Commentary on Juliet Schor’s “Debating the Sharing Economy”
Juliet Schor offers us one of the most lucid, insightful, and well-researched analyses of the so-called “sharing economy,” examining the self-proclaimed social and environmental transformations that for-profit companies have claimed, and concluding, rightly I think, that the capacity of sharing economy users to organize themselves is a central factor in truly unlocking the potential of the sharing model.
Indeed, the very diversity of projects and enterprises that might fall under the “sharing economy” umbrella begets a certain potential for more socially inclusive and ecologically responsible economies. However, given the urgency of our planetary situation right now—cascading social, ecological, economic, and climatic crises unfolding around the world – it seems imperative to ask whether more profound transformations are required than what the current “sharing economy” promises. As Schor’s initial research suggests, the social and ecological impacts of many “sharing economy” enterprises are ambiguous at best, and in some cases, they are demonstrably furthering the very ills of social segregation and increased carbon emissions they purport to solve.
It’s time to deeply question whether the economic practices that comprise the mainstream sharing economy—including the recirculation of goods, peer-to-peer service exchanges, and co-production of assets—can be meaningful catalysts for a just and sustainable transition without fundamentally changing the ownership and governance structures of our entire economy. After all, accumulation (of wealth, power, decision-making) is the antithesis of sharing, and that is precisely how many sharing economy companies are structurally designed to function.