Category: Series

“India’s Gig-work Economy” Roundtable

This roundtable discussion marks the end of our series on India’s Gig-work Economy. In this discussion, we reflect on methods, challenges, inter-subjectivities and possible future directions for research on the topic. Here are some highlights from the discussion. Listen to the audio track or read the transcript for the full discussion: Part 1: On continuities between traditional and newer forms of work in cab-driving: Anushree (researcher, taxi-driving in Mumbai): “Something that came out during field work was the flow of workers from traditional services to app-based services which kind of happened in phases and all these platforms have played a different function in the history of this. While the radio taxis were more important in teaching workers to become professionals in the service economy the new platforms have given them a larger customer base and hired access to audience.” (read more...)

Negotiating Ethical Technology Use: Trust and Care in End-of-Life Conversations

  The headline on the local news station’s website was sensational: “Bereaved Family Upset Kaiser Used Robot to Tell Father He Would Die”. Evoking some sort of post-modern dystopia, the article explains that the family “was taken by surprise when a robot rolled into the room” to deliver the news that an elder family member’s illness had progressed past the physician’s ability to treat it. While the robot actually was a remote physician using teleconferencing software to communicate with the patient and his family, the monitor projecting an image of the physician’s head and shoulders sat atop a tall, narrow metal unit reminiscent of a body. The “robot doctor” story was picked up by national news outlets, like the New York Times, and medical ethicists weighed in on the ethics of communicating “sensitive” topics remotely. The news stories problematized the impersonal, almost routinized, care as it was perceived by the family. In one, a representative from the American Medical Association commented, “We should all remember the power of touch – simple human contact – can communicate caring better than words.” (read more...)

Hetero-Comfortable Avatars

Content warning from author: This post will have instances of sexism, transphobia, and sexual violence. I noticed a masculine voice near me say: “wow Wow WOW!” I turned my body to see a couple of masculine avatars looking at me, or rather looking at my breasts. I said nothing, afraid I might be “found out” — that my voice wouldn’t quite match what the body of my avatar “should” have. As my avatar stood there, blinking in silence, one of the masculine avatars got closer and began to rub my body, taking particular interest in my breasts. I looked down and shared eye contact with him, and he said “Don’t worry. It’s ok, it’s VRChat. This is what happens. You won’t really feel anything anyway.” The others did the same. (read more...)

Power Chronography of Food-Delivery Work

*A note from Co-PI Noopur Raval: The arrival and rise of gig-work globally has ushered in a new wave of conversations around the casualization of labor and the precarious nature of digitally-mediated “gigs,” ranging from online crowdwork gigs to digitally-mediated physical work such as Ubering. Gradually, scholarship has extended beyond North America and Europe to map the landscape of digital labor in the global south. These posts that make up “India’s Gig-Work Economy” are the result of one such project titled ‘Mapping Digital Labour in India,’ where four research fellows and a program manager, me,  have been studying the dynamics of app-based ridehailing and food-delivery work in two Indian cities (Mumbai and New Delhi). This project is supported by the Azim Premji University’s Research Grants program. In this series of posts, the research fellows and I offer reflections on pleasure, surveillance, morality and other aspects woven into the sociality of gig-work and consumption in India. Each post also has an accompanying audio piece in an Indian language, in a bid to reach out to non-academic and non-English speaking audiences. The series ends with a roundtable discussion post on the challenges, gender and class dynamics, and ethics of researching gig-work(ers) in India.* **A note from the editor: This post was co-written with Rajendra Jadhav. http://blog.castac.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/08/RajendraMP3.mp3 Download a transcript of the audio in Devanagari. This post presents the observations around the design of temporality within app-based food-delivery platforms in India. It draws on semi-structured interviews by field-researcher Rajendra and his time spent “hanging out” with food-delivery workers who are also often referred to as “hunger saviors” and “partners” in the platform ecosystem in India. Like in the earlier post by Simiran on food-delivery workers in Mumbai, we also observed that app-based work was structured and monitored along similar lines. However, in this post, we go into a detailed description of how work-time and temporality of work are configured in order to fulfill the promises that app companies make to customers in urban India. (read more...)

