More often than not, the disruptive character of Platform Capitalism is highlighted as a new paradigm of contemporary global capitalism. Urban spaces (considered in a broad sense) are pervaded by platform workers. We do think that, although inserted by new organization forms and labor control, platformization is anything but new and it rather incorporates and intensifies dynamics which we consider to be already in place well before their advent.
In the last years, many articles faced the impact of platforms in particular contexts. We invite here to analyze platforms impact in a trans-urban and trans-situated perspective. With the former we intend a perspective that goes beyond the analysis of the single case. Indeed, if platforms spread worldwide adapting themselves to specific (urban) context, it is undeniable a kind of synchronicity and some common character they assumed. With a trans-urban approach, we neither want to deny the difference among cases, nor we think that platformization is a homogeneous phenomenon: we rather yearn to go beyond this dichotomy to understand platform in their overall character. Furthermore, with a trans-situated perspective we would like to insert the phenomenon of platformization within a global ethnography: we are interested in how the relationship between global and local is modified by those digital worlds.
Call for Papers
South Atlantic Quarterly 120:4
Platformization and its discontent
Editors: Into the Black Box
(Carlotta Benvegnù, Niccolò Cuppini, Mattia Frapporti, Floriano Milesi, Maurilio Pirone)
Platformization is a global phenomenon that emerged in the last decade (Helmond 2005; Gurumurthy, Bharthur, Chami 2019). Since the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007/08 platformization gradually pervaded our life imposing itself simultaneously with the Forth Industrial Revolution (Schwab 2016) with which it shares the massive use of technologies, the logistics rationality, «logged labor» adoption (Huws 2016) and many other things. It is a process that is radically re-shaping society from a multiple range of viewpoints. Worldwide it produced a new type of economy which is insinuating in our life, imposing new opportunities as well as new challenges, especially for the inhabitants of the cities where the effects of digital platforms are most apparent. Urban spaces are pivotal for us in order to analyze the effect of platformization, even though it is not possible to think of them as strictly bounded (Castelles 2010; Brenner 2013; Brenner and Schmid 2011, 2015; Merrifield 2013). We consider cities as broad areas that “surpass their own contours”, integrated in a global network where social claims are developed by a multitude of actors. Within the urban area, platforms act as infrastructures (Van Dijck, Poell, de Waal 2018) matching demand and offer in different sectors where streams of data flow in a virtual space created by the innovation prompted by the Information and Communications Technologies with very concrete and important effects. ICT do not just transform the data transmission as in the past, but they rather reshape industrial relations, production processes and labor-power, using platforms as key-factors of new economies. The longitudinally and horizontally intersections between platforms and urban areas will be the crucial core of this issue.
Despite some mechanics of platforms in terms of productive and reproductive labor are anything but new (Huws 2000, 2013, 2017; Armano, Murgia, Teli 2017), and even though we are far to bestow to platforms dynamics which we consider to be already in place well before their emergence (just thinks about the undefined border between work and life time, commodification, capitalist extractivism in a wide sense – see Mezzadra and Neilson, 2013, 2015 – and so on and so forth), from other perspectives it seems undeniable how deeply they challenge the dynamics of our whole life. Although they are not the only and main sources, through platforms new and old services find unprecedented growth, time and space frontiers of work are increasingly blurred, circulation and consumption rapidly expand, labor is transformed by algorithmic management, urban spaces get reorganized. A complex set of vectors are invested by platforms, insomuch as they are pervading our society: they are a historical phenomenon, with a disruptive impact comparable with other revolutionary infrastructures of the past. After all, «contemporary convergence of platforms and infrastructures» is something we can take for granted (Plantin et al. 2018: 301), and it seems crucial to consider them in such way if we aim to fully investigate the new overall scenario defined as «platform capitalism» (Srnicek, 2016).
In the last few years, dozens of articles analyzed the impact of particular platforms in specific (urban) contexts. Now, we would like to push the debate forward, adopting what we could define a “trans-urban approach”. In fact, the ways in which digital platforms are territorialized requires to articulate an analysis able to comprehend how they interact, the frictions they produce, the adaptation they require in different urban textures with a planetary vision. In other words, rather than considering specific case studies as meaningful in themselves, we emphasize a research attitude able to focus on the continuities, resonances and commonalities that platform capitalism produces on a large scale. This does not mean that specificities, differences and contextual and situated factors do not matter. On the contrary, we think that a trans-urban approach should be able to emphasize the contextual dynamics by enlightening the common ground in which they are produced.
