Driving the digital value network: Economic geographies of global platform capitalism

Kelle Howson, Fabian Ferrari, Funda Ustek-Spilda, Nancy Salem, Hannah Johnston, Srujana Katta, Richard Heeks, Mark Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper applies insights from global value chains (GVC)/global production networks (GPN) frameworks to explore the economic geographies brought into being by digital labour platforms. In particular, these perspectives facilitate analyses of power imbalances and value extraction across territories—an under-theorized aspect within platform studies. We theorize this dynamic by introducing the descriptor ‘digital value network’ (DVN): a digitally mediated nexus of platform operations that produce and distribute value between territories, on the basis of labour transactions. Empirically, we draw on a multi-year action research project, assessing the operations of platforms and the experiences of platform workers in 54 countries. Our analysis highlights that platforms as lead firms extend GVC/GPN logics of coordination and drivenness in DVN to (i) optimize production capabilities while externalizing ownership and costs, (ii) accumulate both monetary and non-monetary forms of value, and (iii) concentrate power at the global scale in both existing and new sectors.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Networks
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


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