The Socio-Spatial Installed Base: Ride-Hailing Applications, Parking Associations, and Precarity in Tuk Tuk Driving in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Authors: Margaret Jack*, Cornell University
Topics: Transportation Geography
Keywords: Infrastructure, gig economy, ride-hailing applications, digital labor, labor organizing
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Colorado, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Majestic Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Building on literature about the impacts of digitization and the ‘gig’ economy on driving labor (Ahmed et al., 2016; Graham et al., 2018; Levy, 2015; O’Neil, 2018; Rosenblat, 2018), this paper presents an infrastructural analysis into the changing tuk tuk driving sector in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Based on ethnographic participation in the transport sector and interviews with twenty-one drivers, I argue that drivers’ informal, long-standing parking associations, located at well-defined parking spots and based on kinship relations, act as the socio-spatial “installed base” (working from Star and Ruhleder, 1996) of the Phnom Penh tuk tuk infrastructure. I show that two recent infrastructural changes – the increased popularity of ride hailing applications and “Indian-style” tuk tuks – have made traditional tuk tuk driving more precarious. I demonstrate how the parking associations help traditional drivers manage the negative consequences they are facing from these infrastructural changes. I therefore show that this socio-spatial installed base and its bonds of kinship, experience, and geographical positioning may put established drivers in a privileged position in relation to new independent drivers using digital tools. Contributing to scholarship on collectivization as a form of resistance to poor work conditions in the ‘gig’ economy (Schneider, 2018; Scholtz, 2017; Irani and Silberman, 2013; Gray and Suri, 2019), I show that long-standing associations can be effective tools of subversion to platform economies, but also produce barriers to inclusive solidarity.

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