The geopolitics of infrastructuralized platforms: the case of Alibaba

Hong Shen, Yujia He

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Contemporary digital platforms have become increasingly infrastructuralized, and started to raise geopolitical tensions with their global expansion. Amidst the heightened geopolitical competition between the US and China, the growing power of Chinese infrastructuralized platforms has made them the center of recent geopolitical dynamics. Drawing from an exploratory case study, this paper discusses Alibaba, one of the most prominent Chinese Internet giants, as an infrastructuralized platform, and highlights its geopolitical struggles. Often perceived as an e-commerce company, Alibaba has become ‘infrastructuralized’: its now-massive digital empire has moved beyond e-commerce, expanding into almost every aspect of China’s and global digital economy such as logistics, finance, offline retailing, and cloud computing. This paper traces three highly visible cases in Alibaba’s global journey–its failed deal with MoneyGram in 2017, the uneven global journey of Alibaba Cloud, and the construction of the electronic World Trade Platform–to illustrate three key dimensions of the geopolitics of infrastructuralized platforms–namely, the geopolitics of everyday data, the geopolitics of the visibility-invisibility tension, and the geopolitics of modularity. By doing so, it contributes to the following two areas of scholarship. On the one hand, it contributes to the growing literature on ‘infrastructures and platforms’ by foregrounding the geopolitical dimensions of Chinese infrastructuralized platforms. On the other hand, it adds to the literature on the ‘geopolitics of infrastructures’ by bringing in a new type of infrastructure, complementing previous discussions on the geopolitics of traditional material infrastructures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2363-2380
Number of pages18
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Volume25
Issue number16
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Open Access funding provided by the Qatar National Library.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Keywords

  • Alibaba
  • Chinese Internet
  • Geopolitics
  • infrastructuralized platforms
  • infrastructures
  • platforms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences

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