Cover photo by Pablo Gonzalez.
What do you do when job hunting? Do you go out to the streets and hand over your printed CV to anyone that wants it? Most likely, I presume, you do not. Instead, you probably decide to use the internet, and platforms like LinkedIn. In this process, I ask you, have you built different versions of yourself to appeal to different potential employers? Is there any specific information about yourself you highlighted or avoided mentioning (maybe the neighborhood or city you live in)? Have you had to show an ID to prove who you are during the hunt? Have you actively curated your social media in order to portray yourself in certain ways you think work in your favor? Have you searched for advice in online forums, articles, or web-based career coaching that included calls such as “working on your online presence is key”?
I have done almost all that. I live offline, and I live online. And during job hunts I have intentionally tracked my digital footprints so as to ‘curate’ my identity. But, does everyone act the same? Does it depend on your socio-economic class, on where you live? I assume it does, to a large extent. And as a Yoti Digital Identity fellow, I am digging into this people’s active exercise of changing and making of their digital identities in Argentina. The focus is the knowledge, lived experiences, and perceptions of vulnerable, under and unemployed individuals who seek the help of local organizations (ONGs, public job centers, community groups).
Why the vulnerable under- and unemployed? Because they are often and easily considered to be a group in need of standardized and top-down policymaking, expert-designed policies and technology. Their knowledge is often not considered as relevant to solve technology or unemployment related problems (or just about any big complex social problem).
I will listen and observe how they live online, who they are online, how they change online, what’s the interplay between identity and identification for them, what matters to them, what does not. And after the analysis, I will report back to them. There will be lots of reading too, and talks to researchers and decision makers, but the main source of knowledge will come from those agents that live online and offline, while looking for a job.
Overall, leaving the world “digital” out (add ‘digital’ or ‘digitalization’ and things get a lot more complicated, so that’s for another blog), what am I understanding for identity and identification?This article provides some clear and concise sort of entry-moment definitions: identity is understood as often implying “a kind of multidimensional social location of an individual relative to other people and institutions around him or her, as an intangible, always contested something an individual creates, or perhaps has, as a result of their interactions with other human beings and systems”. Identification on the other hand, often implies a process, it is good for describing “a proof, a system, or a transaction involving a subject and an evaluator, centered around verifying a claim that a person is one person and not any other”. It is a process which “grants access and rights; it is the representation of the individual within/to an administrative system”. And an ID often signifies a “tangible artifact — a document or element that supports a claim or signals that identification might be possible. ID doesn’t mean much without the identification systems behind it.”
The research, what and why
The purpose of this fellowship is to unravel what digital identity, and identity in general, means for un- and under-employed individuals receiving support from public job centres and local NGOs (this includes community organizations, formal or informal), in two major cities in Argentina: Gran Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata, which is the city with the highest unemployment rate in the country.
I had a number of assumptions at the start of this fellowship, which are important to acknowledge as they provide an initial framework for the research (and which could well be proven wrong): the first is that people in search of jobs often interact with a wide range of organizations, and that digital tools or platforms increasingly mediate these interactions. The second is that those behind the under and unemployment statistics are agents rather consciously manoeuvering their identities, enhancing, modifying, or hiding parts of them. Looking for employment involves offering your identity, and includes many times processes of identification. But for these groups, and this is a third assumption, the process of identity adapting/offering comes with added vulnerability: they move in a digital layer creating digital traces and footprints with little or no control over them, which might negatively affect their job opportunities. It is true we all experience this lack of control, but not in the same way. Vulnerable or marginalized people, those most likely to seek help from public job centres and NGOs, are badly hit by the rapid digitalization of the public space and economy. Because of this added vulnerability, the making and changing of their identities, and their identifications as representations, deserves attention.
Photo by Pablo Gonzalez
I will use a mix of qualitative research methods in the year ahead, including participatory observation and semi-structured interviews. Importantly, the third part of the process will involve reporting back the analysis and initial results to the people I interviewed, then considering their feedback when producing the final reports and products. These final products (blogs, radio/podcasts, videos) will be made in such a way the research subjects and the general public can actually get to read/see/listen to them. Presenting these products to the research subjects, organizations and the general public will constitute the very final part of the fellowship.
Reporting back is as relevant as the other two stages of the fellowship, fieldwork and analysis. In its relevance lies the reason I applied to the Yoti program in the first place. For the last few years I have been committed to working towards the democratization of knowledge(s), technology, and science. Creating digital identity/identification systems that serve the needs and respect the human rights of those at the bottom necessarily involves visibilizing issues of inequality, power, and knowledge. The ability, for example, for people to provide conscious and real consent over the use of their identity requires them to ‘know’ what is at stake and feel confident enough to exercise their agency.
This stage will hopefully provide opportunities to discuss the need to change public and private sectors top-down approaches to technology, which perpetuate dependence and inequality. In this sense, I expect this reporting to give us the chance to discuss about our digital futures, resisting the idea there is only one possible future out there, that there is nothing we can do about the way technology affects us.