RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


317 On demand: cultural economies of access and ownership
Affiliation Transport Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Brendan Doody (University of Cambridge, UK)
Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)
Chair(s) Brendan Doody (University of Cambridge, UK)
Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)
Timetable Friday 02 September 2016, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Session abstract The ways resources are consumed and used are being challenged, renegotiated and reworked across various sectors. In this ‘post-ownership’ story, citizen-consumers are increasingly paying to access goods and services ‘on-demand’, which may be ‘shared’ with other users. Within the transport sector there has been a growth of car-sharing schemes, where drivers pay for access to and short-term use of a shared vehicle (Shaheen & Cohen, 2013; Kent and Dowling 2013; Belk, 2014). The shifting materialities of media continue to alter the relationship between cultural products and identities through the growth of on-demand streaming sites such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify (Moore, 2013; Tryon 2013; Bailey, 2015). Meanwhile, commercial and domestic spaces are being renegotiated through configurations of access that encourage temporary usage of the site itself (e.g., networked hospitality; co-working spaces) and flexible demand for resources within it (e.g., energy) (Molz 2012; Powells et al., 2014; Guttenberg, 2015). We are interested in critical approaches that question and complicate the narrative of ‘post-ownership’ to describe these trends. Firstly, to what extent does access query normative understandings of, and practices associated with, ownership? Secondly, what are the implications of access for the qualities and/or quantities of resource usage? Thirdly, how are emotional and ethical attachments realised through everyday negotiations of access and flexibilities of demand? We welcome papers dealing with issues related (but not limited) to: Changing mode(l)s of access and ownership, together with their (cultural/economic/political/environmental) implications; Empirical studies of how these mode(l)s are being operationalised and negotiated in everyday life (e.g., transport; space (domestic/commercial); media; energy, tools, clothes); Their potential to blur, challenge and disrupt existing imaginaries and practices of access/ownership; The ways in which digital, location-based and smart technologies are integrated into and integral to these mode(l)s; The emotional and ethical implications of access-based and on-demand usage.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Here and now? The temporal experiences of 'on demand' access
Brendan Doody (University of Cambridge, UK)
Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)
'Shared', 'collaborative' or 'access-based' consumption practices can be distinguished by at least two characteristics. First, they are underpinned by the temporary organisation of usage of goods and services. Second, they are frequently mediated by a range of digitally-enabled devices such as computers, tablets and smartphones. These access-based models of consumption appear across a number of different sectors including transport, entertainment, fashion, energy and hospitality. Scholarship has been directed at delimiting and understanding the implications of these changing models for producer/provider-consumer, consumer-object and consumer-to-consumer relationships. Distinctions have been made by isolating a number of dimensions including temporality (duration and length of usage); anonymity (private/exclusive versus public/shared access); market mediation (profit to not-for-profit); consumer involvement (limited to extensive); and type of accessed object (experiential or functional). In this paper we attempt to further such distinctions by providing a more nuanced account of the temporalities of access-based consumption. Temporality to date has been demarcated in terms of either the duration of access (e.g., short or long-term) and the type of usage (e.g., leasing versus temporary use). Instead, drawing on an analysis of access-based transport, media and hospitality initiatives, we argue that demand occurs through temporalities that exceed quantifiable duration. Whilst constituted by intensities of 'present compulsion', the experience of demand also folds in logics of anticipation and senses of loss.

What does it mean to share a car?
Robyn Dowling (University of Sydney, Australia)
Jennifer Kent (University of Sydney, Australia)
Sharing a car is one of the most popular expressions of collaborative consumption worldwide and including in Australia's spatially expansive cities. Car sharing is an enigma for conventional understandings of the automobile and automobility. As promulgated by discourses of collaborative consumption, car sharing is a collective use of the car that is in sharp contrast to the conventional associations of the car with autonomy and individualism. In this paper we bring these individual and collaborative understandings of the car into conversation. We do so through a focus on the sharing dimensions of car sharing: what constitutes sharing a car, what facilitates the sharing of a car, and how the materiality of the shared car is understood. We develop an understanding of the materials, meanings and competences of sharing a car based on upon an in-depth qualitative engagement with active members of a large, for-profit car sharing organisation in Sydney, Australia. We consider the multiple sharings that occur in car sharing – not only of the vehicle, but also of infrastructures like roads and parking. We suggest that sharing is ambiguously constituted in the practice of car sharing, and conclude by questioning the extent to which car sharing is collaborative consumption.

