Introducing Dr Gerard McCarthy, SEAC Visiting Fellow and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.
1.What will you be working on during your time as SEAC Visiting Fellow?
My big project here at LSE is convening a workshop on the governance of the gig-economy in Southeast Asia and beyond. Platform apps like Grab and GoJek have found their way rapidly into the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the region in recent years. Yet much of the theorising of platform capitalism as it intersects with the political economy of labour, welfare and state-business relations focuses on the Global North. So the aim is to bring together scholars working on the gig-economy in South and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East to begin to think and work a bit more comparatively about governance challenges and responses.
I’ll also be deepening my existing work on social welfare and hybrid forms of political order in Asia, especially Myanmar. Since February 2021 extraordinarily creative forms of non-state social governance have emerged across Myanmar to provide essential services and sustain resistance to the new dictatorship. Over the next few months I’ll be working on conceptualising these diverse forms and what they tell us about the emergence of social and political order amid civil conflict.
2.What led you to your field of study/what inspired your interest in these topics?
It was really the pandemic that led me into studying the gig-economy. When COVID-19 first hit Southeast Asia I immediately began to ask: how was this impacting households; and how would government pandemic responses impact state-society relations? I got involved in a couple of projects in 2020 and 2021 probing these questions – an oral history of COVID-19 across Southeast Asia; and surveys of household finances and post-pandemic policy preferences in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar.
It quickly became evident that the pandemic had deepened food insecurity massively amongst many households. With government social stimulus often limited we found more than a third of households had taken new loans to pay for food and basic expenses. Many also sought out new work in one of the few sectors that had boomed during COVID-19: app-based platforms that brokered deliveries and other services. Yet across the region these platforms operate in a legal grey-zone, with few social protections or labour regulations for workers. The influx of people into the sector in the past two years has thus highlighted larger issues at the heart of 21st century governance and politics. How are governments – in the Global North and Global South – responding to the social and economic challenges posed by technology-intensive capitalism? And what are the implications for an inclusive and robust recovery coming out of COVID-19?
3. How do you like to relax and unwind?
I have a terrific sweet tooth and really enjoy cooking. The result is a fair bit of baking! Since arriving in the UK I’ve actually found myself living next to a huge apple tree, so using up the windfalls has led to a range of culinary adventures - everything from crumbles and slices to cider!
I also love fitness and the outdoors – hiking, cycling and occasionally wild swimming (when its not too cold!).