Book Open Access
Prof. Dr. Bernhard Pörksen; Prof. Dr. Klaus Sachs-Hombach
Platforms are powerful. Everybody agrees on that. But opinions diverge where that power stems from. Is it because of the superiority of their technology? Is it because of their crushing market share? Is it because of their surveillance capabilities? These and similar questions around digital platforms are also increasingly discussed among organization scholars. What kind of organizational form - somewhere between market, network and hierarchy, or a strange mixture of all three - are platforms? And what is their economic and societal impact, given they are already changing whole sectors, work relations, media production and consumption as well as politics?
The book “The power of platforms: Politics in the time of internet Giants” by Michael Seeman develops a unique angle on the topic and develops a theory of platform power based on a unified and abstract understand of what platforms are and do - an understanding that can describe Microsoft as well as Amazon and Uber, i.e. the vast heterogeneity of platforms, by using several social science theories, including e.g. the resource dependence theory by Pfeffer/Salancik. Platforms, Seemann argues, have a particular kind of power that derives from the fact that we - as individual or organizational agents - all engage in countless mutually dependent relationships. Platforms have developed a specific set of tools and strategies that enable them to occupy and manipulate these relationships - “own” them, steer them in their favor and extract value from them.
The book claims that the platform is a new structural paradigm of social organization in its own right – next to the nation state and the market. Accordingly, platforms have specific properties and dynamics that are fundamentally different to the latter two. By diving deep into platform history, the book explains what platforms are, how they evolved, how they function, and how they gain and apply power.
The book also explores the impact of the emergence of these new powerful entities in the world. They have changed politics on various levels: domestic, foreign and even security-related. They also changed the economy quite dramatically in a way that - as Seemann claims - is different from the capitalist mode of production. All of these impacts can be traced back to the tools and mechanisms of platform power that Seemann outlines in his book.