Speaker: Ya-Wen Lei
Title: "From Factories to Food Delivery Platforms: Contingent Contractual Relationships in China’s Platform Economy?"
This paper extends the literature on the labor process from factories to food delivery platforms against the backdrop of China’s industrial transformation. Although food delivery drivers for online platforms seem to enjoy a higher level of freedom and income than factory workers, strikes and protests organized by platform drivers, especially gig platform drivers, have been increasing. I address why food delivery platforms encounter problems in eliciting consent and cooperation from drivers and why gig platform drivers organize more strikes and protests than service platform drivers. Drawing on the sociology of contracts to reconfigure Burawoy’s theory of manufacturing consent, I argue that the ambiguity, opacity, and arbitrary and frequent change of contractual elements within the platform economy work collectively to gradually dissolve drivers’ consent. Social media, gender and class identity, gender norms, and the leadership of former manufacturing workers play an important role in converting disillusion about contractual relationships into collective resistance. The legal, organizational, and technological designs of different platforms lead to varying configurations of social relationships, which further influence whether and how drivers escalate contractual disputes into strikes and protests.
Ya-Wen Lei is an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University. Her research lies at the intersection of political sociology, law and society, economic sociology, and urban sociology.