Call for Papers RGS-IBG Annual Conference, 1-4 September 2020, London Digital Labour Geographies, Gig Work Futures – Extending the Conversation Session organisers: Al James*, Karin Schwiter** & Christian Berndt**, *Newcastle University & **University of Zurich This session explores the dramatic, digital transformations of work, employment and labour relations that have accompanied the extraordinary growth of precarious on-demand labour in the gig economy. Underpinning these transformations, the internet is used to unbundle production and value creation from formal employment, with online work platforms, digital algorithms and AI used to manage and motivate work carried out beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of ‘typical’ workplaces. Many commentators have celebrated the digitally-mediated possibilities for workers from a wide range of social backgrounds to access new forms of ‘flexible’ work and income opportunities – particularly those with extensive family commitments. Crucially however, the quality of those gig work opportunities has prompted growing criticism around attendant working conditions, wage levels, and distributions of income and wealth. Scholars have also raised questions around how access to and the benefits from gig work are constrained by gender relations and other categories of social differentiation, and whether these new forms of work challenge or else reinforce stubborn labour market inequalities long identified offline.
In response to these new realities of work, a digital labour geographies research has begun to emerge. Through sessions at the Global Economic Geography Conference 2018, AAG 2019, and RGS-IBG 2019, scholars have extended conversations around how workers are capable of actively making and remaking the geographies of the ‘gig economy’ and ‘platform capitalism’ and effecting positive changes in their work conditions - rather than simply watching passively from the sidelines and being affected by the dynamics of economic change writ large by platform developer companies and their shareholders. Likewise, to explore how place matters in shaping patterns of worker agency, focused on digitally-mediated labour markets as the spatial settings and contexts that gig hiring practices, work cultures, and labour relations become established. This session will extend those conversations further. It aims to bring together established and new scholars with diverse research interests around digital transformations of work and feminist labour geographies, to learn from each other and to explore new possibilities for animating more progressive platform work outcomes in the global South and global North. In so doing, the session responds to growing international calls for geographers to develop more critical analyses of how and where economies function, for whom, and to what ends (Christophers et al. 2016). Specific topics might include, but are by no means limited to: · Theoretical and conceptual contributions tackling the contradictions between celebratory media and policy commentaries of digital labour market ‘flexibility’ and the ‘dark side’ of gig labour relations for workers who have limited legal protection as ‘independent contractors’ (the cybertariat) on for-profit platforms. · Geographical perspectives on the development of the gig economy and its workforce – geographical possibilities for online labour market progression? · Feminist geographies of digital work; and how gendered and racialized identities and varied responsibilities of care differently shape workers’ abilities to participate in and benefit from digital platform work. · Empirical contributions on the everyday work-lives of online platform workers; and how they compare with previous/simultaneous work-lives in ‘mainstream’ paid employment · Variations in worker experiences between different online work platforms, and between workers who use digital work platforms to generate all versus some of their annual income? · Geographical possibilities for organising on-demand platform workers in the face of digital ‘subcontracted capitalism’ (Wills 2009). · Alternative platform work models (cooperative platforms) that seek to ‘take back the gig economy’ a la Scholz and Gibson-Graham. · The methodological challenges and useful strategies for doing research on digital labour geographies in practice and using online work platforms as a robust source of survey data. Please send expressions of interest and abstracts to karin.schwi...@geo.uzh.ch<mailto:karin.schwi...@geo.uzh.ch> and al.ja...@ncl.ac.uk<mailto:al.ja...@ncl.ac.uk> by the end of January 2020.