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 28: The rhetoric of sharing: managerial literature on the sharing economy

Karolina Mikołajewska-Zając


The emergence of sharing economy platforms has been accompanied by the publication of numerous popular management books heralding these platforms as the ne plus ultra of the new digital economy. Following an insight by Boltanski and Chiapello, this chapter suggests that these books are important tools in legitimating this new form of digitally mediated provisioning. The analysis sets out to map the rhetorical strategies at play in these discourses of legitimation. The author suggests that the popularizing literature on sharing economy can be understood as performing boundary-blurring, or diluting the distinctions between categories usually seen as opposed. The three important boundaries which the management literature blurs are those between “the old” and “the new” economy, between the firm and the crowd, and between gift and market economies. Accordingly, popular books portray the sharing economy as able to develop solutions to humanity’s eternal problems more perfectly and on a larger scale thanks to recent digital technologies. Further, the sharing economy is legitimated as heralding a classless society of micro-entrepreneurs, a figure which combines the qualities of the firm and the crowd. Finally, collaborative platforms are cast as self-regulating vehicles powered by peer control, which leads to a suggestion that they should be excerpted from state regulation.

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