Benita Matofska is an international public speaker, change-maker and world-leading expert on the Sharing Economy. She tweets @benitamatofska.
Sophie Sheinwald is a photographer and visual storyteller. She tweets @sophie_snap.
Review by Mayya Shmidt, 17th December 2020.
What came to be called the “sharing economy” emerged on the U.S. scene in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, and soon proliferated the world with the emergence of platform-mediated peer-to-peer marketplaces (such as Ebay), and ride-sharing companies, providing access to company-owned vehicles (such as Zipcar). The three biggest players – Airbnb, UberX, and Lyft – are identified by many as the core of the sharing economy. These early platforms were a more or less straightforward extension of the market economy, following “business as usual” rules (Schor 2014). The discourse of sharing has its own life in the media; it is associated with prosperous platform businesses, and as a convention portrayed as a disruptive technology intervening in production, consumption and distribution. Yet Benita Matofska, the co-author of Generation Share, maintains that “the Sharing Economy is much more than a collection of new types of Silicon Valley backed ventures”. Generation Share builds on the foundations laid by Matofska in her TED talk to describe the principles of the new sharing economy. It is a general non-fiction book striving to add flesh and blood to a depersonalized conception of the sharing economy by showcasing hundreds of individual stories behind the movement, with the help of a visual narrative created by photographer Sophie Sheinwald.
Generation Share is described as a “non-fiction social commentary”, written in an accessible way for a wide audience. The book distances itself from business models sustaining the sharing economy, while focusing more on social entrepreneurship, cooperative behavior, and altruism. The cases surveyed throughout the pages of Generation Share reflect values of solidarity and reciprocity embedded in communal social ties. The main leitmotif of the book is to debunk misunderstandings about the sharing economy and to reveal its hybrid nature. Under the umbrella of the “sharing economy”, Matofska attempts to cover the five-partite system of: categories (what we share), subsets (the range of initiatives practicing sharing), modes (how we share), values of sharing, and the impact created by practicing it. By building a sharing economy, Matofska argues that we can “ do more with less” and match people in need with billions of idle resources available.
The collection of narratives from various initiatives based in the different parts of the world challenges our understanding of what sharing implies. While some would argue whether these cases represent “true” or “preudo” sharing (Belk 2010), others of us may find the book fruitful as the source of cases to pay closer attention to in our scholarly work. The vast geography of sharing is one of the most interesting sections of the book. The UK makes up 1/3 of all sharing activity across Europe, according to a PwC report cited in the book. The country is at the forefront of social innovation in sharing, writes Matofska – the sharing economy sector makes a significant contribution to GDP, and creates social and environmental value. The sharing economy in Greece has gained its momentum out of necessity. Greece has been in economic turmoil for most of the last decade, paving the way for the development of a solidarity economy as a bottom-up response to austerity, rising unemployment, and income losses. Sharing initiatives also proliferate in India, as part of a “dynamic, socially entrepreneurial, emerging economy”, and the book tells us stories from Mutterfly, a platform for peer-to-peer rentals; Langar, an open kitchen, and a term used in Sikhism for a practice of sharing meals to eliminate caste discrimination; and Sakhi for Girls Education, a slum-based school in Mumbai. Illustrating the idea of the “Sharing city” the book also includes examples from Israel and the Netherlands. The former has a long cultural history of sharing practices based in Kibbutz, traditionally agricultural collectives, and the book tells a story from Kibbutz Reshit, an urban community located in one of the most impoverished areas of Jerusalem. Amsterdam was one of the first cities worldwide to agree regulations surrounding Airbnb, and has an extensive supply of transport sharing options, including bikes, cars and even boats.
The importance of solidarity flows through the narrative of Generation Share, convincing the reader that it is a driver of social change – especially in times of instability. For instance, we are witnessing how civil solidarity and mutual aid campaigns have become even more relevant as the global pandemic unfolds. Matofska is a public speaker, and her voice shines through on each and every page. She is an activist on a mission to demonstrate that sharing idle resources can solve societal problems, alleviate poverty, overcome social alienation, and save the planet. The book contributes to our understanding of sharing outside of the for-profit platforms and the five sectors where the new business model is the most prevalent, and takes a global perspective showcasing sharing economy initiatives outside of the Anglo-American world. Generation Share is a beautiful impression which shows the importance of solidarity in an illustrative and engaging way – a great book to flip through during these uncertain times.
Mayya Shmidt is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Sociology, Uppsala University. Her research and writing look at the sharing economy in institutionally different contexts.