During the Canadian Communication Association (CCA) Conference 2016 (Calgary, Canada), I presented the paper “Accelerating Sharing Economy: Uber’s Dysfunctional Discourse of Technological Disruption”. Below you will find the abstract, my slides, and the link the completed version of this paper.
Sharing economy is an economic model in which individuals, corporations, non-profits, and governments collaborate to optimize resources through the redistribution, sharing and reuse of excess capacity in goods and services. It involves ideals of decentralization, sustainability, community-level connectedness, and opposition to hierarchical and rigid regulatory regimes (Shor et al., 2015). Launched in 2009, based on its own version of sharing economy, Uber built and operates a rideshare service seeking to transform and disrupt the taxi industry. The service connects people that need a trip to drivers who use their own cars to provide the service, that is, drivers can offer to “share” their cars with a guest, for a price. Although the taxi industry, and the transit and mobility regulation in general, have long been subject to city-level consumer protection, sharing economy advocates, Uber in particular, claim that these rules are rendered obsolete by the Internet. Indeed, governments have been largely unable to stop Uber’s operations in their jurisdictions precisely because they are conducted primarily over the Internet.
Uber has attracted a mixed reaction on the Left, at once intrigued by its possibilities as a new form of social organization but critical of its amplification of precarious labour. Uber is particularly debated in accelerationist theory historically concerned with a radical political response to capitalism that accelerates and exacerbates its uprooting, alienating, abstractive tendencies (Mackey & Avanessian, 2014). This theory has two distinct intellectual directions (Galloway & Noys, 2014): one more to the Left, seeking in the cognitive techno-science labour an alternative to overcome capitalism; the other is dominated by free-market libertarians, aiming to use technology and science to overcome the State, disrupt regulations, and strengthening of neoliberal economic relations. Accelerationists defend that instead of destroying neoliberalism, we should reappropriate platforms like Uber toward common ends (Williams & Srnicek, 2013).