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The Geopolitics of BigTech: A World-Systems Perspective

Authors: David Bassens*, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Reijer Hendrikse, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: Financial technology, geo-economics, state-led capitalism, global digital architecture
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Driven by a logic of digital enclosure, global capitalism is generating new systems of accumulation, spearheaded by major technology companies (BigTech). A key development is that platform capitalists are offering financial services, thereby deepening financial enclosure of citizens within and beyond their respective core markets. The geographies of financializing BigTech have thereby become a matter of strategic geopolitical interest emblemized by “platform wars” between the US, China and Europe. While the US has blocking Huawei on the basis of national security risks, the European Union, having missed the BigTech boat, has doubled down on taxing the Silicon Valley giants Apple and Google. Most recently, the European Union is considering plans to launch a €100bn sovereign wealth fund to finance European industrial champions to compete with US companies such as Apple and Google and China’s Alibaba. Building on Wallerstein’s world-systems theory, this paper develops a framework to place the age of digitization within the longue durée of capitalist development shaped by Kondratieff cycles and hegemonic shifts. Accordingly, this frame is utilized to analyze technological developments in and between the US, China, and Europe with an emphasis on the (financial) activities of their respective BigTech companies, and the role of the state in deepening their domestic might whilst broadening their global reach. Amidst global geopolitical restructuring, we document how geopolitical BigTech strive is an empirical entry-point into shifting geographical articulations of core-core and core-periphery relations.

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