torsdag 18 juni 2015

Supporting 21st century commons

Karin Bradley and me submitted an abstract to the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy & Society and a special issue on the topic of "Sharing Economies? Theories, practices and impacts". The call to the special issue is in itself interesting and it is appended further below.

Me and Karin started to cooperate quite some time ago and submitted a couple of applications for research grants for study the sharing economy back in 2012. These applications were unfortunately turned down so Karin later lightly adapted our ideas in an application for personal grants that were available for recent PhDs - and she got those funds. This means that Karin has conducted research on the sharing economy for a few years but we have never done (written) anything together until now.

The submission process for the special issue is organised as a two-stage process. The first step was to submit a 500-word abstract by June 15. Based on these abstracts, the editors will then decide which authors will be invited to submit full papers to the special issue. Below is our abstract for the proposed paper our ours.


Supporting 21st century commons

There are diverse understandings of the role and performance of sharing economies. Schor (2014) argues that for-profit as well as for-benefit sharing platforms tend to exacerbate precariatization of work, deregulation, and homophily. Kostakis and Bauwens (2014), on the other hand, argue that the spread of for-benefit collaborative platforms – be it community gardens or open source software – constitute a great potential for democratization.  The spread of for-benefit sharing platforms nevertheless face a number of difficulties as they are often reliant on a small number of engaged persons, have little funding and often lacking the critical mass necessary to fuel larger societal change. What factors then are crucial for understanding the dynamics of success and longevity of for-benefit collaborative platforms as the 21st century commons?

To answer this question we revisit Ostrom’s (1990) institutional design principles for the governance of long-enduring commons and explore to what extent these principles are relevant for understanding contemporary forms of commons – commons that are situated in a globalized and digitalized societal context.  The aim of this paper is to make a theoretical contribution to the debates on how contemporary commons, as part of the sharing economy, can be understood theoretically and how they can be supported.

Ostrom’s design principles are based on extensive empirical studies of natural resource commons, situated in localized contexts where users are reliant on each other and on these commons for their livelihood. The contemporary sharing economy commons differ in a number of respects and represent different degrees of place specificity, fluidity, reliance on digital tools and social bonds amongst their users. Three categories are set up, using the following emblematic examples: the Bike Kitchen, Hoffice and Wikipedia. The Bike Kitchen, with its origins in Los Angeles, is an open non-profit DIY bike repair studio exemplifying a locally anchored analogue form of commons, but with a set of general principles that can be easily copied and that has helped spread the concept across the world. The Bike Kitchen hence serves as an example of a form of localized physical commons, similar to community gardens or Fab labs.  

The second example, Hoffice, is an open concept for arranging temporary “home offices”, i.e. a set of principles for how to transform a private kitchen table into a one-day shared office space where community members can reserve a seat. With the help of digital technologies, Hoffice events are easily coordinated and the concept has rapidly spread internationally. Hoffice serves as an example of temporary, pop-up commons, similar to the ‘restaurants at home’ or peer-to-peer ride sharing services that have gained ground with the spread of digital technologies. The third example is Wikipedia, serving as an example of an entirely digital commons with a global reach.

In the paper we outline a typology of contemporary commons, using the three categories described above, and constrast them to the Ostromian natural resource commons. The typology is structured around questions such as: what is being shared, to what extent is the resource rival, who shares the resource, what are the principles for sharing, and to what extent are the commoners reliant on the resource. Based on this typology, we revisit and develop Ostrom’s analysis of commons and outline factors for understanding how 21st century commons can promote democratization of access to resources and conviviality. 

Below is the call for papers to the special issue:


Special Issue Editors: Anna Davies, Betsy Donald, Mia Gray and Janelle Knox-Hayes

Participation in so-called ‘sharing economies’ has been reinvigorated by the enabling features of accessible, smart and mobile ICT technologies. This socio-technical enabler is working in combination with the constraining impacts of economic austerity, worker precarity and increasing awareness of resource constraints. Media attention meanwhile has been attracted to the rapid rise of a few high-profile sharing companies and the seemingly endless new opportunities to reconfigure the ways in which goods, skills and experiences are circulated. Advocates for these neo-sharing economies suggest they have the capacity to disrupt mainstream business models, forge new social relationships and redefine human relations with materials, yet these claims are weakly theorised and based on limited empirical data. As previous academic claims about the disruptive potential of technology and cultural change have often remained unrealised, it is an opposite time to reflect critically on the form, function and future potential of sharing economies.

This special issue will open up popular analyses of sharing economies to greater academic scrutiny including conceptual, methodological and empirical pieces analysing the socio-technical architectures of sharing across different sectors and spaces. More specifically, we invite papers that focus on one or more of the following questions;
• Is there a geography to sharing economies - how does sharing differ across space, time or with the type of product, skill or experience being shared?
• What new developments might sharing cities bring to urban transition debates?
• What new theoretical frameworks are necessary to fully comprehend sharing economies?
• In what ways, and to what end, do sharing economies forge new social relationships?
• To what extent does the sharing economy affect ownership patterns, access to resources, and/or the structure of participation.
• What impact do sharing economies have on resource efficiency, resource distribution, and consumption?
• To what extent can sharing economies transform mainstream business models?
• What impact will sharing economies have on employment and the nature of work?
• What is the sustainability impact of sharing economies and how might such impacts be conceptualise d or measured?
• What new approaches will be required to govern sharing economies?
• To what extent do we need a new regulatory framework for the sharing economy?
• To what extent is sharing an additional means of consumption rather than a substitute for mainstream consumption practices?
• What are the commonalities and differences between calls for a circular economy and those for a sharing economy?
• What is the potential role of the state in sharing economies?
• What are the limits to expanding sharing economies?
• Are sharing economies the logical extension of neoliberalism or an exemplar of diverse economies in practice?