GUERILLA CAPITALISM AND THE PLATFORM ECONOMY: GOVERNING UBER IN CHINA, TAIWAN, AND HONG KONG
Keywords:Guerilla capitalism, regulatory entrepreneurship, platformization, Uber, comparative political economy
Platform firms, such as Uber and Airbnb, are emerging economic actors that aim at re-organizing the economic sectors they enter through challenging existing regulatory frameworks politically. While most studies focus on how platform firms’ political playbooks operate in European and North American democratic contexts, we know less about the regulatory and contestatory stories in non-Western and non-democratic contexts. This study aims to fill this lacuna by examining the governance of Uber in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The three diverse political systems provide a comparative basis to how Uber's political playbook works in authoritarian (China), semi-authoritarian (Hong Kong), and democratic (Taiwan) systems, respectively. We introduce the concept of “guerilla capitalism” to describe how platform firms attempt to make a profit through exploiting legal grey zones or openly violating established laws. We present a critical discourse analysis of Uber’s public marketing materials, news coverage about Uber, and government reports about ride-hailing in the three cases. Our analysis illustrates (1) the convergent discursive and political strategies Uber employed to legitimize its business to change the law and (2) the divergent and contextual factors that lead to different regulatory outcomes. We argue that Uber’s operative logic lies at the swift accumulation of a large number of politically mobilizable customers and the formation of political coalitions with their customers; however, governmental responses to Uber's political playbook vary with regulatory contexts. Such an operative logic may re-shape power-relations in different political trajectories. This study affords significant opportunities for thinking about the comparative politics of platformization.