On-demand digital platforms are shaping processes of urbanisation by transforming governance processes, worker subjectivities and consumption practices. However, claims about such transformations risk ignoring the diverse and often underspecified ways that evaluations about platform urbanism are being made. This paper grapples with our incapacities to know platform urbanism, not as pragmatic barriers that can be overcome, but as limits to be reckoned with. Reflecting on fieldwork encounters with people speaking about on-demand platforms from diverse governance, production and consumption perspectives, the paper foregrounds experiences of unknowability, illegibility and ambivalence in platform urbanism. These concepts invite a rethink of the subjectivities involved in evaluating platform urbanism and they provoke questions about the operation of power. The paper argues that attending to these ‘negatives’ provides an alternative counter-political perspective that apprehends both the instability of politics and our practices of judgement. Ultimately, admitting a more aporetic understanding of platform urbanism is not about hobbling our capacities to intervene as geographers, but about questioning what intervention might look like and what might be possible.
David is Associate Professor in Geography at the University of Melbourne. David is a cultural geographer who undertakes qualitative research on mobile lives and technological futures. His current and recent projects explore the impact of digital on-demand mobile work on cities; how automation is changing workplaces; and how households respond to mobile work practices. He is author of Transit Life: How Commuting Is Transforming Our Cities (MIT Press, 2018), and co-editor of Negative Geographies: Exploring the Politics of Limits (U Nebraska Press, 2021), the Routledge Handbook of Mobilities (2014), and Stillness in a Mobile World (Routledge, 2011). He is Managing Editor of Social & Cultural Geography and Steering Committee Chair for AusMob, the Australian Mobilities Research Network.