The coincidence of the gig-economy with identity politics

This paper was presented at the ‘Back to the Future: Class and the Past, 1800-2000’ conference at Lancaster University, 16th March 2017.

Capitalism necessitates that society must exist as a network of isolated individuals who are able to freely exchange commodities, and for most people the only commodity that they possess is, of course, their body. With the huge rise of the “gig-economy”, there has been a move from typical shift-based work, which was temporally and geographically consistent, to the gig-economy in which both the location and time of work become completely destabilised. I examine this through the logic of commodity fetishism. The peak of commodity fetishism emerges through the dematerialisation of the object that the fetish attached itself to. Take the virtual nature of the money commodity; no matter how much physical money is created or destroyed, wealth and value remain unaffected.

For the worker of the gig-economy, there is no workplace as such, and there is no boss. Despite the lack of physicality through which the fetish emerges, the laws that designate the movements and productivity of the workers remain just as rigid and just as real. Although workers appear to be free due their self-regulation, they must continue to conform to the law of the market.

I argue that the virtual nature of the modern notion of identity emerges through the dematerialisation of community. As alienation and reification spreads throughout modern life, identity becomes the fetish through which some semblance of unity is found. I argue that the demands of identity politics today coincide with the fetish character of gig-economy. Emancipation is defined as a dissociation from older, formal models of being through the reassertion of those same models via a strict self-regulation. To be specific, the pseudo-radical notion of fluid identities coincides with the fluidity demanded of modern workers.

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