Chapter 26: Collaborating and connecting: the emergence of the sharing economy
Sharing, or practices by which individuals use, occupy, or enjoy something with others, is long-standing. Anthropologists analyse the ways that sharing produces and reproduces social relations (Belk 2009; Gell 1986). In the United States, scholars have studied early examples of sharing in the close-knit farming towns of the colonial Northeast (Merrill 1977). In the mid-twentieth century, Carol Stack described sharing as a survival mechanism for African-Americans living in a community beset by poverty and discrimination (Stack 1974). New forms of sharing have emerged in recent years, in part as a result of the Internet. What is innovative about today’s sharing is that it is a market form in which strangers – rather than kin and communities – exchange goods and services. This contemporary sharing economy creates new ways of provisioning goods and services, and opportunities for what we have called ‘connected consumption’, and what others have termed ‘collaborative consumption’. Connected consumption is predicated on peer-to-peer relationships rather than existing market actors to mediate exchange. As such, it represents an innovation that is capable of reallocating wealth across the ‘value chain’, specifically away from middlemen and towards small producers and consumers. In 2011, Time magazine identified collaborative consumption as one of its ten ideas that will change the world.
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