In a study called “Hackathons As Co-optation Ritual: Socializing Workers and Institutionalizing Innovation in the ‘New’ Economy,” she and co-author Max Papadantonakis argue that hackathons create “fictional expectations of innovation that benefits all,” which Zukin writes is a “powerful strategy for manufacturing workers’ consent in the ‘new’ economy.” In other words, institutions use the allure of hackathons, with sponsors, prizes, snacks, and potential for career advancement, to get people to work for free.
To the tech industry and its imitators, these are normal ideas. To a sociologist, they’re exploitative. “From my perspective, they’re doing unpaid work for corporations,” Zukin says. (Even hackathons thrown by schools, non-profits, publishers, and civic organizations tend to have corporate sponsors.)
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