Moralizing Disruption: Inside China’s Ride-hailing Revolution

My dissertation explores the emergence, contestation, and moralization of ride-hailing platforms in contemporary China. During 20-months of ethnographic fieldwork spanning six years, I immersed myself in communities of corporate managers, on-demand drivers, labor contractors, and cabbies— exploring how different groups of actors form unique moral understandings of the technological disruption induced by ride-hailing. For example, corporate managers of Didi and Uber tend to characterize technological disruption as deeply moral; since they believe that platforms can improve urban transportation and create job opportunities, they view their expansion as a moral imperative. Conversely, on-demand drivers question whether ride-hailing apps make cities better, but they still seek to profit from the disruptive boom. In online communities, some drivers even share knowledge about how to exploit platforms’ technological loopholes to fake trips and maximize profits. Every local community produces a distinct moral world through which they understand their place in society. By placing these moral worlds in parallel, my talk reveals how in this digital age, the boundaries of “local moral worlds” map ever more closely onto technological divides than the traditional divisions of geography, nationality, or culture.