The new special issue of Digital Culture & Society
on "Mobile Digital Practices" has been released, featuring my article on "Digital Mediation, Soft Cabs, and Spatial Labour:"
Click here for the free repository version of the article.
Critics of digitally mediated labour platforms (often called the “sharing” or “gig economy”) have focused on the character and extent of the control exerted by these platforms over both workers and customers, and in particular on the precarizing impact on the workers on whose labor the services depend. Less attention has been paid to the specifically spatial character of the forms of work targeted by mobile digital platforms. The production and maintenance of urban social space has always been dependent, to a large degree, on work that involves the crossing of spatial boundaries - particularly between public and private spaces, but also crossing spaces segregated by class, race, and gender. Delivery workers, cabdrivers, day labourers, home care providers, and similar boundary-crossers all perform spatial work: the work of moving between and connecting spaces physically, experientially, and through representation. Spatial work contributes to the production and reproduction of social space; it is also productive of three specific, though interrelated, products: physical movement from one place to another; the experience of this movement; and the articulation of these places, experiences, and movements with visions of society and of the social. Significantly, it is precisely such spatial work, and its products, which mobile digital platforms seek most urgently to transform. Drawing on several recent studies of “ridesharing” (or soft cab) labour platforms, I interrogate the impact of digital mediation on the actual practices involved in spatial work. I argue that the roll-out of digital labour platforms needs to be understood in terms of a struggle over the production of social space.
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