Ladies ‘Log’: Women’s Safety and Risk Transfer in Ridehailing

*A note from Co-PI Noopur Raval: The arrival and rise of gig-work globally has ushered in a new wave of conversations around the casualization of labor and the precarious nature of digitally-mediated “gigs,” ranging from online crowdwork gigs to digitally-mediated physical work such as Ubering. Gradually, scholarship has extended beyond North America and Europe to map the landscape of digital labor in the global south. These posts that make up “India’s Gig-Work Economy” are the result of one such project titled ‘Mapping Digital Labour in India,’ where four research fellows and a program manager, me,  have been studying the dynamics of app-based ridehailing and food-delivery work in two Indian cities (Mumbai and New Delhi). This project is supported by the Azim Premji University’s Research Grants program. In this series of posts, the research fellows and I offer reflections on pleasure, surveillance, morality and other aspects woven into the sociality of gig-work and consumption in India. Each post also has an accompanying audio piece in an Indian language, in a bid to reach out to non-academic and non-English speaking audiences. The series ends with a roundtable discussion post on the challenges, gender and class dynamics, and ethics of researching gig-work(ers) in India.* http://blog.castac.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/07/Anushree_Gupta-Blog-Post-audio.mp3 Download a transcript of the audio in Devanagari. Mumbai, India’s financial capital, is also often considered one of the safest cities for women in India, especially in contrast with New Delhi which is infamously dubbed as the “rape capital” within the country. Sensationalised incidents of harassment, molestation and rape serve as anecdotal references and warnings to other women who dare to venture out alone even during the daytime. The Delhi government recently proposed a policy for free transport for women in public buses and metro trains with the objective of increasing women’s affordability and access and to ensure safety in public transportation.[1] Despite such measures to increase women’s visibility and claims to public utilities and spaces, women who use public transport have historically suffered groping and stalking on buses and trains, which uphold self-policing and surveillance narratives. The issue of women’s safety in India remains a priority as well as a good rhetorical claim and goal to aspire to, for public and private initiatives. Ironically, the notion of women’s safety is also advanced to increase moral policing and censure women’s access to public spaces, which also perpetuates exclusion of other marginalised citizens (Phadke 2007). Further, and crucially, whose safety is being imagined, prioritized and designed for (which class of women are central to the imagination of the safety discourse) is often a point of contention. (read more...)

The Future of LOVOT: Between Models of Emotion and Experiments in Affect in Japan

Aya is anxiously waiting for a future in which humans coexist with robots. She didn’t think this was possible in her lifetime, but when she learned about LOVOT, a 43 cm-tall furry robot on wheels designed specifically to seek out and offer affection, she was elated to discover that the future she had imagined was within reach. She urged me to take hold of it—LOVOT, that is. We were chatting at a recent Talk Session for LOVOT fans and a few of the creatures were spinning around a table as we talked. Its wheels folded into its body, and with animated LED eyes it looked up at me and blinked. I picked it up and Aya poked its nose, eliciting something like an irritated giggle from the robot, whose name I learned was Cherry. Aya stroked Cherry’s belly and its eyes blinked a few times and then slowly closed. “It fell asleep! How cute (kawaii)!” Aya exclaimed. Although Aya claimed to be uninterested in robots, technology, or anything in the IT world in general, she was immediately and, as she describes, inexplicably moved by LOVOT. It’s just an emotion (kanjō), she reflected. “You know about lonely people (kodoku na hito) in Japan, right?” Aya asked. “I think that everyone needs to feel affection (aichaku), and everyone enjoys this feeling we can get from cute things. It fulfills your heart (kokoro o mitasu). But not everyone can get this feeling… I think that in the future maybe one or two people out of ten might simply have relationships with things like LOVOT. It’s not really any different from the kind of affection one gets from a dog or cat, or even another person. And it’s their choice! This is a really interesting future!” (read more...)

