Disruption, Embedded. A Polanyian Framing of the Platform Economy


  • Gernot Grabher Research Unit Urban and Regional Economics, HafenCity University Hamburg http://orcid.org/0000-0002-2911-9254
  • Jonas König Institute for Urban and Regional Planning, Technical University Berlin http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4173-7108




Platform economy, sharing economy, Karl Polanyi, embeddedness, performativity


Digital platforms disrupt – not just incumbent industries, but also academic imaginations about the future course of capitalism. While some scholars envision the next great transformation towards the ultimate marketization, others anticipate a post-capitalism based on digitally revitalized notions of community and reciprocity. Starting from this controversy, the article advances a Polanyian perspective to push beyond the ostensibly antagonistic dynamics of more or less market. More specifically, the emergence of digital platforms is perceived from the angle of three key drivers that propelled the great transformation towards marketization: technology, science, state. While the break-through of marketization, in Polanyi’s view, was prompted by the steam engine, the emergence of platforms is driven by the digital infrastructures of cloud computing, big data and algorithms; and while markets were scientifically legitimized by economics, platforms deploy network theories that, through their far-reaching application, perform social reality. Just like markets, however, platforms are nothing natural, but are objects of ongoing political contestations that forge the embedding of the platform economy into the regulatory framework of society.


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How to Cite

Grabher, G., & König, J. (2020). Disruption, Embedded. A Polanyian Framing of the Platform Economy. Sociologica, 14(1), 95–118. https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.1971-8853/10443