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Digital mediation of domestic and care work in India: Project Announcement

Posted by Ambika Tandon and Aayush Rathi at Oct 01, 2019 04:45 PM |
It is our great pleasure to announce that we are undertaking a study on digital mediation of domestic and care work in India, as part of and supported by the Feminist Internet Research Network led by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The study is exploring the ways in which structural inequalities, such as those of gender and class, are being reproduced or challenged by digital platforms. The project sites are Delhi and Bangalore, where we are conducting interviews with workers, companies, and unions. In Bangalore, we are collaborating with Stree Jagruti Samiti to collect qualitative data from different stakeholders. The outputs of the research will include a report, policy brief, and other communication materials in English, Hindi, and Kannada. This study is being led by Ambika Tandon and Aayush Rathi, along with Sumandro Chattapadhyay.

 

Feminist Internet Research Network: apc.org/en/project/firn-feminist-internet-research-network


Introduction to the Project

This project seeks to investigate the mediation of domestic and care work through digital platforms in India. These forms of labour fall within the informal economy, which employs the largest share of non-agricultural workers in the global South [1]. Workers and economic units in the informal economy differ widely in terms of all metrics, including income levels, size and type of enterprise, and status of worker. According to the International Labour Organisation’s Resolution on decent work and the informal economy, it refers to “all economic activities by workers and economic units that are - in law of practice - not covered or insufficiently covered by formal arrangements” [2]. What this implies in practice for workers in the informal economy is greater vulnerability to poor work conditions, poverty, and violation of labour rights [3].

Women, particularly those with intersectional marginalities, including that of caste and class, are overrepresented in the informal economy globally and in India. Domestic work in particular has been stratified along the lines of caste and gender historically. Further, class has become more salient in producing stratifications in labour relations following urbanisation and gentrification. These intersections have shaped employment relations in the sector in different ways, which range from feudal to contractual models. Digital platforms are increasingly becoming intermediaries in this space, mediating between so called ‘semi-skilled’ or ‘low-skilled’ workers from lower classes, and millions of middle and upper class employers in tier I cities. This is expected to shift the stratification of workers and employment relations in key ways.

Through a feminist approach to digital labour, our project aims to examine platforms offering domestic or reproductive care work. This will be situated within larger feminist critiques around the devaluation and invisibilisation of women’s labour within patriarchal-capitalist economic discourse. The project further seeks to unpack technocratic imaginaries of the platform economy by looking at access and meaningful use of technology and qualifying narratives around labour market optimisation, empowerment, and agency. We will include within this scope two kinds of platforms: marketplaces for workers to post their profiles; and on-demand platforms with algorithmic matching of workers and employers.

Research Questions

Our hypothesis is that platforms are reconfiguring labour conditions, which would empower and/or exploit workers in ways qualitatively different than non-standard work off the platform. In order to interrogate this further, we will study wages, conditions of work, social security, skill levels, and worker surveillance off platforms. This will be used to develop contextual knowledge around the conditions of work among (a) domestic workers on and off platforms in particular, and (b) informal sector workers joining the web-based gig economy in general.

The overarching question that the research will address is, what are the ways in which structural inequalities are challenged or reproduced through the growth of digital platforms in reproductive and care work?

  • How are relations of social inequality, including along the axes of caste and gender, reworked through digital platforms, especially in a context where domestic and care work remains historically undervalued and dominated by women workers with intersectional marginalities?

  • How do workers on platforms envision the role of the state, market, and informal networks of kinship in intervening in employment relations?

  • How is inequality and exploitation in informal labour reconfigured through platforms, with specific reference to work conditions (including hours of work, and physical and mental demands of the workplace), wages, social security, and surveillance?

  • What strategies of negotiation are being and have been adopted by care workers on and off platforms?

  • Is collectivisation an aspiration for care workers across different models of employment?

  • How can negotiation and collectivisation strategies inform the ongoing challenges faced by both care workers and platform workers?

Endnotes

[1] International Labour Office, (2018). Women and men in the informal economy: A statistical picture. Third Edition. International labour Organisation. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/docu- ments/publication/wcms_626831.pdf

[2] International Labour Organisation, (2002). 2002 ILC Resolution and Conclusions on Decent Work and the Informal Economy. https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/employment-promotion/informal-economy/lang--en/index.htm

[3] Ibid.

 

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