Call for Participants: Against Platform Determinism

How institutions, individuals, and infrastructures mediate platform power

Workshop Date:
January 14, 2021

The application portal is now closed.

On Thursday, January 14, 2021, Data & Society Researcher Robyn Caplan, Faculty Fellow Meredith D. Clark, and Research Analyst William Partin will host an online academic workshop on how platform governance is mediated and shaped through interactions and entanglements with users, industries, and infrastructures.

Data & Society workshops enable deep dives with a broad community of interdisciplinary researchers into topics at the core of Data & Society’s concerns. They’re designed to maximize scholarly thinking about the evolving and socially important issues surrounding data-driven technologies.

We invite researchers making theoretical and methodological contributions, as well as those doing empirical research, to apply. We’re especially interested in bringing together emerging and established scholars in legal, organizational, activist, policy, media, and platform domains.

Participation in this event is limited; submit your application by October 21st.

About the Workshop

Over the last several years, platform companies—a broad category that may include firms as diverse as Facebook, Salesforce, Google, Patreon, AirBNB, DoorDash, etc.—have been positioned as all-encompassing omnipotent actors that can upend democracies, remake industries, and redefine employment. Increasingly, however, we have seen pushback against the technology industry. This includes shifts in public opinion represented in media (referred to as ‘the techlash’), coordinated efforts by established groups such as labor organizers, and refusals to use platform services by users and advertisers. In other cases, advocates and academics are taking opportunities to work with platforms in developing and enforcing policies and rules; through signing on to fact-checking partnerships, oversight boards and trust and safety councils, or through engaging with platforms through processes of consultation. Finally, platform companies’ imaginaries for their products often fail to materialize even without coordinated resistance due to infrastructural and cultural barriers.

This workshop invites scholars to consider how interactions with platform companies do or do not shape how technologies are designed, and deployed, and how global users are governed. Though platforms are centralized and powerful actors, this workshop is intended to explore the existing and emerging infrastructures, cultures, and organizational forms can shape decision-making and design or impede platforms’ implementation “on the ground.” These forces can include users of these platforms, industry actors, civil society organizations, and government, but it can also include how existing infrastructures—such as low connectivity areas—can mediate the impact of technology on communities.

Relevant paper topics for this workshop might include:

  • Methodological tools to consider interactions between stakeholder groups in platform governance
  • Papers on modes of engagement and interaction with platform companies (such as refusal, resistance, co-optation, cooperation, exclusion, or erasure)
  • Examples in which local media infrastructures act as impediments to a platform owners’ visions
  • Critical moments, issues, or events that impact platform policies and design
  • Instances of “platform collapse” in which a platform fails to achieve or loses network effects
  • Platforms that have widely varying impacts across geographic contexts and why
  • Fracturing of the sociotechnical imaginaries associated with platforms, whether by owners, dependents, or other stakeholders
  • The interactions between platforms, users, and intermediaries as seen via intersectional perspectives

We encourage attendees to approach the Data & Society workshop series as an opportunity to engage across fields, and to strengthen both relationships and research through participation. While we recognize the value for individual authors, we also see this as a field-building exercise valuable for all involved.

Workshop Format

The event will take place online on Thursday, January 14, 2021, currently scheduled from 11am ET – 5pm ET (exact timing to be confirmed). All participants will receive a $150 stipend. Unlike a conference, this workshop focuses on reading and offering interdisciplinary responses to in-progress draft papers.

Authors: this is a fantastic venue for workshopping a paper. If you have an appropriate paper in-progress, you are strongly encouraged to submit it for consideration. Drafts of journal articles, conference papers, law review papers, and book chapters are all welcome. Papers are expected to be in draft stage with room for improvement; the goal of this event is not to present finished work but to truly workshop works-in-progress. Authors will not present their work, but rather listen to critical discussion from the assembled group about the paper, with the explicit intent of making the work stronger and more interdisciplinary. Note that authors are expected to read and provide feedback for 1-2 other papers during other sessions, in addition to receiving comments on their own work.

Participants: If you do not wish to submit a paper-in-progress but are interested in the topic, we welcome your application as a participant. All Workshop participants will be asked to read 2-3 full papers in advance of the event and to prepare comments for intensive discussion. Some participants will be asked to be discussants of papers, and lead the conversation to engage the group in feedback.

The workshop will include a mix of deep-dive discussions, networking opportunities, and 2-3 slots focused on workshopping papers. Each paper session will be 75 minutes long. One paper will be workshopped in each session. Multiple sessions will run in parallel so there will be a total of 6-12 papers, but each participant will only be responsible for, at most, 3. Within each group, a discussant will open with a critique of the paper before inviting participants to contribute responses and suggestions.

All participants will have the opportunity for informal networking and optional 1:1 connections throughout the day.

How to Apply

If you are interested in attending this workshop, you may either 1) propose a paper to be workshopped (author); or 2) describe how your research makes you a relevant discussant/participant.

Please note: All co-authors who are intending to attend must apply separately. They should submit the same paper abstract.

By October 21, 2020, please submit the following information here:

  • Name, email address, affiliation, title, discipline
  • Bio or link to work
  • If applying as an author, a 1-page (max) abstract of a paper you’d like to workshop
  • If applying as a participant/discussant, a 1-page (max) discussion of your interests as it relates to this topic
  • Bibliographic citations / links to 3 papers (yours or others) that everyone interested in this domain should read [Optional]

Please contact [email protected] with any questions.

Key Dates
Application Deadline: October 21, 2020
Selection Decisions: November 9, 2020
Revised Abstracts + RSVP Deadline: November 20, 2020
Full Paper Deadline: December 9, 2020
Workshop: January 14, 2021