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Speculative (platform) urbanism: Venture capital and everyday uncertainties for platform workers in Jakarta, Indonesia

Authors: Samuel Nowak*, University of California, Los Angeles
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: platform urbanism, speculation, venture capital, Indonesia
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The speculative economic project of venture capital investment in ride-hailing platforms is beginning to show its limits. The poor performance of Lyft and Uber’s initial public offerings in the United States has generated significant debate about the long term sustainability of ‘growth before profit’ digital startups and the socio-spatial consequences of high-risk venture capital investment in the meantime. Under the designation of “platform urbanism”, there is a growing recognition amongst geographers that online intermediaries like Amazon, AirBnb, or Uber are reconfiguring labor markets, governance, mobilities, housing, and other urban industries, processes, and relationships. I extend this literature by highlighting the multi-scalar social relations that link venture capital investment and the everyday speculations of those upon whom such investment relies—platform workers. Drawing on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork with ride-hailing drivers in Jakarta, Indonesia, I show how platform workers attempt to insure themselves against the legal, material, and economic uncertainties they face by building socio-technical networks of mutual aid. Taking inspiration from AbdouMaliq Simone’s (2008, 197) emphasis on the “pervasiveness of speculation as an urban practice engaged in by all kinds of urban actors”, I foreground these everyday speculations, tactics, and practices of collective risk management amongst platform workers. Attending to such practices, I argue, opens up space to reframe platform urbanism beyond its current Eurocentrism and preoccupation with macro political economic analyses.

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