Cities of sharing and the growth of postconsumerist cultures
Against a backdrop of fatigue of consumerist culture, privatized public spaces, coupled with the economical and ecological crises, different forms of citizen-initiated sharing schemes have appeared. Rather than just mass-consuming goods, citizens create common-pool resources and systems of sharing tools, vehicles, gardens, working spaces, clothing, books etc. These schemes can be organized in a variety of ways, sometimes appropriating and changing the use of private/public space and creating new hybrid spaces. Reasons for engaging in such schemes may vary and can be politically, ecologically, socially and/or economically motivated.
Our aim is to explore how and why sharing and co-creation schemes appear and function, and reflect on their wider implications for social, economic and spatial (re)organization. We suggest that sharing schemes can be theorized in terms of commons-based peer economy (Benkler, 2006) and as urban commons (Ostrom, 1990, Blomley, 2004). According to Benkler, commons-based peer production (in the digital realm) is the harbinger of a larger societal transformation, away from twentieth-century industrial and proprietary forms of production towards collaborative and commons-based forms of production. Benkler argues that this mode of production – now operating on non-rival (endlessly reproducible) digital goods such as text, music and film – is potentially applicable also to rival goods such as food and other basic utilities. We explore to what extent theories of peer economies and Ostromian notions of self-organized forms of governing can be used or developed for understanding contemporary sharing schemes of food, spaces, means of transport and other utilities.
Networking through crises
The “triple crisis” (economy, ecology, energy) creates anxiety about the future. For some, this triggers a decision to change and “crisis-proof” their lifestyle. The initial step is nowadays to use the Internet to search for information and seek out and associate oneself with topical social networks - online and offline.
In articulating alternatives in a time of crisis, most political activism is conducted against, but still within the framework of the current political and economic system, i.e. most activism aims at (more or less radically) reforming the current system. We are however mainly interested in persons who don’t bother (any longer) to articulate their critique by protesting against, but who instead explore alternatives by practical action.
We are specifically interested in the intimate interplay between the use of ICT and the practical transition to “crisis-proof” or “resilient” lifestyles. Such a move is difficult as it can involve disassociating oneself from mainstream values and mainstream society both mentally – creating a revised world view - and practically – creating a new life. Online and offline networks are crucial in supporting this process.
Our focus is on two social movements that represent different responses, but that both engage in practical preparations for facing current and future crises: 1) the collectively oriented “inclusive” Transition Town movement and 2) the more individually oriented “exclusive” network of “neosurvivalists”.
Our theoretical starting points are 1) “alternative computing” (Stallman 2002, Lievrouw 2011), i.e. using technological infrastructures for social change, 2) Social movements theory (Tilly 2009, della Porta and Diani 2006), especially concerning the role of ICT in social change (Diani 2001, Bennett and Segerberg 2011, Earl & Kimport 2011) and 3) literature about social capital (Putnam 1993, Putnam 2000) and (online and offline) communities (Nisbet 1953, Asplund 1991, Rheingold 1994, Oldenburg 1997, Pargman 2000, Bauman 2001).