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The sharing economy: A pathway to sustainability or a nightmarish form of neoliberal capitalism?

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  • Martin, Chris J.

Abstract

The sharing economy seemingly encompasses online peer-to-peer economic activities as diverse as rental (Airbnb), for-profit service provision (Uber), and gifting (Freecycle). The Silicon Valley success stories of Airbnb and Uber have catalysed a vibrant sharing economy discourse, participated in by the media, incumbent industries, entrepreneurs and grassroots activists. Within this discourse the sharing economy is framed in contradictory ways; ranging from a potential pathway to sustainability, to a nightmarish form of neoliberalism. However, these framings share a common vision of the sharing economy (a niche of innovation) decentralising and disrupting established socio-technical and economic structures (regimes). Here I present an analysis of the online sharing economy discourse; identifying that the sharing economy is framed as: (1) an economic opportunity; (2) a more sustainable form of consumption; (3) a pathway to a decentralised, equitable and sustainable economy; (4) creating unregulated marketplaces; (5) reinforcing the neoliberal paradigm; and, (6) an incoherent field of innovation. Although a critique of hyper-consumption was central to emergence of the sharing economy niche (2), it has been successfully reframed by regime actors as purely an economic opportunity (1). If the sharing economy follows this pathway of corporate co-option it appears unlikely to drive a transition to sustainability.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin, Chris J., 2016. "The sharing economy: A pathway to sustainability or a nightmarish form of neoliberal capitalism?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 149-159.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:121:y:2016:i:c:p:149-159
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2015.11.027
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Smith, Adrian & Raven, Rob, 2012. "What is protective space? Reconsidering niches in transitions to sustainability," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(6), pages 1025-1036.
    2. Berg, Annukka & Hukkinen, Janne I., 2011. "The paradox of growth critique: Narrative analysis of the Finnish sustainable consumption and production debate," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 151-160.
    3. Belk, Russell, 2014. "You are what you can access: Sharing and collaborative consumption online," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 67(8), pages 1595-1600.
    4. Martin, Chris J. & Upham, Paul & Budd, Leslie, 2015. "Commercial orientation in grassroots social innovation: Insights from the sharing economy," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 240-251.
    5. Smith, Adrian & Voß, Jan-Peter & Grin, John, 2010. "Innovation studies and sustainability transitions: The allure of the multi-level perspective and its challenges," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 435-448, May.
    6. Markard, Jochen & Raven, Rob & Truffer, Bernhard, 2012. "Sustainability transitions: An emerging field of research and its prospects," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(6), pages 955-967.
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