Diverse economic organizations: Logics, access and ownership
Benedikt Schmid (University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg)
Taking Gibson-Graham's critique on 'capitalocentric discourse' (2006) as its point of departure, this paper sees the spaces of everyday economic encounters as fields of diverse rationalities. Alternative economic organizational forms – sharing economies, for example, are increasingly prominent and posited – follow various different logics (Helfrich et. al. 2015; Martin 2016), and capitalist forms of economy are themselves variegated (Peck & Theodore 2007). Nevertheless, deeply sedimented discourses remain in social norms, cultures and institutions as well as manifested in material space. Among other real abstractions (Belina 2013), wage, property and money take decisive effects on the (im)possibilities of individual and communal practice. Focusing on the idea of property, this paper will examine the complex ways in which different conceptions of ownership and access: encounter each other, relate to each other, are negotiated, and influence each other across formal and informal practices and institutions. Empirically, this is grounded in a scoping study mapping Cologne's (Germany) alternative economies. This study analyses the different norms, rationalities and emotions surrounding ownership and access, and crucially their interrelationship with the 'external' nexus of hegemonic narratives. Initial evidence critically reflects on the (dis)continuities between different property discourses. The paper concludes by outlining the practical implications that has for alternative forms of economic organization.

The shared grid: Materially connected demands and the new deals for energy
Gareth Powells (Newcastle University, UK)
Since the establishment of electricity networks at the turn of the twentieth century, units of energy have been artificially separated from the constant dynamics of power systems in order to create quasi-objects, KiloWatt hours, that can be bought and then 'used up' by consumers. However, in attempting to respond to the need to manage network characteristics such as voltage and capacity in more active ways, grid operators are experimenting with new deals for energy. These are designed to protect customers' rights to access energy enabled services, such as connectivity and warmth while creating possible rewards for grid operators who can deliver these services in more efficient ways. To develop such offerings energy companies are working in new actors to respond to the many challenges of twentieth century energy including decarbonised, affordable energy use but also the challenge of how to use innovative deal structuring to ensure that providing power remains a reliable mechanism for capital accumulation. I use the notion of a shared grid to foreground the mutual rights, risks and responsibilities at stake. Also however, I use it to suggest that despite the enduring fact that power networks are publically owned in the UK we are entering a new phase in which the mechanisms through which we access our grid are being experimented with. I draw on new collaborative empirical research in Newcastle Upon Tyne to develop this analysis.

Consuming the workplace: Demand and work representation
Lizzie Richardson (Durham University, UK)
Co-working offices are increasingly prevalent in the UK. These are locations where people work alongside but not necessarily with each other. They are both symptom of and response to growing forms of self-organisation of work enabled by digital technologies, and are variously articulated to support entrepreneurship, self-employment and/or free-lancing. Unlike conventional lease agreements through commercial real estate, worker occupation of these spaces occurs through differing packages of flexible access. Nominally at least therefore, workers select where they will work such that the workplace becomes an individual consumption choice. This paper foregrounds the experience of demand to consider what happens when the workplace is consumed. Demands of and to work are understood as attachments that might be both inhibiting and foster productive growth. Co-working spaces extend and intensify working demands in ways that challenge work representation yet nonetheless produce forms of collaborative workplace organisation. The demands of work are extended beyond the workplace when it is necessary to make a choice of where to work. The demands of work are intensified when individuals must bear the brunt of working organisation in and beyond the 'workplace'. These emergent properties of work - its extension and intensification - mean that it is difficult to represent. This raises a challenge to productivity if 'making work visible' (Suchman 1995) is central to how work takes place. To combat this, co-working spaces mobilise various 'representational artefacts' (ibid.) such as 'community boards' and 'vocabularies of membership' that aim to both generate and track workplace collaboration amidst worker self-organisation.