Meaning and Practice of Autonomy in Gig-Work: Sociocultural Inquiry in Experience of Wolt and Bolt Delivery Workers in Riga (Nr. lzp-2021/1-0521).
Project leader: Dr.soc. Maija Spuriņa
Project No.: Nr. lzp-2021/1-0521
Project implementation: 03.01.2022. – 31.12.2024.
Project funding: 299613.60 EUR
Funded by: Latvijas Zinātnes padome
Contacts: Maija Spuriņa, email@example.com
Only a decade old, platforms like Bolt and Wolt, have become convenient intermediaries between service providers and those seeking a service. Enjoyment of convenience and low prices of platform services often makes one forget the work that is behind them. The project seeks to examine gig-work, to deepen understanding of how it is practiced, perceived and felt, and, thereby, contribute to understanding of a much broader question of how social relations and culture is changing in the age of digital capitalism. The central focus of the project is gig-workers’ understanding and practice of autonomy. 60 in-depth biographical interviews with Wolt and Bolt food delivery workers in Riga, participant observation by 8-10 fieldworkers employed by both platforms, and analysis of socio-cultural and institutional context together will provide nuanced understanding of opportunities and realities of gig-work, aiming to resolve the clash between a narratives of flexibility and freedom voiced by the platform companies and a narrative of precarity and social vulnerability of the gig-workers raised by some academics and NGOs.
Keywords: gig work, autonomy, interviews, workers perspective, meaning-making
The project goal is to examine gig-work, to deepen understanding of how it is practiced, perceived and felt, and, thereby, contribute to understanding of a much broader question of how social relations and culture is changing in the age of digital capitalism.
The project will be implemented in four Working Packages.
WP1 - Context Analysis.
At this stage of the research of the project we will collect data on the context in which food delivery gig-work is practiced in Riga, Latvia, using a diversity of sources and methods. This will involve: (1) interviews with representatives of Wolt and Bolt and discursive analysis of their public communication materials with the purpose to draft a history of Wolt and Bolt companies and their PR communication and strategies for development, as well as define corporate understanding of “autonomy” as it is publicly communicated to general public and to the workers; (2) analysis of normative framework and, if necessary, other systematizing interviews with local shareholders to derive a description of current institutional context of gig-work in general and delivery gig-work specifically in Riga, Latvia.
WP2 - Fieldwork.
At this stage of the research we will carry out the fieldwork. It will involve the following activities: (1) interviewing - of at least 60 delivery workers (30 – Wolt, 30 – Bolt) with a diverse sociodemographic profile; (2) participant observation - 8-10 fieldworkers engaged as Wolt and Bolt platforms as delivery workers will each work as a delivery worker for at least a month. All interviews will be transcribed and together with fieldnotes will constitute the empirical data of the project. The proceedings of the research will be communicated via the project website.
WP3 – Data Analysis and Interpretation.
At this stage we will analyse the data harvested through the field work. We will do: (1) the constructionist thematic analysis and combine it with the contextual analysis done in WP1; (2) Depending on our analysis and interpretation, at this stage we might possibly return to field work or contextual analysis in order to gain more information; (3) Based on this thematic data analysis we will plan and elaborate on thematic focuses of peer-review publications.
WP4 – Communication of the Results - Academic Publications, Art Project, Conferences.
At this stage, we will: (1) draft the manuscripts for publications. Final results of the projects will be presented in four academic articles and submitted to relevant peer-reviewed journals of good academic standing. Potential journals for these un subsequent publications might be Sociological Review, New Media and Society, Critical Sociology, and Media, Culture & Society or similar; (2) prepare policy recommendations and communicate policy recommendations to the appropriate governmental and non-governmental bodies; (3) communicate the results to appropriate audiences in academic and non-academic settings via the project website and social media; (4) develop a script for a performative arts project in a close collaboration with an arts professional.