I attended the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015 (Exeter, UK) and presented a paper in the “Critical geographies of the sharing economy – Sharing places” session on Thursday 03 September 2015, Session 3 (14:40 – 16:20). I changed the title on the day to “The rise and fall of Couchsurfing: Resistance and Revenge in a Hospitality Network.”
Cross-border collaborative consumption and negative reciprocity in hospitality exchange
Cross-border collaborative consumption that involves hospitality exchange have bloomed in recent years, where consumption is offered as an alternative model to the industrial tourism system, and as a means for experimenting with non-capitalistic practices. It doing so, sites or intermediaries such as couchsurfing.com challenged top-down imposed hospitality and played a crucial role in the establishment of a travelling-class that constituted its identity through collaborative consumption (sharing) practices performed at home and across borders. Sharing hospitality became embedded in interpersonal relationships and was based upon a variety of relational proximities; such as trust, and balanced reciprocity among people who shared similar values. However, many users who became couchsurfing.com ambassadors after the site launched as a non-profit in 2004 resigned en-mass after the companies move to become a for-profit in 2011. Through in-depth interviews with 10 of these former volunteers, the presentation will argue that for these volunteers, the new reputation systems, advertisements, safety systems and the critical mass of connections, which the new managements teams at CS believed were required to provide an efficient platform, led to collaborative consumption practices through negative reciprocity; creating conflict rather than collaboration as solidarity was reshaped by the commodification of what they believed, were their couches.