Internet Geographer


New report: 'The Risks and Rewards of Online Gig Work At the Global Margins'

This report is based on a three-year investigation conducted by researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford and the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) at the University of Pretoria.

Online gig work is becoming increasingly important to workers living in low- and middle-income countries. Our multi-year and multi-method research project shows that online gig work brings about rewards such as potential higher incomes and increased worker autonomy, but also risks such as social isolation, lack of work–life balance, discrimination, and predatory intermediaries. We also note that online gig work platforms mostly operate outside regulatory and normative frameworks that could benefit workers.

This report summarises the ways in which observed risks materialise in the market, highlighting responses from a 456-respondent survey and stories from 152 interviews. The report’s central question is whether online gig work has any development potentials at the world’s economic margins. Its motive is to help platform operators to improve their positive impact, to help workers to take action to improve their situations, and to prompt policy makers and stakeholders interested in online gig work to revisit regulation as it applies to workers, clients, and platforms in their respective countries.

Access the full report here:

Graham, M., Lehdonvirta, V., Wood, A., Barnard, H., Hjorth, I., and Simon, D. P. 2017. The Risks and Rewards of Online Gig Work At the Global Margins. Oxford: Oxford Internet Institute. 

New paper: Digital labour and development: impacts of global digital labour platforms and the gig economy on worker livelihoods

As ever more policy-makers, governments and organisations turn to the gig economy and digital labour as an economic development strategy to bring jobs to places that need them, it becomes important to understand better how this might influence the livelihoods of workers. Drawing on a multi-year study with digital workers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-east Asia, this article highlights four key concerns for workers: bargaining power, economic inclusion, intermediated value chains, and upgrading. The article shows that although there are important and tangible benefits for a range of workers, there are also a range of risks and costs that unduly affect the livelihoods of digital workers. Building on those concerns, it then concludes with a reflection on four broad strategies – certification schemes, organising digital workers, regulatory strategies and democratic control of online labour platforms – that could be employed to improve conditions and livelihoods for digital workers.

Download the full piece here: 

Graham, M., Hjorth, I., Lehdonvirta, V. 2017. Digital labour and development: impacts of global digital labour platforms and the gig economy on worker livelihoodsTransfer: European Review of Labour and Research

Mapping The Global Knowledge Economy

The geography of published and codified knowledge has always had stark core-periphery patterns. Just look at the below map of where academic articles are published from (taken from a new co-authored paper with our Geonet team). 

However, increasing digital connectivity has sparked many hopes for the democratization of information and knowledge production in economically peripheral parts of the world. If you can access the sum of the world's knowledge at the tip of your fingertips, are there any reasons for these sorts of patterns to persist?

Sadly, we find that there are. We examined the geography of coding (through Github) and the geography of Internet domain registrations, and find that contrary to the expectation that digital content is more evenly geographically distributed than academic articles, the global and regional patterns of collaborative coding and domain registrations are more uneven than those of academic articles. While connectivity is an important enabler of digital content creation, it seems to be only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition; wealth, innovation capacity, and public spending on education are also important factors.

You can access a full discussion of our results in our new article below: 

Ojanperä, S., Graham, M., Straumann, R. K., De Sabbata, S., & Zook, M. (2017). Engagement in the knowledge economy: Regional patterns of content creation with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Information Technologies & International Development, 13, 33–51.

Birth of ENDL, the European Network on Digital Labour

From all over Europe, researchers in the emergent field of digital labour assembled in Paris for the launch event of ENDL, the European Network on Digital Labour.

Eighteen sociologists, economists, geographers, media scholars were in the French capital to participate in the European Network on Digital Labour kickoff workshop (ENDL-1). Convened by the SES Department of Telecom ParisTech (unit of the Interdisciplinary institute for innovation i3), the meeting took place at the Maison Internationale on Februrary 21, 2017.


ENDL-1 participants

Jamie Woodcock (@jamie_woodcock)

  • Sociologist, currently at LSE, London.
  • Ethnography research on practices of resistance.
  • Published a book on work in call centers, and is currently researching workers’ activism at Deliveroo and Twitch.

Camille Alloing (@CaddeReputation)

Kylie Jarrett (@kylzjarrett)

Marie-Anne Dujarier

Sébastien Broca

Gina Neff (@ginasue)

Ursula Huws (@COSTIS1202)

Patricia Vendramin

Yann Moulier-Boutang (@boutangyann)

Nikos Smyrnaios (@smykos)

Sarah Abdelnour

Jen Schradie (@schradie)

Antonio Casilli (@AntonioCasilli)

Mark Graham (@geoplace)

  • Economic geographer, at the Oxford Internet Institute.
  • Studies the gig economy in the Global South.
  • Writes about global networks of solidarity, competition and collaboration between workers.

Paola Tubaro (@ptubaro)

Karen Gregory (@claudiakincaid)

  • Sociologist at the University of Edinburgh, where she teaches and researches digital sociology.
  • Studies emotional labor and entrepreneurialism.
  • Research on forms of solidarity in the ‘sharing economy’.

Remote ENDL-1 participants

Tiziana Terranova (@synthesiastica)

Carlo Vercellone


ENDL is an academic network to share ideas and awareness of a range of different theoretical, epistemological and empirical approaches to the topic of work, employment, and conflict in the digital economy. Participants operate collectively to give more visibility to the field of digital labour: meetings, conferences, projects, joint publications.

ENDL also aims at provide theoretical clarifications as to the multiple definitions and nuances of the notions of “digital labour”, “virtual work”, “consumer work”, “affective labour”, “free labour” etc. A number of concrete resources have been implemented as a result of the workshop. A repository of literature and references (through a Zotero working group), a shared document to develop a glossary of relevant terms (on Framapad), and a mindmap of areas of research in the field. Participants are invited to contribute in the weeks to come, and to diffuse the results to their colleagues and students.

The Maison Internationale in Paris, venue of the 1st ENDL workshop (Feb. 21, 2017)

The Maison Internationale in Paris, venue of the 1st ENDL workshop (Feb. 21, 2017)

Participants of the 1st ENDL workshop (Feb. 21, 2017)

Participants of the 1st ENDL workshop (Feb. 21, 2017)

The network is open to academics and non-academics interested in helping advance the ENDL research agenda. Participants to this first workshop form a core of researchers actively working to recruit more participants and to consolidate the field. In this perspective, some activities will be undertaken jointly. Members will also work to develop smaller-scale initiatives at local level.

Local events are already scheduled: a London Digital Labour meetup (March 30, 2017), and two Paris conferences in April featuring invited speakers Sarah T. Roberts (UCLA) and Mary L. Gray (Microsoft research) (more information to come soon). Further meetings will be held in future, to share research ideas and results, and to discuss further actions. An ENDL-2 workshop is planned in autumn 2017 at the University of Edinburgh (to be confirmed).

A Twitter account (@ENDL_Official) is in place. A mailing list has also being created to share upcoming event inormation and discuss future directions. The mailing list welcomes academics and members of the general public interested in work, digital platforms, media, and related topics.