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The advent of technology and globalization has revolutionized many aspects of life. Such changes can be seen in the way of living of people nowadays, as well as in the status of development in the majority of the countries. As such, it is becoming extremely important to understand every change that happens as in most of the cases, there are other uncertainties that are related with any form of development, whether negative of positive. For example, terms such as precarity, digital labor, speed, unevenness (or uneven) development, have become some of the common keywords in understanding contemporary Asia.1 This is attributable to the rapid changes witnessed in most of the sectors of the economy. However, what has not been determined is the relationship between precarity, digital labor, speed, and uneven development, due to the fact that limited studies have been carried out to explain the relationship between them.2 For this reason, this paper seeks to address as well as establish the link between these concepts with arguments and observations based on specific sites and examples in contemporary Asia.
Over the recent years, there have been discussions regarding digital labor. While some researchers define internet users as a type of digital labor, there are others who consider such user as free labor with the capacity of building a community based on no major financial rewards. Empirical evidence has showed that the new media era has become significantly important in the growth and development of a country’s economy. In spite of this, there are concerns over the working conditions associated with the digital labor, including aspects of long working hours, low pay, and pervasive insecurity. In addition, the existence of poor working conditions within the digital labor space has contributed to increased cases of gender inequalities where female workers tend to be discriminated in term of pay, flexibility, autonomy, access to work, as well as education. Such conditions are evident in the majority of information and technology companies in China, where despite the fact that workers have low pay, there general working condition is deplorable, which in most of the cases push them to commit suicide. This assertion indicates that there is a close relationship between digital labor and precarity.
Recently, there have been concerns over the role that cultural, communication and media sectors play in the creation of jobs as well as sites for market growth.3 In spite of this, there are counter-perspectives regarding the vaunted creative economy. Such perspectives are based on the re-composition and precarity concepts. The creativity concept does not take into consideration the precarious employment conditions that are present within the sector. Such conditions explain the present scenario is European and Asian countries, where flexibilization of labor markets has led to social, financial, as well as existential insecurity. However, considering the indices of precarity such as erratic work schedule, absence of a safety net, instability in income, uncertainty employment, and the lack of collective representation of work, it would appear that nothing has changed about precarity apart from increasing its intensity.
Precarity and Digital Labor
The contemporary China is characterized by deplorable working conditions and low pay. For example, most of the companies in China such as Foxconn Technology Group, subject its workers to long working hours.4 Such working conditions are to blame for the numerous suicide cases among workers of the majority of companies in China. As such, it can be seen that there is a deviation from past scenarios where labor unions demanded relentless wages, the younger employees refused to carry out their duties, and where substantialbenefits of the normal work did not include huge welfare costs. Since the late seventies, many countries in the world have embraced nonstandard work, which has hence, adversely affected the development of the standard jobs.5 This can be attributed to the emergence of the concept of the digital labor associated with informal mode of employment.
Progressive capitalistarrangements have transformed the majority of labor practices following the adoption and implementation of ICT, as well as the advent of globalization. Such cases have led to the rise of terminologies which are used in the description of the changes experienced within a working life nowadays. For example, immaterial labor, linguistic labor, affective labor, service labor, cognitive labor, network labor, and creative labor can be considered to be suitable substitutes for each other in spite of the fact that they have diverse qualities of experience.
The new forms of labor organization brought about by the fast adoption of ICT are nowadays termed as precarity which refers to a condition of employment where external forces are in play. In addition, precarity in contemporary world takes consideration of numerous aspects of intersubjective such as the capacity to create affective social relations, debt, as well as housing. The background for precarity has been established as the need to reject life-time jobs, as well as the demand for flexible working schedules.
Precarity in contemporary Asia is unpredictable and uncertain, though it is a common phenomenon. Therefore, it has become important to understand the concept of precarity based on whether or not it is possible to find common resources such as political organization in an individual as well as the collection experiences based on permanent insecurity. In addition, such analysis would also entail the need to establish the role of digital technology in the propagation of precarity and digital labor.
