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Provincializing Platform Capitalism: Digitization and Informality in Jakarta’s Motorbike Taxi Industry

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Amidst a rapid re-organization of the global economy around the extraction of big data by platform firms like Amazon, Uber, or Alibaba (“platform capitalism”), this dissertation explores shifting regimes of market formation, urban governance, and labor organizing in Jakarta, Indonesia. Drawing on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork, I examine the digitization of the motorbike taxi (ojek) market by the super-app platforms Grab and Gojek. Within just seven years, these firms have become two of the largest companies in Indonesia, an integral part of the country’s urban transportation system, and a major source of employment for millions. Combining ethnographic research with ojek drivers, qualitative interviews with government officials, transportation experts, and platform employees, and archival document analysis, I explore how these companies have worked to impose platform technologies onto the informal ojek industry by enclosing its labor pool, customers, and socio-economic infrastructures. In doing so, I contribute to theorizations of how digital platforms are transforming key processes and actors of capital accumulation: marketization and the firm; regulation and the state; labor and workers. Overwhelmingly, existing platform studies scholarship on these topics remains narrowly focused on case studies in the United States and Europe, problematically assuming that concepts developed in the Euro-American core will translate to much of the formerly colonized world. Drawing on postcolonial urban theory, I argue that the particularities of Jakarta’s urban form, informal livelihood practices, and cultural norms of mutual aid shape processes of platform capitalism in ways that cannot fully be explained by the existing Euro-American literature. Re-examining extant theories from the margins of the global platform economy—what I call provincializing platform capitalism—the dissertation’s empirical chapters analyze the uneven outcomes of platformization for Jakarta’s urban majority. I find that gig workers have autoconstructed their own online and offline mutual aid communities (komunitas) to improve the conditions of their work, even as their labor, subjectivities, and socio-spatial relations become increasingly enrolled into global financial circuits and state developmental interests.

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This item is under embargo until December 8, 2024.