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Title: Great Transformations in the Age of Platforms: Knowledge, Interaction, and Community on the Digital Frontier
Authors: Chakrabarti, Parijat
Advisors: Wherry, Frederick
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: development
economic sociology
platform economy
Silicon Savannah
sub-Saharan Africa
Subjects: Sociology
African studies
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation examines the encounter of technologists and traders in Kenya’s “Silicon Savannah,” one of Africa’s largest tech hubs. At this frontier of the platform economy, I document how a coalition of Kenyan and foreign technologists, buttressed by powerful frames of “data for development,” work to migrate interaction and exchange in informal fresh produce and fast-moving consumer goods markets onto digital platforms and how market communities respond to these efforts. In so doing, I elucidate how local practices of valuation and exchange, human-environment interaction, and the bonds of market community are molded in encounter with the global, and increasingly digital, economy. Drawing on 24 months of fieldwork and blending multi-sited ethnography, 112 interviews with farmers, traders, investors, field agents, and platform managers, original survey data, and analysis of large-scale platform log data, this dissertation develops three linked studies. First, I document in ethnographic detail how identity, interaction, and understandings of value along agricultural value chains are transformed as market governance is unbound from interpersonal networks and embedded in data-driven algorithmic systems— a process I call “making markets machine-readable.” While sociological studies typically analyze how the use of data produces the social order, this study examines how social and ecological systems are remade so as to produce and be governed with data. Second, I shift our attention downstream to show how retail platforms broker new relationships across a wide range of actors including global financiers, multinational distributors, and local traders. While this emerging network offers certain benefits to retailers, I show how imbalances in these relationships distribute benefits unevenly and often exclude small-scale women traders. Finally, while platform narratives frame Nairobi’s wholesale markets as chaotic, inefficient, and in need of reform, I reveal order in the chaos. I show how wholesale traders cultivate multiple, diverse, and negotiated relationships to help them manage the uncertainty endemic to small-scale agricultural value chains. Compared to strict platform discipline, it represents a different way of organizing socio-economic life— one that holds lessons as we grapple with climate change among other radical uncertainties sparked by rapid globalization and technological change.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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