Critical Theory Perspectives on Location-Independent Digital Work and Digital Nomadism

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Embargoed until 2024-07-05
Copyright: Wang, Blair
Digital work exemplifies the impact of Information Systems (IS) on everyday life in the modern world. Digital nomadism is an extreme incarnation of digital work, entailing knowledge workers mobilising — from fixed life and work arrangements in one place, to a lifestyle of travel and mobile, location-independent work — facilitated by digital technologies. Many see digital nomadism as a promising alternative to entrenched patterns in society, particularly in how workers relate to organisations and how citizens relate to nation states. However, others may critique and question digital nomadism for its shortcomings and ethical issues. This thesis engages with this fragmented discourse on digital nomadism by making contributions through the lens of critical theory. As this thesis outlines, critical theory is an intellectual tradition that sensitises scholars to critical-theoretic perspectives: Empowerment and Emancipation; Exploitation and Marginalization; Systems and Structures; Agency and Technology; Environment and Sustainability; Ethics and Morality. This thesis is comprised of four related papers. The first paper presents an overview of different types of theorising in critical-theoretic IS research, revealing a diverse philosophical landscape of intellectual foundations that can help scholars make sense of the interplay between critical-theoretic issues and IS phenomena like digital nomadism. The second paper then leverages the findings of the first paper, to present a literature review of digital nomadism from a critical theory perspective. The second paper reveals that critical-theoretic knowledge claims are already visible in the scholarly literature on digital nomadism but have yet to be fully understood, thus suggesting the need for future research. Based on this foundational understanding of the literature on digital nomadism and the literature on critical-theoretic IS research, the third and fourth papers make contributions based on empirical findings from fieldwork in major digital nomad destinations. The third paper employs the empirical findings to envision the future of post-COVID-19 knowledge work, based on a Hegelian dialectical perspective; and the fourth paper employs the empirical findings to reveal how digital nomadism entails an avenue for achieving workers’ emancipation that constitutes a departure from the traditional conceptualisation of emancipation in the nation state.
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty