A Framework to Understand the Sharing Economy

by Aurélien Acquier, Thibault Daudigeos, and Jonatan Pinkse

The sharing economy encompasses an immense range of actors, including everything from major economic players (e.g., Airbnb and Uber) to local community-based initiatives (e.g., repair cafés or fablabs). With such a variety of players, it is difficult to clearly understand the sharing economy. In response, our article Promises and paradoxes of the sharing economy: An organizing framework, published in Technological Forecasting and Social Change, provides a framework to more easily categorize and analyze the nascent, yet booming sharing economy. Sharing as an economic activity is an age-old practice (bartering and lending). However, the current ‘sharing economy’ has grown exponentially thanks to the power of digital technology. While the term is very à la mode, there is no clear definition of a sharing economy initiative.

Is the sharing economy positive?

The term ‘sharing’ already creates an interesting question as ‘to share’ generally has a positive connotation. Yet, as exemplified by debates concerning Uber and Airbnb, the nature of the ‘sharing economy’ can sometimes be viewed negatively. We highlight that the use of the term ‘sharing’ can create a ‘feel good story’ that overlooks the darker sides of this new economy.

3 concepts to understand the sharing economy

To facilitate further discussion and analysis of the sharing economy, we suggest three concepts: (1) access economy, (2) platform economy, and (3) community-based economy.

The access economy includes initiatives that aim to share underutilized assets. Initiatives in this category tend to have two broad promises: first, to provide cheaper and wider access to services or products without requiring ownership; and second, to promote a sustainable solution for more intensive use of the capital ‘trapped’ in products.

The platform economy encompasses initiatives that focus on decentralized exchanges through digital platforms. In addition to promising broader access and resource optimization, these initiatives include secure exchange systems and promote individual economic opportunities.

The community-based economy includes initiatives built around non-contractual, non-hierarchical or non-monetized forms of exchange for products or services. These initiatives promote inclusiveness and social bonding within the community as a solution to overcome problems with traditional markets and bureaucracies.

We explain that most sharing economy initiatives can be categorized as a mix of two concepts. For example, fablabs and repair cafés would qualify as community-based access initiatives (i.e., they encourage local solidarity while promising wider access to particular equipment and know-how). Access platform initiatives include the likes of Airbnb and Blablacar. Community-based platform initiatives include examples such as Citiz, a national French network of local car-sharing companies.

Key points

  • Although the sharing economy is booming because of digital technology, it is still too young to be clearly defined.
  • Three concepts (access, platform and community-based economy) can help actors understand and categorize initiatives in the sharing economy.
  • Maintaining a broad perspective on the sharing economy can help actors understand both positive and negative aspects of this evolution.

The research has been carried out as a collaboration between Aurélien Acquier (ESCP Europe, Paris, France), Thibault Daudigeos (Grenoble Ecole de Management, Grenoble, France) and Jonatan Pinkse (Alliance Manchester Business School, Manchester, UK).

Links: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162517309101?via=ihubhttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/318603405_Promises_and_paradoxes_of_the_sharing_economy_An_organizing_framework

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