Not knowing as pedagogy: Ride-hailing drivers in Delhi

*A note from Co-PI Noopur Raval: The arrival and rise of gig-work globally has ushered in a new wave of conversations around the casualization of labor and the precarious nature of digitally-mediated “gigs,” ranging from online crowdwork gigs to digitally-mediated physical work such as Ubering. Gradually, scholarship has extended beyond North America and Europe to map the landscape of digital labor in the global south. These posts that make up “India’s Gig-Work Economy” are the result of one such project titled ‘Mapping Digital Labour in India,’ where four research fellows and a program manager, me,  have been studying the dynamics of app-based ridehailing and food-delivery work in two Indian cities (Mumbai and New Delhi). This project is supported by the Azim Premji University’s Research Grants program. In this series of posts, the research fellows and I offer reflections on pleasure, surveillance, morality and other aspects woven into the sociality of gig-work and consumption in India. Each post also has an accompanying audio piece in an Indian language, in a bid to reach out to non-academic and non-English speaking audiences. The series ends with a roundtable discussion post on the challenges, gender and class dynamics, and ethics of researching gig-work(ers) in India.* http://blog.castac.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/07/RidehailinginDelhi_SarahCASTAC.wav Download a transcript of the audio in Devanagari. Ride-hailing[1] platforms such as Olacabs and Uber have “disrupted” public transport in India since their arrival. It has been almost seven years since app-based ride-hailing became a permanent feature of urban and peri-urban India with these aggregators operating in over a 100 Indian cities now. Akin to the global story, much has happened – there was a period of boom and novelty for passengers and drivers, then incentives fell. Ride-hailing work has become increasingly demanding with reduced payouts. But what hasn’t received enough attention (especially outside the US) is how these platforms create a deliberate regime of information invisibility and control to keep the drivers constantly on their toes which works to the companies’ advantage. What then are the implications of this uncertainty, which is fueled by app design as well as by the companies’ decision that drivers need little or no information about users? How does service delivery operate in a context where those actually delivering it have little or no idea about the workings of the system? (read more...)

Workers’ fictive kinship relations in Mumbai app-based food delivery

*A note from Co-PI Noopur Raval: The arrival and rise of gig-work globally has ushered in a new wave of conversations around the casualization of labor and the precarious nature of digitally-mediated “gigs,” ranging from online crowdwork gigs to digitally-mediated physical work such as Ubering. Gradually, scholarship has extended beyond North America and Europe to map the landscape of digital labor in the global south. These posts that make up “India’s Gig-Work Economy” are the result of one such project titled ‘Mapping Digital Labour in India,’ where four research fellows and a program manager, me,  have been studying the dynamics of app-based ridehailing and food-delivery work in two Indian cities (Mumbai and New Delhi). This project is supported by the Azim Premji University’s Research Grants program. In this series of posts, the research fellows and I offer reflections on pleasure, surveillance, morality and other aspects woven into the sociality of gig-work and consumption in India. Each post also has an accompanying audio piece in an Indian language, in a bid to reach out to non-academic and non-English speaking audiences. The series ends with a roundtable discussion post on the challenges, gender and class dynamics, and ethics of researching gig-work(ers) in India.* http://blog.castac.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/07/Role-of-fictive-kinship-in-Mumbai-Hinglish-audio.mp3 Download a transcript of the audio in Devanagari. Anthropologists have studied the role of kinship relations at the workplace in terms of how employers (De Neve, 2008) and workers use them (Parry, 2001). By contrast, digital labour scholars focus more on economic wellbeing and questions of fair work. But we know from the work of Mauss, Hart (Hart, 2000; Mauss, 2002) and others that all economic exchanges are also social relations. Additionally, economic and moral logics are different manifestations of the same ‘kernel of human relationships’ (Kofti, 2016). In the context of app-based food delivery work in Mumbai, workers’ actions and decisions were guided by them putting themselves in another’s shoes. Such moral acts of understanding and having understood were, as I will demonstrate, instances of Max Weber’s conception of verstehen or interpretative understanding which was important to understanding individuals’ participation in social relationships. This led me to explore gig-workers’ kinship relations at work, and their role in the existence and reproduction of these workers and this ‘new’ work. (read more...)