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Platform methods: studying platform urbanism outside the black box


This intervention reflects on critical perspectives on algorithms and geographical work on the urban-digital interface to highlight a set of approaches for studying the politics of platform urbanism. In several ways, platforms may be understood as black boxes due to the proprietary nature of algorithms, the secrecy of corporate ownership structures, and the emphasis on confidentiality and privacy in the venture capital industry. While thus raising concerns about scrutiny and accountability, inclinations to “open the black box” of platforms reflect a limited and limiting horizon of political possibility. In a different vein, geographers concerned with the digital-urban interface are working to think about the potential for a counter-politics that is not rooted exclusively in resistance or antagonism. Drawing on these insights, this intervention complements recent work on digital methods by emphasizing tracing, counter-mapping, and proxying as approaches that do not privilege the revelation of visibility so much as potentiality, slipperiness, and movement.

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