Working Digital Money into a Cash Economy: The Collaborative Work of Loan Payment


This paper examines how different forms of money, specifically digital versus cash, impact on the work of an organisation and its customers. In doing so it contributes to the body of literature exploring how the social meanings of money impact on practice. We describe the findings of an ethnographic study examining loan collection workflows, where bank loans given to auto-rickshaw drivers to purchase their auto-rickshaw are overseen and managed by an intermediary. We found that making the mobile money service usable for the drivers took considerable work and was largely achieved because it was embedded in the wider, trusted, loan payment ecosystem. Although Airtel Money promises anytime, anywhere payments, payment remains time and place bound for the drivers. It is tempting to take a transactional approach to payments, and indeed we initially approached the problem of enabling frequent payments as one of payment mechanism. However, in practice payments are embedded in sets of social relations and a socio-technical ecosystem. It takes considerable collaborative work, and a fair amount of flexibility, to enable these financially vulnerable drivers to pay off their loans, and reducing the issue to one of payment mechanism alone does not tell the full story.

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    It has since expanded to two other locations Chennai and Chitradurga.

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    All names have been changed for the purposes of anonymity.

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    As reported in Portfolios of the Poor (Collins et al. 2009), the drivers actually used a portfolio of instruments for managing their money, here we are talking only about what drivers themselves classify as savings, which are bigger, more enduring sums in the bank or gold or jewelry.


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Correspondence to Jacki O’Neill.

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O’Neill, J., Dhareshwar, A. & Muralidhar, S.H. Working Digital Money into a Cash Economy: The Collaborative Work of Loan Payment. Comput Supported Coop Work 26, 733–768 (2017).

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  • Digital money
  • Mobile money
  • Mobile payments
  • Digital payments
  • ICTD
  • Ethnography
  • Payment ecosystem
  • Organizational work
  • The affordances of money