Submission for :
Reshaping Work in the Platform Economy
Amsterdam October 19 & 20, 2017
Maîtresse de conférences en sociologie CMW – Université Lumière Lyon2
New Jobs, New Militant Commitments, New Leisure Activities? Becoming Assembly leader at The Food Assembly in France
In the agricultural sector, a startup, « The Food Assembly » (FA), invites private individuals to set up a pop-up food market in order to contribute to a fairer agriculture. Founded in France in 2011 this start-up manages an online platform that allows consumers and food producers to meet up and bypass mass distribution. There are around 700 assemblies in France in 2017 and it’s now spreading in Europe. The online platform has 70 employees and achieved a total of 2 million euros in turnover. The FA advocates “alternative” ways of distributing food, local, hence more ecological, and promoting interactions between its « community members ». By doing so, the FA follows the “Community supported agriculture’s” basic principles that are now quite well known.1 The novelty of the FA is that it relies not only on a website, but also on private individuals getting a commission, who aren’t thus either volunteers (as in the CSAs) or employed by the platform. Those workers could be similar to militants that strive to reconcile convictions and profession, as can be found in solidarity economy (Rodet, 2013) or political parties (Bargel, 2011).
Several studies, however, underline the risks associated with activities that mix job and activism. It could in some cases lead to poor working and employment conditions (Hély and Moulévrier, 2013, Darbus and Hély, 2010, Peugeot et al., 2015). First reflections about this sector emphasize the fear that those activities may lead to new working poors, holding several jobs to make ends meet, paid on a piecework basis, lacking social protection. The FA can’t avoid such questioning. Its « leaders » combine job insecurity with an unclear legal situation, between self-employment and a rather strong subordination to the online platform. Those “hosts” are for 66% of them “auto-entrepreneur”2 or have the “EURL” status3 (the others are registered as non-profit organizations or other enterprises). Managing an Assembly takes from 10 to 15 hours of work per week and is remunerated 8,35% of the foodmakers’ pre-tax turn- over. Another 8,35% goes to the startup.
The way The Food Assembly operates is thus ambiguous as far as the Assembly Leaders are concerned: Are those people qualified workers looking for militant commitment, alongside a main paid employment – and if so, why don’t they then do it as volunteers? Are they rather some kind of new working poors hoping they’ll manage to make a living out of it, in the end?
As far as the first hypothesis is concerned, to what extent are those workers similar to those committed to solidarity economy? Can several profiles be identified?
This communication addresses those interrogations. It analyses the ways ordinary people turn into food entrepreneurs, scrutinizing their career path, education and possible previous militant commitments. It makes a comparison between this Assembly leader activity and new militant commitment forms that can be found in solidarity economy. It will also consider the ways this occupation can be articulated with others, private or professional. This communication relies on an ongoing research concerning Assembly leaders from Lyon and Paris on the basis of interviews, observations and website analysis.
1 Called “AMAP” in France: “Associations pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne” – literally: associations for the preservation of peasant agriculture.
2 French simplified self-employment regime.
3 One-person limited liability undertakings.
BARGEL L. 2011. « S’attacher à la politique. Carrières de jeunes socialistes professionnels », Sociétés contemporaines, 84(4): 79-102.
DARBUS F. HELY M. 2010. « Travailler dans l’ESS : aspirations, représentations et dispositions », RECMA, 317 : 68-86.
HELY M. MOULEVRIER P. 2013. L’économie sociale et solidaire : de l’utopie aux pratiques. Paris : La Dispute.
PEUGEOT V. BEUSCART J.-S. PHARABOD A.-S. TRESPEUCH M. 2015. « Partager pour mieux consommer ? », ESPRIT, 7 : 19-29
RODET D. 2013. Une production engagée. Sociologie des labels, chartes et systèmes participatifs de l’économie solidaire. Thèse de doctorat de sociologie, Paris : CNAM