Sociology Seminar | Follower Factories in Indonesia and Beyond: Automation and Labor in a Transnational Market

17 Sep 2021 04.00 PM - 06.00 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Public

In recent years, it has become widely publicized that the “influence economy” centered on social media has become compromised, as the market for “fake” services has grown. “Click farms” or “follower factories” that produce and sell these services via digital marketplaces have been considered key actors in this market, with both terms suggesting the existence of an industry based on digital sweatshop labor. The representation of click farms as digital sweatshops is based on at least three premises: the market is organized according to a particular form of labor (“clicking), there is a spatial concentration of labor, and labor relations within this space are generally exploitative (“sweatshops”). My research in Indonesia shows that these are oversimplifications. Addressing these premises, the talk will describe how the market is less concerned with “clicking” than with developing automation. In this process, diverse forms of work such as customer service and marketing become critical as businesses scale up and reach a broader range of customers. Although often concentrated to particular spaces, this work is dependent on translocal networked relations within Indonesia and across national borders. Furthermore, these businesses are generally organized by young male entrepreneurs along the lines of kinship or friendship. This suggests that these forms of digital labor must be approached as much in terms of intimacy and even aspiration, as in terms of inequality.  

About the Speaker:
Johan Lindquist is Professor of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University in Sweden. He is a member of  the editorial board of Pacific Affairs, has published articles in journals such as Ethnos,  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Mobilities, Public Culture, Pacific Affairs, and International Migration Review, is the co-editor of Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity (University of Hawai’i Press, 2013), the author of The Anxieties of Mobility: Development and Migration in the Indonesian Borderlands (University of Hawai’i Press, 2009), and the director of the documentary film B.A.T.A.M. (Documentary Educational Resources, 2005).