Large-scale digital platforms are increasingly shaping all aspects of social life.

The platforms of Amazon, Google, Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb capitalize upon the production, collection, and analysis of big data to fundamentally restructure entire markets and the activities of people within them.

 

This research project, funded by the US National Science Foundation, explores empirically what happens when large-scale digital platforms collide with the built world. It attends specifically to the mediating effects of existing organizational forms, material infrastructures, and cultural practices on platforms in cities.

 

The key platforms we investigate are those operated by Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon. Using qualitative methods, we deploy a “platform ethnography” that includes document analysis, GIS mapping, observation, and semi-structured interviews with expert key informants in government agencies, community advocacy groups, industry, unions, and university research centers. By generating findings about the local mediation of platforms, this study side-steps technological determinist narratives to capture the subtle nuances of how platforms are themselves co-produced by and within urban contexts.