Transformation or Structural Change? What Polanyi Can Teach Us about the Platform Economy
Keywords:Platform economy, platforms, Polanyi, Power, Amazon, Google
The rise of the platform economy marks the latest phase in the ongoing digital revolution. Indeed, the platform is to this digital era what the factory was to the industrial era, both a symbol and an organizing mechanism. Gernot Grabher and Jonas König (2020) used Karl Polanyi’s analysis of what he termed the “great transformation” to frame the rise of platform economy. The platform economy is remarkable as it confirms Polanyi’s (and Marx’s before him) insight that the reach of the market is based upon increased commodification as it has been able to reach into ever more parts of social life. We introduced the term “platform economy” in 2015 because we recognized that the digital platforms were changing the dynamics of capitalist accumulation – an analysis framed by regulationist school of political economy. The intuition was that the socio-technical innovation of digital online platforms was the critical fulcrum for an economic restructuring that would rewire the flows of data and ultimately money and power. The firms we have termed the "mega-platforms", Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, have become the most valuable and powerful firms in the world. Importantly, the reach of these platforms is global and yet local and personal. Moreover, this platform power has only been reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aversa, P., Haefliger, S., Hueller, F., & Reza, D. (2020). Customer Complementarity in the Digital Space: Exploring Amazon’s Business Model Diversification. Long Range Planning, In Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lrp.2020.101985
Baran, P. (1964). On Distributed Communications Networks. IEEE Transactions on Communications Systems, 12(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1109/TCOM.1964.1088883
Bearson, D., Kenney, M., & Zysman, J. (2019). New Work and Value Creation in the Platform Economy: A Taxonomy and Preliminary Evidence. BRIE Working Paper 2019-3. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3db8m55f
Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale: Yale University Press.
Bhuiyan, J. (2017). Uber Is Finally Adding Tipping. Recode, 20 June. https://www.vox.com/2017/6/20/15840806/uber-tipping-driver-improvements
Castells, M. (1996). The Rise of the Network Society. Oxford: Blackwell.
Christensen, K. (2020). Gig Workers Are Now Eligible for Special Unemployment Benefits. But Many Won’t Get Them. Los Angeles Times, 2 May. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-05-02/coronavirus-unemployment-gig-workers-benefits-pandemic
Cohen, J.E. 2019. Between Truth and Power: The Legal Constructions of Informational Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cusumano, M.A., Gawer, A., & Yoffie, D.B. (2019). The Business of Platforms: Strategy in the Age of Digital Competition, Innovation, and Power. New York: Harper.
Cutolo, D., & Kenney, M. (2020). Platform-Dependent Entrepreneurs: Power Asymmetries, Risks, and Strategies in the Platform Economy. Academy of Management Perspectives. In Press.
Eaton, B., Elalouf-Calderwood, S., Sorensen, C., & Yoo, Y. (2015). Distributed Tuning of Boundary Resources: The Case of Apple’s iOS Service System. MIS Quarterly, 39(1), 217–243. http://doi.org/10.25300/MISQ/2015/39.1.10
Fields, D. (2019). Automated Landlord: Digital Technologies and Post-Crisis Financial Accumulation. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. In Press. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0308518X19846514
Fitzmaurice, C.J., Ladegaard, I., Attwood-Charles, W., Cansoy, M., Carfagna, L.B., Schor, J.B., & Wengronowitz, R. (2018). Domesticating the Market: Moral Exchange and the Sharing Economy, Socio-Economic Review, 18(1), 81–102. https://doi.org/10.1093/ser/mwy003
Freiberger, P., & Swaine, M. (1984). Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. San Francisco: McGraw-Hill.
Frenken, K., Meelen, T., Arets, M., & van de Glind, P. (2015). Smarter Regulation for the Sharing Economy, The Guardian, 20 May. https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2015/may/20/smarter-regulation-for-the-sharing-economy.
Ghazawneh, A., & Henfridsson, O. (2013). Balancing Platform Control and External Contribution in Third‐Party Development: The Boundary Resources Model. Information Systems Journal, 23(2), 173–192. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2575.2012.00406.x
Gillespie, T. (2010). The Politics of “Platforms”. New Media & Society, 12(3), 347–364. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1461444809342738
Gitelman, L. (2013). Raw Data Is an Oxymoron. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.
Heilbroner, R.L. (1961). The Worldly Philosophers (2nd ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster.
