Digit Debates: What do platforms do? Beyond the pro-con debate on gig labour

18 November 2020



Professor Juliet Schor discusses new research on platforms in the post-covid period to ask—what do platforms do?  Drawing on her recent paper (Vallas and Schor, 2020), Professor Schor will outline the four major approaches to this question in the current literature (economic efficiency, algorithmic control, precarity, and institutional chameleons)—and put forward a fifth, which sees platforms as hybrids. They exercise considerable power over workers, but in the context of open employment systems, scheduling and hours flexibility, and relatively low control over the labour process.

Professor Schor argues this hybrid model has resulted in a heterogeneous labour force on a number of dimensions including hours of work, dependence on the platform and orientation to earnings. This heterogeneity structures workers’ experiences and risks on the platforms. In this talk, she updates this work to the post-COVID period drawing on approximately 70 new interviews with food shoppers, food delivery workers, and package deliverers. She reveals that while the previous findings still stand, over-hiring and not enough work have begun to dominate the gig worker experience.


Professor Juliet Schor is an economist and sociologist at Boston College. Schor’s research focuses on the sociology of work, consumption, and climate change. A graduate of Wesleyan University, Schor received her Ph.D. in economics at the University of Massachusetts. Before joining Boston College, she taught at Harvard University for 17 years, in the Department of Economics and the Committee on Degrees in Women’s Studies. Schor’s most recent book is After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back (U of California Press, 2020). Previous books include The Overworked American, The Overspent American, and Plenitude: the new economics of true wealth. Her current research topics include the gig economy and the future of work, time use, and the drivers of carbon emissions. She is currently working on an NSF-funded project on the “algorithmic workplace.” Schor is also the Chair of the Board of Directors of Better Future Project, a Massachusetts-based climate activist organization.

Related reading

Schor (2020) ‘ After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back’, University of California Press.

Connected Consumption and Connected Economy’, Macarthur Foundation Connected Learning Research Network (hosts many papers)