"Four blocks from the French Quarter": Relationality, Authenticity, and Airbnb in New Orleans

Authors: Ian Spangler*, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY
Topics: Cultural Geography, Tourism Geography
Keywords: digital geography, airbnb, authenticity, tourism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Balcony L, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Since 2008, Airbnb has taken the short-term rental (STR) market by storm. The digital platform (a popular marketplace for short-term renting and leasing) offers over 4 million listings in 191 countries—a staggering number that outstrips the next five largest hotel chains’ total listings combined (Hartmans 2017). Of course, Airbnb did not attain its estimated $31 billion market capitalization without stepping on some toes. New Orleans exemplifies the friction between Airbnb and the cities in which it operates. In response to years of protests and complaints, the city recently passed a set of STR regulations that are still unfolding in contentious ways. Looking to New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood as a case study, I offer a critical perspective on the platform in order to address the inherent contradictions in Airbnb’s marketing rhetoric of “belonging anywhere” (Chesky 2014). To do so, I first complicate the egalitarian vision of the sharing economy by reviewing sharing as a discursive formulation (Cockayne 2016). Next, I establish a theoretical framework for understanding Airbnb’s deployment of authenticity, particularly as a technique of power in urban space (MacCannell 1973, Harvey 1989, Gotham 2007, Zukin 2010). Finally, drawing on personal field interviews from June 2017 and discourse analysis of data scrapes from InsideAirbnb.com, I demonstrate how these listings co-produce a relational geography in which Airbnb’s philosophy of universal belonging disregards the complicated, everyday, lived vernaculars of actual people in actual places.

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