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Conceptual boundaries of sharing

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Sharing has been subjected to continuous re-imagination and positioning throughout networked culture's history. Recently, there has been specific emphasis on user-generated content and social media platforms. Particular social actors, such as social media platforms, attempt to cultivate an imaginary of sharing in networked culture. They do this by appropriating positive social values associated with common understandings of sharing, such as community, generosity, shared values of cooperation, and participation. While there has been a recent surge of interest in sharing, conceptual gaps remain. Though sharing is a central concept of networked culture, in this paper I show how its boundaries with other social theories of exchange have not been sufficiently established nor has the concept itself been adequately critiqued. Most significantly, this paper problematizes how sharing is implicated and positioned in studies of networked culture. I argue that a framework for a theory of sharing is needed and identify three distinct perspectives in the literature: sharing as an economy driven by social capital; sharing as a mode of scaled distribution; and sharing as a site of social intensification. It is shown how the use of the term sharing in the description of practices in networked culture is fraught with ambiguity. The paper concludes by elucidating how a focus on sharing practices can advance the field.
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Keywords: gift-giving; practice theory; reciprocity; sharing; sharing economy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Publication date: April 2, 2016

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