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
Huberty, M. (2015). Awaiting the Second Big Data Revolution: From Digital Noise to Value Creation. Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade, 15(1), 35–47. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10842-014-0190-4
Hughes, T.P. (1993). Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Jessop, B. (2007). Knowledge as a Fictitious Commodity: Insights and Limits of a Polanyian Perspective. In A. Bugra, K. Agartan, A. Bugra (Eds.) Reading Karl Polanyi for the Twenty-First Century. Market Economy as a Political Project (pp. 115–133). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jia, K., Kenney, M., & Zysman, J. (2018). Global Competitors? Mapping the Internationalization Strategies of Chinese Digital Platform Firms. In R. van Tulder, A. Verbeke, & L. Piscitello (Eds.), International business in the information and digital age (pp. 187–215). Bingley: Emerald. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1745-886220180000013009
Kenney, M., Bearson, D., & Zysman, J. (2020a). The Platform Economy Matures: Exploring and Measuring Pervasiveness and Power. SSRN. https://ssrn.com/abstract=3497974
Kenney, M., Serhan, H., & Trystram, G. (2020b). Digitization and Platforms in Agriculture: Organizations, Power Asymmetry, and Collective Action Solutions. ETLA Working Papers 78. https://www.etla.fi/en/publications/digitalization-and-platforms-in-agriculture-organizations-power-asymmetry-and-collective-action-solutions/
Kenney, M., & Zysman, J. (2016). The Rise of the Platform Economy. Issues in Science and Technology, 32(3), 61–69. https://issues.org/the-rise-of-the-platform-economy/
Kenney, M., & Zysman, J. (2019). Work and Value Creation in the Platform Economy. In A. Kovalainen & S. Vallas (Eds.), Research in the Sociology of Work (pp. 13–41). Bingley: Emerald.
Kenney, M., & Zysman, J. (2020a). The Platform Economy: Restructuring the Space of Capitalist Accumulation. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 13(1), 55–76. https://doi.org/10.1093/cjres/rsaa001
Kenney, M., & Zysman, J. (2020b). COVID-19 and the Increasing Centrality and Power of Platforms in China, the USA, and Beyond. Management and Organization Review, 16(4): 747–752. https://doi.org/10.1017/mor.2020.48
Kirchner, S., & Schüßler, E. (2020). Regulating the Sharing Economy: A Field Perspective. In I. Maurer, J. Mair, & A. Oberg (Eds.), Theorizing the Sharing Economy: Variety and Trajectories of New Forms of Organizing (pp. 215–236). Bingley: Emerald. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0733-558X20200000066010
Kitchin, R., & Dodge, M. (2011). Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Lessig, L. (2009). Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.
Morozov, E. (2015). Where Uber and Amazon Rule: Welcome to the World of the Platform. The Observer, 6 June. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jun/07/facebook-uber-amazon-platform-economy
Parker, G.G., Van Alstyne, M.W., & Choudary, S.P. (2016). Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy and How to Make Them Work for You. New York: W.W. Norton.
Pistor, K. (2019). The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Plantin, J.C., Lagoze, C., Edwards, P.N., & Sandvig, C. (2018). Infrastructure Studies Meet Platform Studies in the Age of Google and Facebook. New Media & Society, 20(1), 293–310. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1461444816661553
Polanyi, K. (1944). The Great Transformation. New York: Farrar & Rineheart.
Raymond, E. (1999). The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 12(3), 23–49. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12130-999-1026-0
Scholz, T. (2016). Platform Cooperativism. Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy. New York: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
Schor, J. (2020). After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Schor, J., & Vallas, S. (2020). What Do Platforms Do? Understanding the Gig Economy. Annual Review of Sociology, 46, 273–294. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-121919-054857
Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform Capitalism. New York: Wiley.
Terranova, T. (2000). Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy. Social Text, 18(2), 33–58. https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-18-2_63-33
Thelen, K. (2018). Regulating Uber: The Politics of the Platform Economy in Europe and the United States. Perspectives on Politics, 16(4), 938–953. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592718001081
Van Dijck, J., Poell, T., & De Waal, M. (2018). The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connective World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Vogel, S.K. (2018). Marketcraft: How Governments Make Markets Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wood, A.J., Graham, M., Lehdonvirta, V., & Hjorth, I. (2019). Good Gig, Bad Gig: Autonomy and Algorithmic Control in the Global Gig Economy. Work, Employment and Society, 33(1), 56–75. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0950017018785616
Zuboff, S. (1988). In the Age of the Smart Machine. New York: Basic Books.
Zuboff, S. (2019). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. New York: Profile Books.
Zysman, J., & Newman, A. (Eds.) (2006). How Revolutionary Was the Digital Revolution? National Responses, Market Transitions, and Global Technology. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2021 Martin Kenney, John Zysman, Dafna Bearson
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.