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What’s in an App? Investigating the Moral Struggles Behind a Sharing Economy Device


In recent years, the sharing economy (SE) has attracted considerable attention, both scholarly and popular, relating to its capacity to enforce or undermine extant economic conventions. However, the process through which technological developments can effectively have this outcome of altering extant conventions on what is morally acceptable or desirable is still unclear. In this paper, we draw on the work of Boltanski and Thévenot (On justification: economies of worth. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2006) and the notion of agencement to investigate the moral and performative dimension of controversies related to the SE. The research stems from a qualitative case-based study of the controversy following Uber’s implementation in Montréal’s taxi market. We contribute to the literature on the SE through an empirical study of the moral debates entailed in the unfolding in situ of a SE device. We also add to the literature using the ‘Orders of Worth’ framework (2006) by showing how a compromise is solidified. We find that beyond discursive strategies, it is the concrete recomposition of laws, conventions, devices, persons, etc. that harmonised different definitions of the common good. Finally, we contribute to the literature on the relationship between technology, ethics, and social change by capturing the specific values that legitimise Uber, and by following their unfolding throughout a controversy.

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Correspondence to Mireille Mercier-Roy.

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Appendix 1

See Table 4.

Table 4 Outline of data sources

Appendix 2

See Table 5.

Table 5 Quotations, the Worlds of Taxi

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Mercier-Roy, M., Mailhot, C. What’s in an App? Investigating the Moral Struggles Behind a Sharing Economy Device. J Bus Ethics 159, 977–996 (2019).

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  • Sharing economy
  • Controversies
  • Orders of worth
  • Agencement
  • Technology