From Disruption to Domination: Trajectories and Geographies of Platformization

Platforms rule. Any doubt on this verdict is habitually dispelled with a brief reference to the fact that the most valuable technology corporations - Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook - are all platform businesses. While the dominance of platforms appears beyond doubt, the conceptualization of platforms is rather contested. The phenomenon evades classic categorizations as it transgresses established governance modes, organizational templates, sectoral boundaries and legal frameworks: rather than adhering to a single architecture, platforms proliferate as diverse, ephemeral and polymorphous forms (Schüßler et al. 2021); they strategically deploy ‘conjectural geographies’ (Graham 2020) of material embeddedness and digital disembeddedness.

Platforms have been conceived as (multi-sided) markets that perform a quintessential market function as match-makers between autonomous actors (Hagiu and Wright 2017); at the same time, however, powerful network effects create winner-takes-all markets: monopolies are a celebrated feature, not an unfortunate failure (Grabher and König 2020). Alternatively, platforms have been studied through the analytical lens of hierarchies whose managerial capacity to control labor and assets resembles corporate domination (Frenken and Fuenfschilling 2020); and yet, excessive domination, paradoxically, undermines the all-important dynamics of network effects when complementors are reluctant to join overexploitative platforms (Rietveld et al. 2020). Finally, viewed through the third classical governance perspective, platforms as innovation ecosystems seem to forge collaborative networks in order to reap supply-side economies; however, rather than on trust built through repeated interaction, exchange relations are based on instant reputation scores; and rather than through mutual loyalty, ties solidify through strategic lock-in (Stark and Pais 2020).

Instead of studying platforms as pristine category, this session seeks to elucidate trajectories and geographies of platformization as contested re-combination of various governance modes and elements (Poell et al. 2019). Potential topics might include, but are not limited to: