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Two Models for a Fairer Sharing Economy

Amir Anwar and I have a new chapter out in The Cambridge Handbook of the Law of the Sharing Economy. The full piece is available to download at the link below:

Graham, M. and Anwar, M. A. 2018. Two Models for a Fairer Sharing Economy. In Davidson, N. M., Finck, M., Infranca, J. J. (eds). The Law of the Sharing Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 316-327.


Abstract

Millions of workers around the world join the so-called “sharing economy” every day to perform a variety of jobs. Most of these jobs are digitally mediated through internet-based platforms which connect buyers and sellers of goods and services. However, recent research has begun to highlight the many risks associated with jobs in the sharing economy (Scholz, 2016; Slee, 2016). Many such jobs are characterised by temporary contracts, long and irregular hours, low income, and are often unregulated. The work is highly commoditised, and a global market for this work means that many workers feel they are replaceable, with little bargaining power (Graham et al., 2017a). Workers are made to compete against each other which drives down wages. Thus, many workers will earn below the national minimum wage of their country of location. Since many of these jobs are small “tasks”, clients may have no formal or legal requirement to provide employment benefits to workers. In other words, many sharing economy work practices carry with them various forms of insecurities, and workers typically have less bargaining power than in standard labour markets. These risks are even more pronounced among workers in low and middle-income countries, where our research is situated. 

In this chapter, we discuss ways in which the sharing economy can contribute towards economic development by making its work practices fairer not just for workers in low and middle-income countries contexts, but also for those in other parts of the world. We first argue that there is a need to reframe work practices in the sharing economy. In some cases, this will mean ensuring that platforms are seen as employers (and workers are seen as employees rather than being seen as being self-employed) in cases where they exert a large amount of control over working lives. Secondly, a better understanding of the important nodes in sharing economy value chains (that is, points of influence and control) can help formulate strategies involving disruption and intervention by labour so that more value is captured for and by workers. This chapter introduces and reviews two models of cooperative working that could work in conjunction with each other to make the sharing economy fairer for workers around the world.

There are no rights ‘in’ cyberspace
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I have a chapter out in a nice-looking new book put together by Ben Wagner, Matthias Kettemann, and Kilian Vieth. The chapter is an attempt to think carefully about what we mean when using words like ‘cyberspace’ and ‘online.’ You can download it at the link below.

Graham, M. 2019. There are rights ‘in’ cyberspace. In Wagner, B., Kettemann, M. C., and Vieth, K. (eds). Research Handbook on Human Rights and Digital Technology. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. 24-32.

The chapter is an update/reprint of an older piece I wrote titled ‘Geography/Internet.’

Abstract

Rights are always bounded, granted, bestowed, enjoyed, received, performed, and violated in real, physical places. The chapter argues that just because actions or interactions happen ‘online’ – or mediated by digital networks – does not mean that they happen in any sort of alternate sphere or space beyond the laws, norms and principles that apply and are practiced elsewhere.

It posits that we have often taken a wrong turn in discussions about digital politics and rights by relying on inaccurate and unhelpful spatial metaphors. In particular, the chapter focuses on the usage of the ‘cyberspace’ metaphor and outlines why the reliance by contemporary policy-makers on this inherently geographic metaphor matters. The metaphor constrains, enables and structures very distinct ways of imagining the interactions between people, information, code and machines through digital networks. These distinct imaginations, in turn, have real effects on how we enact politics and bring places into being.

The chapter traces the history of ‘cyberspace’, explores the scope of its current usage, and highlights the discursive power of its distinct way of shaping our spatial imagination of the Internet. It then concludes by arguing that we should take the lead in employing alternate, nuanced and spatially grounded ways of envisioning the myriad ways in which the Internet mediates social, economic and political experiences.

Related work

Graham, M., De Sabbata, S., Zook, M. 2015. Towards a study of information geographies:(im)mutable augmentations and a mapping of the geographies of information Geo: Geography and Environment.2(1) 88-105.

Graham, M., M. Zook., and A. Boulton. 2013. Augmented Reality in Urban Places: contested content and the duplicity of code. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 38(3), 464-479. (pre-publication version here)

Mark Graham
Digital Economies at Global Margins
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I am happy to announce that my new edited book 'Digital Economies at Global Margins' is now out!

It was a pleasure working with so many brilliant thinkers and scholars who produced the critical and cutting-edge research you’ll find in the book. A huge thanks to all of the authors who contributed.

Below you can find a brief summary. To see the table of contents, head over the the IDRC or MIT websites where you can also download it for free or buy the paper version.

Digital Economies at Global Margins
Over the last five years, more than one billion people became new Internet users. Once, digital connectivity was confined to economically prosperous parts of the world; now Internet users make up a majority of the world’s population. In this book, contributors from a range of disciplines and locations investigate the impact of increased digital connectivity on people and places at the world’s economic margins. Does the advent of a digitalized economy mean that those in economic peripheries can transcend spatial, organizational, social, and political constraints—or do digital tools and techniques tend to reinforce existing inequalities?

The contributors present a diverse set of case studies, reporting on digitalization in countries ranging from Chile to Kenya to the Philippines, and develop a broad range of theoretical positions. They consider, among other things, data-driven disintermediation, women’s economic empowerment and gendered power relations, digital humanitarianism and philanthropic capitalism, the spread of innovation hubs, hackathons, the gig economy, and a rethinking of how a more progressive politics of connectivity could look.

