Trouble in paradise : contradictions in platform capitalism and the production of surplus by Airbnb hosts in regional tourist towns : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
A tendency toward crisis in social reproduction characterizes digital capitalism. Increasingly, the economic system shows itself unable to generate subjectivities and social processes for addressing the physical and psychical need required for its reproduction. Emblematic of that contradiction is the individualism of digital capitalism which compels people to commodify themselves beyond the ‘normal’ state of abstracted labour power associated with capitalism, to become ‘entrepreneurs of the self’. An extreme form of commodification of the self is evident in a new form of capitalism termed ‘platform capitalism’ which manifests through organizations such as Airbnb. Like the notion of the ‘entrepreneur of the self’, this kind of commodified self is increasingly too thin and too instrumental to be self-sustaining. The commodification of people and of private spaces result in shifts of subjectivity as a response to the production of surplus-meaning and surplus-enjoyment and indicates capture of a new sphere for capitalist activities at the expense of social reproduction. This research explores the construction of Airbnb hosts’ subjectivities across four tourist towns in New Zealand (Picton, Wanaka, Paihia and Whitianga). Placed within the context of global capitalism, tourism is a major economic contributor to the New Zealand economy, estimated at $24 billion annually. Concurrently, regional areas of New Zealand are experiencing challenges relating to economic stagnation, ageing populations and changes to population numbers. Common across people living in these regional towns is a political imperative to commodify their life-worlds for the tourist market. Increasingly, the mechanisms that are synonymous with platform capitalist ventures, of Airbnb in this instance, are becoming significant means through which, the realization of this political imperative occurs. Using a qualitative research framework, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 28 Airbnb hosts, then analyzed using an inductive and iterative thematic analysis. The emerging themes presented here are commodification, biopolitics and the intensification of time and space. Collectively, the themes demonstrate how the contradictions of surplus and of social reproduction manifest within the digital platform of Airbnb. The research informs issues and debates in contemporary theory on capital’s tendency towards crises of social reproduction.