Prof. Dr. Philipp Staab

Sociology of the Future of Work

Prof. Dr. Philipp Staab, who took up his position as professor of “Sociology of the Future of Work” at the ECDF and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in February 2019, describes himself as a “sociologist with one foot in political economy”. Born in Nuremberg, Staab studied sociology, political science and psychology in Kassel, Germany, and at Paris Nanterre University. After completing his doctorate, he was involved, among other things, in various research projects at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and at the Institute for the History and Future of Work, focusing on technology research, social inequality, digitalization, and the sociology of work. “Even during my doctoral studies, I was already operating in that area of tension between the sociology of work and the analysis of social structures. My focus was on the emergence of a service-sector proletariat in OECD countries as an effect of the tertiarization of labor markets, that is, on the emergence of these service societies. Since then, my work has acquired a strong technological focus and today the main focus of my research is on the development of a theory of digital capitalism,” says Staab.

In more concrete terms, Staab has been focusing in recent years both on work structures and the leading commercial Internet companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, but also on the smaller companies, the wandering stars, so to speak, that revolve around these fixed stars in the planetary system. “For example, I used case studies to analyze whether, and how, the special financing structures of such companies affect the quality of work.” In 2018, he worked as visiting fellow in the research group “Globalization, Work and Production” at the Berlin Social Science Research Center (WZB Berlin) and as acting professor of technology studies at the University of St. Gallen’s School of Humanities.

Within the scope of his professorship, Staab will be concentrating on how certain logics that have shaped the rise of the commercial Internet – for instance, the strong concentration of power in the leading companies – have also been carried over into other areas, such as the industrial sector, within the context of the ongoing digitalization of the working world. “According to my theory, we are at the beginning of the second half of digital capitalism. I am interested in whether structures of the digital working world, as we know them from the commercial Internet, are also emerging in other areas, for example in the industrial sector. Which elements from the history of the commercial Internet will repeat themselves, and which will be different, in the second half of digital capitalism? My starting point is to analyze and compare different industrial platforms,” says Staab.

A second focus of his research lies on the political economy of artificial intelligence. “Digital capitalism, as it emerged on the east coast of the USA, begins with an entrepreneurial state – not with an entrepreneurial individual. At the moment in Europe and Germany, another entrepreneurial state is forming around a research topic, namely, artificial intelligence. Observing and analyzing the dynamics of this formation is something else I want to do,” says Staab.

The special design of the ECDF is particularly helpful in this regard: “Here at the ECDF, the technological and reflective sciences are closely interlinked. And this is all taking place at a fascinating location right in the heart of political Berlin. This creates exciting perspectives for my work!”