Sharing, Di Russel Belk

Topics: Gift economy, Reciprocity, Gift Pages: 53 (19245 words) Published: May 8, 2011
Sharing is a fundamental consumer behavior that we have either tended to overlook or to confuse with commodity exchange and gift giving. Sharing is a distinct, ancient, and increasingly vital consumer research topic that bears on a broad array of consumption issues ranging from sharing household resources versus atomized family possessions to file sharing versus intellectual property rights. This theoretical review distinguishes between sharing in and sharing out, and suggests that sharing in dissolves interpersonal boundaries posed by materialism and possession attachment through expanding the aggregate extended self. However, such sharing is challenged by growing market commoditization. Implications for consumer theory and research are considered.

[Sharing is] the most universal form of human economic behavior, distinct from and more fundamental than reciprocity. . . . Sharing has probably been the most basic form of economic distribution in hominid societies for several hundred thousand years. (Price 1975)


n much of Asia the tea cups are quite small and the beer bottles are quite large. For, in contrast to contemporary Western drinks, the beverages in these containers are meant to be shared. It is generally unthinkable that dinner companions would pour their own tea or sake or that they would consume a bottle of beer by themselves. So the small cups and large bottles assure frequent replenishment of others’ beverages. Rituals of sharing are also emphasized in the communal dishes of a Chinese banquet with its round table and rotating Lazy Susan laden with food for all. A good Korean or Chinese host will even pick out the best morsels of food and place them on the plate of a guest. Such sharing of food and beverages is not restricted to Asia. In the West

*Russell Belk is Kraft Foods Canada Chair of Marketing at the Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3 Canada ( He gratefully appreciates the helpful input from colleagues and doctoral students at York University and the University of Hong Kong as well as from participants in seminars at Qatar University; Sydney University; Monash University; University of Texas Pan-American; the 2008 Cornell University Conspicuous Consumption Extended Self Interdisciplinary Conference; the 2008 Consumer Culture Theory Conference in Boston; the 2007 International Business Research Conference in Dubai; the 2007 Mid-Northwest Consumer Behavior Winter Carnival Research Camp in London, Ontario; the 2006 Consumer Culture and Civic Participation Conference in Madison, Wisconsin; the 2006 Marketing Scholar Forum in Hong Kong; the 2006 Anti-Consumption Symposium in Auckland, New Zealand; the 2006 ESRC Research Seminar on Identities in Birmingham, UK; and the 2006 To Buy or to Hire Seminar of the Institut pour la Ville en Mouvement in Paris. John Deighton served as editor and Eric Arnould served as associate editor for this article. Electronically published August 20, 2009

a meal served “family style” means that the contents of serving dishes are freely available to all at the table. Participating in a “potluck” meal is another form of routinized sharing. Although we have a more individualized etiquette than the medieval European days when people ate from common trenchers and sat on common benches, we have retained many communal elements of sharing in eating. We also retain many vestiges of shared hospitality, as exemplified by hosting parties, accommodating houseguests, and caring for grandchildren. Nor is all contemporary sharing merely a vestigial relic of times when we were more interdependent, as some suggest (e.g., Sennett 1970). Consider the help, advice, and information that we share daily on the Internet. The Internet is a cornucopia of shared information available to all. Contrasts like Wikipedia versus traditional encyclopedias or Linux versus Windows operating systems show the difference between...
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