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Panel 39. Digital Platforms as Urban Infrastructure: the question of governance and alternatives to current models

Conveners:

  • Niloufar Vadiati – Research Fellow at the Digital City Science Lab, HafenCity University, Hamburg, Germany.
  • Nicolás Palacios – PhD researcher at ETH Zürich, Switzerland.

Description:

Digital platforms such as Uber, Airbnb, Taskrabbit or PedidosYa, are mediating every urban interaction. What almost seems as omnipresence, can be understood as the infrastruturalization of digital platforms (Plantin et al., 2018). Despite the already established concept of infrastructure as a fixed territorial technology, digital platforms can act as urban infrastructure through offering processes that enable circulation within cities (Richardson, 2023).

This session contests the growing infrastructural role of platforms in their current form, taking into account that most of the major existing platforms are privately owned with a solutionist- entrepreneurial governance structure. As Graham (2020) stated, digital platforms ‘remain un- democratic,   and   usually   distant,   organisations   with   no    interest    in    promoting local voices or investing in local priorities’ (p. 456). On the other side, we believe equating state-run platforms as the only solution is reductionist, as e.g. within authoritarian states, these critical platforms run as technocratic-surveillance governance models (Huang and Tsai, 2022), producing new governance challenges, power bargaining between the authority and urban subalterns, as well as exploitation of peripheral communities.

However, as much as platforms have turned into ‘infrastructures for the extraction of place-based value’ (Stehlin, 2018) or political control, they are also enabling spaces that ‘can create, intentionally or not, new forms of collective practices through which cities function’ (Richardson, 2018). For instance, despite most of the services provided by these platforms rely on a ‘steady supply of replaceable migrant labour’ (van Doorn 2023, p. 172), far from workers lacking agency, migrants and refugees, and their everyday practices are constantly shaping the cities and infrastructures we rely on (Fawaz et al., 2018), through practices of repair, resistance and even optimization of platforms/infrastructures (Qadri & D’ignazio, 2023). Other instances, such as glitches in platforms (Leszczynski, 2020) cause unexceptional openings onto speculation for alternative governance, small-scale creative disorientations in political settings underpinning platform mediated urban life, particularly in the global south (da Costa Lage & Rodrigues, 2021; Morales Muñoz & Roca 2022).

While platform alternatives are constantly emerging, grassroots practices such as platform coops are fighting for survival, for economic viability, and to be operationally up-scalable, while trying to be horizontal and inclusive.

Taking these struggles and challenges into consideration, we propose dismantling the digital platform as urban infrastructure, drawing together a diverse range of essays, stories and vignettes that are based on practised hope, observed paradoxes, while contributing to prefigurative alternative governance for digital platforms. Whether you are a practitioner, activist, platform worker, coop-member, digital advocate or academic, we kindly invite you to think with us about the following topics:

  • Grassroots platform urbanism, tales from the south and north
  • Commoning Practices of platform cooperativism, challenges and
  • Platform coops as an urban How to sustain and scale up?
  • Migrant platform workers as agential bodies in urban
  • Everyday platform commoning practices among urban-subalterns.
  • Municipalism and urban digital platform governance

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