Anthropology identifies sharing as an indispensable component of human history. Belk (2020) defines sharing as a process of distributing what belongs to us to other individuals and, at the same time, an act of receiving something from others for a common purpose. For a more precise conceptualization of the phenomenon, the author suggests identifying two sharing models. The first consists in maternal care, which well expresses the idea of free and natural sharing; the second has to do with the family, a social context in which goods are jointly owned and enjoyed (Belk 2010). In both cases, the commercial dimension is excluded, and sharing practices are repositories of feelings of solidarity and bonding. 

However, Belk’s analysis also introduces the ‘‘sharing’’ construct into consumer research exactly as a way to open a new front in the theory of resource circulation by describing a neglected mode of resource circulation. Indeed the definition of sharing is deeply embedded with economics.  

Marcel Mauss (1923) adopts the term “gift economy” to describe those activities, such as the exchange of goods, which represent the most common and universal ways to create social relations and solidarity; Karl Polanyi (1944), while highlighting how the market activities of traditional societies were highly diversified and multifunctional, underlined how the social behaviour of the individual was influenced not only by self-interest but also by a wide range of social motivations: “man's economy is immersed in his social relations. Man does not act in such a way as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods, he acts in such a way as to safeguard his social position, his social claims, his social advantages”; and, finally, Price (1975) describes it as “the most elementary form of economic distribution that has characterized hominid societies”. 

Recently the term has come back into vogue to describe the set of new practices of sharing goods and services developed in the first decade of the new millennium due to the joint effect of technological (the development of web 2.0 and the availability of apps that disintermediate relations between producers and consumers), socio-cultural (the emergence of new forms of relationship based on collaboration and sharing) and economic processes (birth of new markets for investors and professional opportunities for individuals and families affected by the crisis) and that goes under the hat of the Sharing Economy. The latter refers to a new class of mainly B2C companies providing a platform for people to have access to unused resources, skills, services.  


Sharing economy boomed with the help of companies like Apple, Uber, Airbnb that connected people to unused resources. Today sharing economy is growing and evolving. It’s used as an umbrella term for a variety of organisational models that are transforming marketplaces and cityscapes, where goods and services, skills and spaces are shared, exchanged, rented or leased.  

Creating a taxonomy of the different contemporary collaborative practices is complex for at least two reasons: on the one hand there are possible cases of osmosis between the classes of practices, especially since the SE is an ongoing phenomenon characterized by a high entrepreneurial creativity; on the other hand, its conceptualization, both in the social sciences and in the common sense, is largely affected by a media narrative that tends to subsume in the SE every new practice of production and consumption inspired by collaboration or sharing, even if more on a rhetorical level than substantial. In fact, the contemporary practices of sharing embody a concept of sharing that tends to underestimate the dividing line between sharing tout court, exchange of gifts and economic exchange (albeit inspired by sharing criteria), suggesting the existence of gratuitousness, trust, intimacy and community spirit even in cases with a clear commercial nature, where the only collaborative aspect lies in the web architecture of the sites and the app that put the owners and users of a resource in contact. 

While a commonly agreed definition on the sharing economy seems still not to exist, researchers further disagree whether it is based on monetary or non-monetary exchanges, or both, and whether it includes Peer-to-Peer (P2P) models or also Business-to-consumer (B2C) and Business-to-Business (B2B) models. 

Beyond the theoretical debate over the sharing economy boundaries, a number of relevant and controversial questions in the environmental as well as in the social and economic fields are gathering attention. In particular, this topic is of great interest as it brings new perspectives to today’s debate on the effects of the sharing economy approach on sustainable development. It is well recognized that sustainable development, to be thought jointly from an economic, social and environmental point of view, occupies a central role in the global agenda. While, on the one hand, as regards its social and economic dimension, some benefits coming from the sharing economy have been pointed out; on the other hand, there is a growing interest in the sharing economy as a model for sustainable consumption practices.  

On this ground, some authors perceive sharing economy as a potential way out from the unsustainable consumption practices on which current developed economies are based. The central argument in this perspective is founded on a beneficial transition of culture from a consumer’s own assetsʼ (i.e. traditional linear economy) towards a “consumers share access to assets” (i.e. sharing economy) able to connect consumers and allow them a more efficient use of underutilized available goods and services. 

