Sweeping Inequality – Female Domestic Cleaners in the Gig-Economy of Central Eastern Europe

Venue: Marietta-Blau-Saal, Main Building of the University of Vienna
Street address: Universitätsring 1, 1010 Wien

In contemporary capitalist societies the provisioning of domestic work has undergone and continues to undergo substantial transformations. These transformations include the externalization, commodification, and commercialization of socially reproductive labor. As part of this growing marketisation, gig economy platforms emerged as new players in this sector and position themselves as mediators between service providers and seekers. Since digital labor intermediaries play a crucial role in shaping consumer expectations and enshrining work relationships, they carry the potential to reproduce, aggravate or alter power asymmetries. Therefore, the aim of the GigClean project (funding: digifonds of the Vienna chamber of labor) is to investigate working realities of platform-mediated domestic cleaners in Vienna.

Together with her colleague Julia Radlherr, Laura Wiesböck examined the website of Betreut.at (‘takencareof.at), a subsidiary company of the international corporation Care.com Europe GmbH and one of the largest digital labor platforms for household services in Austria. By applying the walkthrough method and complementing the analysis with 15 problem-centered interviews, the following research questions are addressed: What norms, ideas, and beliefs about domestic cleaning (workers) are integrated in the design of Betreut.at? And how are the design choices of the platform reflected in working experiences of domestic cleaners in the gig economy in Vienna? The results show that practices encouraged by digitally mediated marketplaces can perpetuate the historical exploitation inherent in racially and feminized service work, further deepening normative gender and power relations.

Dr. Laura Wiesböck is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies. She holds a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Vienna. Throughout her academic career she has also studied, conducted research, or taught at Oxford University, University of Ghana, and National Taiwan University among others. Her research interests fall in the field of social inequality with a focus on labor market, poverty, gender, and digitalization. The sociologist was granted several prizes in recognition of her academic work. In addition to scientific articles Laura Wiesböck regularly communicates research findings and perspectives to the public through media interviews (e.g. Associated Press, Libération, DIE ZEIT), her personal social media channels (e.g. Instagram) and public lectures (e.g. Diagonale Film Festival, Austrian Parliament).

This keynote is sponsored by the CENTRAL Network and part of the CENTRAL Workshop: Contemporary Cultural History 2.0. Nurturing Talents of Central and Central Eastern Europe.