May 30: Digital Platforms and Neoliberalism

Published on: 2022-05-30

Date/Time: May 30 15:30-17:00. Location: Belle van Zuylenzaal at the University Library Building Sponsored by the Center of Urban Studies

Digital platforms have become an integral part of contemporary capitalism. But how to conceptualize and interpret the difference that digital platforms make? Are they expressive of a new form of capitalism or a continuation of neoliberalism as we knew it? During this seminar, Aleksandra Piletić and Petter Törnberg & Justus Uitermark will provide different answers this question. Taking a regulationist perspective, they examine how digital platforms figure into the governing of labor, the organization of care, the establishment of social norms, and the accumulation of capital.

Aleksandra Piletić - Continuity or change? Understanding intersections of platformization and neoliberalization in Berlin and Amsterdam

The surge of terms like ‘platform capitalism’ and ‘digital capitalism’ in recent years suggests a fundamental transformation of capitalism under the influence of platform companies. This conception, however, neglects the extent to which extant forms of capitalism are continuous with the various neoliberal institutional arrangements which preceded the emergence of platforms, and the persistence of these institutional arrangements despite the many technological, social and other affordances of platforms. In particular, a dual dynamic can be observed – on the one hand, platforms have ‘plugged in’ to the neoliberalization of labor markets, benefitting from a flexibilized, precaritized and casualized workforce, as well as the massive un(der)employment that characterized the post-2008 crisis period. On the other hand, they have responded to the neoliberal crisis in social reproduction and the decades-long privatization, marketization and individualization of reproductive tasks, compounded by the effects of post-2008 crisis austerity, chiefly by providing low-cost labor and services. This paper traces this dynamic by studying the rise of childcare, food delivery and cleaning platforms in Berlin and Amsterdam.

Petter Törnberg & Justus Uitermark- Seeing like a platform: Governing through data power

“In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company,” Mark Zuckerberg pondered in a recent interview. If that is true, then what kind of governing are digital platforms involved in? This paper argues that platform capitalism is defined by a new way of seeing those governed. As social relations are suffused with code, they can be designed and engineered as complex systems. Digital platforms here take on some of the roles traditionally associated with governments—they regulate markets, set norms of social interactions, and collect taxes. But the way they perform these tasks is different. The platform logic signifies a move from the top-down, population-based and categorical view characteristic of state control in high modernity to nimble forms of power that are bottom-up, cluster-based, relational, and fluid. As a result, digital proprietary markets are producing a governing logic that is distinct both from Fordism and pre-digital neoliberalism.