Call for papers: special issue on Digitalisation and self-perpetuation


Special issue of Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation on ‘Digitalisation and self-perpetuation? Dynamics, drivers and temporalities of the transformation of working worlds’

The theme

In recent years, new qualities in the way that information technology permeates economic and social spheres—referred to generally as ‘digitalisation’—have spurred considerable discussion (Langley/Leyshon 2017; Pfeiffer 2017, 2018). Digitalisation is thought to carry the seeds of fundamental societal change, and far-reaching changes are indeed expected in the organisation of work. Within the multitude of highly differentiated working worlds, digitalisation is being accepted, negotiated and given form in very different ways and with varying and interdependent consequences.

This call understands this to be a process of social and technological transformation that (a) has been technically enabled by a wholly new degree of intensity of the permeation of information technology, (b) has been socially prepared through confrontations with earlier forms of informatisation and automation of work and (c) is being socially mastered and given a specific form within enterprises, institutions and, ultimately, also within broader segments of society while, at the same time, being discursively negotiated among actors from industry federations, private enterprises, unions, government, research institutions and the public sphere.

In the course of this, processes of self-perpetuation (Verselbständigung) with wholly new qualities are emerging (Kallinikos 2011; Malsch & Schulz-Schaeffer 2007). Dynamics of scalability and acceleration are common – especially in the platform economy (Choudary 2015; Huws 2017), but even more important is the extent to which human tasks are being delegated to technology by means of autonomous machine-learning algorithms that make selection, optimisation and problem-solving decisions (Decker et al. 2017).

The momentousness of self-perpetuation processes is particularly evident in the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence. These are already being used for hiring decisions and diagnostics in diverse fields of application ranging from hospitals to industrial plant maintenance. These developments are emerging on different levels: (a) on the level of algorithms that are not transparent either because they are kept secret deliberately or because they are the unfathomable products of machine learning; and (b) on the level of networked cyber-physical systems in which humans, equipment, materials and parts interact, insofar as these systems can regulate themselves and carry out micro-transactions autonomously.

The dynamic of self-perpetuation affects all fields of work and changes labour markets and forms of corporate organisation, business processes and value chains, labour processes and activities as well as shaping access to the labour market. Moreover, this development challenges the institutional system because it affects the company as a socially designed place as well as social partnership and co-determination, health and safety regulation, qualification systems, wages, welfare system and employment relationship. This development has widespread technical, social and legal consequences, which might be intended or unintended. Self-perpetuation might mean that some actors disappear from  processes and contexts and feel empowered, while others experience this development as incapacitating, creating a situation in which processes increasingly evade control and overstrain  societal regulation by existing institutions.

However, questions such as how this self-perpetuation can be embraced theoretically, what or who are the drivers, which interdependencies appear to be increased or weakened or whether actors lose the formative capacity remain open. Looking at self-perpetuation makes it possible to take into account the changes in technological logics, their influence on the labour process and how processes of self-perpetuation have historically changed (for example how the early 20th century compared to the current digital transformation and AI).

In this special issue we want to examine these aspects and address the following questions:

  • What/who is self-perpetuated in the process of self-perpetuation?
  • How can we grasp the analytical dimensions of self-perpetuation?
  • Who are the drivers of self-perpetuation?
  • How does formative capacity develop under conditions of self-perpetuation?
  • How can we identify intended and non-intended elements of self-perpetuation?
  • Is self-perpetuation a process of emancipation or incapacitation of subjects?
  • How can we analytically distinguish between technically and socially induced self-perpetuation?
  • How can we identify turning points and phases of self-perpetuation?
  • Under which circumstances are process of self-perpetuation reversible or influenceable?
  • Is self-perpetuation a phenomenon or driver of multi-temporality?

We welcome articles from a range of disciplinary perspectives including (but not limited to) labour sociology, organisation studies, political economy, economic geography, urban planning, policy analysis and gender studies. Articles may draw on the authors’ original quantitative, qualitative or theoretical research but must demonstrate a clear contribution to knowledge and go beyond mere literature reviews.

The Journal

Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation is an independent, international, inter-disciplinary peer-reviewed journal, founded in 2006. For more information please see

This call has been initiated in collaboration with Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation by  the coordinating team of the Priority Programme ‘The Digitalisation of Working Worlds. Conceptualising and Capturing a Systemic Transformation’ (SPP 2267), funded by German Research Foundation (DFG), who will act as guest editors.

All submitted articles are subjected to double-blind peer review.

Deadline and Guidelines

The deadline for submissions is January 31st.2022.

The article should be no longer than 6,000 words (excluding footnotes and bibliography).

Articles should be submitted in two forms: an anonymised version in which all references to the authors’ institution and publications are omitted; and a full version including the authors’ titles and institutional affiliations.

Articles should be sent to the editor:


Choudary, S.P., 2015: Platform Scale., Cambridge: Platform Thinking Labs.

Decker, M., M. Fischer und I. Ott, 2017: Service Robotics and Human Labor: A first technology assessment of substitution and cooperation. Robotics and Autonomous Systems 87: 348–354.

Huws, U., 2017: Where Did Online Platforms Come From? in: P. Meil & V. Kirov (Hg.), Policy Implications of Virtual Work, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kallinikos, Jannis. 2011. Governing Through Technology. Information Artefacts and Social Practice, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Langley, P. und A. Leyshon, 2017: Platform capitalism: the intermediation and capitalisation of digital economic circulation. Finance and Society 3: 11–31.

Malsch, T. und I. Schulz-Schaeffer, 2007: Socionics: Sociological Concepts for Social Systems of Artificial (and Human) Agents. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 10 (1).

Pfeiffer, Sabine. 2017. The Vision of „Industrie 4.0“ in the Making—a Case of Future Told, Tamed, and Traded. Nanoethics 11: 107–121.

Pfeiffer, S., 2018: Industry 4.0: Robotics and Contradictions. In: Bilić, P.; Primorac, J.; Valtýs-son, B. (Hg.): Technologies of Labour and the Politics of Contradiction. Cham: Palgrave, 19–36.