In this article we examine the partnership as a heterogeneous boundary resource that enables platforms to generate dependencies, become locally embedded, and gain power in urban settings. Pushing back against narratives of platform-driven disruption, which tend to universalize and totalize platform power, we discuss three cases of what we term “actually existing platformization”—a path-dependent and locally situated process in which platform companies engage in various forms of “boundary work” with other actors seeking to retain and/or gain power. Each case focuses on a distinct industry: food delivery, short-term housing rental, and the social/voluntary sector. In each of these domains, we show how asset-light platforms initiate and develop partnerships as a frequently nebulous boundary resource that opens up potential avenues for (1) market consolidation, (2) logistical integration, (3) social mobilization, and/or (4) institutional legitimation. Such strategic moves, we argue, have become particularly pertinent following the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit urban areas particularly hard and is intensifying certain social dependencies and institutional shortcomings that platforms are seeking to exploit.

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