Migrant bike couriers in the ‘smart city’ at night
How do migrant night workers, such as bike couriers or juicers, imagine, produce and experience urban public night spaces in our emerging ‘smart cities’?
We research the ‘digital shift’ of migrant night cultures, how it shapes the spatio-temporal complex of our cities and its public spaces .
We ask how digitally-managed night workers exchange knowledge by providing narratives of essential cultural oppositions such as the ones between night/day labour cultures, public/private spaces, and between digital/physical geographies.
We study how these major social transformations are experienced by migrant workers, who are working in the so called “platform economy”. We study their every day lives through interviews, group discussions, ethnographic mapping of their social physical and digitally augmented environments and with participant observation of night shifts.
In this subproject we investigate the cultural practices and narratives of a new social public figure which pervades the so-called ‘smart city’ at night: migrant bike couriers, who gather on public squares around Berlin. Berlin is rapidly becoming a so-called ‘smart city’. This transition entails dramatic implications for the convergence of digital infrastructures with physical space and temporal adaptations. Understanding the ‘digital shift’ is thus of vital importance when we take the blurring between day and night in terms of work culture into account.
In new forms of algorithmically-organised work we observe the emergence of a new social public figure: the bike courier, racing across the city at a fast pace, digitally mobilised for deployment along the so-called ‘last mile’ of parcel and delivery services, regulated and controlled by various digital platforms which are aiming to cater our transformed consumer habits, accurately described as the ‘convenience economy’.
Our project directs the attention to the workers who remain largely invisible in the reproduction of the ‘Smart City’ while being hyper visible at the same time, filling the streets with their reflective bags and brightly-coloured jackets. The figure of the bike courier provides an important point of entry for research on night space cultures in European cities. Our project investigates the cultural practices and narratives of this new social public figure. Its focus lies on the night shift of bike couriers, many of whom come from crisis-ridden Southern and Eastern Europe, as they gather often in groups in public squares around the city waiting for their next job. These public spaces of social gathering and knowledge exchange, also often build the basis for a newly emerging protest culture of bike riders, expressed materially through clothing, collections of worn down bike parts, but also virtually through circulating slogans and hashtags. By contrasting the physical/digital geographies emerging through new work cultures in the Smart City, we seek to understand shifting representations of the urban landscape, perceptions of belonging and interculturality, and the worlding of European cities.