The Sharing Economy: A Pathway to Sustainability or a Nightmarish Form of Neoliberal Capitalism?
- •The role of framing in the online sharing economy discourse is analysed.
- •Six framings of the sharing economy are identified.
- •Regime actors tend to frame the sharing economy in commercial terms.
- •Niche actors tend to frame the sharing economy in broader terms.
- •The sharing economy niche may be following a pathway of corporate co-option.
The sharing economy seemingly encompasses online peer-to-peer economic activities as diverse as rental (Airbnb), for-profit service provision (Uber), and gifting (Freecycle). The Silicon Valley success stories of Airbnb and Uber have catalysed a vibrant sharing economy discourse, participated in by the media, incumbent industries, entrepreneurs and grassroots activists. Within this discourse the sharing economy is framed in contradictory ways; ranging from a potential pathway to sustainability, to a nightmarish form of neoliberalism. However, these framings share a common vision of the sharing economy (a niche of innovation) decentralising and disrupting established socio-technical and economic structures (regimes). Here I present an analysis of the online sharing economy discourse; identifying that the sharing economy is framed as: (1) an economic opportunity; (2) a more sustainable form of consumption; (3) a pathway to a decentralised, equitable and sustainable economy; (4) creating unregulated marketplaces; (5) reinforcing the neoliberal paradigm; and, (6) an incoherent field of innovation. Although a critique of hyper-consumption was central to emergence of the sharing economy niche (2), it has been successfully reframed by regime actors as purely an economic opportunity (1). If the sharing economy follows this pathway of corporate co-option it appears unlikely to drive a transition to sustainability.