Surplus3: Labour and the Digital – Toronto, October 20th, 2015

Surplus3: Labour and the Digital

A symposium celebrating the publication of Nick Dyer-Witheford’s Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex (Pluto Press/Between the Lines)

Letters & Handshakes event in partnership with Untitled-3the Digital Labour Group (University of Western Ontario)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Bahen Centre for Information Technology

University of Toronto

40 St. George St.

Room BA1180

Free and open to the public

Facebook event page

Please join us as we explore a conceptual vocabulary for grasping the contested intersection of labour and the digital in contemporary capitalism. Marking the recent publication of Nick Dyer-Witheford’s book, Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex, the Surplus3 symposium will open with 3-minute talks by ten guest presenters, each of whom will speak to one concept. These flash talks will be followed by a presentation by Dyer-Witheford and a collective conversation with our guests moderated by Alison Hearn. 

Surplus3: Labour and the Digital will be followed in early 2016 with a freely distributed publication of the same title, designed by Chris Lee, and featuring work by Public Studio.

Guests + concepts

Marcus Boon: depropriation | Brett Caraway: connective action | Nicole Cohen: hustle | Deb Cowen: logistics | Nick-Dyer-Witheford: Cyber-Proletariat | datejei cheko green: intersectional solidarity | Carla Lipsig-Mummé: climate@work | Sarah Roberts: in/visibility | Kamilla Petrick: acceleration | Indu Vashist: indigenisation | Yi Wang: the wage

Moderator: Alison Hearn

Participant bios

Marcus Boon is Professor of English at York University in Toronto. He is the author of The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs and In Praise of Copying (Harvard University Press, 2002 and 2010), and co-author with Timothy Morton and Eric Cazdyn of Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism (University of Chicago Press, 2015). He edited Subduing Demons in America: Selected Poems of John Giorno (Soft Skull, 2008). He writes about music and sound for The WireBoing Boing and others.

Brett Caraway is a professor at the University of Toronto where he teaches courses in economics, law, and media studies. His research focuses on the intersections of information and communications technology, intellectual property, labour, and collective action. His most recent contributions include the application of Marxian crisis theory to the economics of online social media and an examination of how workers fighting for better working conditions at Walmart use contemporary communication technologies in class struggle.

Nicole Cohen is an assistant professor at ICCIT and the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. She researches the political economy of media labour and collective organizing and is finishing a book on freelance journalists’ labour conditions. She is part of the collaborative research project Cultural Workers Organize.

Deb Cowen is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto. Deb’s research explores the making of intimacy, economy, space, and citizenship through warfare. Deb is the author of The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global TradeMilitary Workfare: The Soldier and Social Citizenship in Canada; and co-editor, with Emily Gilbert, of War, Citizenship, Territory. Deb edits the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, and the Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation book series at UGA Press. Deb serves on the board of the Groundswell Community Justice Trust Fund in Toronto. 

Nick Dyer-Witheford, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, is the author of Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism (University of Illinois Press, 1999) and Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex (Pluto Press, 2015).

datejie cheko green is currently Asper Fellow in Media at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. She is consolidating more than two decades of professional and community experiences organizing and building capacity among marginalized groups in cultural, media, social justice, non-profit, and labour sectors. 

Alison Hearn is an associate professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, and is also the past president of Western’s faculty union. Her research focuses on the intersections of promotional culture, new media, self-presentation, and new forms of labour and economic value. She also writes on the university as a cultural and political site.

Chris Lee is a graphic designer and educator based in Toronto and Buffalo. He is a graduate of OCAD and the Sandberg Institute (Amsterdam). While at the Sandberg, his work focused on speculative visualizations of (alternative) currencies, and their attendant institutions and ephemera. Chris is a member of the programming committee at Gendai Gallery, the editorial board of the journal Scapegoat and is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at the University at Buffalo SUNY.

Carla Lipsig-Mummé, Professor of Work and Labour Studies at York University, is a leading scholar on labour, work, and climate change. Beginning her working life organizing farmworkers and garment workers in the US, in Quebec Carla worked with the CSN and CSQ. She now heads two SSHRC projects and a labour-academic team studying labour’s potential role in slowing global warming. Her recent publications include Climate@Work (Fernwood, 2013) and with Steve McBride, Work in a Warming World (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015).

Kamilla Petrick is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Lakehead University and a lecturer in Communication Studies at York University. She has a doctorate in political science and two prior degrees in media studies. A long-time activist, in her doctoral dissertation she examined the history of the global justice movement in Canada using a temporal theoretical perspective. Her research interests include collective memory, digital culture, social movements, and temporality.

Public Studio is the collective art practice of filmmaker Elle Flanders and architect Tamira Sawatzky. Their multidisciplinary practice spans a wide range of topics such as war and militarization, globalization, ecology, and political dissent. Their most recent work includes The Accelerators (2015), an exhibition about trade, colonialism, and a networked constellation of events; Drone Wedding (2014), an eight-channel film installation examining surveillance in the everyday; and Visit Palestine: Change Your View (2014), in which they turned their art studio into a travel agency running tours to the West Bank.

Sarah T. Roberts is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. Her academic and research interests are focused on digital labour and ‘knowledge work,’ and the reconfigurations of labour and production in a post-industrial, globalized context.

Indu Vashist is currently the Executive Director of SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre) in Toronto. She has extensive experience working within organized labour organizations and with unorganized immigrant and refugee workers. Her research interests include digital labour and labour facilitated through the internet. She is currently researching auto drivers in Chennai who use apps to find clients.

Yi Wang is a PhD student in Geography at the University of Toronto and engages with contemporary food workers’ movements across the US as sites and forces of hegemonic struggle. His approach focuses on how the production of space is tied up with formations and articulations of race, class, gender, and nation. Yi has worked with food justice and worker organizations and studied previously at UC Berkeley and UC Davis.


We wish to thank the Digital Labour Group at the University of Western Ontario for generously supporting this project.