By Jamie Woodcock and Mark Graham
All of a sudden, everybody’s talking about the gig economy. From taxi drivers to pizza deliverers to the unemployed, we are all aware of the huge changes that it is driving in our lives as workers, consumers and citizens.
This is the first comprehensive overview of this highly topical subject. Drawing upon years of research, stories from gig workers, and a review of the key trends and debates, sociologist Jamie Woodcock and economic geographer Mark Graham shed light on how the gig economy came to be, how it works and what it’s like to work in it. They show that, although it has facilitated innovative new services and created jobs for millions, it is not without cost. It allows businesses and governments to generate value while passing significant risk and responsibility onto the workers that make it possible. This is not, however, an argument for turning back the clock. Instead, the authors outline four strategies that can produce a fairer platform economy that works for everyone.
Woodcock and Graham’s critical introduction will be essential reading for students, scholars and general readers interested in the massive shifts that characterize our modern digital economy.
Ben Wray on Brave New Europe wrote:
"Published perhaps fittingly just as the COVID-19 crisis is believed to have begun in November 2019, Jamie Woodcock and Mark Graham’s The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction unpacks the how of the gig economy, and doubles up as a manifesto for its reconstruction. [...] Taking a mixed methods approach, they use quantitative datasets and ethnographic vignettes from across the UK, Ghana, South Africa, India and other countries in the Global South, to provide a global story of workers in the gig economy. [...] The strongest chapters of the book bring to the fore stories of workers, and the strategies they have used so far in resisting the control the platforms exercise over them. The reality of working on these platforms is a far cry from the success stories and aggregate numbers that are put out by the public relations wings of companies. [...] Through a combination of regulatory interventions, consumer pressure and better worker representation, the authors propose four key pathways for improving the gig economy. The first is increased transparency in the workings of algorithmic and financial practices. The second is accountability, by acknowledging that these firms do not just connect customers and workers but also control the working days and nights of their ‘independent’ workforce; as a result, there is an imperative to improve working conditions. The third is enhancing the power of workers by creating access to unions and enabling workers to bargain collectively. Finally, the gig economy needs to encourage collectively-owned and run platform cooperatives. [...] The global scope of the book means that nuances of individual countries’ trajectories are not prioritised."
"Woodcock and Graham resist a technologically determinist explanation of the gig economy’s emergence, instead arguing that a combination of political, social and technological changes explain the phenomenon. All in all, nine “preconditions” for the gig economy are identified: the digital platform infrastructure; the capacity for employers to measure work down to the second through digital processes (‘digital legibility’); the rapid role-out of mass digital connectivity worldwide (most importantly in the explosion of the smart-phone); consumer desires for personalisation and flexibility; gendered and racialised relationships of work (reflected in, for instance, the combination of gig work with unpaid care, which is an important feature of female gig work participation); a growing desire from employers and employees for flexibility; the establishment of neoliberal labour laws and other regulatory changes in favour of capital; a relatively weak trade union movement; and the impact of globalisation & outsourcing in increasing the control and state influence exercised by global platform giants. [...] Woodcock and Graham’s introduction is lively, accessible and combines strong historical and theoretical under-pinnings while paying due attention to the experiences of gig workers themselves. It is a good place to start for newcomers to the topic, and those already familiar will I’m sure find something new in here too."
Table of Contents of The Gig Economy
- Where did the gig economy come from?
- How does the gig economy work?
- What is it like to work in the gig economy?
- How are workers reshaping the gig economy?
- Conclusion: What’s next for the gig economy?
- Appendix: Draft Convention on Platform Work
About Jamie Woodcock and Mark Graham
Dr. Jamie Woodcock is a senior lecturer at the Open University and a researcher based in London. He is the author of Marx at the Arcade (Haymarket, 2019), and Working The Phones (Pluto, 2017). His research is inspired by the workers' inquiry. His research focuses on labour, work, the gig economy, platforms, resistance, organising, and videogames. He is on the editorial board of Notes from Below and Historical Materialism. Jamie completed his PhD in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London and has held positions at Goldsmiths, University of Leeds, University of Manchester, Queen Mary, NYU London, Cass Business School, the LSE, and the University of Oxford.
Mark Graham is the Professor of Internet Geography at the Oxford Internet Institute, a Faculty Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, a Senior Research Fellow at Green Templeton College, a Research Affiliate in the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment, a Research Associate at the Centre for Information Technology and National Development in Africa at the University of Cape Town, and a Visiting Researcher at Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung and Technische Universität Berlin. He leads a range of research projects spanning topics between digital labour, the gig economy, internet geographies, and ICTs and development.