Algorithmic Work, Vulnerable Bodies: Instant Delivery Workers and Turkey’s Public Health Crisis during Covid-19

Just Tech Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant – Fall 2020

Abstract

This project examines the unintended health consequences of Covid-19–related public health policies in the algorithmically governed instant delivery sector. As the government in Turkey advised all citizens to stay at home, retail companies seized this as an opportunity to expand their online markets and delivery outreach at the urban level. Instant delivery workers are thus squeezed between the government’s public health policy that encourages self-isolation and in turn increases customer demand for instant delivery, and retail companies that seek to exploit this policy. This project examines the bodily experiences of instant delivery workers employed by the two most popular delivery applications in Turkey during Covid-19. These two applications are unique in that they promise to deliver goods in less than thirty minutes. As the algorithms running beneath these platforms significantly shape the location, time, and cost of instant deliveries, their workers race against time in a densely populated Istanbul, incessantly traveling between small depots and ultimate delivery destinations. As such, risks of traffic accidents, work-related stress and illnesses, and viral risk overlap to exacerbate the already existing public health emergency for these workers. This project investigates how Turkey’s instant delivery workers manage the risk of Covid-19 at the intersections of bodily and psychological health, labor precarity, and algorithmic control in a supposedly weightless and contactless economy. The findings of this research will be used to develop humanitarian technologies and smartphone applications that prioritize the mental and physical health of vulnerable working populations.

Research Team

Principal Investigator

Ergin Bulut

Associate Professor, Koç University

  • Bio ▾

    Ergin Bulut received his PhD from the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Currently, he works as an associate professor at Koç University's Media and Visual Arts Department, where he teaches classes on media industries, video-game studies, media sociology, and media and populism. He researches in the areas of political economy of media and cultural production, video-game studies, media and politics, and critical theory. He is the author of A Precarious Game: The Illusion of Dream Jobs in the Video Game Industry (Cornell University Press, 2020). His work has been published in leading journals including Media, Culture & Society, Triple C, International Journal of Communication, Communication, Culture and Critique, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Television and New Media, and Communication and Critical-Cultural Studies. In the 2019–2020 academic year, Bulut was a visiting researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and faculty fellow at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication at UPenn.

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