In fashion industry, sharing economy concept is widely applied. In early stage, people may rent, swap and resell their clothes before sharing economy emerged. Nowadays, fashion sharing platforms can be found throughout the world (see for example Rent the Runway, and Le Tote in the US, Myonbelle in Germany, ByRotation in UK, Air Closet in Japan, Style Theory in Singapore, Y Closet, and Dora’s Dream in China, etc.) and that provide people a huge number of products that they might want to buy, but consumers only pay the rental instead of paying the selling price. For example, Bag Borrow Or Steal in the US, provides rental services on its platform for fashion handbags, on which the customers can take away the bags for a limited period of time by paying a rental fee for that 

As consumers become more environmentally and rationally aware nowadays, fashion industry employs sharing services like swapping, renting, and resale to fulfill the requirements of consumers.  

The sharing economy is playing an important role in trying to achieve more sustainable patterns, also within the food sector. Several initiatives and start-ups are being developed in the US and Europe, involving the collection and use of the excess of food from consumers and retailers and the promotion of collaborative consumption models. 

Food sharing initiatives have also been rising in most developed societies through a variety of forms such as web food networks, underground restaurants, public refrigerators or simply private initiatives within specific house-holds consisting of nonrelated people. Therefore, food sharing can take the form of selling as well as donating and bartering initiatives. 

Most often, they are start-ups aimed at exchanging leftovers. Examples of these include Foodsharing, LeftoverSwap, S-Cambia Cibo,TooGoodToGo even though there are also many initiatives whose main goal is to cook and eat together (e.g. Cookening). As a result, food sharing practices have been investigated also from a social perspective.

  • Rent the Runway is the premier subscription fashion service that powers people to rent designer styles for work, weekends and events. 
  • Le Tote is a fashion subscription service that lets you rent clothing and accessories for a flat monthly membership fee. 
  • Myonbelle is a subscription-based service for multi-category fashion products for women including apparel, jewelry, etc. It sends users a curated box of fashion apparel which the users can exchange for another box multiple times in the subscription period. The users also have an option to purchase the products from the box.  
  • ByRotation is a social fashion rental app, enabling the consumer to rent and lend designer fashion and to rotate his/her own wardrobe at fingertips while doing good for the planet. 
  • AirCloset is a fashion rental service available in Japan 
  • Style Theory is a service, available in Singapore though a a monthly plan that allows users to rent from a wide collection of designer clothes. 
  • Dora's Dream is a Chinese rental platform for women's clothes. 
  • is an online platform that saves and distributes surplus food in Germany and Austria. On individuals, retailers and producers can offer or collect food that would otherwise be thrown away. This service is completely free, and functions thanks to volunteer work. The project's goal is to fight everyday food waste and to raise awareness about this problem in society 
  • LeftoverSwap is a mobile application that allows its users to share unwanted food with a member of the community. The smartphone application allows users to take a picture of their dish, identify what is on the plate, and arrange for pickup and delivery.  
  • S-Cambia Cibo is a collaborative tool that enables citizens to exchange their food surpluses in order to reduce domestic food waste 
  • TooGoodToGo is an Italian online platform which fights against food waste by providing direct contact between customer and restaurants/shops/bars who have leftovers at the end of the day; restaurants/shops/bars can offer food on the app and users can reserve it and pick it up. 
  • Cookening is a French startup that enables locals to be matched with foreigners — tourists in particular — so they can invite them into their homes to experience an authentic home dining experience. 

a) Academic/peer reviewed 

Anderson, C, 2013, Makers. Il ritorno dei produttori. Per una nuova rivoluzione industriale, Milano, Rizzoli Etas, (ed. or. 2012). 

Belk, R., 1996, The Perfect Gift, in C. Otnes e R.F. Beltramini (eds.), Gift-Giving: A Research Anthology, Bowling Green University Popular Press, Bowling Green (OH), pp. 59–84.  

Belk, R., 2007, Why Not Share Rather than Own, in «Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science», 611, pp. 126–40. 

Belk, R., 2010, Sharing, in «Journal of Consumer Research», 36 (5), pp. 715-734. 

Belk, R., 2014, Sharing versus Pseudo-Sharing in Web 2.0, in «The Anthropologist», 18 (1), pp. 7-23. 

Chapman A., 1980, Barter as a universal mode of exchange, in «L’Homme», 20 (3): pp. 33-83. 

Humphrey, C., 1985, Barter and economic disintegration, in «Man», 20 (1): pp.48-72. 

Mauss M., 1990 (o orig. pub. 1923), The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, Routledge, London, 1990. 

Polanyi K., 1944, The Great Transformation: the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Beacon Press, Boston. 

Price J. A. 1975, Sharing: The Integration of Intimate Economics, in «Anthropologica», Vol. 17 (1), pp. 3-27. 

Watson M., Shove, E., 2008, Product, Competences, Project and Practice. DIY and the dynamics of craft consumption. Journal of Consumer Culture, 8, 1, pp. 69-89.