From Development State to Corporate Leviathan: Historicizing the Infrastructural Performativity of Digital Platforms within Kenyan Agriculture

Laura Mann, Gianluca Iazzolino

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

Abstract

While there is growing literature on the role of platforms in concentrating market power, this article centres on their role in ‘performing’ economic theory. As infrastructures that measure, monitor and ultimately compel human behaviour, the authors argue that digital platforms should be understood as ‘performative infrastructures’ that seek to incorporate informal populations by compelling behaviour in line with certain theoretical and commercial models. The article draws on secondary historical literature and primary research with Kenyan and international agritech developers, farmers, and representatives from international organizations, regulators and farmer organizations, to historicize contemporary ‘platformization’ within a longer history of infrastructural performativity in rural Kenya, in order to tease out both continuities and departures from the past. While contemporary technologists evoke similar justifications for top-down control over markets as did their analogue predecessors, they nonetheless seek to vest such power within the private sector and to use it to perform neoclassical theory. The authors argue that this particular orientation is not an intrinsic feature of the technology itself but is rather shaped by a longer history of shifting policy paradigms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)829-854
Number of pages26
JournalDevelopment and Change
Volume52
Issue number4
Early online date21 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2021

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