Background

The workshop “Beyond Mobility: Studying Nomadic Work”, which was organised by some of us at ECSCW 2007, reflected a CSCW interest in investigating the rapid emergence of nomadic work practices and argued for an understanding of the “dynamic practical achievement involved in making, making the most of, and working in different places” (Rossitto et al., 2007). Ten years later, we set out to revisit the notion of nomadicity in light of recent research and empirical changes, such as the spread of wireless connectivity and the rise of the so-called ‘gig economy’. In so doing, we attempt to explore the notion of Nomadic Culture as the entanglement of economic, social, cultural and technological practices enabling and constituting nomadicity. The shift of focus from ‘nomadic work’ to ‘nomadic culture’ is informed by research undertaken by the organisers in the intervening 10 years, which highlights how nomadicity traverses work and life domains.

Chen and Nath’s definition of nomadic culture locates it in the domain of work where they see such a culture enabling the achievement of competitive benefits through workers’ use of ubiquitous computing technologies. Their definition of nomadic culture emphasises those ‘artifacts, beliefs, and basic assumptions’ that underpin organisational culture (2005: 56). In a later article, they suggest that the development of “an effective mobile work environment” is one of today’s must urgent challenges and call for the study of those issues that foster successful mobile work from the socio-technical perspective (Chen and Nath 2008). They emphasise the interdependence of social and technical systems, but only insofar as they “must be jointly optimized in order to determine the best overall solution for the organization” (Chen and Nath 2008: 41).

By expanding Chen and Nath’s account of nomadic culture beyond the workplace and organisational benefits, we want to draw attention to the broader ecological system that enables nomadicity including, for instance, family members and various life matters. This will be an opportunity to discuss the various trade-offs between organisations and workforce, and the reciprocal demands, adjustments and accommodations inherent in nomadic work practices and styles (i.e. de Carvalho et al., 2017).

Nomadic culture orders action and produces the cultural/technological components that shape everyday practices. For example, as short and long distance mobility become central features of work and life, these mobilities are no longer lived as instrumental means of moving from A to B, but involve the turning of the in-between spaces into “liminoid spaces of transition”, that is, social and cultural contexts in and of themselves (Vannini 2010). Moreover, post-Fordist capitalist restructuring is changing definitions of work and ‘the worker’ as well as work and life practices via outsourcing, deregulation and flexible employment relations, as for example, in the ‘gig economy’.

More research is required on the dynamics of nomadic culture, how it shapes or constrains action and interacts with wider social structures from the economy to the state. In this workshop we would like to explore the cultural dimensions of the practice and experience of work as it and other domains of life become nomadic. As some forms of work and other life activities become independent of time and space, the modern industrial work/life (space/time) boundaries and norms are unravelled giving rise to “nomadic culture”. We are interested in how the experience, practice and symbolism of daily work and life, as these are technologically mediated, may be transformative of individuals and their spatial, temporal, cultural and socio-political contexts.

In this workshop we ask what new repertoires of capacities and affordances are emerging, how are these being engaged with and to what effect? For example, in what ways do contemporary technological discourses and practices legitimate post-Fordist capitalism by stressing the ways in which technology can enable more individual autonomy and life flexibility (Gray et al. 2017; Fisher 2010)? And, to what extent and in what ways is the promise of personal empowerment, authenticity and autonomy taken up and shaping nomadic worker’s lives and embedding nomadic culture?

As a variety of mobile services, apps and devices have become a pervasive presence in everyday life, a range of dedicated, public or semi-public places are being set up to enable work on the move, or at a variety of locations. This includes, for instance, “COffices”, airport lounges and designated areas, or the emerging trend to turn one’s home into a workplace to be shared with other people, including strangers, giving rise to the‘HOffice’. These trends change the meanings of places, times, social ecologies and associated social relations. Yet, , as the application area of mobile computing moves at a fast pace, and working “anytime, anywhere” (Kleinrock, 1996) becomes the norm rather than merely a vision, scholarship on nomadic practices seems to have lost momentum.

This workshop aims at revisiting research on mobile CSCW by connecting the range of practices emerging from the use of technology in the context of nomadic work (i.e. place-making, place-managing, planful opportunism, etc.) to the emerging personal, socio-economical and political contexs in which such nomadic practices are enacted.

Various studies have illustrated how nomadicity can be seen as an emergent and dynamic process that unfolds as people engage in an ecology of practices for the mobilisation of their workplaces (Luff & Heath, 1996; Perry et al., 2001; Brown & O’Hara, 2003; Weilenman, 2003; Rossitto et al, 2014; de Carvalho, 2014). These practices are highly technologically mediated not least via the promise of enabling individual empowerment and flexibility (Gray et al., 2017). The effect is that workers are constantly engaged in the reconfiguration and management of work/life boundaries (ibid.) Nevertheless, although technologies play a very important role, at times facilitating and at times hindering nomadicity, there are other relevant elements that characterise and enable it. Recent studies have elaborated, for instance, on the spectrum of motivational forces at the core of nomadic practices, ranging from choice to obligation, and emerging opportunities (de Carvalho et al. 2017).

This workshop will also provide a context to connect the notion of nomadic culture to the emerging forms of work enabled by sharing platforms and the so- called “gig economy”. Over the past decade, scholars have turned to study networked platforms that act as marketplaces for crowdwork (Kittur et al, 2013; Martin et al, 2016) peer-to-peer exchange (Bellotti et al, 2014; Lampinen et al, 2015), and on-demand labour (Teodoro et al, 2014; Thebault-Spieker et al, 2015). The gig economy has been flagged as an important part of the future of work, and others have critiqued the often-rosy narratives related to working from anywhere at any time (Gregg, 2013). Studies on different types of platform labour have made significant contributions by mapping experiences of those who use these systems to access paid work (Glöss et al., 2016; Rosenblat & Stark, 2016) and depicting the networks of collaboration that emerge despite workflows that assume individuals labouring in relative isolation (Gray et al., 2017).We see these new forms of work as embedding and normalising nomadic culture and aim to deepen our understanding of ‘nomadic culture’ by providing a contemporary perspectives on the social and cultural aspects of work/life time/space and practices.

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