Precarity, as evident in contemporary China, can be considered to be double-edged constitutively. First, it comprises of a high rate of change in employment conditions that were regarded as permanent in the past to majorly uncertain and worse paid jobs. Based on this assertion, it is evident that precarity is instrumental for the endless lack of job certainty in China, where the majority of the residents are not able to predict the state of their employment’s stability.6In spite of this, precarity is important in forming the basis for new types of artisticestablishments which are significant in ensuring that the autonomy common in most of the networked modes of production, as well as sociality is exploited. As such, it is no doubt that there is a relationship between social reproduction and material production in contemporary world.
However, one would argue that precarity has a tendency of collapsing other forms of labor. For this reason, the popularity of precarity in China and contemporary Asia does not position itself as a good thing. A lot of concerns have been raised over the fact that precarity has become a common term in Asia. This is attributed to the fact that the high percentage of precarious work in rich countries forms an insignificant part of the capitalist history. However, the widening of the historical and geographical perspective would normalize precarity. It is evident that the neoliberal globalization and ICT are to blame for the increase pressure that is felt labor market nowadays.7In china, precarity has had significant impacts on the country’s labor force, as well as on the general growth and development of the country’s economy.
Technological innovation is considered to have increased competition in almost every aspect of life. Such innovation has been instrumental in ensuring that there is an equal planetary economic playing ground for all players. In spite of this, the speed at which ICT is being adopted in China has raised a lot of concerns over the recent years. This is based on the fact that the use of technology has resulted to manufacture and production of counterfeit products in China.8Even though the idea of product imitation was not common in China in the past, technological advancement hassled to an increase in the cases of counterfeit goods and products in the country. Product imitating has become so common such that common and famous brands such as iPhone and Adidas have been imitated.
Even though counterfeiting is not a new concept in China, it is worrying the manner in which counterfeit goods and products are categorized under one name shanzhai, the mountain stronghold.Shanzhai is a reference to the home of bandits comprising of outlaws who flee from court rulings, move to the mountains where they start their counterattack. This concept has adverse impacts on the production of original goods and products in the countrydue to its ability to absorb any other imitating brands.9 A good example of such ability is the inclusion of copycat cultural productions into the shanzhai culture, especially the ones that have the Euro-American format.
In spite of the fact that counterfeiting is considered ethically wrong, the products and goods produced in China based on original ones seem to have ostensible appeal among users. For this reason, it becomes extremely difficult to do away with the shanzhai culture. However, a review of this culture reveals that it is basically about the concept of the new media as well as its propagation. Despite that the counterfeiting culture in China cannot be reduced to the realm of the new media, it is evident that the strong relationship between new media and the shanzhai culture is instrumental in putting into context the increase in product imitation in contemporary China.
Local, national, and global struggles within contemporary Asia have championed for the growth and development of China. The need to develop like other nations as well as the competition for attention has been instrumental in the rise of the counterfeit culture in China. From an economic point of view, one would consider the speed of innovation in China, as well as the development of counterfeits as means towards achieving sustainability. However, such sustainability is founded on low prices and the defiance of legal doctrines. Such a scenario has a lot of impacts on the economic growth of any country in that, it leads to cases of uneven development within the affected country.
Evidently, globalization has played an enormous role in the current state of growth and development of cities in different parts of the world. Empirical evidence has shown that cities have a capacity to rise as well as fall. In spite of this, it is practically impossible to reduce the urban fate vagaries to the operations of the universal laws that were introduced by capitalist as well as colonialists. The development of cities, though faced by numerous challenges such as flows of culture, national aspirations, and vectors of specific history, remains to be the primary site to launch any significant worldly projects.
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In most of the developing nations, economic growth and development is considered to be a way through which such nations can identify with the outside world. Such a case was evident in China between 1984 and 2010, when the country engaged in fast urbanization projects aimed at providing room for the high number of city dwellers. In spite of such need to cater for the rising population in the country, there has been uneven development with the majority of the developed areas having few businesses and people than the available space. As a result, China has numerous empty cities.
