The Platform Economy and Geography: Restructuring the Space of Capitalist Accumulation


The platform economy and its leading firms, such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google, are reorganizing the geography of value creation and capture on both a local and global scale. This paper argues that economic geographers have underappreciated the implications of the platform on space. First, we demonstrate the concentration of platform giants in terms of location on the US West Coast, and in terms of their market share in various services, such as search, maps, and online sales. Platforms are simultaneously intermediaries, two-sided markets, data aggregators, and leading users of artificial intelligence (AI). Second, we use a labor taxonomy to demonstrate the extensive reach of these platforms in terms of the labor markets that they serve and shape. To illustrate these changes in the geography of value creation, we present case studies of Amazon and Google Maps to show their effects on the location of economic activity. Third, we elaborate on our contention that platforms are at once intermediaries and data hubs. AI is likely to reinforce the power of these platform leaders because they have the largest datasets, the most computational power, enormous teams of the best AI researchers, and vast reservoirs of capital that they can use to make acquisitions. We conclude by identifying areas for future research and calling upon economic geographers to consider the implications of the platform economy in reshaping the space of economic activity.

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Publication date: 
November 1, 2019
Publication type: 
Working Paper