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From Platform Capitalism to Platform Cooperativism? Potentials and Limits of Cooperative Ventures in the Platform Economy

In recent years, the idea of  cooperatively owned and run platform models has been increasingly put forth as a possible “silver bullet” against the various negative excesses of platform capitalism. This article investigates the conditions under which these so-called platform cooperatives can contribute to a democratization of the platform economy. Based on a screening of company websites and a systematic literature review, the field of platform cooperativism is scoped in both a definitorial and empirical fashion. This allows to differentiate three types of platform cooperatives: infrastructure platforms, gig platforms and secondary cooperatives. Subsequently, the specific problems that these different types of platform cooperatives face under market conditions are outlined.

The article differentiates problems relating to the internal cohesion of the cooperative and the external environment in which the cooperative is embedded. Platform cooperatives must ensure that democratic decision-making structures can be maintained while simultaneously submitting to market constraints, as well as finding a way to assert themselves in the context of the specific political and economic challenges that platformization brings with it. Specifically, strategies have to be developed in order to be able to survive in markets characterized by indirect network effects and economies of scale. Following on from an analysis of the problem-specific strategies pursued by the platform cooperatives, the article discussed the conditions under which these alternative economy companies could realize their goals. The chapter comes to the conclusion that this is especially the case when they firstly enable local network effects, secondly understand the establishment of the cooperative as a process of community building and thirdly manage to embed themselves in second order networks, to which tasks such as software development can be delegated