Tag: India

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...)

At the Edge of Land and Water: Navigating sea level change in Chennai

It was 8am in Ennore, a coastal region at the northern-most tip of the city of Chennai and home to artisanal fishers who have traditionally lived along the shores of the Bay of Bengal.  I had recently started my fieldwork on property relations at coastal spaces around Chennai there. The sun was out, the fishers were busy sorting through the catch of the day, and the smoke from the factories around made everything look hazy. My neighbor and long-time Ennore resident, Kumar uncle, decided to introduce me to fishers he knew at Periyakuppam, a fishing village in the area. We met the fishers and as we stood facing the sea, I asked them about the history of the village and changes in the landscape over time. In response, they pointed at the sea and said, “Look! Do you see the sand there, the sea water extended till that point until last week, but it has receded further now…come again next month and see what we’re talking about!” Just a few minutes later, they shifted their gaze to the left and asked, “Can you see those ships in the distance? That is where the port is. They built it for the ships bringing coal to the power plant. They put in sea-walls around there…” and once again, shifting their gaze towards the shore and the sea they said, “Look there, half the land in that village is now under water; it’s because of those stones from the sea-walls over there.” (read more...)

Description/Classification/Threshold: Experiments with Renewable Energy Taxonomy

This is not renewable energy:   Nor is this some clever, Magritte-esque meta-commentary on how it is impossible represent or think about renewable energy separate from the technologies that harness it. No, it is simply an issue of taxonomy: hydropower is only counted as “renewable” some of the time. This is confusing, because if the term “renewable” has any meaning, after all, it is first and foremost a description of a process, one that specifically refers to the fact that the natural resource from which said energy is produced either does not significantly deplete upon use to begin with, or can be easily replenished within a human time scale. Hydropower, harnessed through the most abundant substance on our “blue planet”, seems to easily fit the description, which makes the exception worth exploring. (read more...)

What Would A Techno-Ethics Look Like?

Each year, Platypus invites the recipients of the annual Forsythe Prize to reflect on their award-winning work. This week’s post is from 2017’s winner Sareeta Amrute, for her book Encoding Race, Encoding Class (Duke, 2016). What would a techno-ethics look like? This question persists long after this book, has been written and edited, proofed and published; perhaps it lingers, too, in the minds of its readers as they ponder the pathways and dead-ends digital technologies lay down. Digital technologies build on previous iterations of capital, labor, as well as social and environmental relations, even as they materialize new relations. The part-time visa regimes that most tech companies make use of build on a long history of mobile migrant, free and unfree, labor that has been used to build other kinds of infrastructure, from plantation economies across the British Empire to railroads in the United States and glass-and-steel skyscrapers in Germany. Similarly, the infrastructure of cloud computing relies on previously established military bunkers and railway lines, even as it creates unprecedented demands for energy. An ethical response to these dynamics would produce regimes of care that unite a knowledge of subjects’ evolving relationships with technologies with the goal of reducing spaces of domination created by these technologies. A techno-ethics should provide guidance for those who develop, use, and make polices about technologies. (read more...)

Gender and Tech in India: From Numbers to Gender Equality

In the US, technology companies and the press alike regularly frame the debate about gender and technology in terms of a supply problem, arguing that there are too few women in STEM fields. In a previous CASTAC blog post, Samantha Breslin suggested that focusing on the number of women in tech hides the political aspects of the technology sector that oppress marginalized groups more generally.[1] In India, much higher numbers of women enter STEM fields from an early age as compared to the US. For example, in 2008 in the US, women earned only 18% of computer and information science undergraduate degrees, while in 2011 in India women made up 42% of undergraduate students in computer science and engineering. In both technological companies in Silicon Valley and in India women make up roughly 30% of the overall workforce (NASSCOM 2015b; Vara 2015), but in India women now make up over half of entry-level hires, compared to 37% in the US. In one recent article, Raina Kumra, founder of a startup based in Bangalore and Silicon Valley, argues that in the US people think that “coding and programming is a man’s job,” but in India “women feel at home in engineering.” On the face of it, it seems that the tech industry in India is outperforming US in terms of gender equality. (read more...)

Governing with Big Data: The Indian Unique Identification Project and Information Determinism

The relationship between surveillance, big data and state power has been vociferously debated in both academic and popular press over the past several months (Boellerstoff 2013 and Crawford et al. 2014 among others). But what of instances where states leverage big data without an explicit surveillance focus? What kinds of questions should we be asking when big data appears in a project that doesn’t focus on, say, “security” (which we associate directly with surveillance) but on “welfare” or “development”? In this post, I explore this theme in the context of the ongoing Indian Unique Identification (UID) project (also known as “Aadhaar” or Foundation). The state-backed UID project wants to issue biometric-based identity numbers to all Indian residents, arguing that an ability to uniquely identity individuals is critical to the efficient administration of public welfare schemes. The biometric dataset that the UID is putting together towards its goal is already the largest of its kind in the world. Speaking of Big Data (read more...)

Translating South Asian Classical Medicine for Global Markets

Science, patent law, and language Many traditional forms of knowledge, such as South Asian classical systems of medicine like Ayurveda, are increasingly targeted as prime sources of market value that can be effectively captured and managed through the assertion of intellectual property (IP) rights. This expanding reach of IP has sparked heated debates marked by a deep concern that the very foundations of creativity, culture, and even humanity are increasingly subject to privatization. The case of turmeric, a plant-based powder commonly used throughout South Asia both as a spice in everyday cooking and in Ayurvedic remedies, provides a key illustration of the transformative forces at work when intangible cultural heritage enters into and circulates through the global marketplace for complementary medicine (expected to reach $115 billion per year by 2015). Legal challenges to patenting turmeric’s healing properties elucidate processes of privatization at the intersection of IP rights, medicine, and intercultural knowledge production. (read more...)