Workers Inquiry and the Experience of Work: Using Ethnographic Accounts of the Gig Economy

Woodcock, Jamie (2021). Workers Inquiry and the Experience of Work: Using Ethnographic Accounts of the Gig Economy. In: Aroles, J; de Vaujany, F-X and Dale, K eds. Experiencing the New World of Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 136–156.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108865814

Abstract

There has been much discussion about the so-called “gig economy” and how platforms are drastically changing the nature of contemporary work. There is plenty of emerging evidence about the negative outcomes of for workers, with work that is precarious, low paid, and lacking individual or collective voice. Geographically-tethered platforms like Uber and Deliveroo require workers to be in particular places to complete the work, albeit mediated via online platform and app. This work is material, interacting with the city and customers in reconfigured ways. What is missing from much of the debate on the gig economy is the perspective of the worker on these platforms. Too often, close attention is paid only to the digital infrastructure, particularly the role of algorithms. Less is understood about how workers make sense of, interact with, and resist these new conditions of work. While there have been accounts of resistance taking place across Europe in delivery platforms, these have tended to take a broader analytical lens, rather than focusing on the specific practices being experimented with. In this chapter, the author presents a reflection on the experiences of joint writing with workers in the gig economy. This involves analysing attempts to use methods of co-research inspired by the workers’ inquiry method, building on previous accounts (see Woodcock, 2017; Waters and Woodcock, 2017; Aslam and Woodcock, 2020). The chapter considers how research that puts the workers perspective at the forefront, can be placed within a critical dialogue with the researcher. The chapter is intended as a corrective to much of the abstract academic research on the “gig economy.” As such it is both an empirical and methodological intervention – presenting an account of this work from the perspective of a worker themselves, while also arguing that it is from this perspective that the work can not only be critically analysed but also transformed.

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