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Worker agency in the gig-economy: The case of food delivery gig workers in Rustenburg, South Africa

Show simple item record Moroane, Kagiso 2023-07-07T13:47:43Z 2023-07-07T13:47:43Z 2023
dc.identifier.other A dissertation submitted to the School of Humanities, Sol Plaatje University, Kimberley, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Sociology.
dc.description.abstract The rise of the platform-based gig-economy globally has been linked to the disruption in the labour process and worker agency. We have seen the proliferation of digital platforms and gig-work in recent years following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Available studies pay little attention to workers as independent agents providing services to both global and local capital as well as in small urban settings which may present a unique geography either constraining or enabling worker agency. This study explores ways in worker agency in the gig economy shapes the new work structure represented by gig work. This study explores ways in which food delivery gig workers exercise control in how they conduct their work drawing from Rustenburg in the Northwest Province of South Africa. The study is based on a qualitative research design drawing from constructivist worldview to understand the underlying dynamics of control, power, and resistance in the food delivery gig work. The study deploys the Labour Process Theory (LPT) to understand this phenomenon. I argue that food delivery gig work represents a fundamental disruption and reorganisation of the labour process, beyond the rearrangement of tasks between human and algorithms. It disrupts the labour process and the relationship between labour and capital creating new forms of worker identity and subjectivity. The study argues that food delivery gig workers deploy agency to exercise control over the labour process through selective participation. Workers possess tacit knowledge about the geography and the rhythm of the city which enables them to understand and decide which place, hours, and days of the week ideal for work to secure better returns and avoid overworking. This study further proposes that food delivery gig workers do not willingly surrender to the dictates of the platforms; they are assertive and able to collectively organise themselves and challenge the platform through various means such as appropriating the use of social media to advance their interests. I argue that food delivery gig workers appropriate social media into a space where they can forge communities to navigate some of the problems, they face at work such as alienation and individualisation. Food delivery gig workers use social media space such as Facebook, to reclaim their freedom and avoid the gaze and surveillance from the platforms. They appropriate technology and forge common identity and subjectivity which allows them to generate space for collective resistance. I further argue that food delivery gig workers deploy agency by drawing from personal networks to share operational and logistical information which enhances social relations of production. Furthermore, as workers they can deal with structural factors beyond the workplace drawing from social networks as anchors of support. For example, they appropriate social media and use it as a space to challenge the logic and dehumanisation associated with algorithm management. However, the ways in which the food delivery gig workers exercise agency is not new but adapted from past practices and other work experiences. Moreover, it is not just about workers exercising control over their work but in many ways may also advances the interest of capital by enhancing productivity. Thus, the deployment of worker agency in this case is paradoxical as it on one hand benefits the workers by enhancing how they exercise control on how they do their work while on the other hand, it may also enhance productivity. The study suggests new ways of understanding food delivery gig work labour process and that workers capacity to exercise agency is critical in understanding the underlying dynamics and labour process. en_US
dc.description.sponsorship Sol Plaatje University en_US
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.publisher Sol Plaatje University en_US
dc.subject Worker agency, gig work, social media, digital technology, labour process, subjectivity, surveillance, algorithm. en_US
dc.title Worker agency in the gig-economy: The case of food delivery gig workers in Rustenburg, South Africa en_US
dc.type Other en_US

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