School of Geography

School Research Seminar: Performing the sharing economy: diverse geographies of ‘digital’ work

17 November 2015

Time: 12:15 - 1:15pm
Venue: City Centre Seminar Room, FB 2.07

Speaker: Dr Lizzie Richardson, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

The sharing economy refers to forms of exchange facilitated through digital platforms, encompassing a diversity of for-profit and non-profit activities that all broadly aim to open access to under-utilised resources through what is termed ‘sharing’. The sharing economy constitutes an apparent paradox, framed as both part of ‘capitalism’ and as an alternative. This duplicity necessitates focusing on the performances of the sharing economy: how it simultaneously constructs diverse economic activities whilst also inviting the deconstruction of ongoing forms of dominance. In evoking performance, I aim to hold open the question of what the (sharing) economy is, suspending it as a space for both opportunity and critique. In this seminar, I outline the contingent and complex articulation of the sharing economy through three performances. Firstly, the enactment of new spatialities of community, secondly the role of consumer as accessor (not owner), and thirdly performances of collaboration through work. I suggest that rather than seeking to define and bound the ‘sharing economy’, the term should be used as a prompt to engage with the diverse ways in which the ‘digital’ builds on, reconfigures and upsets existing economic geographies. In particular, I point towards the variety of intersections between the digital and forms of ‘flexible’ work, through my current research on co-working spaces. This is investigating shared workspaces for self-employed people, ‘start-ups’ and small businesses predominantly in London, but also in Manchester and Cambridge. The research is ethnographic, combining elements of semi-structured interviews (so far 10 interviews with a combination of ‘workers’ in and ‘(community) managers’ of these offices) with participant observation of co-working spaces.