2018 Winner

Uber and What the People Want

The Populist Persuasion of Algorithmic Management

by Juan Manuel Del Nido

AES is pleased to announce the winner of the 2018 Elsie Clews Parsons Prize. At the AES spring meeting in Philadelphia, Juan Manuel Del Nido (The University of Manchester) was awarded the prize for his paper, “Uber and What the People Want: The Populist Persuasion of Algorithmic Management.”

AES Councilor Shanti Parikh (Washington University in St. Louis) chaired the committee. At the awards ceremony, AE Editor Niko Besnier (University of Amsterdam) delivered the following words from the committee and awarded the prize certificate.

In this essay, the author analyzes Uber in Argentina as a way to disentangle “the enmeshment of populism and algorithmic management.” Based on ethnographic research that includes an in-depth analysis of the Uber app, as well as discussions with Uber drivers and potential Uber users, the author calls for anthropologists to rethink the ways in which populism, transparency, and “expertise” are being transformed by the gig economy and new technologies. Through a merging of different theoretical frameworks and innovative ethnographic data, the author shows how the aesthetics of efficiency inhabit the “five identical starts” managerial tool, that transform the relationship between the state and the citizen-consumer by relying on its perceived simplicity and slickness.

The committee selected this essay because it represents fine innovative thinking in theory and method, and shows how finely crafted ethnography can offer insight into new technologies (Uber) and the reshaping of everyday life.