By Alexandrea J. Ravenelle
Choose your hours, choose your work, be your own boss, control your own income. Welcome to the sharing economy, a nebulous collection of online platforms and apps that promise to transcend capitalism. Supporters argue that the gig economy will reverse economic inequality, enhance worker rights, and bring entrepreneurship to the masses. But does it?
In Hustle and Gig, Alexandrea J. Ravenelle shares the personal stories of nearly eighty predominantly millennial workers from Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, and Kitchensurfing. Their stories underline the volatility of working in the gig economy: the autonomy these young workers expected has been usurped by the need to maintain algorithm-approved acceptance and response rates. The sharing economy upends generations of workplace protections such as worker safety; workplace protections around discrimination and sexual harassment; the right to unionize; and the right to redress for injuries.
Discerning three types of gig economy workers—Success Stories, who have used the gig economy to create the life they want; Strugglers, who can’t make ends meet; and Strivers, who have stable jobs and use the sharing economy for extra cash—Ravenelle examines the costs, benefits, and societal impact of this new economic movement. Poignant and evocative, Hustle and Gig exposes how the gig economy is the millennial’s version of minimum-wage precarious work.
Michael Dunn on Social Forces wrote:
"Ravenelle’s account of the state of gig work in Hustle and Gig is a great starting point: both the breadth of sectors covered and the depth of the ethnographic material are fantastic and add important detail to the tech lash movement that is so often empirically weak. But it also raises several questions that I would like to see further studies address. First of all, Ravenelle, like her colleagues in the new work field [...], is limited in her ethnography, and hence analysis, to the US context. [...] Second, despite the book’s ethnographic basis, the analysis is often stuck on a meta level. Inequality and insecurity at work are obviously highly important – but this often leaves out the power that the individual ethnographic analysis can bring. [...] It would be worthwhile doing more long-term ethnographic studies of gig workers that go beyond just their work context. That’s where anthropology can bring lots of value. Lastly, I’m keen to hear much more about how gig work could, or indeed does, work better. [...] While I appreciate sociological (or anthropological) critique, I’d love to see our powerful methods used to figure out the positive side of what the future of work could look like. The techlash alone is hopefully not going to stop here, with simply being critical; because what I also see as our duty is to find alternatives to the companies and institutions we are writing down."
"Hustle and Gig is topically organized and one of the most important contributions comes early with the discussion of what the sharing economy is, how it’s different and identical to other types of precarious work. With a lack of consensus among scholars on how to define gig work, Hustle and Gig demarcates the sharing economy 'as a collection of app-based technologies that focus on the lending/renting of assets or services either for profit or for higher good.' While the book’s focus is workers, the definitional focus on assets weakens its ability to make broader assertions to other types of freelance or gig workers. [...] Hustle and Gig is a timely and important addition to the nascent but rapidly expanding literature of this new economic movement. It vividly bring to life the realities that many gig workers face today as they move forward to the past. The reality that many face challenges not unlike their peers from over a century ago—piecemeal work, low wages, and lacking basic protections. Hustle and Gig would be of particular interest to scholars studying non-standard work arrangements and employment relations, but also to scholars with a general interest in work and occupations or labor history."
Lecture by Ravenelle on Hustle and Gig
- "The GiG economy: Utopia or Dystopia?" - article about the book in Maverick Magazine (Mercy College), winter 2019
- "Internet gig work" - Ravenelle on The Annex Sociology Podcast (28 min.), 29 September 2019
- "The sharing economy is going to innovate us into the Victorian Era" - interview with Ravenelle on The Outline, 25 March 2019
Table of Contents of Hustle and Gig
1. Strugglers, Strivers, and Success Stories
2. What Is the Sharing Economy?
3. Forward to the Past and the Early Industrial Age
4. Workplace Troubles
5. Sharing Is Caring
6. All in a Day’s (Dirty) Work
7. Living the Dream?
About Alexandrea Ravenelle
Alexandrea J. Ravenelle is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mercy College and Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU.