Political Struggles in the Sharing Economy: The Case of Airbnb and Barcelona

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Luke YATES, University of Manchester, United Kingdom
The ‘sharing economy’, and similar terms including ‘collaborative consumption’, ‘gig economy’ and ‘platform capitalism’ signal changes in provisioning around, most notably, transportation, holiday accommodation and temporary work. The practices, impacts, and terminology itself, are sites of significant struggle. This paper reports on research which reflects on the political struggles of the sharing economy to help understanding of the interrelated processes of socio-economic change, contemporary social movements, the politics of consumption and socio-economic ‘alternatives’, and creative destruction. The case study is the short-term house rental service Airbnb in the city of Barcelona, which has intensified tensions around tourism and gentrification and led to high-profile antagonisms between the company, the traditional tourism sector, civil society, and government. The paper has three sections. It introduces the sharing economy as a disputed idiom, a contested political economic arena, and an axis of struggles over the future. It outlines research questions and the theoretical questions illustrated by the phenomenon. It finally briefly describes the case study, drawing out questions and implications which further research, and case studies, might consider.