ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Macro Frames of Microwork

Indian Women Workers on AMT in the Post-pandemic Moment

Based on a qualitative study of women microworkers on Amazon Mechanical Turk, this paper explores the gendered modus operandi of global platform capitalism. For women from households negotiating caste and class status in small-town South India, digital labour platforms like AMT are the optimal choice; an answer to both economic necessity and familial validation. Women must, however, endure the platform’s coercive disciplining, striving to meet its unknowable metrics. With the pandemic, even as they are forced to contend with the oppressive precarity of digital labour—reducing job availability, falling pay, longer hours and the risk of suspension—work on AMT, paradoxically, becomes non-negotiable. The artificial intelligence-based regimes of the platform economy urgently need a norm shift towards gender equality and redistributive justice.

 

This study was undertaken as part of IT for Change’s project, “Centring Women in India’s Digitalising Economy,” supported by the European Union and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, with which the authors are associated. We extend our gratitude to Deepti Kulkarni, Neha Gupta, Uma Rani, and Zothan Mawii for sharing insights from their own work on the subject with us.
 

Digital work is increasingly being seen as an important pathway for developing countries to harness the rapidly growing opportunities of the digital economy (Banga 2020). From a development perspective, there is thus an imperative to take stock of the emerging trajectories of the platform labour market. This paper presents findings from a research study exploring the experiences of women working on the microwork platform, Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT or MTurk). Microwork platforms refer to crowdwork1 platforms that provide businesses with access to a large, flexible workforce distributed across the globe for performing numerous small and quick, often repetitive, tasks (Berg et al 2018).

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the rise of digital labour platforms is the most significant transformation in the world of work since the financial crisis of 2008 (Berg et al 2018). The reconstitution of the economy in the fourth industrial revolution, propelled by data and artificial intelligence has opened new labour markets. The production, development and support of artificial intelligence requires human intelligence (Altenried 2020) so that technology can learn cultural and social facts. Microwork is hence not a fringe phenomenon (Tubaro et al 2020), but a new workplace that needs to be understood in relation to how human computational labour inhabits the invisible spaces of the digital economy.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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