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African Futures: Digital Labour Platforms

Project Description:

This project examines work mediated by technology services in platform-based ride-sharing services such as Uber in Africa. Focusing on Kampala (Uganda), Nairobi (Kenya), Lagos (Nigeria), Accra (Ghana), and Cape Town (South Africa), the research will investigate how income security among Uber drivers has come to erode, or not, job security. Specifically, ethnographic research will assess the potential, or not, for deskilling and downward occupational mobility among Uber drivers as well as the skills necessary or deemed redundant by new forms of digital labour. 

The emergence of artificial intelligence and digitally-mediated work represents a fundamental challenge for most developing economies. Coupled with jobless economic growth, rising human productivity, and the exponential increase of the available labor pool, few jobs can be said to be safe from automated labor. This research project, which is benefitting from a “Digital Lives” grant of the Swiss National Science Foundation, will strengthen the empirical knowledge of app-based work mediated by online service platforms in the global South by studying Uber drivers in five African countries. Exploratory research has already been conducted in three sites and will lead to a better understanding of the social and political responses required to address the experience of digital work and a shifting engagement with means of production.