Winner of the 2022 Carol R. Ember Book Prize, sponsored by the Society for Anthropological Sciences.
Uber's April 2016 launch in Buenos Aires plunged the Argentine capital into a frenzied hysteria that engulfed courts of law, taxi drivers, bureaucrats, the press, the general public, and Argentina's president himself. Economist and anthropologist Juan M. del Nido, who had arrived in the city six months earlier to research the taxi industry, suddenly found himself documenting the unprecedented upheaval in real time. Taxis vs. Uber examines the ensuing conflict from the perspective of the city's globalist, culturally liberal middle class, showing how notions like monopoly, efficiency, innovation, competition, and freedom fueled claims that were often exaggerated, inconsistent, unverifiable, or plainly false, but that shaped the experience of the conflict such that taxi drivers' stakes in it were no longer merely disputed but progressively written off, pathologized, and explained away.
This first book-length study of the lead-up to and immediate aftermath of the arrival of a major platform economy to a metropolitan capital considers how the clash between Uber and the traditional taxi industry played out in courtrooms, in the press, and on the street. Looking to court cases, the politics of taxi licenses, social media campaigns, telecommunications infrastructure, public protests, and Uber's own promotional materials, del Nido examines the emergence of "post-political reasoning": an increasingly common way in which societies neutralize disagreement, shaping how we understand what we can even legitimately argue about and how.
About the author
Juan M. del Nido is Philomathia Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Max Planck Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy, and Social Change.
"This beautifully written account of the dramatic arrival of Uber in Buenos Aires poses fundamental questions about public life and politics in the technologized spaces of contemporary capitalism. Juan M. del Nido's vivid ethnography shows how the rhetorical resources of late capitalism can produce a world that appears beyond politics, as fairness and efficiency become problems to be addressed by the deployment of algorithms rather than debate and contestation."
—Penny Harvey, University of Manchester
"This timely and important book opens up a refreshing analytical lens on questions of class and the nature of the political that are truly at stake in contemporary Argentina. Theoretically sophisticated and ethnographically evocative, it will be invaluable to any reader interested in the politics of new economic formations in the region and beyond."
—Sian Lazar, University of Cambridge
"We all know Uber exists only on the back of the taxi industry's long historical efforts to acclimatize the middle class to entering cars driven by strangers.JuanM. delNidoshows us in his imaginative ethnography that this is only the tip of the iceberg in understanding the changes Uber brings.He persuasively demonstrates how crucial it is to understand the legal and practical rubrics shaping the working lives of taxi cab drivers—that Uber hopes to disrupt—as well as the middle-class economic logics that Uber appeals to."
—Ilana Gershon, Indiana University
"This is an impressive contribution to analyses of the origins and consequences of late-capitalist rhetoric, everyday ethics, and how societal affects and discourses attach themselves to new technology."
—Bronwyn Frey, Anthropology Book Forum
"del Nido's contributions in this book go far beyond the conflict between these two industries, and postpolitical reasoning is widely applicable in thinking about how new innovations are legitimized. Moreover, del Nido skillfully demonstrates the importance of studying something as intricate and complex as reasoning itself, and doing so ethnographically, by tracing how nonexperts make sense of economic and political processes. As new technological innovations continue to penetrate our society, it is vital we understand how they are legitimized, especially if we want to have the grammar to challenge them in any meaningful way."
—Annika Pinch, H-Sci-Med-Tech
"del Nido's argument about how middle-class economic logics neutralize, if not foreclose, disagreement in particular ways is a theoretically sophisticated and convincing one developed in dialogue with classical and current work in moral economy. The book offers a timely discussion about rhetorical power and infrastructure in late capitalism that will be of interest to students and scholars in and beyond anthropology and provides a fresh and astute analysis of the language of neoliberalism."
—Kristin V. Monroe, Anthropological Quarterly
"Taxis vs. Uber offers rich reading for anyone interested in the changing dynamics of (post)political discourse, making it distinct among studies of the gig economy.... Its critical insights about the pervasiveness and influence of gladiatorial truths resonate well beyond Uber and Buenos Aires. It brings a welcome anthropological sensibility to the study of major platform companies and their impact.... Taxis vs. Uber's compelling analysis highlights the importance of scrutinizing how certain rationalities and rhetorical devices aid in legitimizing technological developments and bypassing political debate."
—Kathryn Henne, Political and Legal Anthropology Review
"Theoretically refreshing and ethnographically rich, Taxis vs. Uber brilliantly demonstrates how a 'postpolitical reasoning' can emerge and how this reasoning can have dire consequences for our capacity to engage in debate and decide our futures. This is a book that should be read by anyone interested in learning more about the fate of the few thousand taxi drivers driving around Buenos Aires and by all those who care about the current state of democracy, everywhere."
—Jean-Philippe Warren, Economic Anthropology
"Both precise in terms of economic knowledge as well as rigorous in his use of anthropological canon,... this is an insightful anthropology of neoclassical economic thinking as it unfolds during a process of market disruption... [making] the familiar landscape of platforms appear strange. Taxis vs Uber constitutes a grounded contribution to understanding how and why the phenomenon of platforms spreading around the world eventually makes sense..., reading Uber's success as an epistemological battle fought with logical tools, rhetorical devices and affective weapons. Taxis vs. Uber offers an excellent analysis of the social imaginaries of late capitalism."
—Maribel Casas-Cortés, European Journal of Sociology