The Macro Frames of Microwork: A Study of Indian Women Workers on AMT in the Post-Pandemic Moment
50 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2021
Date Written: June 1, 2021
Digital labor platforms like Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) are able to mobilize local patriarchies, exploiting women’s labor to drive global capitalism’s AI ambitions. Our qualitative study, based on interviews with AMT workers, shows that an intertwining of economic necessity and familial validation makes microwork on digital platforms an optimal choice for small-town Indian women from upwardly mobile households in a global digital economy. As a workplace, AMT demands an exacting adherence to the rules of the platform, but enjoys absolute impunity. Women must learn to manage the coercive disciplinarity of the platform, striving to meet its unknowable metrics. Waiting late nights for tasks from US requesters, they must face the exploitative tyranny of an unpredictable wage that may be withdrawn without explanation. With the onset of the pandemic and resultant instabilities in household income, women’s work on AMT becomes non-negotiable to making ends meet, even as its harshness is more acute, with reducing work, falling pay, longer hours, and the risk of suspension. The digital economy thrives on gendered dispossession – not only extracting women's digital labor for profit, but also obscuring the care work they must perform in the ostensible flexibility afforded by platform capitalism. The study, hence, reflects how labor platforms, like AMT, engage in global labor arbitrage, exploiting gendered and racial faultlines in the digital economy. Pointing to the urgent need to address gender and redistributive justice, we propose policy recommendations for the government, multilateral institutions, and digital labor platforms as well as advocacy strategies for trade unions and civil society organizations.
Keywords: digital labour, microwork, pandemic, India, gender
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