Datafication, Surveillance and Inclusion: A critical analysis of digital platforms and their role in India.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Inclusion within information systems and ICT4D research is primarily invoked as a positive benefit on the human actors involved. Set in this context, this thesis conceptualises inclusion under the growing presence of digital platforms as complex newfound participation afforded to socioeconomically marginalised individuals.
The thesis employs two overlapping theoretical lenses of ‘liquid surveillance’ (Bauman & Lyon 2013) and ‘abnormal justice’ (Fraser 2008). Firstly, the metaphor of liquidity in this thesis deconstructs surveillance as a mesh of multiple visibilities within digital platforms. Secondly, a social justice framing positions the impact of the surveillant visibilities on marginalised individuals as an intersectional outcome of inclusion performed across cultural, economic and political dimensions.
The empirical context involves studying India's governmentally mandated digital identity platform (Aadhaar), situated within the constellation of digital ‘gig-work’ platforms that are becoming prevalent sites of employment. The data presented forms a qualitative case study of the experience of three groups of gig-workers, namely domestic workers, cab-drivers and food-delivery workers, forming a total of 60 interviews. This is supported by ethnographic field observations and auto-ethnographic research, working as gig-worker in south India.
The thesis is in an ‘alternative format’ with three constituent papers presenting interrelated perspectives of digital platforms and their wider ecosystem. The first paper studies the use of Aadhaar by domestic workers and cab-drivers (Krishna 2021) and operationalises ‘abnormal justice’ as a framework to theorise cultural, economic and political dimensions of justice as being synergistic with elements of surveillance and datafication inherent to digital identification. The second paper details the practices of datafication and surveillance within the food-delivery platform (Krishna 2020). It finds that in the performance of gig-work, (in)justice is experienced spatiotemporally by workers within their daily work practices. The third paper (Krishna n.d.) uses a lens of ‘liquid surveillance’ to conceptualise the concomitant roles of platforms in enacting surveillance and enabling inclusion. Within platform ecosystems, a ‘liquid inclusion’ is exposed to be dictated by episodic tasks of self-surveillance rather than being an absolute positive benefit of participating in the digital economy.
The thesis bridges a gap in literature within information systems and ICT4D by juxtaposing surveillance and inclusion. It adds to the emerging literature on ‘data justice‘ in operationalising justice under platform ecosystems and specific practices of gig-work environments.

Research Papers
There are two published papers within this thesis, with the third paper being finalised for submission.
Krishna, S. (2020). Spatiotemporal (In) justice in Digital Platforms: An Analysis of Food-Delivery Platforms in South India. Proceedings of IFIP Joint Working Conference on the Future of Digital Work: The Challenge of Inequality (pp. 132-147). Springer, Cham.
Krishna, S. (2021). Digital identity, datafication and social justice: understanding Aadhaar use among informal workers in south India. Information Technology for Development, 27(1), 67-90.
Krishna, S. (n.d.). Liquid Inclusion: The dynamics of inclusion under datafication and surveillance. In Preparation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Zheng, Yingqin, Supervisor
  • Wu, Philip, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • Datafication
  • Surveillance
  • Inclusion
  • Social Justice
  • India
  • Digital Identity
  • Gig-economy
  • Gig-work
  • Digital Platform

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