Library Header Image
LSE Theses Online London School of Economics web site

Valued capital(s) and devalued labour in London’s "gig economy"

Maier, George Edward (2020) Valued capital(s) and devalued labour in London’s "gig economy". PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

[img] Text - Submitted Version
Download (1MB)
Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004248


A considerable body of literature on the “gig economy” is dedicated to exploited and precarious labour. This thesis set out to examine the undertheorised role of capitals (economic, social and cultural) and the relationship between these capitals and labour on gig platforms. It found that capitals, in combination with debt, play an important role in shaping the lived experiences of “entrepreneurs” in the “gig economy”. It is argued, therefore, that class analysis of the “gig economy” must consider not only exploited labour, but also debt and forms of capital. Methodologically, this thesis engages in thematic analysis of 40 in-depth interviews with “entrepreneurs” who use three “gig economy” platforms: AirBnB, Uber and Amazon Flex. These analyses offer insights into how obligations on platform users’ future labour, that is debt, degrade agency for the worker while increasing it for the company, increasing risk for the worker while decreasing it for the company. Debt is a core functionality of some “gig” platforms and built into their wider business model where some platforms operate in ways which produce dependency among their workers. Economic, social and cultural capitals, on the other hand, allow for some “entrepreneurs” to set themselves apart through distinction on platforms such as AirBnB; escape risk (across all three platforms); avoid aspects of labour (particularly on Amazon Flex and AirBnB); and avoid some of the downsides that other “gig” workers face. Rating systems play a big part in this, but a different part depending on the platform in question – on some competitive market platforms (AirBnB, for instance) they allow those with the right forms of capital to stand out and earn more money on the platform; on non-competitive market platforms (Uber, Amazon Flex) they serve predominantly as disciplinary mechanisms which put the driver under constant pressure to provide better service (without economic recognition). Overall, it is argued that, through these dynamics, the “gig economy” has the potential to increase existing inequalities by devaluing the indebted subject and those who bring mainly their labour, while valuing the capital-rich subject who is able earn more through digital platforms than they could in traditional markets. This thesis therefore offers a theorisation of the “gig economy” that does not exclusively focus on destabilised labour, but rather, contextualises labour within frameworks of debt and capital that clarify dramatically different outcomes for “entrepreneurial” subjects with different resources.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 George Edward Maier
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Helsper, Ellen and Cammaerts, Bart

Actions (login required)

Record administration - authorised staff only Record administration - authorised staff only


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics