BRIDGING, COACHING, AND BOUNDARY SPANNING: BROKERAGE AND INTERMEDIATION IN THE PHILIPPINE ONLINE PLATFORM LABOR ECONOMY
The increasing networked connectivity and affordability of technology facilitated the rise of digitally-mediated service work. Workers, mostly located in the Global South, can now directly obtain ‘gigs’ through online labor platforms and microwork intermediaries such as Upwork and Onlinejobs.ph. Within the Philippine digital labor economy, we see an emerging category of digital labor intermediaries—locally called peer mentors and coaches-- who are playing a significant role in the expansion and continued uptake of digital platform labor in the country. Building on and drawing connections between earlier works on the influencer economy (Abidin, 2015; Senft, 2013; and Marwick, 2013) and on labor migration brokerage literature (Shreshta & Yeoh, 2018; Lin, Lindquist, Xiang, & Yeoh, 2017), the paper conceptualizes digital labor brokerage arising within various ‘spaces of (labor) intermediation.’ Drawing from participant observation in online freelancing Facebook groups and interviews with these brokers and digital workers, we examine the transactional nature underlying the ‘producer-audience’ relationship of digital labor brokerage, the activation of trust and influence through mediated encounters, and the power dynamic underlying the digitally mediated symbolic and material power taking place between them and their respective teams. The paper seeks to contribute to the digital labor literature in two ways: 1) by characterizing the emergence of digital labor brokers in a digital labor supplying country in the global South, the role they play in the digital platform labor economy and the interventions that they engage; and 2) analyzing the structural conditions that facilitate the emergence of digital labor brokerage.