What do Platforms do? Understanding the Gig Economy

The rapid growth of the platform economy has provoked scholarly discussion of its consequences for the nature of work and employment. We identify four major themes in the literature on platform work and the underlying metaphors associated with each. Platforms are seen as entrepreneurial incubators, digital cages, accelerants of precarity, and chameleons adapting to their environments. Each of these devices has limitations, which leads us to introduce an alternative image of platforms: as permissive potentates that externalize responsibility and control over economic transactions while still exercising concentrated power. As a consequence, platforms represent a distinct type of governance mechanism, different from markets, hierarchies, or networks, and therefore pose a unique set of problems for regulators, workers, and their competitors in the conventional economy. Reflecting the instability of the platform structure, struggles over regulatory regimes are dynamic and difficult to predict, but they are sure to gain in prominence as the platform economy grows.

Vallas, Steven, and Juliet B. Schor. 2020. “What do Platforms do? Understanding the Gig Economy.” Annual Review of Sociology 46 (1): 273–94. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-121919-054857.

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