Digital Labour Markets and the Future of Work in Indian Cities.

Urban Futures – March 8th to 12th 2021

Digital Labour Markets and the Future of Work in Indian Cities

What is platform urbanism? How is it changing our cities and the nature of our urban economy? What are the challenges and issues that workers working in digital labour markets face?

Urban Futures is one of the hallmark courses of the Masters program in Urban Policy and Governance. Conceived as a space where students get to explore emerging and cutting edge urban issues, Urban Futures is usually held in the final semester of the Masters coursework. It is an intensive week-long workshop anchored by an urban practitioner. 

This year, the Urban Futures course focused on the concept of Platform Economies and the way the character of urban work, mediated by media and technology, will change in the future. It was facilitated by Ms Aditi Surie from Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Bangalore. Aditi is an urban researcher, sociologist and a consultant with IIHS. Her area of expertise is at the complex and unfolding intersections of labour, technology and economy. You can find her official profile here: https://iihs.co.in/iihs-people/team/aditi-surie/

Sixteen students from second year MA/MSc Urban Policy and Governance participated in the course in March 2021.  Due to Covid 19 restrictions the course was conducted fully online. Using labor platforms, specifically hyperlocal platforms, the students explored the techno-capital forms impacting what counts as work, how work is conducted, the relationship of workers to firms. They looked at mobility patterns, home services, delivery and logistics platforms that are present in Bangalore and other Indian metros. The focus was on understanding about the design, business decisions and technological set-up of a digital platforms and how this creates a digital labor market. These insights were then contextualized within the nature of precarious life and work in the Indian city. It brought home the multifarious factors that can cause inequality in the platform economy and explored what decent work means in the case of digital platforms. 

UPG student Milan shared,

“The course on Urban Futures introduced me to the emerging field called Platform Urbanism. I was thoroughly engrossed in it and I enjoyed the topic. I was engaging with issues in Platform Urbanism for the first time and enjoyed the discussions. All in all, it introduced me to something new which I appreciate and the Prof ensured that learning remains active and thoughtful.” 

“The  was very well designed and focused. There was a lot of scope for discussion and deliberation. The assignments were fun, flexible. The content was not only relevant but also presented in a very engaging manner.” said Roopkatha, student UPG.

The classes and discussions were participatory and interactive where students used tools like Miro Board to interact with each other. Students were provided with  readings to get a deeper understanding and perspectives on platform economy. The assignments were arranged in a way that drew from class activities and also provided in-depth research exposure.

Archana, a student, had the following to say

“The  was rich in its curriculum and very engaging in terms of its pedagogy. I was personally able to appreciate the knowledge addition and the practical exercises we undertook to better understand digital platforms. Being fairly new to the topic, I felt like Ms. Surie gave us a great introduction to the subject. I still try to follow new developments in the field of digital platforms through newly published papers and Twitter news. I believe that instilling lasting curiosity is the best way that professors can ensure their students remain engaged with their subjects and I can say that that’s more than true of the Urban Futures ”

Online mode was challenging than regular physical classrooms where teaching, discussions and activities are easier and engaging for both the instructor and students. About conducting the course online, Aditi shared, “The responses from students have been really great. Students were very nice and happy to do the course. 2021 was challenging and extremely energy consuming as an instructor. In the course, there is an activity to do an algorithmic walk around a particular space with a mindset of an algorithm and computational thinking. This was very complicated to do online because each student was in a different environment and a different physical space so it added some complexity to do those activities.”

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