 presentations and 7 keynotes. My presentation was nested within the Tourism Geographies session, organized by Ben Iaquinto and Joseph Cheer. The session covered a wide variety of topics that broadly addressed the spatialities of tourism in different contexts. From modern day slavery and climate change in China, to golf tourism in Vietnam, to urban transport networks in Melbourne and to sustainability experiments in a UK camping music festival.

Provocatively entitled “They do not know what promotes the desire to excel” my presentation explored practices of data activism and data resistance on short-term rental platform Airbnb. Drawing on online posts in Airbnb’s community fora, I showed how Airbnb user both affirmatively engage with datafication processes as well as resist the platforms’ appropriation of the data that that such processes generate. The conference proceedings will soon be developed into a paper that ultimately shows how tourism platforms have become important means of self-expression and social change.

A post-conference visit to the MONA proved to be one of the highlights of the week where I drew a lot of inspiration for my upcoming work on platform-mediated labor. Among which:

Echo Dot: Anatomy of an Artificial Intelligence system by Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler

Echo Dot. Boaz Levin & Vera Tollmann / Kate Crawford & Vladan Joler

“Drawing out the connections between resources, labor and data extraction brings us inevitably back to traditional frameworks of exploitation. But how is value being generated through these systems? A useful conceptual tool can be found in the work of Christian Fuchs and other authors examining and defining digital labor. The notion of digital labor, which was initially linked with different forms of non-material labor, precedes the life of devices and complex systems such as artificial intelligence. Digital labor – the work of building and maintaining the stack of digital systems – is far from ephemeral or virtual, but is deeply embodied in different activities. 15 The scope is overwhelming: from indentured labor in mines for extracting the minerals that form the physical basis of information technologies; to the work of strictly controlled and sometimes dangerous hardware manufacturing and assembly processes in Chinese factories; to exploited outsourced cognitive workers in developing countries labelling AI training data sets; to the informal physical workers cleaning up toxic waste dumps. These processes create new accumulations of wealth and power, which are concentrated in a very thin social layer.