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Communication, Development and Social Participation in China, Vol. 27 - 2020, No. 2

Guest Edited by Yuezhi Zhao and Jing Wu

The Mirage and Politics of Participation in China’s Platform Economy

, pages: 154-170

Despite considerable attention paid to the roles played by digital platforms in mediating and organising the economy and sociality, there is a dearth of knowledge about how the platform economy is operationalised, discursively, politically, and practically in China. The article explicates the semantic deployment of the term platform in the national development policies generally and the specific manifestations in the policies and praxis of ride-hailing and food-delivery services – two of the fastest-growing sectors in China’s platform economy. The study contextualises the framework and rationale behind the governmental promotion of the platform economy in the state’s long-term efforts to be part of the global digital capitalism. It also charts the persistent and shifting struggles facing workers in the new socio-technical and economic landscape in which digital platforms play a crucial role. The article demonstrates how the characterisation of digital platforms as participatory infrastructures for (new) jobs takes precedence in contemporary China. Juxtaposing policies with praxis, it is argued that the mirage of participation conceals an emerging digital infrastructure of distribution to the disadvantage of the workers, which may eventually undermine the development agenda.

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