Odds Stacked Against Workers

Julie Yujie Chen
Odds Stacked Against Workers
Niels van Doorn
Socio-Economic Review

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This article, co-authored with Julie Chen (University of Toronto) presents a cross-national comparative study that examines how American and Chinese platform companies approach the gamification of food delivery. The study, based on ethnographic fieldwork in New York City and Beijing, highlights how couriers in both cities negotiate the gamified systems designed to convince them to log in and keep working. We argue that the deeply financialized industry of platform-based food delivery compels companies to implement data-driven gamification techniques, in an effort to manipulate their flexible labor supply in the most agile and cost-effective way possible. Accordingly, we posit gamification as not only a salient form of “algorithmic management” but also as a central pivot connecting labor process datafication to financialization. Through an analysis of couriers’ experiences with two nationally distinct approaches to labor gamification, we challenge existing understandings of algorithmic management that are largely based on the operations of Western platforms.