Accepted paper:

Paradox of precarity: working for Uber in the city of Kolkata

Authors:

Zaad Mahmood (University of Oxford )
Nandini Gooptu (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Exploring the organisation and experience of work in the platform of Uber in Kolkata, the paper problematises the debate between flexible work and precarity and shows how employment in the platform economy perpetuates informality but also offer economic mobility and subjective wellbeing.

Paper long abstract:

The literature on labour in the gig or platform economy is witness to vigorous debates. To proponents, gig or flexible work symbolizes autonomy, improved remuneration and reflects the future of work. To opponents, such work represents increasing precarity, informalisation, erosion of workers' rights and exploitation. The dominant arguments, despite their universalist assertion, reflect the particularities of the global north. In much of the global south, the experience of gig work is mediated by the existence of large informal sectors, high levels of poverty and lack of welfare provisions. Moreover, the distinction between employment and self-employment is blurred. The app taxi sector provides an excellent example of this, with drivers being owners of cars in cities of the global north while driver-owner dichotomy is endemic in cities of the global south, with specific forms of surveillance and control at play. Exploring the organisation and experience of work in the platform of Uber in the city of Kolkata, the paper will show how new forms of flexible and precarious employment also at the same time offer economic mobility and subjective wellbeing. Ethnographic interview with Uber drivers will be examined to reflect on the specificities of gig work in the global south and to address how people enter, perform and imagine such work and subvert control.

panel N2
New geographies and imaginaries of work in the Global South [paper]