Social Acceptability: How do others view platform livelihoods? Several studies did address matters where the platform was operating outside of the license or regulatory regime, or when individual sellers and workers were operating in a gray zone of questionable morality as opposed to clear illegality. More broadly, some suggested that gig work, particularly micro task, does not have high status and is not held in esteem . But this negative sentiment was not universal . Some families just remained unaware of what young freelancers and gig workers were doing. Other families were proud. Some workers and sellers evangelized their livelihoods to friends and family.
People exist in social systems, large and small. Families, friend groups, peers, the broader society, and state all find ways of making known the work people are doing. It is an element of the experience see how it is received in the eyes of others.
This is by no means a universal finding, but several studies did address matters of illegality. The starkest examples of this were in situations where the platform was operating outside of the license or regulatory regime in a country. Uber, in particular, often jumped into countries before the regulatory landscape for it had been fully articulated. This places drivers in an awkward situation in Bangladesh (Kumar, Jafarinaimi, and Bin Morshed 2018) and in Colombia (Reilly and Lozano-Paredes 2019), since they could not turn to the state for protection nor seek benefits from the state. Conversely, drivers in China mentioned how working in a sensitive environment place them in a state of collective vulnerability, where poor behaviors like lawbreaking on the part of some drivers reflected poorly on all in the system (Chen, Sun, and Qiu 2020). Meanwhile, female care workers in India had to be careful about reporting issues about sexual safety, lest it reflect poorly on them as individuals (S. Gupta 2020).
More common instead was operating in a gray zone of questionable morality as opposed to clear illegality. For example, academic writing (ghostwriting) for students in the Global North is one of the backbones of the Kenyan freelancing ecosystem (Zollmann and Wanjala 2020; Melia 2020). Other respondents described self-rating (Partnership for Finance in a Digital Africa 2019), using inauthentic or deceptive profiles (Partnership for Finance in a Digital Africa 2019), and buying/selling high-performing profiles (Zollmann and Wanjala 2020; Anwar and Graham 2019; Partnership for Finance in a Digital Africa 2019; Melia 2020). We will revisit this question in the area of algorithmic sensibilities, but such behaviors are all under a broader umbrella of activities that challenge the “intended” ways of using the platform (Limpin and Sison 2018).
Leaving aside the abstractions of state and society, people’s more immediate judges are their friends and family. As elsewhere, there is conflicting evidence and sentiment from the field.
Some suggested that gig work, particularly microtasking, does not have high status and is not held in esteem. Thus, many of the Indian Turkers were just doing it until they got a ‘proper job’ (Martin et al. 2016). Some suggest freelancers are more respected more than microtaskers, and that microtaskers in particular fear stigmatization (Wood, Lehdonvirta, and Graham 2018) so much so that they retain pseudonyms on forums (Wood, Lehdonvirta, and Graham 2018). However, freelancers do face some cultural stigma (Malik, Nicholson, and Heeks 2018), with respondents facing assessments that their choices were “useless,” “not respectable,” or “irresponsible” versus a traditional job (Bandaranayake et al. 2020). These dynamics are best documented in freelancing and microwork, but may extend into other platform livelihood segments. For example, researchers found some reluctance among Indian home care workers to tell friends and family about their career (Rani and Furrer 2019).
This negative sentiment, however, was not universal. Some families just remained unaware of what young freelancers and gig workers were doing (Anwar and Graham 2020). Some were “fully supportive” of microtasking (N. Gupta et al. 2014) and of E-commerce (McAdam, Crowley, and Harrison 2020). Other freelancers brag to friends about the work (Graham, Hjorth, and Lehdonvirta 2017); other microtaskers even actively push their friends to join the platform (Panteli, Rapti, and Scholarios 2020), as do some Airbnb hosts (Ruiz-Correa et al. 2019).
All in all, the project of constructing and maintaining an image of respectability is ongoing and involves many players. Individuals have a role in their conversations with friends and family. They do get a branding push from platforms, where in some cases, the uniforms, branding, and professionalization discussed in the “whole person” element translate into a break with informality and more pride in the work (Gachoka and Winiecki 2020; Raval and Pal 2019). As one driver said, “Now we can call ourselves a uniform man” (Nastiti 2017).
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