Economic Sociology-Social Economics

By Mika, Bartosz | Polish Sociological Review, January 1, 2020 | Go to article overview

Economic Sociology-Social Economics


Mika, Bartosz, Polish Sociological Review


Introduction

Like every phenomenon attracting widespread attention, the debate around sharing economy brims up with ambiguity and unclear definitions. As pointed out by Sutherland and Jarrahi (2018), it is an emerging research area with a number of associated terms and lack of consensus on the boundaries between them. In sociology, the sharing economy is usually linked to "idle capacity" (Schor and Attwood-Charles 2017). The main point of interest is the ability to use idle assets in tandem with digital technologies. Online web pages or smartphone apps have became a tool and mediator between entities looking for a product or service and those that possess unused resources and are willing to share them. Frenken and Schor (2017: 2-3) define the sharing economy as: "consumers granting each other temporary access to under-utilized physical assets (...), possibly for money". A similar definition of "collaborative economy" has been used by The European Commission: "model where activities are facilitated by online platforms that create an open marketplace for the temporary use of goods or services often provided by private individuals" (The Social Protection of Workers in the Platform Economy 2017). Such a broad definition captures the sharing economy not only as a business model but as a more diverse social phenomenon (see for example: Mikołajewska-Zając, Rodak 2016, Mikołajewska-Zając 2017).

On the other hand, this broad approach can be misleading too. We will later see that the mere use of web tools utilized in the field of the sharing economy is not enough to analyze all phenomena thus related as one. 'The Gig Economy'-a term referring directly to the issues of labour and work-will be more useful here. It comes from the word gig as used in the context of music and refers to a single performance of music, often done in an ad-hoc cooperation with other musicians. In the platform economy, it means "the collection of markets that match providers to consumers on a gig (or job) basis in support of on-demand commerce. In the basic model, gig workers enter into formal agreements with on-demand companies to provide services to the company's clients" (Donavan et. al. 2016: 4). In the gig economy a direct commercial relation is established. Platform owners promise that this relationship will bear the fruit of reducing economic inequality, stopping ecological destruction, enhancing workers rights and empowering poor, disabled and women (Hill 2015, Ravenelle 2017).1 Simultaneously, the giants of on-demand business refrain from applying the term 'work' to this type of relation. Using a pro-market human capital approach, they prefer to call it independent contracting, entrepreneurship or self-employment. The co-occurrence of these two facts cannot be seen as a mere coincidence (Fleming 2017). Positive effects of "gig work" platforms are supposed to be achieved through the use of fundamental market-based mechanisms. On the other hand platforms are criticized for the one-sided perspective (Pasquale 2016), relying on low paid, precarious 'ghost work' (Gray, Suri 2019) and microwork (Bergvall-Kåreborn, Howcroft 2014; Irani 2015) or even exploitation (van Doorn 2017, in the context of well-being see Gross et. al. 2018).

Being aware of complexity of presented issue the sociological perspective will be included. We will examine on-demand tasks from the point of view of researcher focusing on work and labour. Classical sociology, critical sociology and sociology of work will be implemented as a theoretical perspective. The key question we want to answer is: to what extent the organization of work in gig economy should be treated as a qualitatively new social and economic phenomenon. The support question will concern the possible future scenarios of the development of platform economy. The method will be the study of existing literature on the subject. Therefore it can be said that the article is a theoretical literature study. In the context of limited terminological consensus, this paper makes a few important contributions. …

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