The rise of platforms: individual, institutional, and governance questions for communication research

Call for papers

The rise of platforms: individual, institutional, and governance questions for communication research

2019 ICA post-conference, Wednesday May 29, George Washington University

Organizers: Erika Franklin Fowler, Sarah Anne Ganter, Natali Helberger, Dave Karpf, Daniel Kreiss, Shannon McGregor, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Platform companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter are increasingly central to most forms of mediated communication around the world and therefore to most of the individual, institutional, and governance questions with which communication research deals.

These companies – and their counterparts elsewhere like Alibaba and Tencent in mainland China and Yandex and VKontakte in Russia – have built large and diverse user bases around their global digital platforms that enable different types of interactions and content. In the process, in countries throughout the world these platforms host much public and commercial information, organize attention and access to it, create new formats for it, and collect and control data about this information and users. In doing so, these platforms shape the incentive structures around investments in public communication (including by news media, political campaigns, and social movements) as well as commercial communication (including much advertising, public relations, and entertainment) and represent governments and media regulators with new challenges.

By becoming a part (sometimes large, sometimes small) of what almost everybody does with media almost everywhere in the world, these platforms increasingly play an important role in everything from journalism and political communication to health and popular communication. While these platforms and their algorithms, policies, content, and organization are the subject of a growing volume of impressive scholarship in various communication subfields, there is a risk that substantive, theoretical, and methodological discussions around the rise of platforms and what they mean are fragmented as a consequence of scholarly specialization and that important insights from one field are overlooked elsewhere. This is of critical importance as these platforms continue to expand their outsized influence on political, economic, and social processes around the world.

The purpose of this post-conference is to bring together a diverse international group of scholars from a range of different ICA divisions and interest groups to advance our shared understanding of the societal, institutional, and governance implications of the rise of platforms. This post-conference will identify the questions platforms present to communication research and the challenges of studying them, and link discussions to existing debates in the field. In addition to bridging subfield divides, this post-conference seeks to bring researchers from different geographic areas together to provide comparative analyses of platforms across economic, political, and social contexts.

With this call for papers we invite theoretical, comparative, as well as empirical contributions from all communication subfields relevant to the study of platforms that deploy a range of analytical and methodological approaches, including communication science, digital humanities, media studies, computational methods, computer science, media law and policy, philosophy, governance studies, science and technology studies, economics, etc. We in particular invite papers not only from scholars from the US and Europe, we particularly welcome contributions from countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. We encourage, but are not limited to, papers that discuss:

  • Platforms as objects of analysis
  • The growing dependencies of researchers on platforms
  • Institutional perspectives on platforms
  • Political economy of platforms
  • Platforms from a democratic/normative theory perspective
  • Societal embedding of platforms in different national contexts
  • The social, democratic, and political power of platforms
  • Platform governance and (comparative) analysis of emerging platform regulation in different national and international contexts
  • Pitfalls and best practices of doing multi-disciplinary research into platforms.

We particularly encourage multi-disciplinary papers that bridge the different ICA divisions and demonstrate how doing so generates insights that were not possible from a mono-disciplinary perspective.

Extended abstracts of no more than 4000 characters, all included, should be submitted via this Google Form on the post-conference website by January 11.

The abstract should indicate whether this is a theoretical or empirical contribution. Abstracts should indicate the research question, theoretical/methodological approach, the main argument/hypotheses, what evidence it is based on, and the relevance of the contribution to academic debate and society. In addition to the abstract, the form request one sentence of no more than 300 characters that describes the key contribution in a way that would be clear to non-specialists.

The post-conference will take place on Wednesday, May 29th at George Washington University.


Financial Sponsors

Social Science Research Council Media & Democracy Program

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford

School of Media and Journalism, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University

Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam


ICA Division Sponsors

Journalism Studies Division

Communication Law and Policy Division

Political Communication Division