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<> and<> by the end of January 2020.

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