Stabilising Collaborative Consumer Networks: How Technological Mediation Shapes Relational Work
Makkar, M; Yap, S-F; Belk, R
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Purpose This paper aims to examine the role of technology in shaping the interplay between intimate and economic relations in collaborative consumer networks (CCNs). Design/methodology/approach This research is based on a three-year participatory netnographic and ethnographic field study of hosts, guests and community members within the Airbnb home-sharing network in New Zealand. The data consist of interviews, online and offline participant observations and brief discussions onsite (large-scale Airbnb events, host meetups and during Airbnb stays). Findings The findings reveal how technologies shape the relational work of home-sharing between intimate and economic institutions through grooming, bundling, brokerage, buffering and social edgework. This paper proposes a framework of triadic relational work enacted by network actors, involving complex exchange structures. Research limitations/implications This study focusses on a single context – a market-mediated home-sharing platform. The findings may not apply to other contexts of economic and social exchanges. Practical implications The study reveals that the construction of specific relational packages by Airbnb hosts using their digital technologies pave a path for home-sharing to skirt the norms of the home as a place of intimacy and the market as a place for economics. This allows these two spheres to flourish with little controversy. Originality/value By augmenting Zelizer’s relational work, this study produces theoretical insights into the agentic role of technology in creating and stabilising a CCN.