RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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163 Critical geographies of the sharing economy (3) Sharing places
Affiliation Economic Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Ramon Ribera-Fumaz (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain)
Filippo Celata (University of Rome, Italy)
Chair(s) Ramon Ribera-Fumaz (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain)
Anna Davies (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)
Timetable Thursday 03 September 2015, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Forum - Seminar Room 2
Session abstract The sharing economy is emerging as a powerful force for restructuring post-recession economies, for mitigating climate change through the sustainable (re-)use of resources, and for experimenting with non-capitalistic practices in which ownership and markets are replaced by access, collaborative consumption and commoning.
The sharing economy is also becoming a new venue for venture capital investments, and has been accused of disrupting old industries by devolving further any legal, fiscal and social responsibilities to low-paid and unregulated “micro-entrepreneurs” who are induced to monetize personal assets and to compete against each other through self-branding.
The aim of the session is to address this controversy from a geographical perspective, which is still missing. Sharing is indeed embedded in interpersonal relationships and based upon a variety of relational proximities which are needed to create links, trust, and reciprocity among people who share. These networks have a peculiar spatiality, may be more or the less inclusive, diverse, autonomous, ‘alternative’, and require the social infrastructure which is typical of cohesive communities and of densely urbanized areas.
The problem is that community-based initiatives in the field often strive to survive and to up-scale. Internet-based intermediaries are indeed necessary to provide what self-organized networks rarely guarantee: efficient platforms, reputation systems and the critical mass of connections which are needed to reduce transaction costs and risks. These ICT platforms are increasingly controlled by big corporations which mobilize an array of benign geographical imaginaries - communitarism, autonomy, intimacy, reciprocity, authenticity, sustainability, etc. - for legitimising a business model that may be regarded as the last frontier of post-fordism, and as the advent of a libertarian and purely informational capitalism in which control over social networks became a major source of oligopolistic power.
Linked Sessions Critical geographies of the sharing economy (1) Sharing communities
Critical geographies of the sharing economy (2) Sharing Networks
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
The super host: Care and community in online hospitality networks
Maartje Roelofsen (University of Graz, Austria)
In the past decade online hospitality networks such as Airbnb, BeWelcome, and Couchsurfing – which facilitate the paid or unpaid exchange of hospitality services between hosts and guests in residential accommodation – have flourished. Operating largely outside the commercial tourism sector, these website-driven marketplaces in the sharing economy have come to symbolize and perform new tourism geographies of interaction, production and consumption. They promise more “authentic” travel experiences and by 2015 these networks operate in 192 countries, penetrating thousands of cities, villages, neighbourhoods, and millions of living rooms worldwide. The global spectrum of places for tourist consumption seems to become not only more dispersed; it arguably reaches the very places where the intimacies of “private” lives occur. This paper draws attention to the prevailing norms of hospitality within these networks. Norms that should help both hosts and guests to provide each other with the optimal stay in and experience of place. It sheds light on the neo-communitarian rhetoric that prevails within these networks and the preoccupation with “good” care of the self and others. Taking Airbnb as an example, I examine how its reputation system and the “Super Host” qualification program bring about normative expectations of care, and pose measures of surveillance and discipline, reconfiguring relations of care between hosts and guests.
Home and away: the sharing economy and Icelandic tourism
Edward Huijbens (University of Akureyri, Iceland)
Orn Jónsson (University of Iceland, Iceland)
This paper discusses issues of contention in the development of the sharing economy world-wide and critically examines these in the context of Icelandic tourism development. The recent massive influx of visitors to Iceland has arguably created considerable manoeuvring space for the micro entrepreneur to reap the benefits of the emerging online platforms of the sharing economy. Using the key concepts, premises and functioning of these we present an in-depth study on how sharing platforms have facilitated entrepreneurship in tourism to the enhancement of social capital and innovation. At the same time however, the sharing economy is about monetizing community relationships and could consequently undermine these and accepted codes of conduct. The increasingly oligopolistic character of the main platform players is already a worldwide threat. No strong evidence as yet exist in Iceland of this harmful side to the sharing economy and a critical examination of tourism investment, policy and development reveals that it is business as usual with investors not heeding the opportunities being created through sharing practices. Thus the article argues that growing tourism in Iceland has the opportunity to seize the positive aspects of the sharing economy if policy is informed and formulated accordingly. We suggest the critical focus should be on the p2p actors in Iceland utilising various sharing platforms. The aim should be skills enhancement and institutionalised codes of conduct facilitating p2p communication. Thus growing tourism can create chances for people to direct their own daily lives through changing learning processes of innovation.
Cross-border collaborative consumption and negative reciprocity in hospitality exchange
Michael O'Regan (Institute for Tourism Studies, China)
Cross-border collaborative consumption that involves hospitality exchange have bloomed in recent years, where consumption is offered as an alternative model to the industrial tourism system, and as a means for experimenting with non-capitalistic practices. It doing so, sites or intermediaries such as couchsurfing.com challenged top-down imposed hospitality and played a crucial role in the establishment of a travelling-class that constituted its identity through collaborative consumption (sharing) practices performed at home and across borders. Sharing hospitality became embedded in interpersonal relationships and was based upon a variety of relational proximities; such as trust, and balanced reciprocity among people who shared similar values. However, many users who became couchsurfing.com ambassadors after the site launched as a non-profit in 2004 resigned en-mass after the companies move to become a for-profit in 2011. Through in-depth interviews with 10 of these former volunteers, the presentation will argue that for these volunteers, the new reputation systems, advertisements, safety systems and the critical mass of connections, which the new managements teams at CS believed were required to provide an efficient platform, led to collaborative consumption practices through negative reciprocity; creating conflict rather than collaboration as solidarity was reshaped by the commodification of what they believed, were their couches.
Unravelling Airbnb. The case of Barcelona
Albert Arias-Sans (Rovira I Virgili University, Catalonia, Spain)
Alan Quaglieri-Domínguez (Rovira I Virgili University, Catalonia, Spain)
Airbnb is considered the most successful example of the so-called sharing economy with more than one million listings in more than 34,000 cities around the world and a market valuation of $13 billion in 2014. However, as its global success grows, so do the social and economic impact on the cities where is massively set. Despite the rhetorical gear claiming for the redistribution of welfare, we argue that the disruption of Airbnb has to be considered seriously as an issue for the urban political agenda. The paper aims to unravel the impacts of Airbnb in Barcelona, one of the most popular destinations, in order to evaluate the urban impacts of such a “collaborative” way of hosting visitors in the city. In order to do so, firstly, we analyse the figures of the supply and put forward some of the most relevant characteristics of the host community. Secondly, through the data-analysis, we try to debunk three main statements used to enhance “the sustainable, collaborative and community-based model”. These statements are: the revitalization of neighbourhoods, the increase and diversification of quality tourism and the support to the families. Thirdly, we analyse the controversies related to the urban planning regulatory framework and, finally, we try to place Airbnb within the public debate that is currently going on in Barcelona concerning tourism-related issues.