SASE Network Spotlight: Network J – Digital Economy

In the context of the ongoing pandemic, digital technologies have become an integral part of our daily lives–even more than they already were. Across our interactions in the workplace, our cultural consumption and leisure time activities, and our social ties to friends and family, the digital economy has become increasingly central. In addition to heightening the salience of the digital world, the current crisis also offers new avenues for research on the relationship between digital technologies and economic life. In this context, we are highlighting one of the more recent SASE networks, which has been investigating these topics for several years—first in the form of mini-conferences on “Marketization,” “Digital Markets,” and the “Digital Economy,” and since last year’s SASE conference in New York as a new SASE network, J: Digital Economy.

Network organizers: Thomas Beauvisage, Jean-Samuel Beuscart, Dave Elder-Vass, Timur Ergen, Anne Jourdain, Kevin Mellet, Sidonie Naulin, Elke Schüßler.

One of the organizers of Network J, Kevin Mellet, researcher at the SENSE Lab (Orange Labs) and associate researcher at LISIS Lab (Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée), shared the story of the network, discussed the diversity of the network’s research, and described possible future areas of development. 


When was the network founded? Briefly, what was the genesis of the network?

Kevin Mellet: The network is very recent. It was launched in 2019 and brought researchers together for the first time at the New York conference. This will be the second year. But the network’s success is undeniable: in 2019, we received 90 proposals and we organized 19 sessions; this year, we received 95 abstracts and 17 sessions are planned. 

The network was an opportunity to bring together several research areas that have existed within SASE for the past five years in the form of mini-conferences focusing on different aspects of the digital economy. Before that, most of the organizers had participated in SASE for a long time and shared a certain frustration at seeing their research questions, subjects, methodological orientations scattered across numerous networks.

The proliferation of mini-conferences devoted to the digitization of markets, organizations, labor, or everyday life in recent years was a signal that it was probably the right time to structure this in a more sustainable way. The large number of Network J organizers—there are eight of us—reflects this dynamic of convergence of collectives.

What are the key research questions of interest within the network?

Mellet: The research questions that concern us clearly reflect our diversity. They relate to the genesis and organization of digital markets; they tackle the boundaries of the digital economy, where market exchanges meet participative and horizontal forms of coordination, where the domestic sphere and everyday life are digitized and marketized into gig work and the sharing economy; they aim to understand the consequences of the use of algorithms for the autonomy of individuals and the new forms of coordination produced by these sophisticated calculation technologies. There are also more prospective concerns about the evolution of digitized organizations and markets, and the ways to regulate them. 

Beyond the various objects, methods, and issues, we share a common interest in understanding the great transformation of the economy and society brought about by the arrival and development of the Internet and related technologies. But we should recognize that there is a paradox here: digitization is a unifying principle and a link between these different questions, and justifies the existence of this network, but as digital technologies spread and become omnipresent, it is difficult to distinguish them from the major questions and structuring objects of socio-economics. How should we think of the link between a network devoted to the digital economy and networks in which the digital question is taking up more and more space? This is an issue that will certainly have to be explored in the coming years.

What academic disciplines are most well-represented in your network? 

Mellet: The initial tropism of the network is clearly economic sociology, which is the discipline of most network organizers. This initial representation is reflected in the dominant place of sociology within the network. But the other disciplines involved in SASE are present in the network: economics and political economy, management and organization studies, industrial relations, and science and technology studies (STS). 

The network intends to be very inclusive and welcoming. Moreover, the disciplinary divisions do not structure the network. It is really the empirical subjects that determine the organization of most of the sessions. Indeed, the Internet and digital technologies are inclining us toward a multi-level analysis that integrates various methodologies: ethnography and qualitative surveys, statistical analysis, network analysis, innovative analysis using digital traces. These different methods are represented, and mixed, in the network.

Which questions do you think will be central to the network in the next few years?

Mellet: Foresight is difficult, even more when it comes to digital innovation, and more than ever in the dramatic period that we are going through. When we look at the main themes of the sessions organized in 2019 and 2020, we observe a great continuity: a first important set of projects on the gig economy and platform capitalism; a second substantial body of work on the impact of algorithms and big data, both in organizations and in markets; a fairly large set of mostly empirical subjects that unfold over a session or two (crowdfunding, online communities, gender and the digital economy, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, the geography of the digital economy, etc.).

It is difficult to discern trends with so little perspective. What we can observe is the rise of research that questions the governance of economic systems by algorithms and the role of state regulation in the digital economy—such as through data protection, privacy, or antitrust policies.

What types of scholarship—by discipline, method, theoretical approach, or question—would you like to see more of in the future?

Mellet: A strong trend that we observe as scholars involved in Internet and digital studies is the overall increase in the quality of research work: there is a strong cumulative effect, and we see more and more empirically based surveys with solid conceptual apparatus. Our objective is obviously to accompany and support this development. We also want to foster dialogue between a plurality of approaches, both methodological and conceptual, in different fields of research that make up the digital socio-economy. Here we look forward to more theory-driven work, despite the obvious desire to understand novel empirical phenomena. 

Personally, I am quite surprised by the lack of research on the connections between digital technologies and the ecological transition. This area of research, very lively in the field of STS, will certainly gain momentum in the coming years.

What else would you want people to know about your network?

Mellet: Digital technologies are more important than ever and allow us to maintain ties in this period of imposed social distancing. But we can’t wait to see each other again in real life!

Interview conducted by Valerie Arnhold


Network J sessions at the 2020 SASE virtual conference

Saturday, July 18th

Indirect Control and the Construction of Consent in the On-Demand Economy

9 AM – 10:30 AM EST

Privacy and the Data Economy

9 AM – 10:30 AM EST

Seeing through Data

12 PM – 1:30 PM EST

Work and Employment in the Digital Economy

12 PM – 1:30 PM EST

Sunday, July 19th

Author Meets Critics: “The Social Meaning of Extra Money” by S. Naulin & A. Jourdain (eds.) (Palgrave, 2019)

9 AM – 10:30 AM EST

Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies

9 AM – 10:30 AM EST

“Framing Work” on Platform: Precarity and Autonomy

12 PM – 1:30 PM EST

Algorithms and Markets

12 PM – 1:30 PM EST


Monday, July 20th

Social Embeddedness and the Platform Economy

4 AM – 5:30 AM EST

Financing the Digital Economy

9 AM – 10:30 AM EST

Platform Economy Regulation

9 AM – 10:30 AM EST


12:00 PM – 1:30 PM EST

Organizing Platform Capitalism

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM EST


Tuesday, July 21st

Author Meets Critics: “The Digital Economy” by Tim Jordan (Polity Press, 2020)

9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EST

Approaches to Platform Economization

9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EST

Conceptualizing Digitization

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM EST

Geography of the Digital Economy

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM EST

This article is taken from the SASE Summer Newsletter 2020. Click here to go back to the contents.