Contra the “sharing economy”, for sharing

Sharing – to have a portion of something with others, give a portion of something to another, or use, occupy, or enjoy jointly with others.


Is it just me or does this “sharing economy” concept smack of neoliberal recidivism?

We should practice caution when evoking the word sharing. Especially when we’re talking about a modernized means of renting our surplus capital. I doubt the concept of sharing within the term “sharing economy” is consistent with what pre-school teachers and parents model for three year olds — “now, Bobby, make sure you have that money I gave you to go ahead and ‘share’ that toy with Jessica.” Silly, isn’t it?

It seems possible that since the term “sharing economy” entered the American lexicon in December 2011, it’s swiftly started invading the sacred realm of human relationships. This isn’t too dissimilar to the way in which corporate capitalism appropriated the term “consumer” to effectively transmogrify the American “citizen”.

One could argue that the “sharing economy” represents a method for connecting people and bypassing the need for someone or something to mediate transactions among people. And one would be partially correct: the “sharing economy” conceivably connects people, albeit in a status-oriented, tech-dependent, racially, and linguistically homogenized transactional fashion, nothing more. I “rent” my bike to you, another 30-something white male, for three hours, and in exchange you pay me $45. Little to no chance of reciprocating.

This is where the “sharing economy” meme is particularly insidious: its superficially harmless name has the power to shape how we perceive and think about social relationships. Like the steady hand of a gifted surgeon, the “sharing economy” silently eviscerates the tissues of social reciprocity and affiliation connected with authentic acts of sharing.

An example of how the “sharing economy” might rapidly displace more meaningful social engagements is the already visible transition from house sitting to “housing sharing” ala AirBnb– a corporation, by the way, that Jeff Wright reminded me has profited from the trading of the fuzzy sentiment of the communitarian notion of a gift economy by exploiting the “sharing economy’s” neoliberal definition – i.e., renting out one’s surplus capital.

Before the rapid diffusion of this “sharing economy”, a person was much more likely to ask trusted friends and neighbors to house sit. Those friends and neighbors who entered into this social contract then had the capacity to reciprocate upon the requestees’ return home.

Now that the sharing economy has reshaped the concept of an empty house to fit within a neoliberal frame, when the person considers her prospectively empty house, she’s compelled to only see its money-making potential. That is, she’s expected to participate in transactions, rather than interactions, to forsake communal sensibility, in essence, to become a neoliberal.

I therefore propose a coup of the present “sharing economy” and an immediate replacement with a true sharing economy; one where humanity engages in convivial relationships, where people share the surplus of their labors (not capital), co-discover their landscapes, co-create art, music, and poetry. Let us take back the true meaning of sharing.


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