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New blog: Platforms, power and urbanisation uncovered

Published on
27 Jan 2020
Written by
Mark Graham

In his latest blog, Professor Mark Graham explores why thinking about the geographies of platforms is of crucial importance if we are to tame their power.

It may seem as if digital platforms represent an inevitable urban future of capitalism stripped down to its essentials. Platforms in the urban environment are fundamentally reshaping urban geographies while being apparently too big to control, too new to regulate, and too innovative to stifle.

They command their conjunctural geographies to centralise urban exchanges in ways that allow them to capture significant rents, whilst avoiding the messy business of adhering to local laws, owning local assets, or employing local workers. They embed themselves in key sites of informational exchange, whilst remaining sufficiently materially and organisationally disembedded to avoid significant accountability.  However, those same conjunctures are also structural weaknesses for platforms. The ephemeral nature of platforms means we can avoid them, circumvent them and replicate them; their material nature suggests points of regulation and resistance.

In my latest paper I point to three broad strategies – regulate, replicate, and resist – which can be deployed to build alternate platform futures. Each of which is built on understanding the simultaneously embedded and disembedded ways in which platforms occupy their conjunctural geographies. This is not a rehash of the old “geography matters” argument. Geography clearly does matter, but not simply as a way to describe the tethering of platforms to places. It is rather in the conjuncture of tethered and untethered relationships with space that we need to envision how platforms bring new digital geographies into being – and envision how we can tame them.

The full article ‘Regulate, replicate and resist – The conjunctural geographies of platform urbanism’ is now published in Urban Geography.

Related work:

Woodcock, J. and Graham, M. 2019. The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Polity.

Graham, M., and Anwar, M. A. 2019. The Global Gig Economy: Towards a Planetary Labour Market? First Monday. 24(4).

Graham, M. and Anwar, M.A. 2018. Digital Labour In: Digital Geographies, Ash, J., Kitchin, R. and Leszczynski, A. (eds.). Sage: London. 177-187.

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