Handbook of the Sharing Economy
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Handbook of the Sharing Economy

Edited by Russell W. Belk, Giana M. Eckhardt and Fleura Bardhi

With the radical growth in the ubiquity of digital platforms, the sharing economy is here to stay. This Handbook explores the nature and direction of the sharing economy, interrogating its key dynamics and evolution over the past decade and critiquing its effect on society.
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Chapter 3: Sharing as an alternative economy activity

Thomas Widlok


When compared to instances of sharing described ethnographically in the anthropological record, a large of the transfers via internet platforms in the so-called “sharing economy” are more appropriately labelled “crowd-based capitalism.” This chapter goes beyond the duality of non-commercial gift-exchange versus commercial capitalist transactions by exploring forms of communal redistribution, pooling and sharing that are neither mainstream market transactions nor instances of gift-exchange relationships. These sharing practices create opportunities, the opportunity to ask (others), the opportunity to respond (to others) and the opportunity to let go. Unlike gift-exchange, sharing is typically initiated by a demand: people ask for things either explicitly or implicitly by just hanging around waiting for a share. This constitutes a social process whereby personhood, the self and personal presence, is being constructed in particular ways. The chapter investigates how these differ as we move from analogue settings such as the intimate life of hunter-gatherers to online platforms enabling peer-to-peer interactions and “freeware” apps allowing people to participate in digital platforms which themselves create a triadic relationship between peers and a platform provider. When cultural systems getted dubbed into digital environments they rely on social practices that are already established but are constantly in danger of being undermined.

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