Foreword: The Sharing Economy
Russell Belk
Sharing is nothing new. It is as old as humankind and has been necessary for
our survival as a species (Belk 2014). Everatt and Solanki (2008) found that
sharing is pervasive in South Africa and is highest among the lowest socioeco-
nomic classes. Stack (1974) also found that poor blacks in the United States
were more likely to share. Widlok (2017) notes that in contemporary Germany
rather than selling their labor on the market, the majority of citizens make
their livings as family dependents, pensioners, or social benefit recipients. That
is, they depend on sharing by the family or the state. As Wolf and Ritz (this
volume) report, in former East Germany people shared because it was neces-
sary to make do in an economy of scarcity. The same was true across Eastern
Europe under communism (Axelova and Belk 2009; Drakuliç 1991). Together,
such findings affirm that sharing has often been a survival mechanism.
But the age and ubiquity of sharing is not to say that there is nothing new
about the nature of sharing in today’s world. As the contributions in this
volume attest, there are many new twists on sharing in the so-called sharing
economy. Some of these twists involve applying the label of sharing to short-
term rental of cars, homes, rooms, and rides. This is not really sharing in the
original sense of allowing others to regard possessions as ours rather than
mine and yours (Belk 2014; Eckhardt and Bardhi 2015). Sharing also takes
on a different character when what is being shared is information or digital
goods that are not rivalrous and are not seen as part of a zero-sum game (see
Harvey, Smith, and Golightly, Kamilaris and Prenafeta-Boldú, and Teubner
and Hawlitschek in this volume). Likewise, John (2017) sees the photos, vid-
eos, likes, and updates that we post on social media as involving “fuzzy
objects” or non-objects. Thus, both the types of things we may share and the
ways in which we may share them have greatly expanded. Moreover, sharing
is now becoming a convenience rather than a survival mechanism, although
in the long run it may aid the continued survival of our environment.
But contemporary sharing outside of the home and neighborhood may not
be unproblematic. While the broad hope that information wants to flow freely
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