How Do Digital Platforms Reshape Cities and Urban Research?
- Authored by John D. Boy
For this year’s RC21 Conference in Antwerp, Justus Uitermark and I are convening a session on digital platforms. We welcome all contributions examining how digital platforms reshape urban landscapes, relations, and research.
We increasingly know and navigate the city through digital platforms like Google Maps, Facebook, Instagram, TripAdvisor, and Airbnb. While these platforms help us to pursue our mundane desires—to find a place for coffee, a park to hang out in, a bed for the night—they have profound yet underappreciated effects on the city at large. The algorithms of digital platforms direct our gazes to some places rather than others, in effect changing how we view the city: Instagram presents us with very different images of the city than Twitter. But there’s more at stake than just the way the city is seen. Uneven representations have material consequences. How places are represented online has become critical for their flourishing and survival. Places that are invisible on digital platforms are at risk of disappearing altogether. As all kinds of places, ranging from restaurants to community centers, set out to improve their algorithmic ranking and conform to the aesthetic norms promulgated through platforms, tendencies toward homogenization and uneven development are potentially exacerbated.
The rise of digital platforms also reshapes the city as a terrain of social struggle. Digital platforms enable intensified land-use and reshape relationships between landlords and renters. Platforms are central to the gig economy and the new forms of precarity and exploitation it gives rise to. Social movements invariably use social media and other digital communication platforms to organize and mobilize. While scholars and activists initially welcomed digital media for facilitating egalitarian relations, more recent work suggests that digital media do not sustain robust activist networks and are more likely to amplify reactionary sentiments than progressive movements.
The growing importance of digital platforms increasingly requires us to consider complex geographies of imbricated offline and online spaces within and across cities. Digital platforms not only change urban landscapes and struggles, but also the ways we conduct urban research. Digital platforms add new ethnographic sites and are a bountiful (albeit problematic) source of computational data. The incorporation of these new sites and data is a methodological and epistemological challenge for urban researchers.
Abstracts are due March 15, 2020, and should be sent using the submission form. “How Do Digital Platforms Reshape Cities and Urban Research?” is session 87.