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Towards a Fairer Gig Economy

Our second pamphlet ‘Towards a Fairer Gig Economy’ is now out on Meatspace Press. We are pleased to offer it for free download (pdf, epub, azw3, mobi), as a low-cost paperback, or for self-printing.

“Unions cannot collectively bargain with an algorithm, they can’t appeal to a platform, and they can’t negotiate with an equation.”

Dawn Gearhart from Teamsters Local 117

‘Towards a Fairer Gig Economy’ is a small collection of articles examining the social and economic problems associated with the ‘gig economy’. The gig economy includes a wide range of labour carried out by workers providing services as couriers, taxi drivers, online freelancers and more. Issues examined include an over-supply of labour, falling wages, long hours and poor working conditions. Each article makes suggestions for how these problems can be addressed and how a fairer gig economy can be built: including through regulation, collective bargaining and wider policy recommendations. The collection’s contributors include cycle couriers, union organisers, academics and researchers.

The collection is edited by Mark Graham and Joe Shaw, and its contributing authors are: Janine Berg, Christina Colclough, Mags Dewhurst, Dawn Gearhart, Philip Jennings, Guy McClenahan, Trebor Scholz, M. Six Silberman, Nick Srnicek and Valerio De Stefano.

Download it here: Graham, M and Shaw, J. (eds). 2017. Towards a Fairer Gig Economy. London: Meatspace Press.

'Digital Labour' - our new publication

New forms of digital work have emerged which, in theory, can be done from anywhere. Does this mean that geography no longer matters to digital work? Not exactly. My new chapter with Amir Anwar draws on our empirical research into digital labor to outline how geography still matters, and who it matters for in a world of increasingly digital work. The contemporary geography of digital labor can be used to exploit workers, but we also argue that it opens up distinct possibilities for digital workers to recreate their own worlds of work.

You can access a pre-publication version of the chapter below as well as a few paragraphs from the conclusions.

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

Conclusions

The networking of the world has not rendered geography irrelevant - far from it. Clients now have access to a globally-dispersed pool of workers tethered to their homes because labor-power does still have to go home every night. This state of affairs presents a worrying and precarious situation for digital workers. In this chapter, we have argued that a spatial division of labor has been constructed in which digital labor is traded as a commodity at a global scale by placing workers into competition with one another in way that undermines the power of workers.

However, the geographic landscapes of digital labor that we see are not an inevitable outcome of the spread of digital technologies to every corner of the world. This chapter also argues that possibilities exist for what Herod (2001) refers to as ‘labor geographies’: spatial fixes created by and for workers that challenge the idea that atomized competition is an inevitability. Two very different ontologies – ‘digitally distinct space’ and ‘digitally augmented space’ - can be used to build those strategies.

This is not just an argument about semantics. Workers, unions, and regulators are all using outdated concepts to try and make sense of a contemporary world of work. If we are to build a fairer world of work, we are going to need new language and new concepts for networks, processes and organisations of digital labor, for strikes, for picket lines, and for coalitions of, and collaborations between, workers. These concepts will shape how we understand digital labor and how we envision ‘paths to the possible.’

Strategically deploying those spatial ontologies reveals sites at which the proactive geographical praxis of workers can reshape the geographies of labor. Workers do not necessarily need global campaigns to match the global reach of platforms and clients – instead, they need to understand the nodes at which the local can influence the non-local. Workers carry the power to dismiss the idea that digital labor represents a final hegemonic spatial fix in which they have no agency due to atomization and the commodification of work. Reconceptualizing the geographies of digital labor and digital labor geographies reveals remaining possibilities for collective action, for labor’s own spatial fixes, and for a reshaping of the very landscapes of digital work.

 

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. 

Related reading:

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

Graham, M and Shaw, J. (eds). 2017. Towards a Fairer Gig Economy. London: Meatspace Press.

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. 23 (2) 135-162.

Digitally Augmented Geographies - New Publication

I have another new publication out this week. Thanks to the editors (Rob Kitchin, Tracey Lauriault, and Matt Wilson) for all of their efforts in putting this book together!

Graham, M. 2017. Digitally Augmented Geographies. In Understanding Spatial Media. eds. Kitchin, R., Lauriault, T. P., and Wilson, M. W. London: Sage. 44-55.

The term ‘spatial media’ has traditionally been used to describe the intersections between information and geography. It signifies information that describes, or is about, a particular place. A street map of Chicago, geographic data files about Copenhagen, a postcard with a picture of Oxford on it, a travel guide to Sweden, are all examples of spatial media; in other words, information about geography. 

It was only relatively recently that geographic information became so easily infused into spatial media. For most of human history, geographic information was tethered onto particular parts of the world. It passed from person to person, often changing because it was so difficult to attach it to stable containers. But then, a succession of technological advancements (like papyrus and the printing press) allowed for the invention of books, newspapers, maps, and other media. What these mediums had in common was that they that fixed geographic information to its containers: they made it immutable. A paper map for instance, could be moved from place to place without the map itself changing.

This chapter, however, is about something different that has recently happened to spatial media. What has occurred is not just a move from mutable geographic information to immutable geographic information, but also the increasing proliferation of what could be called ‘augmented spatial media.’ Instead of just being fixed to containers, information can now augment and be tethered to places; it can form parts of the layers or palimpsests of place (Graham et. al., 2013). A building or a street can now be more than stone, bricks, and glass; it is also constructed of information that hovers over that place: invisible to the naked eye, but accessible with appropriate technological affordances. In other words, while it has long been argued that “the map is not the territory” (Korzybski, 1948; Harley, 1989; Crampton, 2001), this chapter argues is that the map is indeed becoming part of the territory.