Platform Discourses: A Critical Humanities Approach to the Texts, Images, and Moving Images Produced by Tech Companies
December 2019 - November 2024
Platform Discourses develops a critical humanities perspective on the platform society, in which the online platforms owned by major tech companies like Google and Apple are integrated into all domains of life. The project analyzes those discourses through which tech companies seek to generate trust around their products, addressing people not only as consumers, but increasingly also as a general “public.” The project’s premise is that tech discourses are not mere by-products of platforms themselves, but form an integrated part of the development in which tech companies present their market-driven services as neutral spaces for social interaction. Materials of analysis vary from billboard campaigns to corporate blogs (e.g., Airbnb’s Citizen Blog), and from product presentations to manifestos (e.g., Facebook’s call for a “Global Community”). The project identifies the ideological underpinnings of those materials. What are the dominant visions of individual and collective human existence tech companies develop in their discourses? How have these visions evolved over the decades? And what conceptual understandings of humanity inspire Google’s mission to “do no evil” or Facebook’s ideal of a “global community”? Engaging these questions, Platform Discourses presents a critical framework to understand how tech companies not only disrupt traditional markets and transform people’s practices, but also seek to reconfigure the stories through which people relate to themselves, others, and their ecosystems. Platform Discourses has three researchers: Niels Niessen (Principle Investigator, who analyzes tech discourses of everyday life), Rianne Riemens (who analyzes how tech companies position themselves on the climate crisis), and Nuno Atalaia (who analyzes discourses around voice-user interfaces).
Platform Discoures figure 1 – Image taken from Apple product presentation (2011)
Big tech, ideology, critique, subjectivity, ecology, everyday life, voice user interfaces
Niels Niessen, “Shot on iPhone: Apple’s World Gallery” https://muse.jhu.edu/article/797069
European Research Council (Starting Grant)
Dr Niels Niessen, Niels.firstname.lastname@example.org