The individual in the gig society: is the gig economy exploitative of the informal economy, or a means of empowerment?


  • Danelle Fourie North-West University



gig economy, neoliberal 'self-care', entrepeneurship, informal economy, Herbert Marcuse, Wendy Brown


This article argues that the gig economy is an exploitative extension of the informal economy. With its decentralised promise of individual entrepreneurship, I will argue that it places undue burdens on the worker as an ‘independent contractor’ that would otherwise be upheld by the employer. I will do so by applying a Marcusian analysis of the gig economy, highlighting two primary concerns. First, Marcuse’s critique of ‘industrial rationality’ explains how industrial rationality creates the framework for – and justification of – exploitation within the gig economy. Second, as Wendy Brown notes, following Marcuse, the gig economy promotes the neoliberal notion of ‘self-care’ as a means of absolving corporations from any duty towards their employees. More specifically, ‘self-care’ within the gig economy forms part of the exploitation of workers within the informal economy which is often viewed as a buffer to absorb the unemployed within a neoliberal society. Building on this critique, I refer to the work of Byung-Chul Han and his concept of ‘self-exploitation,’ arguing that the gig economy should be considered an extension of an informal economy, in which workers are left in a perpetual state of servitude.


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