Entrepreneurial Activism? Platform Cooperativism Between Subversion and Co-optation
Platform cooperativism proposes to create an alternative to the corporate sharing economy based on a model of democratically owned and governed co-operatives. The idea sounds simple and convincing: cut out the corporate middleman and replace Uber with a service owned and managed by taxi drivers themselves, create a version of Airbnb run by cities, or turn Facebook into a platform democratically controlled by all users. This article discusses the ambivalences of platform cooperativism, exploring both the movement’s potentials to subvert digital capitalism from the inside and the risk of being co-opted by it. Platform cooperativism aims to foster social change by creating a People’s Internet and replacing corporate-owned platforms with user-owned co-operatives. It yokes social activism with business enterprise. As a result, the movement is shaped by tensions and contradiction between politics and enterprise, democracy and the market, commons and commercialisation, activism and entrepreneurship. This article explores these tensions based on a Marxist perspective on the corrosive powers of capitalist competition on the one hand and a Foucaultian critique of entrepreneurialism on the other. It concludes with a reflection on the politics of platform cooperativism, drawing out problematic implications of an uncritical embrace of entrepreneurialism and highlighting the need to defend a politics of social solidarity, equality and public goods.