I have a new publication out with my colleague Mark Graham. The paper is based on the Geonet Project’s research on the gig economy in Africa. The link to download it is below.
- Anwar, M. A. and Graham, M. (2019) Hidden Transcripts of the Gig Economy: Labour Agency and The New Art of Resistance among African Gig Workers. Environment and Planning A. URL: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0308518X19894584.
In this article, we study how remote gig workers in Africa exercise agency to earn and sustain their livelihoods in the gig economy. In addition to the rewards reaped by gig workers, they also face significant risks, such as precarious working conditions and algorithmic workplace monitoring thus constraining workers’ autonomy and bargaining power. Gig workers, as a result, are expected to have fewer opportunities to exert their agency—particularly so for workers in Africa, where the high proportion of informal economy and a lack of employment opportunities in local labour markets already constrain workers’ ability to earn livelihoods.
Instead, we demonstrate how remote workers in Africa manage various constraints on one of the world’s biggest gig economy platforms through their diverse everyday resilience, reworking and resistance practices (after Katz, 2004). Drawing from a rich labour geography tradition, which considers workers to ‘actively produce economic spaces and scales’, our main theoretical contribution is to offer a reformulation of Katz’s notions of ‘resistance’, ‘resilience’ and ‘reworking’ as everyday practices of gig workers best understood as ‘hidden transcripts’ of the gig economy (Scott, 1990). The article draws on in-depth interviews (N=65) conducted with remote workers during the fieldwork in five selected African countries.
The article finds a variegated landscape of agency in the gig economy and outlines a number of individual actions and practices of workers on a major gig work platform through which they push back against some of the controls on the platforms and influence development outcomes (also see our forthcoming paper in Competition and Change). We highlight social media and networking sites, e.g. Facebook groups of African gig workers as digital spaces for informal organising and also as tools for new forms of labour movement in Africa.
We have explored various aspects of digital labour in Africa in some of our other papers coming out soon based on our Geonet Project. For example:
- Anwar, M. A. and Graham, M. (Forthcoming) Digital Labour at Economic Margins: African Workers and the Global Information Economy, Review of African Political Economy. Read about it here.
- Anwar, M. A. and Graham, M. (Forthcoming) Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Freedom, Flexibility, Precarity, and Vulnerability in the Gig Economy in Africa, Competition and Change.
- Anwar, M. A., and Graham, M. 2019. Does economic upgrading lead to social upgrading in contact centers? Evidence from South Africa. African Geographical Review. DOI: 10.1080/19376812.2019.1589730. Download here.
Other related works:
- Graham, M., and Anwar, M. A. 2019. The Global Gig Economy: Towards a Planetary Labour Market?First Monday. 24(4). doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i4.9913.
- Woodcock, J. and Graham, M. 2019. The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction, Cambridge: Polity.
- Graham, M. and Anwar, M.A. 2018. Digital LabourIn: Digital Geographies Ash, J., Kitchin, R. and Leszczynski, A. (eds.). Sage: London. 177-187.