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Fleeting Alliances and Frugal Collaboration in Piecework: A Video-Analysis of Food Delivery Work in India

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Food delivery platforms are designed to match on-demand workers with jobs and then manage, monitor, and assess their performance with minimal human intervention and high reliance on technology. The platform provides the worker with a digital representation of the world where the delivery work happens. However, once the worker accepts a food delivery job from a platform, they need to move through and deal with the realities of the social complexities and unsettled urban landscape of the varied infrastructures, traffic, and regulations around them. The Global South presents a particularly demanding context for this type of work, given less clearly mapped addresses and other socio-cultural intricacies. In order to understand and describe how food delivery workers bridge any gaps and mismatches between the demands of the food delivery app and the realities encountered \textit{in situ}, we shadowed six delivery workers over the course of their working day. The six workers involved ranged from a complete novice, to experienced riders who rely entirely on platform apps to earn a living. We used video to capture participants' efforts to perform food delivery work in Pune, India, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our moment by moment analysis of the video data was informed by the methodological traditions of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis and provides an evidence-based perspective of platform-mediated food delivery work \textit{in situ}. While the food delivery platform imposes a detailed workflow expected to be performed alone by the worker, our detailed video analysis reveals the collaborative nature of delivery gig work. We highlight how workers draw upon their ability to participate in `fleeting alliances' and produce `frugal collaboration' with co-located others, like other delivery workers or security guards, to be able to resolve everyday, immediate troubles, often learning or imparting `the tricks of the trade' in the process. While gig platform technologies have commonly been presented as disruptive tools by which to coordinate, regulate, and assess gig workers individually and independently in contrast to earlier collaborative workplace technologies, our findings highlight collaboration as a critically important aspect of food delivery work.


Shaikh, Riyaj; Mcgregor, Moira; Brown, Barry; Lampinen, Airi (2024): Fleeting Alliances and Frugal Collaboration in Piecework: A Video-Analysis of Food Delivery Work in India. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Vol. 33. London: Springer. ISSN: 0925-9724. Full Papers. Rimini, Italy. June 17-21, 2024