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Riding for freedom and flexibility? Moral economies of digital platform work in Brussels

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This paper examines the moral economy of digital platform work in two delivery companies, respectively a corporation and a cooperative. The two companies both use a digital platform to plan their deliveries and to communicate information about the deliveries to the riders that transport the goods. However, the degree of co-determination on the distribution of work among the riders differs greatly in the two companies, and so does the degree of accountability on the riders’ part. In the corporation, the platform form the main medium of interaction between participants, i.e. all communication between the company, the clients, and the riders are handled through the platform. Conversely, at the cooperative the riders have full access to all aspects of the platform due to the cooperative’s management style. The managerial and infrastructural differences between the corporation and the cooperative create and manifest two very different work environments, labour contracts, and moral economies. In their job advertisement, the corporation promises the riders flexibility. The cooperative talks instead of a spirit of liberty. One of the riders offered his analysis of the difference between the corporation where he used to work, and the cooperative he was now a co-owner of: “Here [at the cooperative], we want to provide the spirit of liberty, what they [the corporation] say is not really freedom”. This paper will dwell on the different experiences and understandings of work among riders from both platforms, looking into the difference between flexibility and freedom that the co-owner points to. I conducted my ethnographic fieldwork on both platforms during the first half of 2018. Meanwhile, I also followed the political discussion on digital platform work and the political initiatives these prompted in Brussels and beyond. By juxtaposing the different experiences and understandings of work among the interviewed riders and situating them in the political discussion of digital platform work that took place during my fieldwork, I will attempt to sketch out the moral economies of digital platform work in Brussels.
Translated title of the contributionFrihed eller fleksibilitet?: De morale økonomier for digitalt platformsarbejde i Bruxelles
Original languageEnglish
Publication year15 Apr 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 15 Apr 2021
EventPolitics and Ethics of Platform Labour: Learning from Lived Experiences - University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Apr 202115 Apr 2021


ConferencePolitics and Ethics of Platform Labour
LocationUniversity of Cambridge
CountryUnited Kingdom
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