Community-Based Economy

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= "Coordinating through non-contractual, non-hierarchical or non-monetized forms of interactions (work, exchange, etc.)". [1]


By Aurélien Acquier, Thibault Daudigeos, and Jonatan Pinkse:

"The community-based economy forms the third core of the sharing economy. It refers to initiatives coordinating through non-contractual, non-hierarchical or non-monetized forms of interaction (to perform work, participate in a project, or form exchange relationships). Rather than the creation and maximization of economic value, the primary purpose of initiatives belonging to the community-based economy is to contribute to a community project, to create social bonding, to promote values or to achieve a social mission through a collective project. While communities traditionally involve strong social ties among close members interacting at a local level (Bowles and Gintis, 2002; Marquis et al., 2011), digital innovations have created forms of ‘social sharing’ across communities of weakly connected individuals (Benkler, 2004). Community is thus increasingly conceptualized as a type of organizing that involves meaningful and affective relationships based on shared experience or interests (Marquis et al., 2011: xiv).

The digital culture has given birth to new forms of communal sharing (both for production and distribution), as exemplified by the open-source movement and associated projects such as Linux (Raymond, 1999; Von Hippel, 2001) and Wikipedia (Jemielniak, 2014). These organizations seem to fit Belk's definition of ‘true sharing’ (Belk, 2014b), as neither contributors nor users are expecting explicit or direct reciprocity for their actions (Benkler, 2004; Demil and Lecocq, 2006). Contributors are driven by intrinsic motivations rather than material ones (Benkler, 2017). These contemporary forms of commons are produced cooperatively by benevolent community contributors and made freely accessible to all (Bradley and Pargman, 2017). They rely on specific coordination and governance mechanisms that are distinct from market, hierarchy, and public or government control (Bauwens, 2005; Benkler, 2004; Demil and Lecocq, 2006; Lee and Cole, 2003). Accordingly, these organizations are moving beyond the classic management vocabulary (Laloux, 2014), producing new archetypes such as ‘swarm organizations’ (Falkvinge, 2013), ‘holacracy’ (Robertson, 2015), or ‘do-ocracy’ (Kostakis et al., 2015). They have also revived pre-existing forms of the community-based economy, such as social economy or non-profit organizations and cooperative governance structures (Bauwens and Kostakis, 2014; Scholz, 2016b).

The willingness to transform society in the direction of decentralized and post-bureaucratic organizations constitutes a common feature of both the community-based economy and the platform economy. However, the community-based perspective tends to reject market coordination, in a quest to promote a post-market society. The market co-optation of the sharing economy by profit-driven platforms is seen as an undesirable drift because it strips away promises of emancipation as well as social and environmental change (Bauwens, 2005; Martin, 2016; Scholz, 2016b). In contrast, the community-based economy encompasses a set of initiatives with strong political, legal and ideological dimensions, leaning towards post-market societies. As Bauwens and Kostakis (2014: 358) explain, peer production can be viewed as a ‘counter-economy that could be the basis for reconstituting a “counter-hegemony” with a for-benefit circulation of value. This process […] could be the basis of the political and social transformation of the political economy.’ While they were formalized in the digital sphere, these organizing principles and values have been transposed to fablabs, hackerspaces, repair cafés and makerspaces, where communities form around physical commons that promote an ideology of individual creativity, free access, mutual help and community development (Kostakis et al., 2015).

The community-based economy's promises are consistent with these ideals. Initiatives are meant to empower communities and serve as a vehicle for wider social change, emancipation and solidarity. However, as Bradley and Pargman (2017: 232) note, ‘despite grand visions of the effects of current and future collaborative commons, in reality these face a number of challenges and are often reliant on a small number of highly engaged individuals. This […] make[s] it difficult to scale up and gain critical mass and access to the resources necessary to compete with mainstream market alternatives’. Likewise, communities based on social relationships tend to produce social closure and inequalities among participants, thus creating ‘paradoxes of openness and distinction’ (Schor et al., 2016). These paradoxes occur between the official discourse advocating openness, fairness or equal access, and actual practices of distinction, which tend to reproduce social inequalities based on cultural and social capital, class, race or gender." (


Community-Based Platforms

By Aurélien Acquier, Thibault Daudigeos, and Jonatan Pinkse:

