A Political Ecology of Digital Ecosystems

Authors: Jathan Sadowski*, The University of Sydney
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: political ecology, digital geographies, platforms, rent, value, technology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 5:35 PM / 6:50 PM
Room: Director's Row E, Sheraton, Plaza Building, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Digital platforms—as a nearly ubiquitous socio-technical intermediary and business model—are now a dominant form of rentier in contemporary capitalism. By positioning platforms in geographic political economy, I begin by describing how rent extraction and digital enclosure are core operations of platforms. In short, the rentier model hinges on the platform becoming a (necessary) intermediary in the production, circulation, or consumption process, which can then use its control over access to then exact rents from all activity that includes their property. I then further advance this analysis of platforms by outlining a political ecology of digital ecosystems.

Technology entrepreneurs routinely talk about creating “ecosystems” of interconnected companies, platforms, and devices. Yet we never hear about what kind of ecosystems are being created. Is it a mutualistic ecosystem based on cooperation and shared benefit? Is it symbiotic, where the lives of different organisms are deeply interdependent? How about a parasitic one with bloodsuckers draining the energy of its host?

Building on the recent wave of political ecology research on value, rent, and enclosure—and applying this research beyond land and nature—I aim to situate digital ecosystems within a critical understanding of the operations of capital.

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