Isha Bhallamudi

Isha Bhallamudi is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford. She holds a PhD in Sociology and an MA in Demographic & Social Analysis from UC Irvine, as well as an Integrated MA in Development Studies from IIT Madras. Her research employs collaborative and mixed-methods approaches to study how AI-mediated digital platforms shape work, social life, and wellbeing, with particular attention to gender inequalities in Majority World contexts. Her recent work explores the gender dynamics of platform work in India through the lens of social reproduction and the history of women’s work. At Stanford, she will be working on a book project extending this work to study the politics of platforms and policy implications of the platform economy in India. She has previously worked as a UX Research intern at Google and as a research assistant at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. You can read more about her work at:

Scholar Spotlight, June 15, 2024

For this month’s DCSL Postdoc Spotlight, we spoke with Isha Bhallamudi, a postdoctoral scholar in Sociology. Isha’s research examines how internet platforms shape social life, through a focus on accessibility, gender inequality, urbanization, labor, law and culture. She has explored these themes and others through a range of projects with collaborators and teams across South Asia, the United Kingdom, the US, and Africa. In this interview, Isha discusses her research background, lessons learned, and goals for her time at Stanford.

How did you become involved as a postdoctoral scholar?

I had been following the Digital Civil Society Lab and its work for some time with great interest, and it felt like the ideal home for the research I wanted to carry out. Around a year ago, at a pre-conference workshop on the platform economy, where I gave a talk on my dissertation research, I ran into some of the members of the lab and got to chat about their work and about the lab. This solidified my impression that the DCSL offered an exceptional intellectual environment and a fantastic community of researchers and practitioners to work with. I had some exciting projects in mind for my postdoctoral work and I couldn’t think of a better place than DCSL to carry out this work, so I feel incredibly lucky that I get to spend the next year here! I plan to work on a book proposal based on my dissertation, as well as new collaborative research on the politics of women gig workers and their experiences of collectivizing in India.

Can you talk a bit about the work you’re doing and your research?

My work examines the gender dynamics of gig work in India, and I use an interdisciplinary and mixed-methods approach to study the future of work by looking back into the history of work. In my dissertation, I focus on the experiences of women gig workers in India, and revisit classic questions about work in the context of platform capitalism: What counts as work? Who is an essential worker? How does work shape social order? Among other things, my findings show that platform capitalism entrenches the low value of socially reproductive work (what has always been considered “women’s work”), fixing women more deeply into their irreconcilable double bind as both productive and reproductive workers, rather than freeing them from it (as some platforms claim). The findings of my thesis very much reflect a fraying fabric of digital civil society, while also highlighting the many ways in which community is kept alive with love and care during these times, particularly by women workers at the margins. These are themes that I will be exploring more deeply in my postdoctoral work, where I intend to study the politics of gig work through women gig workers’ experiences using collaborative methodologies. I’m interested in assisting digital workers, and particularly women workers in India, as they develop new toolkits for organizing and collectivizing, and fight to secure their labor rights in the face of patriarchal retrenchment worldwide. Through this work, I aim to theorize the broader landscape of platform capitalism in India, focusing on its entanglements with politics, democracy, and civil society.

What successes and challenges have you encountered so far, and what lessons have you learned, if any?

As someone with a deeply interdisciplinary spirit, I have sometimes found it hard, but also deeply rewarding, to challenge disciplinary boundaries and take unconventional decisions in academia. I’ve learned that it’s always worth it to follow your heart and your instincts. What feels wrong, often leads you the right way. I’ve been lucky to have had fantastic mentors in academia at every step, particularly Rachel Goldberg and Swethaa Ballakrishnen at UC Irvine, who have protected my intellectual freedom and taught me to live in academia with care, community, and courage. I hope to model this for others going forward. Overall, I think I have learned that there is no one right way to do things, and also, from my historical research, that no idea is truly new. This is both a comfort and a surprise to discover, as it means that everything you are grappling with, has already been considered thoughtfully and written about in great detail by many remarkable people—you just need to find them—whether back in time or across space.

Going forward, in what ways can the Stanford community continue to support your work?

I’m incredibly excited to be joining the Stanford community through the Digital Civil Society Lab. I have been long inspired by DCSL’s unique approach of bringing academics, practitioners and policymakers together to create tools and ideas that feed back into ground-level change. I am hoping to find a fantastic intellectual community here where I can develop my theoretical ideas and experiment with new methodological approaches. I’m so thrilled to be working closely with Angele Christin, who is a real inspiration, and I’m really looking forward to collaborating with the DCSL community, especially the postdocs and practitioner fellows. I am also keen to connect with other departments and schools at Stanford, particularly the HAI (Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence) lab, the Center for Work, Technology & Organizations, the Sociology and Communication departments, The Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and the Center for South Asia, where I can see a lot of overlap with the work I do. Finally, I am hoping that the Stanford community can help me figure out my next steps after the postdoc—ideally, I would love to find something that combines my love for academic research with my passion for putting that research into practice!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The world is going through a lot right now! We are experiencing severe, interconnected crises, from climate destruction, to global pandemics, horrific genocides, and the rise of generative AI technologies which seem to be both exacerbating some of these crises while promising to solve them. It is a time that calls for us to come together and cut through the massive amounts of noise, disinformation, and hype that make it challenging to address these crises effectively, and find ways to look forward. These are kind of the bigger problems on the horizon that my work will be looking to, and I’m looking forward to addressing these questions at the DCSL.