Furthermore, we would like to adopt a trans-situated perspective and understand the influence of the digital world that could be consider universal and local at the same time. Beyond the difficulty to define the “virtual” – which is virtual theoretically, but with extremely real effects –, we believe that focusing on interactions and connections mediated by web and computers is a fundamental perspective to grasp the complexity of these processes. Even if people are divided by geographical, organizational or temporal distances, they share in their life and working time the use of apps and platforms that change practices and, at the same time, are modified by them. In other words, we suggest to push our point of view beyond the Marcusian multi-sided ethnography (Marcus 1995) and to focus instead on the app-mediated connections between subjects and on how those cyberspaces (Hakken 2000) shape and are shaped by who use them. Placing the phenomenon of platformization within a global ethnography (Ong 1999, Burawoy 2000) we are interested in how the relationship between global and local is modified by digital worlds.
A last point, impossible to avoid is the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis. According to different interpretations, platforms seem to be the “winner” of this crisis. Platforms as Amazon, Deliveroo, etc. seem to profit immensely from the lockdown economy; on the other hand, it must be said, other platforms such as Airbnb or Uber appear less channeled towards a growth perspective. At a first approximation, which we would invite to investigate, it would seem that the platforms linked to commodities circulation (Amazon, Deliveroo, etc.) are those better positioned in their valorization, while those linked to people circulation (Airbnb, Uber etc.) appear more in crisis. In any case, the Covid-19 crisis appears a real “stress test” for platform capitalism and it will be very interesting to evaluate how this model will absorb this “Black Swan”.
In this issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, we intend to develop these questions and invite to adopt a trans-urban perspective, in four main directions.
First of all, our aim is to elaborate a genealogical analysis of the platformization of economy which find in the so-called Californian Ideology (Barbrook and Cameron 1995) its theoretical roots. The explosion of “platform economy” highlights the ambiguity of this term, which often overlaps with others such as “sharing economy”, “P2P economy”, “collaborative economy”, “gig economy” and so on and so forth. Nonetheless, this ambiguity did not discourage the debate about its origin: that is why we encourage essays that analyze continuities in platform economy, rather than disruptive forms. Generally speaking, while on the one hand platforms present the same tendency of avoiding regulation and responsibilities characterizing “network capitalism” in the 1990s (Boltanski and Chiapello, 1999; see also Kostakis and Bowens, 2014), on the other hand they have benefitted from the social conditions that neoliberal policies produced pushing an increasing number of individuals towards platform economy (Srnicek, 2016; Scholz, 2017). Where do platforms come from?
Secondly, to develop a global framing of platform phenomena, through a selection of case studies in different continents and through what we defined a trans-urban analysis – i.e. conceiving platforms as ubiquitous and simultaneous urban phenomena. We encourage single or multi-handed works that combine analysis on different platforms and different cities. Despite we consider very important to focus on the impact of a single platform on a single urban area, we think that it is more and more useful to try to implement a wider analysis, in order to build up an overall perspective on the impact of platformization of society. Considering very different case studies will be appreciated.
Thirdly, to consider the ambivalence of this emerging scenario from the perspective of labor facing the disciplining effects of platform capitalism on the one hand, and new subversive possibilities on the other. ICT changed dramatically how labor confronts capital in the new millennium, and a kind of paradigmatic example is given by “platform workers”, namely those who work in the “gig” or “sharing” economy which – after a first fascinating period (Bauwens 2005; Botsman and Rogers 2010; Kaplan and Haenlein 2010; Wang and Zhang 2012) – soon revealed its nature. More and more “sharing economy” has been considered a «Trojan Horse» that brought society to a «Jurassic form of labor» (Scholz 2016). In a more and more globalized and interconnected world made of flows of people, money, information and commodities, in this issue we encourage ethnographic multi-situated analysis that gives an account of actions undermining this seamless space produced by platforms: new forms of unionism; practices of strike, block, boycott; platform cooperativism.
Our intention is to collect contributions from scholars and activists from different contexts, and to develop a collective discussion to set the issue also via the organization of seminars and the presentation of our research work in different conferences.
The list of possible topics includes (but is not limited) to the following:
- Platforms’ genealogies
- Urban platformization
- Platform workers’ struggles
- Framing platform workers’ labor and rights
- Gendering platforms
- Platform cooperativism and the counter-use of technological innovation
- Urban struggles around platforms’ impact
- Consequences of Covid-19 on platforms
- Methodological approaches to platform study
- Labor process theory and platforms
- New forms of labor control and algorithmic management
- Platform society and platform governance
To propose a contribution to the call, please send a brief abstract (max 500 words) to the editors at email@example.com. Final articles’ lenght will be around 5000 words (references included).
- 5 July 2020: deadline to submit abstract
- 20 July 2020: notification to the participants
- 25 October 2020: article first draft submission
- 7 December 2020: reviewers’ feedback
- 17 January 2021: article final version
- February – May 2021: review of copyedited versions
- October 2021: issue publication