Unexceptional neoliberalism and the future of work: constrained enterprise and worker subjectivities in the gig economy of India

Authors:
Gayatri Nair Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, India

Search for other papers by Gayatri Nair in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
and
Jennifer Divyadarshi Independent researcher

Search for other papers by Jennifer Divyadarshi in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
Restricted access
Get eTOC alerts
Rights and permissions Cite this article

The discourse and policy of ‘entrepreneurial development’ has been critical to the spread of platform-based gig work in India. Digital platforms introducing gig work for location-based services, are perceived as vital in providing opportunities for dignified work marking a break from informality and are accompanied by the state’s push towards cultivating neoliberal subjectivities of ‘self-reliance’. We examine how a discourse of entrepreneurial development and the ‘enterprising self’ underpins the structural conditions of location-based gig work, through an examination of conditions of work in the ride hailing, food delivery and beauty/spa sector, in the Delhi National Capital Region. Although gig work has been defined as fertile ground for enterprise culture to take root, we find that neoliberal subjectivities within it have not thrived. An enterprising spirit can only survive through a subversion of the platform rather than by working on it. Our findings also suggest that gig workers’ drive to earn more, and for autonomy is underpinned by social considerations, including that of survival and mobility for the self and families. Gig work, then, is not a radical break from informality, instead workers experience social and economic insecurity common to informal workforces, which is now reproduced through digital technology and the ‘unexceptional’ change of neoliberalism.

  • Abed, F.H. and Matin, I. (2007) Beyond lending: how microfinance creates new forms of capital to fight poverty, Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2(1–2): 317, April. doi: 10.1162/itgg.2007.2.1-2.3

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Abraham, R. and Basole, A. (2022) Covid-19 and the informalisation of India’s salaried workers, The India Forum: A Journal – Magazine on Contemporary Issues, 3 January, https://www.theindiaforum.in/article/covid-19-and-informalisation-india-s-salaried-workers.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Anjaria, J.S. and Anjaria, U. (2013) The fractured spaces of entrepreneurialism in post-liberalization India, in N. Gooptu (ed) Enterprise Culture in Neoliberal India: Studies in Youth, Class, work and Media, 1st edn, Abingdon: Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9781315889795

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Anwar, A., Ira, P.J. and Hui, J. (2021) Watched, but moving: platformization of beauty work and its gendered mechanisms of control, Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 4, no. CSCW3 (5 January 2021), 120. doi: 10.1145/3432949

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Appadurai, A. (2001) Deep democracy: urban governmentality and the horizon of politics, Environment and Urbanization, 13(2): 2344. 10.1177/095624780101300203

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Barik, S. (2021) Exclusive: urban company’s women workers strike against alleged exploitation. Blog post. Entrackr, 8 October, https://entrackr.com/2021/10/exclusive-urban-company-women-workers-protest-againstcompanys-exploitation/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Barratt, T., Goods, C. and Veen, A. (2020) ‘I’m my own boss…’: active intermediation and ‘entrepreneurial’ worker agency in the Australian gig-economy, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 52(8): 164361. doi: 10.1177/0308518x20914346

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Boeri, N. (2018) Challenging the gendered entrepreneurial subject: gender, development and the informal economy in India, Gender & Society, 32(2). doi: 10.1177/0891243217750119

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Braverman, H. (1998) Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, 25th anniversary edn, New York: Monthly Review Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chen, M.A. (2006) Rethinking the Informal Economy: Linkages with the Formal Economy and the Formal Regulatory Environment, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/meetings/2006/forum/Statements/Chen%27s%20Paper.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • CNBC-TV 18 (2019) Niti Aayog tries to counter bleak unemployment data, says Ola & Uber helped create over 2 million jobs, https://www.cnbctv18.com/economy/niti-aayog-says-ola-and-uber-helped-create-over-2-million-new-jobs-pegs-total-new-jobs-at-8-million-2142841.htm.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cross, J. (2010) Neoliberalism as unexceptional: economic zones and the everyday precariousness of working life in South India, Critique of Anthropology, 30(4): 35573. doi: 10.1177/0308275x10372467

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dugal, I. (2023) Where are the jobs? India’s world-beating growth falls short, Reuters, 31 May, https://www.reuters.com/world/india/despite-world-beating-growth-indias-lack-jobs-threatens-its-young-2023-05-30/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Faleiro, S. (2023) A startup ushered thousands of Indian women into gig work, for better and worse, Rest of World, https://restofworld.org/2023/urban-company-gig-work-women-india/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ferguson, S. (2008) Canadian contributions to social reproduction feminism, race and embodied labor, Race, Gender & Class, 15(1–2): 4257.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gandini, A. (2019) Labour process theory and the gig economy, Human Relations, 72(6): 103956. doi: 10.1177/0018726718790002

  • Gooptu, N. (ed) (2013) Enterprise Culture in Neoliberal India: Studies in Youth, Class, Work and Media, 1st edn, Abingdon: Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9781315889795

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Griesbach, K., Reich, A., Elliott-Negri, L. and Milkman, R. (2019) Algorithmic control in platform food delivery work, Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 5: 237802311987004. doi: 10.1177/2378023119870041

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gurmat, S. (2021) No bathrooms, no safety, no formalisation: for India’s women gig-workers, companies’ promises ring hollow, The Leaflet, 18 October, sec. Women’s rights, https://www.theleaflet.in/no-bathrooms-no-safety-no-formalisation-for-indias-women-gig-workers-companies-promises-ring-hollow/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hammer, A. (2019) Comparative capitalism and emerging economies: formal-informal economy interlockages and implications for institutional analysis, Review of International Political Economy, 26(2): 33760, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/09500170221083511#bibr22-09500170221083511. doi: 10.1080/09692290.2018.1554537