We're Hiring! Postdoc to focus on 'fair work' on digital work platforms in South Africa

We are about to launch a new phase of the Fairwork project in South Africa with our colleagues at the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape, the University of Manchester, and the University of Oxford. I'll share full details of the next stages of the project next week. But, in the meantime, please help share this job ad. It is for a full-time 29-month postdoc to work directly with Professor Jean-Paul van Belle (UCT) along with Professor Richard Heeks (Manchester), Jamie Woodcock (Oxford), and myself. We hope to have someone in place at the University of Cape Town as soon as possible so that we can start the project in the next few months. Again, please share widely with any people/lists/forums that you think might be interested/suitable.

 

POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP: EVALUATING DIGITAL WORK PLATFORMS IN SOUTH AFRICA AGAINST DECENT WORK STANDARDS

Closing Date: 31 August 2018
 

The Centre for Information Technology and National Development in Africa (CITANDA) wishes to appoint a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (PDRF) in the evaluation of digital work platforms (Uber, SweepSouth, Upwork, etc.) in South Africa against decent work standards.

The PDRF will conduct research for a multi-disciplinary research project supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council as part of its GCRF New Models of Sustainable Development programme. The research project aims to (i) improve working conditions for digital platform-workers in low- and middle-income countries; (ii) develop a certification scheme designed to set minimum standards for decent work and actively certify platforms through a newly-created “Fairwork Foundation”; and (iii) create a Code of Practice for South African platforms.

The PDRF will be responsible for a discrete area of research that seeks to understand key structural and individual-level concerns relating to platform work in South Africa; the key issues and obstacles experienced by South African platform workers; and the differentiation of such issues for particularly disadvantaged or vulnerable sub-groups. This will involve both desk and primary field research, most likely conducted in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The PDRF role is an exciting opportunity to undertake cutting-edge research on a topic that is central to the future of work and to the harnessing of digital technologies for socio-economic development. Working within CITANDA, you will be part of a well-resourced, culturally-diverse and friendly research unit. More broadly, you will be working as part of a collaborative and multi-disciplinary team of world-leading academics from the University of Cape Town (Prof. JP van Belle), University of the Western Cape (Prof. Darcy du Toit), University of Oxford (Prof. Sandy Fredman, Prof. Mark Graham) and University of Manchester (Prof. Richard Heeks) spanning internet studies, law, information systems and development studies.

 

Academic/experience criteria:

Required

  • A PhD, awarded within the previous five years, in a relevant field which could include – but is not limited to – internet studies, information systems, development studies, or work and employment.

  • Strong skills in the planning, implementation, software-based analysis and write-up of primary field data.

  • Practical experience of qualitative fieldwork in a global South context.

  • Demonstrated ability to undertake desk-based evidence reviews.

  • Demonstrated capacity to produce peer-reviewed research articles.

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills in English.

  • Ability to work independently within a research team and to meet deadlines.

Desirable

  • Knowledge and experience of field research in South Africa.

  • Knowledge of South African official languages other than English.

  • Specific expertise relating to digital platform work.

  • Prior experience of working on research projects.

Conditions of award:

  • Applicants must have completed their doctoral degrees within the past 5 years and may not previously have held a full-time permanent professional or academic post.

  • No benefits or allowances are included in the Fellowship but the fellowship stipend is tax free.

  • As part of their professional development, the successful candidate may be required to participate in a limited capacity in other CITANDA activities such as teaching and/or student supervision.

  • The successful applicant will be required to register as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cape Town immediately and will not be considered a UCT employee.

  • The successful applicant will be required to comply with the university’s approved policies, procedures and practices for the postdoctoral sector.

Value and tenure:

  • The value of the fellowship is ZAR 260,000 pa and is tenable for up to 29 months. A performance review will happen after the first year. Any further extension would be dependent on performance, and sourcing of additional funding for the post.

Application requirements:

Applicants should submit (i) an application letter that includes a short description of their expertise and research interests, and how these relate to the position, specifically addressing the required and desirable criteria listed, (ii) a CV including a publication list, iii) a copy of their PhD thesis and up to two published or submitted papers, (iv) copies of academic transcripts and/or certificates, and (v) email addresses of at least two referees directly involved in their PhD and/or previous postdoctoral research.

Applications should be emailed before noon on 31 August 2018 to freda.parker@uct.ac.za with cc to jean-paul.vanbelle@uct.ac.za.

Selection process:

  • Only eligible and complete applications will be considered by the selection committee.

  • Interviews are likely to take place in September 2018 and the successful candidate is expected to start as soon as possible thereafter.

Closing date:

Applications received before 31 August are guaranteed to be considered. Applications received thereafter may be considered if the position has not been filled.

Contact details for submission of applications: Freda Parker at freda.parker@uct.ac.za

Contact details for enquiries about the fellowship topic: Jean-Paul.VanBelle@uct.ac.za

Additional information on CITANDA and UCT can be found at: www.citanda.uct.ac.za / www.uct.ac.za

The University of Cape Town reserves the right to disqualify ineligible, incomplete and/or inappropriate applications. The University of Cape Town also reserves the right to change the conditions of the award or to make no award at all.