Choice or Chance? Driver-labor and Reproductive Justice
Taxis are often perceived as vastly different from gigged driving companies like Uber and Lyft, in large part because gigged driving companies spend billions of dollars every year marketing themselves this way. In contrast, Spent Behind the Wheel (2022), co-authored by Kasturi Ray and Julietta Hua, traces the ways traditional taxis and the gigged driving sector have more commonalities than differences. Most importantly, both share the presumption of, and ground their profits in, unfettered access to drivers’ reproductive labor. Drivers, we find, work to support the social reproduction, or full life-flourishing of others, at the expense of their own life chances. However, the masculinized bodies of drivers occlude the reproductive nature of their work, and along with it, the ways that the siphoning of drivers’ reproductive capacities structures industry accumulation across the taxi and gigged sectors.
This presentation deploys a reproductive justice lens, broadly understood, to understand the gendered and racial conditions of labor that structure the passenger ride-for-hire industry, whether taxi or gig. Reproductive justice foregrounds the right to bodily autonomy and sustainability, and promotes discussions of “how people’s bodies matter and whose bodies are valued or devalued," as Loretta Ross explains. Reproductive justice entails an examination of how passenger driving industries draw upon eugenic logics to exploit and in many cases manufacture antagonisms between passengers and drivers, while masking their own roles in the making of the many crises of privatized transportation. Instead, work and its ancillary activities (such as maintaining a car) is conceived of as not driven by precarity but choice. This framing imperils drivers’ visibility as rights-bearing subjects, whether to be protected from predatory loan schemes, as in the case of taxi drivers, or to be recognized as workers at all, as in the case of gigged drivers.
This treatment of professional-passenger drivers underscores the perils of reproductive labor everywhere. The erosion of abortion rights provides a particularly urgent example. The supposed plethora of choices available to people who can get pregnant (ranging from taking birth control for thirty years to adopting out their birthed children) is cited to negate their access to one of the most important ones: abortion. This negation is supported by manufactured antagonisms between women and their potential children, and helps occlude the ways pregnancy fuels the social reproductive and moral needs of the nation– all at the expense of the life flourishing of people who can get pregnant. Both drivers’ and pregnant people’s fights for self-reproduction highlight the ways the language of choice obscures life chances, and thus illuminates new horizons for shared reproductive justice struggles.
About the Speakers
Julietta Hua is Professor of Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University. In addition to her multiple published work with Dr. Kasturi Ray, she is the author of Trafficking Women’s Human Rights (MN Press, 2012). Her teaching and research focus on immigration legal histories, politics and race. She is currently serving as board president of San Francisco SafeHouse, a “housing first” organization that serves womxn experiencing sexual violence and exploitation.
Kasturi Ray (BC ’89) is Professor of Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University. In addition to her many collaborations with Dr. Julietta Hua, she is the author of work on picture brides and other domestic workers. Her teaching and research focus on labor, culture, and race. She is also a Faculty Director at the Center for Equity and Excellence in Teaching and Learning, where she works on supporting students’ wide-ranging reading skills in the face of historical forms of racism.
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This event is free and open to all. RSVP is preferred.
Co-sponsored by the Center for Engaged Pedagogy, Barnard College