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harriss, J. (2007) Antinomies of empowerment: observations on civil society, politics and urban governance in India, Economic and Political Weekly, 30 June–6 July 2007, 42(26): 271624.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harriss-White, B. (2010) Globalisation, the financial crisis and petty production in India’s socially regulated informal economy, Global Labour Journal, 1(1): 15277.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hussain, M.S. (2023) Learning to strike in the gig economy: mobilization efforts by food delivery workers in Hyderabad, India, Journal of South Asian Development, 0(0). doi: 10.1177/09731741231182877

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Irani, L. (2019) Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Kellogg, K.C., Valentine, M.A. and Christin, A. (2020) Algorithms at work: the new contested terrain of control, Academy of Management Annals, 14(1): 366410. doi: 10.5465/annals.2018.0174

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Krzywdzinski, M. and Gerber, C. (2021) Between automation and gamification: forms of labour control on crowd work platforms, Work in the Global Economy, 1(1): 16184. doi: 10.1332/273241721x16295434739161

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mukul, P. (2021) High demand, work control pulled in gig workers; now focus turns to rights, The Indian Express, December 28, https://indianexpress.com/article/business/high-demand-work-control-pulled-in-gig-workers-now-focus-turns-to-rights-7693784/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nagaraj, R. and Kapoor, R. (2022) What is ‘formalisation’ of the economy?, The India Forum, 12 January. https://www.theindiaforum.in/article/what-formalisation-economy.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nair, G. (2022) New’ terrains of precarity – gig work in India, Contemporary South Asia, 30(3): 388401. doi: 10.1080/09584935.2022.2099813

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NITI Aayog (2022) India’s booming gig and platform economy report. New Delhi: NITI Aayog.

  • Parthasarathy, B., Srinivasan, J., Neerukonda, M., Taduri, P., Mahuli, A., Sersia, K., Ustek-Spilda, F. and Graham, M. (2021 ) Fairwork India ratings 2021: labor standards in platform economy, A report, https://fair.work/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2021/12/Fairwork-India-Report-2021.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pollio, A. (2019) Forefronts of the sharing economy: Uber in Cape Town, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 43(4):76075.doi: 10.1111/1468-2427.12788

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Prahalad, C.K. and Hart, S.L. (2002) The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, strategy+business, First Quarter, Issue 26, 10 January 2002. https://www.strategy-business.com/article/11518 (review).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PUDR Report (2021) Behind the veil of algorithms: a report on workers in the ‘gig economy’, https://pudr.org/sites/default/files/2021-12/PUDR%20report%20on%20gig%20workers-%20Behind%20the%20Veil%20of%20Algorithms.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Purcell, C. and Brook, P. (2022) At least I’m my own boss! Explaining consent, coercion and resistance in platform work, Work, Employment and Society, 36(3): 391406. doi: 10.1177/0950017020952661

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Raval, N. and Pal, J. (2019) Making a ‘pro’: ‘professionalism’ after platforms in beauty-work, Proceedings of the ACM on Human–Computer Interaction, 3(CSCW): 117. doi: 10.1145/3359277

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Richardson, L. (2020) Platforms, markets, and contingent calculation: the flexible arrangement of the delivered meal, 52(3): 61936. doi: 10.1111/anti.12546

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rose, N. (1999) Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, https://assets.cambridge.org/97805216/50755/sample/9780521650755wsc00.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rosenblat, A. and Stark, L. (2016) Algorithmic labor and information asymmetries: a case study of Uber’s drivers, International Journal of Communication, 10: 27. https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/4892/1739.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Roy, A. (2010) Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development, 1st edn, Abingdon: Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9780203854716

  • Sanyal, K. (2007) Rethinking Capitalist Development: Primitive Accumulation, Governmentality & Post-Colonial Capitalism, 1st edn, New Delhi: Routledge India. doi: 10.4324/9781315767321

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sanyal, K. (2013 [2007]) Rethinking Capitalist Development: Primitive Accumulation, Governmentality and Post-Colonial Capitalism, Calcutta: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shetty, G. (2022) Growing gig economy in India: is more the merrier?, Economic and Political Weekly, 57(10): 5 March.

  • Sood, A. (2020) The silent takeover of labour rights, The India Forum, https://www.theindiaforum.in/article/silent-takeover-labour-rights.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Surie, A. and Koduganti, J. (2016) The emerging nature of work in platform economy companies in Bengaluru, India: the case of Uber and Ola cab drivers, The E-Journal of International and Comparative Labour Studies, 5(3), 24 October, https://ejcls.adapt.it/index.php/ejcls_adapt/article/view/224.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Timko, P. and Melik van, R. (2021) Being a Deliveroo rider: practices of platform labor in Nijmegen and Berlin, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 50(4): 497523. doi: 10.1177/0891241621994670

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wood, A. and Lehdonvirta, V. (2021) Platform precarity: surviving algorithmic insecurity in the gig economy, SSRN (Social Science Research Network) Scholarly Paper ID 3795375, Rochester, NY. doi: 10.2139/ssrn.3795375

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Woodcock, J. and Graham, M. (2020) The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction, Cambridge and Medford, MA: Polity.

  • Zachariah, B. (2005) Developing India: An Intellectual and Social History, c. 1930–50, and New Delhi: Oxford University Press India.

Gayatri Nair Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, India

Search for other papers by Gayatri Nair in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
and
Jennifer Divyadarshi Independent researcher

Search for other papers by Jennifer Divyadarshi in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close

Content Metrics

May 2022 onwards Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 921 921 258
Full Text Views 34 34 6
PDF Downloads 38 38 8

Altmetrics

Dimensions