Internet Geographer


Posts tagged labour
Labour oversupply in the platform economy

When I give talks about issues that arise in the context of a global market for digital work, one of the most important things that comes up is the oversupply of labour power. I often get asked to share the table above, and so figured it would be useful to post here. The table illustrates labour oversupply on one of the world's largest platforms.
In the chart you can see that there are a huge number of people who come to these platforms looking for work, but never end up finding any. Something that our current fieldwork in the Geonet project strongly corroborates. This huge oversupply diminishes the ability of workers to secure better wages or working conditions.

If you want to cite the source of the table, you can find it 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. 

And if you want to read more about the implications of this global oversupply of labour power, we write about it in the following pieces:

Graham, M. and Anwar, M.A. 2018. Digital Labour In: Digital Geographies Ash, J., Kitchin, R. and Leszczynski, A. (eds.). Sage. London.

Graham, M., Hjorth, I., Lehdonvirta, V. 2017. Digital labour and development: impacts of global digital labour platforms and the gig economy on worker livelihoods. Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research. 23 (2) 135-162.

Mapping a Freelance Working Week

Wired has just published some of the work on the geography of freelance work that I’ve been doing with my colleague Stefano De Sabbata. We’ve posted a longer description and discussion on our Information Geographies website

This work also closely ties into two new projects that we’re starting at the OII this year:

GeoNet: Internet Geographies: Changing Connectivities and the Potentials of Sub-Saharan Africa’s Knowledge Economy


Microwork and Virtual Production Networks in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia
Moving jobs, moving workers: examining the threats and opportunities of globalization for workers in Africa - ECAS 2013 session

Laura Mann and I have put together a session at ECAS 2013 on labour and globalisation in Africa. We have some great speakers and papers lined up. Take a look at the list below or head to the ECAS site for more detail on the session. Hope to see some of you at ECAS in Lisbon.

Moving jobs, moving workers: examining the threats and opportunities of globalization for workers in Africa

A fresh wave of globalization is trickling into production systems in Africa. The arrival of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Arabic investors on the continent has spurred new negotiations and configurations, especially within agriculture and industry. In response to interest from the East, Western governments and companies have moved from a position of hard-nose liberalization towards a more institutionally engaged approach to African economies, seeking strategic business partnerships and avenues for social enterprise. Meanwhile, business hubs in Egypt, Kenya and South Africa compete to attract Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and their service jobs onshore. In this session, we wish to examine how these ‘global’ reconfigurations impact workers and labour markets on the ground. How are changing arrangements in the international division of labour impacting African economies and political systems? How does the entrance of MNCs change the capacities of African businesses and workers to negotiate their contracts and conditions of work? How do movements of migrant labour across African borders change political alliances and fracture points both at home and in the recipient countries? This panel welcomes contributions from across Africa, looking at specific incidences of globalization and the position of workers and professionals. While some people have suggested that “African Lions” might be poised to have their day in the sun, this panel ultimately asks who will become lions and who will become antelopes as Africa attempts to re-negotiate its relationship with the international economy.

Papers and short abstracts:
The Trouble that Lurks Beneath: Globalization, African Informal Labour and the Employment Illusion
Kate Meagher (London School of Economics)

Optimistic images of the African Boom gloss over critical stresses of expanding informality and youth unemployment. This paper will consider the realities beneath the surface of labour market optimism, and the extent to which they are being eased or exacerbates by globalization.

An Export or an Import? the Transnationalisation of Labor Practices in Kenya’s Business Processing Outsourcing Sector.
Laura Mann (University of Oxford)
Mark Graham (University of Oxford)

Outsourcing was set to be Kenya’s next big export earner. Since the global recession, firms have struggled to get international work and have focused on domestic outsourcing. We explore how an idea aimed at boosting exports to the outside world became a discourse about modernizing the home economy.

Africa’s transnationally skilled labor: technology entrepreneurs in a globalized world
Seyram Avle (University of Michigan)

Case study of how transnational and skilled African professionals, specifically in the communication technology sector in Ghana, return to work in their homelands, and the implications for local work culture.

Powering Africa but Disempowering Workers? Fractured Class Politics in Africa’s Largest Electricity Supplier
Alexander Beresford (University of Leeds)

Based on fieldwork conducted with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in South Africa, this paper will analyse the impacts of neoliberal restructuring in Eskom and explore the broader significance of such changes for how we understand labour and employment in the post apartheid period and also the political role of the organized working class.

Capital’s 'Great Leap Downward’: Remaking Africa’s Informal Economies at the Bottom of the Pyramid
Catherine Dolan (University of Oxford)

The bottom of the pyramid (BoP) approach has gained currency as a tool of ‘inclusive’ development in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper examines how global firms remake Africa’s informal economies through market technologies that render the BoP visible, calculable, and profitable to capital.

Resilient labour: paternalism, difference and informality in a Swazi company town
Vito Laterza (University of Pretoria)

This paper explores the trajectories of continuity and change in labour-management relations in a Swazi company town managed by white Christian entrepreneurs. Despite recent changes in investment patterns, pre-existing labour practices continue to play a major role in the human economy of Swaziland.

The Roots of Impermanence: Settlement, Transience and Farm Labour on the Zimbabwean-South African Border
Maxim Bolt (University of Birmingham)
The Zimbabwean-South African border is a place of transience and fragmentation. Many migrants join farm workforces, shaped by the ‘flexible’ capital and crop flows of export agriculture. But despite this apparent ephemerality, workforces incorporate and root people, offering provisional permanence.
Cloud Collaboration
I have finished writing a book chapter titled “Cloud Collaboration: Peer-Production and the Engineering of Cyberspace.” The chapter will appear in an edited volume being put together by Stan Brunn. A pre-publication version can be downloaded here.

The abstract is as follows:

The internet has made possible a pooling of labor from around the world on a scale never before possible in human history. Millions of people now contribute work to cyber-projects like Facebook, Wikipedia, and Google Earth. Unfortunately, distinct demographic biases characterize both the creators and the content of these new projects. Rather than bringing everyone into a global village, the internet instead enables hybrid physical/virtual spaces to be created that can never eliminate the global economic inequalities that characterize the physical world. Many of the free contributions of labor on the internet are based on a hope that a shared, open, transparent, and democratic digital commons is being created. However, new cyberspaces are frequently subject to many of the same power relations that characterize the offline-world, with large profits being made by private companies from freely contributed labor. Hopes for a digital commons built by global workforce of volunteers should not be lightly discarded, but as this chapter demonstrates, there remain myriad forms of bias, control and exploitation that characterize many of the projects being constructed in cyberspace.