Sharing – a political force to be reckoned with?

More sharing is one of the most important things cities can drive to contribute to a fair and sustainable world, says Tufts University academic Professor Julian Agyeman.

Sharing as a political act

Sharing is commonly thought of as a means to reduce resource use and/or save money.

Car-sharing, libraries and couch-surfing are often cited in articles about sharing. But in his think-piece for our Big Ideas project Professor Agyeman asserts that sharing is much more than that. He argues it is a political act. It disrupts the individualistic and materialistic vision of capitalism he says.

In his thought-provoking think-piece Professor Agyeman sees a tension between private control of spaces in the city with the rights of poorer and marginalised communities to use and share that space.

He says “In the modern era we see, for example, gated communities; guarded shopping malls with dress-codes; conflicts between squatters and developers, and competition for road space between private and shared transport.”

Advertising undermining a sharing culture

From his home in the United States he's witnessed advertising having a corrosive impact on popular culture. He says it has promoted individualism and consumption to the point that some Americans do not need or necessarily even want to share much within their own families - let alone with other members of their communities.

Citing recent research he suggests that popular culture in Western countries produces infants and toddlers that understand but don’t actively apply principles of sharing. In Eastern countries he suggests things are very different. He says in these countries children exhibit altruism very early. They also become more concerned with reciprocity and reputation later in youth in order to avoid being exploited.

He says that individualistic cultures value things and that collective ones value relationships.

Sharing as a strategy to disrupt capitalism’s individualistic consumption

In short, Professor Agyeman sees the growth of sharing as a positive counter-cultural movement. One that can both undermine the environmental and social damage caused by the individualistic consumption pushed by capitalism and the growing inequality that results from it.

He therefore celebrates the growth of shared ownership of energy, shared green space, use of shared digital space to protest and organise physical protest, land-sharing, and the sharing of stuff and ideas. He calls for cities to institute measures to make sharing mainstream.

He concludes that sharing is not only environmentally necessary but that it offers the opportunity for what he calls participatory urban democracy. In other words, where physical, digital and intellectual resources are increasingly shared, owned and managed by the people that use them. This would result in the state and businesses loosening their grip on the resources we all need for well-being.

His think-piece is a rallying call for a new sharing future.

What do you think?

Do you think sharing can realistically challenge consumption-driven economics and the culture of individualism?