All Abstracts > From Casual Worker (Sangong) to Platform Labor: gig workers in China and the global conditions of (the platform) capitalism
From Casual Worker (Sangong) to Platform Labor: gig workers in China and the global conditions of (the platform) capitalism
Author | Affiliation:
Julie Yujie Chen | University of Toronto
1A | Platformization and Digital Labour in China
People outside of the formal employment institutions have been taking odd, temporary jobs to make ends meet in China from the pre-industrial society to the contemporary internet society. They have been described as “sangong” (literarily meaning odd jobs and causal worker simultaneously), migrant workers, the floating population, and now platform or gig workers. This paper explores the shift in the discourse invoked to study Chinese gig workers and examines the underlying socio-economic and cultural transformations for the precarious workers in China under the financialized regime of platform capitalism.
In the past decade, corresponding to a global proliferation of digital platforms to mediate service provision and labor supply, terms like platform worker and gig worker (translated to linggong in Chinese) start to gain traction among scholars and the public, displacing earlier terms of sangong and migrant workers and becoming the normative descriptor of the work force in the platform-mediated service economy. What else is displaced is the attention to the social denominator and cultural practices of these workers. More importantly, I would argue, collapsing heterogenous groups of workers in the platform economy who may have varied social and economic capital into one category of platform worker renders the existing class cleavage and inequality invisible, which further ascribes the survival and success in the platform capitalism to the individual responsibility. The financialized character of platform capitalism reinforces the global trend of flexible production for Chinese precarious workers, which in effect is the global common ground for precarious gig workers in China and elsewhere. In an effort to decentralize the platforms, I will demonstrate how this common ground leads to more shared experience than different experiences between Chinese platform workers and their predecessors in the industrial capitalism.
About the author
Julie Yujie Chen