Reading between the lines: Blueprints for a worker support infrastructure in the emerging peer economy
“Technologies that change society are technologies that change interactions between people.”
- César Hidalgo
The normative understanding of work is imploding. Throughout most of the U.S.’ twentieth century, landing a job was equivalent to a lifetime of smooth sailing, but today’s Americans are always anticipating the next round of layoffs. This thesis kicks off with the rise and ebb of gainful employment through the 20th century. It then introduces the peer economy as a well-positioned, future work model for mainstream adoption. I run through the peer/sharing economy ideology before introducing stakeholders—providers, companies, investors, entrenched interests, regulators, cities, labor advocates, strategists, scholars and critics, and media—as well as known problems in the space.
I suggest three historical antecedents from which to draw:
- The domestic workers movement for identifying emergent needs, organizing strategies, and as a natural partner in procuring labor rights
- An indictment of legal work status in the US and an exhortation to expand its classifications beyond “employee” and “independent contractor.”
- The franchise dilemma offers legal terms—”convenance of good faith and fair dealing” and “contract of adhesion”—that capture tension between providers and platforms that both groups have had difficulty articulating. These terms are necessary to carry on a truly productive conversation of ethical issues in the peer economy.
The fourth chapter summarizes qualitative and ethnographic fieldwork in New York City and San Francisco. I interviewed various stakeholders with an emphasis on social welfare. Instead of summing up known issues, the chapter conveys how providers see themselves in relation to companies and customers.
This thesis ends by locating the peer economy within a larger movement to redefine work. It contextualizes the peer economy as one model and articulates the motivation among all stakeholders, which applies across labor models: “The excitement that I have observed around the peer economy—even when it is naïve—is a recognition that now is a chance to do things better.”
[Memos during research period]
Photo: My dear friend Jessica Goldfin (@jgoldfin) helped me map out my research timeline, what she calls “scheming for good.”
Peer economy, sharing economy and the future of work: thesis by Denise Cheng (download). Excerpt.
"“The excitement that I have observed around the peer economy—even when it is naïve—is a recognition that now is a chance to do things better.”"