"Community-based platforms – try to make the most of the promises of the platform economy without losing sight of the promises of the community-based economy. They harness the scaling power of platforms for the good of the community, either by using a governance mechanism that ensures redistribution to balance stakeholder interests or by orienting the purpose of the platform towards the community interest. The first case refers to what has recently been called ‘platform cooperativism’, a label referring to platforms that open their governance structures to a broader group of stakeholders than investors alone (Scholz, 2016a). Citiz, a French network of car sharing companies that share around 1000 cars in 80 different cities is a good example of such an alternative governance scheme. Consumers, employees, investors, public authorities, main contractors and suppliers are all partners in the cooperative and vote on the main decisions. The Platform Cooperativism Consortium (PCC) is made up of dozens of cooperative platforms such as Loomio or Peerby that follow similar governance principles. The second case refers to ‘mission-driven platforms’ whose main purpose is increasing a community's well-being. For example, the mission of the Austrian initiative Refugeeswork is improving refugees' access to the labour market and breaking down negative stereotypes of refugees. It connects potential workers and employers through digital platforms and prepares the applicants through dedicated training.

Notwithstanding their promise for coming up with alternative modes of organizing the sharing economy, community-based platforms suffer from intractable tensions between scalability and community interests. Platform cooperatives have to deal with the trade-off between attracting regular impact investors and adopting alternative redistribution schemes that may frighten off such investors. Such platforms therefore struggle with competition from pure market players that can more easily raise funds. Mission-driven platforms experience a tension between global reach and local audience. Their initial goal to serve community interests can get diluted in the expanding their activities and they struggle to find the right scope of action to avoid mission drift (Jones, 2007; Weisbrod, 2004). A case in point is the online platform, Etsy, that partly let go of its initial mission to stimulate local, home-made handicraft in order to scale up the organization as well as the handicraft suppliers of the platform (Tabuchi, 2015). Community-based platforms bring together a market logic of scaling to global markets and a non-market logic of contributing to the local community, which creates a paradoxical situation that might prove unstable over the long term when one logic prevails over the other." (

Community-Based Access

By Aurélien Acquier, Thibault Daudigeos, and Jonatan Pinkse:

" Community-based access – combines the promises of the access economy and the community-based economy. They afford greater access to underutilized resources and services at the community level and thus aim to fulfil the economic, social, and environmental promises. Initiatives that promote sharing practices in a well specified physical space such as makerspaces, hackerspaces, fablabs, and repair cafés fit this category (Fabbri, 2016; Kostakis et al., 2015). The association of these two cores is fruitful since community bonds solve some tensions associated with the access economy. Community bonds prevent the risk of moral hazard because proximity between members limits self-interested behaviour that could be harmful for the well-being of the community.

Nevertheless, community-based access initiatives also have limitations because they rely on a non-monetary and non-hierarchical coordination mechanism to grant all users access in an equitable manner. As the cases of Schor et al. (2016) show, users either struggle with the idea of letting go of monetary value altogether or they devise alternative currencies that fulfil the same function as money. Their case of a time bank showed that even though it is based on an ideology that all types of work are equally valuable, it became clear from the way that people used the time bank that some skills were still considered more valuable than others. Likewise, actual user behaviour of a non-profit makerspace showed that the ideal of egalitarian access to shared resources was not fully met, as users created new forms of distinction based on status in relation to creativity. Moreover, high-status users of the makerspace created an alternative currency by trading beer (Schor et al., 2016). Hence, community-based access struggles to fully rely on community bonds to govern the transactions that grant users access to the shared resources. As a result, not only does access remain limited to the boundaries of the community, which is limited by definition, but also unexpected social interactions within the community can prevent it from meeting the promise of overcoming moral hazard.

Finally, in navigating the tensions generated by the principles of the sharing economy, some initiatives position themselves at the intersection of all three cores: access, platform and community-based economy. They seem to build on the promise of each type of economy to balance the tensions created by each of them. Although a triple-core configuration appears ideal, it faces strong tensions in practice. Since none of the cores are free of tensions, this triple-core sharing-economy ideal is inherently contradictory. While a win-win of leveraging the promises of each core and cancelling out each other's tensions would be the ideal, as the discussion of the dual-core initiatives already suggests, it is more likely that attempts to address all three cores simultaneously leads to an escalation of tensions and unfulfilled promises (cf. Hahn et al., in press). Pursuing simultaneous promises of equitable access for everyone, environmental sustainability, post-bureaucracy, emancipation and high scalability is very challenging, and any attempt to achieve them all at once lays bare the paradoxical nature of the sharing economy." (