Digital Labor, Speed, Uneven Development, and Precarity
The rate of ICT adoption in the entire world is overwhelming. This is attributable to the fact that ICT has a lot of potential in changing the economic social, as well as political aspects in any country. For example, information and communication technology is a common phenomenon among internet users in China. Numerous devices have been developed base on ICT that ensure the connectivity of individuals regardless of the distance. The availability of such communication devices has also led to the emergence of alternate industry where cheap and counterfeit ICT devices are available to meet the rising demand. In addition, China is ranked as one of the top users of internet in the world. This can be attributed to the fact that the majority of residents in China have access to smartphones and personal computers to access the internet. Such a scenario has led to various social media platforms in the country. Consequently, the heavy use of internet has led to some social media sites being blocked in China on claim that they are adversely affecting the productivity of workers in the country. As such, the only accepted social media platform in China is WeChat.
This social media platform has become widely used in China, penetrating into the daily activities of Chinese residents. As such, there are numerous implications that are associated with the rampant use of WeChat as far as the development of the civil society is concerned.10 While research shows that WeChat offers users the platform to create alternative public spheres, concerns have been raised over the use of this social media platform to constitute obstacles for civil society.
Evidently, the adoption and implementation of information communication technology has numerous socio-economic impacts. Therefore, the examination of the socio-environmental challenges associated with ICT cannot be possible without putting measures in place to materialize digital labor. This can be achieved through a number of approaches. First, there is a need to connect the analyses of ICT that involve political economy to the co-evolution, the geographical planetary urbanization, as well as the change in technology. Secondly, it is important to understand how the material industrial production system is related to the immaterial, digital labor. The review of ICT studies indicates that digital information communication technology platforms mediate as well as structure the social lives of urban development. As such, it is evident that digital ICTs are improved platforms which necessitate the adoption of new manner of approaching digital labor, uneven development and the precarity concepts.
As such, a link exists between unevenness of development, digital labor, speed, and precarity. This can be attributed to the fact that the immaterial labor that results from the adoption of technology in any country is basically material labor that has been instrumental for the high speed of capital circulation and various forms of development in any country. On the other hand, the material labor accounts for the invasion of life and the growth and development of different sectors of economy. For this reason, it can be considered that the third-wave urbanization in different regions of the world such as in Asia, as well as the co-current fast adoption of digital ICTs are necessary aspects needed in the cultural and cognitive labor.
As evident in the case of China, technological adoption has created significant avenues for digital labor, which can be blamed for the introduction of precarious jobs where people are subjected to poor working conditions including low pay and long working hours. On the other hand, such conditions have been highly significant for the endless lack of job certainty in China, where the majority of the residents are not able to predict the state of their employment’s stability.
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De Peuter, Greig. “Creative Economy and Labor Precarity a Contested Convergence.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 35, no. 4 (2011): 417-425.
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- Ananya Roy and Aihwa Ong, Worlding cities: Asian Experiments and The Art of Being Global, (New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 23.
- Greig De Peuter, “Creative Economy and Labor Precarity a Contested Convergence,” Journal of Communication Inquiry 35, no. 4 (2011): 417.
- Bernard Harcourt, “Digital Security in the Expository Society: Spectacle, Surveillance, and Exhibition in the Neoliberal Age of Big Data,” Columbia Public Law Research Paper 2, no.3 (2014): 40.
- Fan Yang, “Temporality and Shenzhen Urbanism in the Era of ‘China Dreams’,” Verge: Studies in Global Asias, (2016): 3.
- Trebor Scholz, Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory (London, UK: Routledge, 2012), 42.
- Tayyab Mahmud, “Precarious Existence and Capitalism: A Permanent State of Exception,” Southwestern Law Review, no. 2 (2014): 699.
- Diganta Das and Tong Lam, “High-Tech Utopianism: CHINESE and Indian Science Parks in the Neo-Liberal Turn,” BJHS Themes 1, no. 2 (2016): 223.
- Joel Andreas, “A Shanghai Model? On Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics,” New Left Review 65, no. 2 (2010): 63.
- Fan Yang, “From Bandit Cell Phones to Branding the Nation: Three Moments of Shanzhai in WTO-era China,” Positions 24, no. 3 (2016): 590.
- Fangjing Tu, “WeChat and Civil Society in China,” Communication and the Public 1, no. 3 (2016): 343.