Trusted Strangers: Carework Platforms’ cultural Entrepreneurship in the On-demand Economy
On-demand labor platforms offer many in-person services, from ride-hailing to childcare. However, scholars have focused on ride-hailing, leading to a model of “Uberization” that entails the informalization of work. We argue that online carework platforms that match nannies and babysitters to families show the limits of this narrative. Based on a discourse analysis of carework platforms and interviews with workers using them, we illustrate that these platforms seek to formalize employment relationships through technologies that increase visibility. We argue that carework platforms are “cultural entrepreneurs” that create and maintain cultural distinctions between populations of workers, and institutionalize those distinctions into platform features. Ultimately, the visibility created by platforms does not realize the formalization of employment relationships, but does serve the interests of platform companies and clients and exacerbate existing inequalities for workers. As one of the first analyses of carework platforms, this study also points to gendered bias in the scholarly literature about the on-demand economy.