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WPS No.49 | Bosma, J.R. (2021) | Platformed professionalization

Labour, assets, and earning a livelihood through Airbnb

This paper analyses processes of professionalization on Airbnb in Berlin, exploring who is able to take part successfully in urban value creation processes facilitated by short-term rental platforms. In doing so, it intervenes in debates on platform urbanism that focus on the role of digital platforms in reconfiguring urban governance and livelihoods.

Combining a political economic approach and affordance theory, I conceptualize professionalization as a particular platform logic that benefits Airbnb and hosts who are able to take part, while reinforcing existing inequalities. Drawing on eight months of fieldwork in Berlin, I show how these professionalization practices differentially affect the strategies and practices of hosts, offering benefits to some while worsening the position of others who are unable or unwilling to professionalize. As such, professionalization processes produce inequalities and power asymmetries both on and off the platform, between hosts as well as between the platform owner, platform users, and non-platform users. In a context where a growing number of city-dwellers rely on platforms to generate their livelihoods, such power shifts resulting from programmatic platform dynamics have a significant impact on who is able to benefit from platformization and thrive in a platform society.