It’s About Distributing Rather than Sharing: Using Labor Process Theory to Probe the “Sharing” Economy

  • Sunyu ChaiEmail author
  • Maureen A. Scully
Original Paper


The sharing economy has been examined from many angles, including the engagement of customers, the capabilities of the technological platforms, and the experiences of those who sell products or services. We focus on labor in the sharing economy. Labor has been regarded as one type of asset exchanged in the sharing economy, as part of the customer interface when services are sold, or as a party vulnerable to exploitation. We focus on labor as a position in relationship to owners of capital. While new typologies to characterize the sharing economy are emerging, we argue that a well-established framework that has been applied across historic types of work arrangements can offer a robust analysis of enduring and new labor issues. We draw upon labor process theory (LPT) from early formulations to recent applications to guide an analysis appropriate to the sharing economy. We use both central and less explored concepts from LPT (obscuring and securing surplus value, technology as control, invisibility of owners and managers, and possessive individualism) and use Uber as a case to illustrate application of the framework. By considering labor, capital, and the power dynamics between them, we draw attention to unequal exchange and distributive justice, fundamental for taking a business ethics approach to labor in the sharing economy.


Uber Labor process thoery Sharing economy 



We thank Ed Carberry, Alexander Kowalski, Andrea Leverentz, David Levy, Andreas Pekarek, Amanda Peticca-Harris, Christine Riordan, and members of the EGOS Sub-theme on Organization Studies and Industrial Relations for helpful comments on earlier versions. We thank Michael Etter, the Guest Editor team, and the reviewers for their insights and guidance.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of ManagementUniversity of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA

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