Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Workshop on Radical Approaches to Platform Governance


With each passing day, it seems as if more public, academic, and policy attention is being paid to platform governance — the growing space of political interaction between platform companies (and their infrastructures, services, and rules) and the many other political stakeholders trying to shape how those infrastructures, services, and rules function.

The past several years show a significant increase in contestation in all parts of the platform economy, not only regarding content moderation, but also in areas like competition policy, labor law, and data protection. Governments around the world are developing new rules to tackle apparent problems in platform power; civil society groups have mobilized creative transnational campaigns in an effort to pressure firms into making changes to their services; groups of workers are organizing, creating unions, striking, and staging high-profile walkouts to signal their displeasure with certain political-economic decisions made by their employers or demand better conditions; firms themselves are proposing new institutions for self-regulation via industry-managed transparency and accountability processes. We’re also at a point where academic debate — and, at least to a certain extent, the policy conversation in high-income countries — is increasingly seeking to understand, and respond to, some of the ‘root’ causes of the various perceived ills posed by platform firms to society (invasive, exploitative targeted advertising? Datafication and commodification? Concentration of power?).

Despite this all, mainstream platform governance conversations are often limited in their scope and vision. As policy conversations turn to online harms and other approaches to understanding the political impacts of platforms and their governance, these harms are still for the most part formulated in a way that does not fully capture underlying political issues along gendered, racialized and 'otherised' identititarian lines. Furthermore, key concepts, such as 'privacy,' are still largely formulated along Western/European/Global Northern lines.

The policy interventions commonly portrayed as paradigm-shattering in mainstream policy conversations in high-income industrialized democracies are nevertheless being built upon visions that reify ‘perfectly functioning’ market design, gently steered forms of ‘stakeholder capitalism,’ or other neoliberal governance foundations. On one hand, academic work, even by critically oriented scholars, can in this context have a difficult time moving outside the realm of incremental changes to the status quo when proposing policy solutions. On the other, as colleagues of ours have noted, interdisciplinary work that engages with the politics of platform companies can also fall into the trap of overly centering them, to the potential detriment of wider analyses that would foreground broader political, cultural, social, and economic superstructures like race, class, capital, and gender. 

Workshop Purpose

This workshop seeks to bring together researchers interested in critically interrogating various aspects of the contemporary political economy of platforms, with a special emphasis on theoretical and conceptual approaches that provide a potentially radical challenge to understanding, or re-imagining, the current academic discourse and policy status quo. 

In particular, we are looking to highlight (a) critically oriented perspectives to understanding the platform economy as it is (‘how we got here’); as well as (b) forward looking, radical, utopian visions of alternative platform governance futures might look like.

We are especially interested in bringing together scholars with an interest, or background, in applying some of the following perspectives on digital platforms: 

  • Critical political economy, including but not limited to Marxist approaches
  • Critical race theory, critical theories of race; Black Studies; the black radical tradition 
  • Indigenous political philosophy and political economy 
  • Post-colonial and de-colonial theories; dependency theory; world-systems thinking
  • Critical gender and sexuality studies; trans studies; radical and intersectional feminism
  • Disability studies 
  • Abolitionism, transformative justice, restorative justice
  • Other radical intellectual traditions


Where & When: The workshop will be held as an all-day satellite ‘pre-conference’ workshop on November 1, before the kick-off of the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Dublin, Ireland. We are very grateful to University College Dublin, which has given us access to a fantastic venue: the Museum of Literature Ireland. We are currently planning + hoping to hold this as an in-person event; we may explore hybrid or online components if there is enough interest.

Workshop Submissions & Participation: We welcome 500-word abstracts from interested participants in the workshop. Two types of submission are possible: presentations (which will be clustered together in panels with 15-20 minute talks), or papers (which will be given their own session and assigned a discussant for closer feedback and workshopping). Work at all stages of development is welcome for either format, although we ask that paper presenters commit to having a draft paper that they can circulate before the workshop. We are additionally exploring options for potential special-issue outputs for accepted papers.

Individuals interested in attending and contributing to the discussions, but not necessarily in presenting their work, may submit a short statement of interest in lieu of an abstract. Please use this opportunity to briefly describe your experience & interest in the workshop topic, and what you would hope to bring to the discussion.

Abstract submissions and statements of interest in participation can be submitted here. The deadline for abstract submissions is July 20.

Organizers (alphabetically):
Robert Gorwa, WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Tomiwa Ilori, University of Pretoria
Eugenia Siapera, University College Dublin
Paloma Viejo-Otero, Dublin City University


The workshop is sponsored by the School of Information and Communication Studies and the Centre for Digital Policy, University College Dublin.  It is co-organized by the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria.