ECIS 2020 Research Papers


The rapid diffusion of digital labour across the Global South is linked to the conduct of a particular type of development projects, centered on training members of marginalised communities to become “freelancers” for global digital labour platforms. This paper argues that a theoretical lens centered on the notion of institutional voids helps conceptualise the theoretical link between digital labour and socio-economic development. Specifically, digital labour platforms are framed as a means to fill institutional voids, creating “development” in the form of earning opportunities in contexts of economic deprivation. Drawing on data collected from a pilot online work training project in Pakistan, we theorise the link between digital labour and development as a process attempting to fill institutional voids, then using narratives from trainee workers – in which earnings are juxtaposed to exploitative dynamics – to problematise the effective functioning of this process. We further observe that workers attempt to fill the remaining voids by creating informal, non-unionised networks of mutual help and support. The paper contributes to the theorisation of the link between digital labour and development, exploring it empirically in the context of a marginalised workforce.



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