The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Gregory Asmolov: Vertical crowdsourcing: The discourses of activity and the governance of crowds in emergency situations

Gregory Asmolov, LSE

The paper examines the role of crowdsourcing within the power relations between traditional emergency response institutions and volunteers, relying on the notion of governmentality (Foucault). Relying on the analysis of a Russian portal, Dobrovoletz.rf, the paper introduces a notion of “vertical crowdsourcing” as a strategy that seeks to use crowdsourcing platforms for the governance of crowds in general and for the governance of volunteers in particular. The paper adopts the analytical apparatus of cultural historical activity theory (Vygotsky, Leontiev, Engeström) in order to describe vertical crowdsourcing as a particular type of activity system (Engeström) mediated through crowdsourcing platforms. The history of Dobrovoletz.rf illustrates the struggle over the boundaries of an activity system mediated through a crowdsourcing application. The paper identifies the association between the discourse of the digital platforms (mediation of object--‐oriented activity through material tools) and the discourse of the language used (psychological tool) around the nature of the subjects as resources within a particular activity system. The analysis identifies two alternative discourses of activity that constitute the role of the crowd’s members as a subject of activity. The first discourse constitutes the subject of crowdsourcing as an independent actor that contributes to the optimization of resource allocation. The second discourse constitutes the crowd as a threat that needs to be controlled.

Gregory Asmolov