Gig Work and the Discourse of Autonomy: Fictitious Freedom in Japan’s Digital Economy

The introduction of ‘gig work’ has been accompanied by an official discourse which highlights the benefits for ‘gig workers’, especially as arises from the more autonomous nature of this particular type of employment. In contrast, this paper draws upon the cultural political economy approach to argue that the move towards gig work is more accurately conceptualised as an attempt to legitimate the further flexibilisation of labour markets within advanced industrial democracies, seeking to construct economic imaginaries that are best described as a form of ‘fictitious freedom’. In drawing on the cultural political economy approach, the paper explores the interaction between the structural, discursive and technological selectivities which have generated these outcomes. This is done through a discussion of the case of Japan, which is selected as a key case that highlights the tensions and pressures leading to the introduction of gig work in this way across the advanced industrial democracies. The article shows how gig work sees new digital technologies used in an attempt to increase productivity and thereby further growth, locking gig workers into low-skilled and low-paid super-fragmented tasks, whilst at the same time heralding the benefits that gig work can provide for a range of contemporary problems.

Saori Shibata (2019) Gig Work and the Discourse of Autonomy: Fictitious Freedom in Japan’s Digital Economy, New Political Economy


  • Research publication
  • Other
  • Yes
  • autonomy, flexibility and control
  • English
  • Qualitative research
  • 2019
  • Open access
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