Precarious Urban Labor: The Work Lives of Uber Drivers

Authors: Kathryn Wells*, Georgetown University
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: gig economy, platform, uber, labor
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Maryland A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


It is possible to understand the work lives of Uber drivers in North America as simply a sped-up version of the temp agency model, or evidence that the platform economy is just a new chapter in an old story of exploitation. This dystopic take whereby worker protections are eroded under the guise of a benign, technological innovation may well be the case, as recent research suggests. But in this paper I focus less on how digitally-mediated platform employment relations disrupt or reify existing power imbalances and inequities in the North American labor market, or pose a threat as a mobile policy to labor markets elsewhere. My focus instead is how 40 Uber drivers in Washington, D.C. actually navigate and make sense of their working conditions on a daily basis, and what these nitty-gritty, layered patterns mean for understanding possibilities of worker power in these seemingly-new workplaces “outside” the wage. To do so, I consider linkages and under-the-bridge flows from already-existing forms of unwaged, informal, and precarious labor across the spatial-social formation of contemporary global capitalism.

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