1. Digital platforms

Track Co-Chairs:

Koskinen et al. (2019) draw on Gawer (2014) and Evans & Gawer (2016) in classifying platforms based on their purpose, distinguishing transaction (multi-sided markets facilitating transactions among counterparts) from innovation platforms (technological building blocks for developing services and products). They also suggest a four-point research agenda for researchers on digital platforms in the Global South, inviting research on (1) how to release the developmental potential of innovation platforms, (2) systematic differences among digital platforms in the Global North and the Global South, (3) the extent to which and ways how transaction platforms may exacerbate inequalities, and (4) alternatives to private platforms, such as in the public and non-profit sector. Over the last two years the platforms-for-development debate has evolved into these four directions and new ones, which papers submitted to this track are invited to explore.

New directions for debate are characterised by an interdisciplinary orientation, as well as an increasing pervasiveness of critical accounts of the platforms-for-development discourse. For example, innovation platforms have been framed as an instantiation of global public goods characterised, in principle, by features of non-rivalry and non-exclusivity (Nicholson et al., 2019b), which invites attention from economic and redistributional theoretical lenses. Platforms and digital entrepreneurship present some optimistic themes for development of small and micro businesses such as Amazon marketplace and freelancing platforms such as Upwork. At the same time, critical accounts that problematise the ability of platforms to pursue traditional “development” objectives (for example, empowering marginalised communities) have emerged, for instance around the precarity and vulnerability induced in workers of digital labour platforms (Anwar & Graham, 2020; Graham et al., 2020). Highlighting the persistence of structural power asymmetry in such platforms, these accounts question the view that promptly lumps platforms diffusion with the ability to promote development goals. Dominance of the major global platforms continues to threaten the growth of indigenous platforms and presents threats to privacy and surveillance (Scholtz, 2016; Srnicek, 2017; Taplin, 2017; Zuboff, 2019).


Topics include (but are not limited to):

  1. Conceptual contributions on digital platforms and their theoretical links with (different understandings of) socio-economic development,
  2. Innovation platforms as global public goods and their potential for generating development, as well as the challenges encountered in generating this potential,
  3. Livelihood-generating platforms (e-commerce, digital labour), their affordances and constraints in empowering subjects and resulting into sustained development outcomes,
  4. Digital entrepreneurship and the role of platforms in opening up small and micro business opportunity in freelancing, app development,
  5. Development implications of the role of digital platforms in transforming traditional sectors (e.g. fintech for development, consequences for the Global South),
  6. Digital cooperation as enabled, transformed, or otherwise influenced by different types of platforms,
  7. Critical accounts centred on the “dark side” of platforms, asymmetries, data injustices, or any other forms of perverse effects problematising the view of platforms as enablers of positive development outcomes.