Accepted Paper:

Tech for Food? Digital refugee economies and the changing relationship between displacement and labour  

Author:

Andreas Hackl (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

A growth in digitally mediated labour offers new opportunities and potential risks for refugee livelihoods. This could change the way the 'refugee' is framed in legal and conceptual terms, as the relationship between forced migration and labour is being transformed.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will explore the possible contribution of digitally mediated labour to the provision of decent work and livelihoods among refugees. As the expanding online gig economy is especially prevalent in urban areas, more than 60 percent of the world's refugees now live in cities. These combined factors of urbanised refugee economies and the digitisation of work is rapidly changing how displacement and labour are connected. In Beirut, for example, the UN's World Food Programme runs a Tech for Food project that trains refugees to become freelancers on online work platforms. Other initiatives allow refugees to give online language lessons or act as translators. What Mark Graham calls a 'truly planetary' labour market certainly offers new livelihood opportunities for those who are categorically excluded from formal labour markets. At the same time, this economic restructuring may trigger a shift from seeing refugees through the lens of humanitarian aid and legal protection to a condition of forced displacement that is increasingly defined in economic and market-oriented terms. This could change the way the figure of the refugee is framed, and reconfigure the relationship between forced migration and labour in fundamental ways.

Combining analysis of ethnographic research and major conceptual work on displacement and refugees, this paper seeks to innovate possible new ways of looking at forced displacement through the lens of digital labour, and through labour from the perspective of the displaced.

Panel P057
Digitisation, and the future of labour and migration