PLATFORMS ACT — WORKERS REACT: ORGANISING, STRATEGY, AND DESIGN IN THE PLATFORM ECONOMY

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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Abstract

This dissertation aims to shed light on novel forms of organising in the context of platform economy, examining their organising solutions, strategies, and design choices, as well as workers’ responses. The increase in technologically-driven organising solutions via the use of digital interfaces (e.g., applications) can fundamentally change the way we work. It can also influence our autonomy and career paths more generally. These new developments are more pronounced in the context of the platform economy because actions by firms have an impact on a large number of independent contractors who are not formally bound to an organisation. While the platform economy as an emerging phenomenon enjoys extraordinary interest among the scholarly community and advancements have been made to understand singular platform strategies (e.g., winner-takes-all) and organisational design choices (e.g., platform openness), we lack a full understanding of the interrelatedness of these features, particularly in relation to platform workers. This dissertation aims to make contributions to this end, exploring the following research question: How do platforms make strategic and organisational design choices, and what consequences do these have for their contributor network? Specifically, this dissertation addresses three inter-related questions at the intersection of new organisational forms, platform strategies, and platform design choices. Firstly, platform organisations have introduced novel ways of assigning tasks (e.g., via algorithms), rewarding workers (e.g., via rating systems), and providing task-related information (e.g., real-time updates via apps). Many platform organizations, however, have been contested precisely on these grounds, eliciting different regulatory responses around the world that upheld or restricted their operations. Hence, the first study of this dissertation explores: How and why do workers respond to new forms of organising in the platform economy across different regulatory environments? Secondly, platforms can resort to different competitive logics: winner-takes-all, which prioritises network size, and distinctiveness, which prioritises unique content, quality, or user experience. Previous research has posited that platforms must opt for one logic only, as pursuing both simultaneously can lead to a ‘platform trap’. This presents a trade-off among two critical dimensions of platform value: network size vs distinctiveness. Platform cooperatives present an especially fruitful setting for the understanding of this interplay between strategic trade-offs, as they are founded on the strong ideological principles, yet they have to abide by platform rules (e.g., network effects). Therefore, the second study of this dissertation seeks to answer: How are strategic tensions between network size and distinctiveness manifested, and how do organisational identity dynamics shape platforms’ responses to such tensions? Finally, recent years have seen experimentation with organizational design choices, whereby platforms purposefully or due to the regulatory pressures forego some aspect of platform control. The most notable of these is the control over price-setting, which is a key platform design choice, yet has received meagre attention in the literature. In this regard, the literature has suggested that platforms should retain the control over price-setting when offerings are relatively homogenous, and pass the control on to service providers when offerings are heterogeneous, in which case providers are assumed to have superior knowledge over the services they are able to offer relative to the platform owner. The third study exploits a unique empirical context in which autonomy over price-setting was introduced to a relatively homogenous market and asks: How does autonomy over price-setting affect service providers’ participation and behaviour? To answer these three questions, this dissertation draws upon qualitative and quantitative data, comprising a mix of web-scraped forum data, interview data with four platform cooperatives across four different industries, and contributor-customer transaction data provided directly by a major platform.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Berends, Hans, Supervisor
  • Engel, Yuval, Co-supervisor
Award date8 Dec 2021
Place of PublicationAmsterdam, the Netherlands
Print ISBNs9789464169089
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2021

Keywords

  • platform economy, gig economy, platform workers, new organisational forms, platform cooperatives, platform strategies, platform design

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