Political Ecologies of Platform Urbanism

Digital labor and data infrastructures

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Mahmoudi, Dillon, Anthony M Levenda, and John G. Stehlin. 2020. “Political Ecologies of Platform Urbanism: Digital Labor and Data Infrastructures.” In Urban Platforms and the Future City: Transformations in Infrastructure, Governance, Knowledge and Everyday Life, edited by Mike Hodson, Julia Kasmire, Andrew McMeekin, John G. Stehlin, and Kevin Ward, 1st Edition, 40–52. New York: Routledge. Routledge link


This chapter with Anthony and John was a chance to revisit our Beyond the Screen paper in tripleC and reformulate data collection in the built environment with particular attention to labor and the platform economy. One of our contributions is to connect deskilled platform labor with the programmers who make the platforms. Our approach builds from digital political ecology (DPE) to understand the physical infrastructures and digital components of platform urbanism. In this chapter, we combine insights from more recent scholarship on the city and digital geography to examine the infrastructures that undergird platform urbanism to understand how a new division of labor (re)inscribes social disparities in the uneven geographies of the city and its hinterland.

the Uber platform forms a hinge between the urban built environment and the physical infrastructure of data circulation on the one hand and between dead labor embedded in algorithm production and the living but deskilled labor of driving on the other. The output of this function is not just a mobility service but also increasingly valuable data “fumes” (Thatcher, 2014). Scholars, therefore, must question how the data is being transmitted, where it is stored and copied, who has access to it, and how it is used to create or add to an advertising profile. Equally, they must ask about the division of labor involved in producing the platform itself: who uses this data to provide a service under what conditions of deskilling, automation, or punitive “reskilling” and who programmed the platform architecture that structures this labor process … infrastructure of the built environment affords the collection of data through situated platform services, its circulation through physical ICT infrastructure, and the materials and energy on which this process depends.