The Tourism Worker and the Platform Economy – Keeping Track of the Digital Body

Authors: Maartje Roelofsen*, Macquarie University
Topics: Tourism Geography, Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: tourism, labour, biopolitics, digital geographies, self-tracking
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Chairman's Boardroom, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since Veijola and Jokinen’s 1994 seminal piece on “The Body in Tourism”, numerous studies on tourism and travel have reflected on the body as a political site and as a site of political intervention. In this paper, I wish to contribute to this ongoing discussion by reflecting on the increasing role of digital platforms in measuring and valuing the living labor of the tourist worker’s body in contemporary tourism. By ways of illustration, I firstly draw on my own experience as an Airbnb host. Here, I reflect on the process of becoming a rated and ranked subject, produced through a continuous harvesting and qualifying of data on the physical, affective and emotional labour of home-making. I investigate what types of “tourism futures” are imagined through platforms like Airbnb and through what kinds of aggregated data these futures are unfolding. More specifically, I ask: what are the relations that are drawn between different types of data and what do they show us about the imagined “normal” body and its role in the making of contemporary tourism space? Secondly, I explore how practices of measurement and ranking are resisted by online forms of protest on the part of hundreds of critically aware Airbnb hosts who – in response to Airbnb’s self “revelation” of its search algorithm in October 2017 – expressed their own ideas of how the platform could be better governed. Pulling these two sites of investigation together, I hope to provide a digitally informed biopolitical reading of contemporary tourism.

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