The dark side of the gig economy (Uber, Airbnb, etc.) and how to make it equitable for the users and workers most exploited.
When the “sharing economy” launched a decade ago, proponents claimed that it would transform the experience of work—giving earners flexibility, autonomy, and a decent income. It was touted as a cure for social isolation and rampant ecological degradation. But this novel form of work soon sprouted a dark side: exploited Uber drivers, neighborhoods ruined by Airbnb, racial discrimination, and rising carbon emissions. Several of the most prominent platforms are now faced with existential crises as they prioritize growth over fairness and long-term viability.
Nevertheless, the basic model—a peer-to-peer structure augmented by digital tech—holds the potential to meet its original promises. Based on nearly a decade of pioneering research, After the Gig dives into what went wrong with this contemporary reimagining of labor. The book examines multiple types of data from thirteen cases to identify the unique features and potential of sharing platforms that prior research has failed to pinpoint. Juliet B. Schor presents a compelling argument that we can engineer a reboot: through regulatory reforms and cooperative platforms owned and controlled by users, an equitable and truly shared economy is still possible.
Short interview with Schor about the book:
Arne L. Kalleberg on Sociological Forum wrote:
"Boston College sociologist Schor (True Wealth) punctures the hype surrounding the “sharing economy” in this lucid and deeply researched study. [...] Schor backs her claims with detailed evidence, and identifies specific, actionable reforms. This incisive account makes a perplexing subject easier to grasp."
Theodore Kinni on Strategy + Business wrote:
"The book is a synthesis of 13 case studies of various organizations within the sharing economy. Unlike most studies, which focus mainly on the for-proﬁt platform economy, Schor [...] studied a diverse array of both nonproﬁt [...] and for-proﬁt platforms [...]. The research team utilized a variety of methods, conducting over 300 interviews (mostly in the Boston area), ethnographic observations, a survey, and analyses of big data (ratings on digital sites). The result is a nuanced and comprehensive picture of the sharing economy that goes beyond typical studies of platforms and that provides insights as to its possible future and promise. [...] This important book advances considerably our understanding of the outlines and possibilities of the sharing economy."
Alessio Bertolini on ILR Review wrote:
Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College, and her team at the Connected Consumption project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, studied gig workers and platforms of the sharing economy from 2011 to 2017. The result is a more nuanced view than has been offered by previous books on this topic, which typically focus on either how companies can build their own platforms or how platform companies prosper by evading regulation and exploiting workers. [...] Schor, an economist by training, isn’t ready to give up on the potential of the gig economy. In the final chapter of After the Gig, she mostly dismisses the idea that regulation can pave the way for a sharing economy in which gig workers get an equitable share of the rewards, citing the overwhelming market power of the dominant platform companies and their unwillingness to relinquish their data. Instead, she proposes a rebooting of the sharing economy through the development of platform cooperatives — picture an Uber or Airbnb that is owned and controlled by its workers. [...] How would gig workers mount a challenge to the corporate-owned platforms that already dominate most, if not all, major peer-to-peer markets? Where would the needed funding come from to reach platform scale — and to defend that platform, if there were real money to be made? Schor says that city governments could create protected zones for worker-owned platforms. But thus far, few cities have succeeded in reining in any of the major corporate platforms, let alone shutting them out. After the Gig offers a nuanced, research-driven view of the first decade of the sharing economy. But it’s hard to turn the last page without concluding that the innovations that were supposed to transform our working lives for the better haven’t yet delivered on their promise."
Steven Vallas on Social Forces wrote:
"In After the Gig, Juliet Schor and her collaborators brilliantly discuss the promises of the sharing economy in its infancy and what went wrong along the way. [...] Using an engaging writing style that is accessible to a non-academic audience and to those unfamiliar with the topic, the author brings the reader on a journey along the evolution of the sharing economy [...] The empirical analysis draws from a wide array of research methods, including ethnographies, interviews, surveys, and quantitative techniques, which is unusual in studies on the sharing economy and which allows Schor to produce a fine-grained description of the sharing phenomenon and to let its different facets emerge. More important, the research design brings in a temporal dimension that is often lacking in research on the topic. [...] The book offers important contributions to academic debates on the sharing economy. First of all, it sheds light on the frequently overlooked role of ideology in supporting the growth of the sharing economy. [...] Second, rather than portraying the sharing economy as a homogeneous and uniform phenomenon, the book offers a granular description of what the sharing economy means and how it is experienced by a broad range of people, avoiding oversimplified generalizations and instead highlighting a variety of real-life situations depending on the types of relation individuals have with a given platform. [...] Finally, by investigating the shared economy phenomenon dynamically, Schor is able to show a gradual deterioration and even a reversal of its initial features. [...] The optimism permeating this last chapter seems unjustified in the light of the trajectories Schor herself has identified in the book and, unlike the pessimism of the previous chapters, it appears generally less convincing."
"One of the strengths of the book is the clarity with which it maps out the structure of the sharing economy and the patterned inequalities that it fosters.Three points warrant particular emphasis. First is Schor’s argument that the inequalities among platform workers are not simply a function of the platforms as such; in addition, they stem from the heterogeneous labor market positions that platform workers hold within the broader economy. [...] A second point is Schor’s argument about the relation between these two strata. Struck by the relatively well-educated nature of the workforce in her sample, she argues that the jazzy framing of gig work which platform firms have produced has in effect destigmatized driving, cleaning, and hosting gigs. [...] essprivileged earners are in effect crowded out of jobs they previously performed.A third point concerns the role of race in the sharing economy. In addition to their use of interviews and ethnography, Schor and her colleagues have used computational methods to explore how lodging sites like Airbnb can re-inscribe racial disparities in the rental and housing market. [...] After the Gig is that rare book that successfully engages a wide array of audiences. Scholars engaged in research on the gig economy will need to consider the arguments the author develops about the varying strata engendered by the platform economy and the dynamics affecting their earning capacities. [...] Graduate and undergraduate students will be grateful for Schor’s encyclopedic handling of previous studies and government reports;integrating and synthesizing the literature is a major contribution in its own right quite apart from her own team’s findings. Finally, policy-makers, workers and concerned citizens will encounter a book that conveys complex ideas in the most approachable and engaging manner. The book lives up to its own premises,deserves to be as widely shared as possible."
Discussion with Schor about the Book
- "Greening the Gig" - article by Schor at Project Syndicate, 13 October 2020
- "Reclaiming the Gig Economy" - interview with Schor about the book at Sloan Review, 3 September 2020
Table of Contents of After the Gig
- Introduction: The Problem of Work
- From the Counterculture to “We Are the Uber of X”
- Earning on the Platforms
- Shared, but Unequal
- “The Shared Economy Is a Lie”
- Swapping with Snobs
- Co-ops, Commons, and Democratic Sharing
About Juliet Schor
Juliet Schor is Professor of Sociology at Boston College. Schor’s research focuses on the sociology of work, consumption, and climate change. A graduate of Wesleyan University, Schor received her Ph.D. in economics at the University of Massachusetts. Before joining Boston College, she taught at Harvard University for 17 years, in the Department of Economics and the Committee on Degrees in Women’s Studies. She is also the author of True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans Are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scale, High-Satisfaction Economy (2011).