- Legacies, Logics, Logistics: Essays in the Anthropology of the Platform Economy by Jane I. Guyer
Legacies, Logics, Logistics: Essays in the Anthropology of the Platform Economy by Jane Guyer is a timely and important contribution to economic anthropology and Africanist historiography. It arrives at a poignant moment when financial and communicative technologies are reshaping economies, re-introducing in a novel way the human dimension to scholarly discussions of political economy and finance. The book is a result of a lifetime of rich and productive academic research, but it also lays analytical and methodological groundwork for future ethnographic and historical investigations of the global political economy. Through its comparative focus that includes African as well as Western economies, it provides background for a systematic analysis of the platform economies in the developing world.
To preserve the ethnographic imperative in the study of current capitalism and to avoid temporally and socially disembedded depictions of the economic condition, Guyer suggests "platform economy" as a novel framing device that brings the "entanglements" of local logics and logistics together with a broader, historically situated analysis. It emerges as a lens into the composite architectures of a global economy that features differential control and access points—advancing the notion of platform as an infrastructural framework for diverse applications, but also as "a stage for amplification of some voices and presences over others; a focus of close collective access and attention; a way of enabling specific owners and engineers to reorient it for new purposes; and a place for announcing originality" (4). The analytical lens of platforms seems especially topical with the recent rise of the "sharing economy," with its novel patterns of re-intermediation and participatory value creation (Parker, Van Alstyne & Choudary 2016) and the growing importance of digital money management infrastructures (Maurer 2015).
Guyer views the compositional dynamics of the global platform economy as mobilized through three kinds of engagements—legacies, logics, and logistics—highlighting the complex histories and processes of "livelihood and wealth making." Legacies refer to components or repertoires with [End Page E11] origin and import in the past, while logics denote "stabilized compositions" expressed in formal terms. Logistics point at disjunctures at the compositional meeting points (36–38). As a "biography of intellectual life," the book traces the author's scholarly journey before and after the 2008 financial crisis, from the rationing regime of her childhood in post-war Britain, to the 1980s neoliberal "free market" in the United States, and the first applications of open markets in West Africa. Guyer's concern with lived economic practice is reflected in her critical and constructive engagement with a vast variety of scholarly literatures, including processual anthropology, pragmatist philosophy, actor-network-theory economics, and others. Seeking to address the challenge of a historical-ethnographic study of emerging global economies, Guyer highlights the contributions of the post-structural focus on assemblages that foreground the heterogeneity of economic architectures while revealing the relationality of its components. While the social analysis of such constructs helps circumvent the binarisms of modernity, she also argues for a more historically grounded "forensic analysis" of the "elements" in these layered assemblages.
The book builds on the author's longitudinal examination of Nigerian public economic culture, exploring the relationship between economic models and ideologies and their realization. The chapters in Part II examine the framing and contestation of "economic intelligibility" in Nigeria under structural adjustment policies and emerging open markets, through interactions between government rhetoric and public "craving for plausibility" (17). Chapter 2 presents a study of the multiplicity of modes of governance and their selective mobilization through the history of food regulation in Nigeria, which was shaped by administrative legacies from colonial-era Britain. Guyer contends that the history of food control in Nigeria illuminates the systematic role of such "historical derivations" in the evolution of bureaucratic models. The recurrent concept of "toiling ingenuity"—as repetitive, high-stakes work (11)—highlights the tenuous political negotiation that builds on regulatory templates from different eras and re-composes economic...