This article looks closely at the notion of sharing as it is used in the context of the sharing economy. It is based on the qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews conducted in four countries with thirty-four participants who see themselves as operating within the sharing economy. Interviewees' definitions and understandings of sharing are presented, with particular focus on the question of whether the presence of money is a counterindication for sharing. While some interviewees unequivocally reject as sharing any transaction that involves money, and while some view the use of 'sharing' to describe such interactions as manipulative and deceptive, others see the two as potentially co-existing. One mechanism that enables this is seeing paying and sharing as referring to different aspects of the same transaction. Interestingly, it is not only representatives of for-profit companies who argue that even where there is money, there can also be sharing, but also social justice activists lobbying for their vision of a sharing economy. Adopting a pragmatic approach to language, but not forgoing critique, the article argues for a close analysis of how people actually talk about sharing rather than dismissing certain practices as 'not really sharing'.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
I wished to interview people from a number of different cities partly because the sharing economy itself is a global phenomenon, but also in order to hear a range of views. The choice of these cities was driven by a combination of their centrality to the sharing economy, convenience, and funding opportunities. The first interviews were conducted in London while I had a fellowship in that city; the interviews in Berlin were conducted in parallel with a conference I attended there. Research trips to Paris, New York and San Francisco were funded by a grant in support of this research. They were chosen for their importance as global cities, and because they are home to a number of important organizations within the sharing economy, be they for-or non-profit. I do not claim that these cities are representative of cities in Latin America, say, or Southeast Asia. However, in China, for instance, one can find a similar concern with the tension between doing things for money or for free that I describe in this article.4
© Alexandrine Press.
- Sharing economy