Paper published in a volume on Thinking Infrastructures

Pujadas, R., Curto-Millet, D. (2019) Thinking infrastructures and decentering digital platforms in the sharing economy: From matchmaking to boundary making. In Kornberger, M., Bowker, G., Pollock, N., Miller, P., Mennicken, A., Randa Nucho, J., Elyachar, J. (Eds.) Thinking infrastructures. Research in the Sociology of Organizations. Vol. 62 (Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, UK), pp. 273–286. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/S0733-558X20190000062017/full/html

Abstract:

While digital platforms tend to be unproblematically presented as the infrastructure of the sharing economy – as matchmakers of supply and demand – the authors argue that constituting the boundaries of infrastructures is political and performative, that is, it is implicated in ontological politics, with consequences for the distribution of responsibilities (Latour, 2003; Mol, 1999, 2013; Woolgar & Lezaun, 2013). Drawing on an empirical case study of Uber, including an analysis of court cases, the authors investigate the material-discursive production of digital platforms and their participation in the reconfiguring of the world (Barad, 2007), and examine how the (in)visibility of the digital infrastructure is mobilized (Larkin, 2013) to this effect. The authors argue that the representation of Uber as a “digital platform,” as “just the technological infrastructure” connecting car drivers with clients, is a political act that attempts to redefine social responsibilities, while obscuring important dimensions of the algorithmic infrastructure that regulates this socioeconomic practice. The authors also show how some of these (in)visibilities become exposed in court, and some of the boundaries reshaped, with implications for the constitution of objects, subjects and their responsibilities. Thus, while thinking infrastructures do play a role in regulating and shaping practice through algorithms, it could be otherwise. Thinking infrastructures relationally decentre digital platforms and encourage us to study them as part of ongoing and contested entanglements in practice.

Keywords: Digital infrastructures; digital platforms; sharing economy; algorithms; performativity; Uber

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