Research can make a difference by guiding policy and practice. Our job as researchers should not just be to engage in a narrow empirical vision that simply seeks to understand platforms and how they work. Whom does such research ultimately benefit? It certainly isn’t the platform workers who partake in a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions. We need research that can move beyond narrow empiricism. The study of the cooperative digital economy is a new field that offers ample opportunity to create urgent, rigorous, theoretical and applied knowledge.

The cooperative digital economy is a new field of study that draws on interdisciplinary thinking. The cooperative digital economy is an under-researched area in the fields of anthropology, political science, sociology, history, and economics. This emerging field is closely linked with labor studies and cooperative studies. In business schools, this research is especially relevant in the areas of finance, entrepreneurship, and organizational studies. In law schools, the pertinent areas are governance and corporate structure.

In many countries, a growing number of Ph.D. students are taking up doctoral thesis projects on platform cooperativism, exploring the unanswered questions of scale, distributed governance, finance, management, and marketing among emerging platform co-ops. They conduct ethnographic case studies, direct business research, and comparative studies across countries.

We need research that formulates, builds, and explores new visions for what a cooperative future of work could look like. And we need research that is unafraid to take a starting position which states that today’s digital economy is unfair to workers, but that together with other movements we can build a fairer future. Instead of examining the latest apps coming out of Silicon Valley, let’s visit Detroit, Barcelona, Ahmedabad, Zurich, and Bendigo to research experiments in self-sufficiency and democratic enterprise for clues about what might work best.

Who Else Benefits from Platform Co-ops