Discussion forum: ‘Portals, Patterns, and Private Spaces: The Platformisation of Automobility?’

Geomedia 2021: ‘Off the Grid’ – A genuinely interdisciplinary platform for research carried out at the nexus of Geography, Media, and Film Studies.

  • Session: [T1S10] ‘Portals, Patterns, and Private Spaces: The Platformisation of Automobility?’ (Discussion Forum)
  • Registration: until April 28th, 2021 (CEST)
  • Schedule: May 7th, 2021, 14:30–15:45 (CEST)
  • Location: online (Zoom: Stream 1)

Like just about everything else in the world, are cars also becoming platforms? Whilst terms like ‘integrated mobility platforms’, ‘smart mobility ecosystems’, and ‘mobility-as-a-service’ (MaaS) all point towards the platformisation of mobility and transportation more generally, far less has been said about the platformisation of cars themselves. Why?

Is it because cars have always been, or always had, ‘platforms’ in the form of vehicle chassis? Or because car manufacturers and owners are still fierce proponents of the idea of automotive independence? Despite articles about the ‘end of the car age’ (Moss, 2015), cars continue to play a significant role in everyday life around the world. Indeed, that whilst both car production and car sales have dropped during the pandemic (owing to lockdowns, supply chain disruption, or decreased demand), the value of car use has arguably risen, as people opt for the safe cocoon of a private vehicle.

As this panel seeks to discuss, several trends suggest the car is being platformised like other domains from social media to public services, perhaps even more aggressively so, with car manufacturers looking to replicate the platform power of big tech companies who, in turn, have also become deeply invested in automobility too. Alphabet, for example, have Android Auto, Waymo, and Waze, whilst Amazon own Zoox and operate a version of its AWS infrastructure for automotive manufacturers.

Cars increasingly function as ‘sensing platforms’ as new kinds of data are collected from components within them, and as platforms for the development of complimentary software such as navigation, addressing, or voice control systems. Cars are also increasingly being connected to other vehicles, with movements tracked and data aggregated on driver behaviour and preferences, acting also as proxies for the flow of people through urban environments. In short, there are unique developments within the automotive industry that add to, and extend, the conversation on digital platforms and platformisation (Helmond, 2015).

This discussion forum brings together scholars across various disciplines to discuss a range of issues: from the value of platform approaches to the study of automobility (as opposed to strictly media, mobile, or geographical approaches), the impact of platform automobility on society (as opposed to other forms/eras of automobility), key concerns with the platformisation of automobility (data extraction, monopoly power, climate crisis), alternatives to automobile platformisation (car-free, data-sharing, municipal mobility), and the utility of developing a research agenda around the term ‘platform automobility’ (methods, scales, foci).



Geomedia 2021 is hosted by the Graduate School ‘Locating Media’ and the Collaborative Research Centre ‘Media of Cooperation’ at the Department of Media Studies, University of Siegen. It is organized in collaboration with the Geomedia Group at Karlstad University.

Geomedia provides a genuinely interdisciplinary platform for research carried out at the nexus of Geography, Media, and Film Studies. The aim of the conference series is to map out the current terrain of media geographical research, pinpointing its main areas of debate and assessing the prospects of media geography as a more formalized academic field. For more information: Contact:

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