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Everything written by Michel Bauwens

Assessing the Greece / Eurogroup negotiations (2): a positive evaluation by Tom Walker

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Michel Bauwens
28th February 2015


This battle is a very long way from over. There are more key moments this week, and no doubt there are many weeks and months of crunch points still to come. The last thing we should be doing is abandoning Syriza because it hasn’t fulfilled all our hopes in the first few weeks after its election. And it’s also no use flipping backwards and forwards between enthusiasm and dejection based on each day’s round of negotiations. The future of austerity across Europe now rests on what happens in Greece. If we give up on them, we are giving up on our own struggle too.

Excerpted from Tom Walker in Red Pepper:

“To discover the truth we need to not only look at the deal, or even the media spin around the deal, but examine what the text they have signed up to will mean in practice.

* No agreement to austerity:

Much of the reporting of the deal led on the claim that Syriza has ‘signed up to austerity’ – and that would be a massive U-turn if it were true. But this rests on some mischief with the terminology.

What the Greek government has signed up to is to continue running a budget surplus, as opposed to a deficit. That is not, in itself, austerity. Austerity is the practice of balancing budgets through cuts in public spending.

Yet the agreement, as Tsipras has said, cancels the previous Greek government’s planned cuts to pensions, as well as scrapping VAT rises on food and medicine. The reforms Syriza will submit as part of its end of the deal look set to include a massive crackdown on tax evasion and corruption – meaning a shift away from spending cuts towards raising the revenue through taxation.

The Eurogroup statement also includes some flexibility for surpluses to be ‘appropriate’ given economic conditions. In other words, until the Greek economy returns to growth, the punishing targets of the previous government can be eased back – meaning there wouldn’t be as much money to raise as previously. This should free up some cash to tackle Greece’s humanitarian crisis, through Syriza’s promised measures such as free electricity and meal subsidies for the poorest.

And Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has added a very important and under-reported rider: ‘Nobody is going to ask us to impose upon our economy and society measures that we don’t agree with… If the list of reforms is not agreed, this agreement is dead.’

Of course, this is hardly anyone’s ideal programme for government. While it is not true that the hated ‘Troika’ has returned, Greece must still deal with ‘the institutions’ (the European Central Bank, European Commission and IMF) – the distinction being that it now has the potential to negotiate with the different institutions one by one. Greek democracy remains partially suspended, at least for the four-month duration of the deal, subject to negotiation and oversight.

But look at the situation Syriza were in before you condemn. Multiple credible sources claim that, if they had not agreed to the deal, Greece’s banks would have collapsed within days – and Syriza would have got the blame for taking the country into a new crisis. As Varoufakis said, ‘Greeks were being told that if we were elected and we stayed in power for more than just a few days the ATMs will cease functioning… Today’s decision puts an end to this fear.’

Defaulting on the debts and leaving the euro might be preferable in the long term – though support for that course of action among Greece’s people remains very low – but it would mean huge short-term chaos and pain that Syriza’s negotiation has managed to avoid.

In any case, the deal is not signed in blood. It can be ended if it goes as badly as some commentators are saying. The option of ‘Grexit’ and default hasn’t gone away. It is clear, though, that it is not currently part of Syriza’s mandate, and those who put forward that alternative in the election received only a fraction of Syriza’s votes. Default was always going to be a last resort, not an opening gambit: it will only be politically possible if no alternative remains.

Insofar as the Syriza government is having to compromise – and clearly it is making compromises short of surrender – that represents not so much their failure as our own. Syriza has always been clear that we cannot expect Greece to defeat austerity alone.

The various European ministers on the other end of the continuing negotiation with the Greek government need to be feeling the pressure. We need a huge movement across Europe in solidarity with Greece, and we need to be throwing ourselves into building that movement, not reclining in our armchairs ready to say ‘I told you so’.

We must put everything we can muster into shifting the political balance of forces across Europe. We now have four months of space in which to do so: we need to make them count.

There is clearly a division among the elite now over the issue of austerity, with the US government, the Adam Smith Institute and various prominent economists not usually associated with the left backing Greece’s proposals. That crack is waiting to be forced open.

This battle is a very long way from over. There are more key moments this week, and no doubt there are many weeks and months of crunch points still to come. The last thing we should be doing is abandoning Syriza because it hasn’t fulfilled all our hopes in the first few weeks after its election. And it’s also no use flipping backwards and forwards between enthusiasm and dejection based on each day’s round of negotiations.

The future of austerity across Europe now rests on what happens in Greece. If we give up on them, we are giving up on our own struggle too.

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Assessing the Greece / Eurogroup negotiations (1): a negative evaluation by Stathis Kouvelakis

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Michel Bauwens
27th February 2015


The Syriza government will thus have no choice other than to administer the Memorandum framework. The small changes it can make will certainly be improvements, but they will not succeed in transforming the totally disastrous economic and social situation. This will disappoint the hopes and expectations that the popular electorate placed in Syriza.

A negative assessment of the grave consequences of the Eurogroup accord as a grave defeat for the new government, from an interview with Stathis Kouvelakis, member of the party’s Central Committee:

(but watch this space for excerpts of a positive evaluation of the deal, by Tom Walker of Red Pepper)

“It’s now a month since the election. What is your assessment of Syriza’s record so far?

The new government has announced a first set of measures, expressing its desire for transparency and increased democracy. The changing of the nationality code – handing automatic Greek citizenship to immigrants’ children born in Greece – is a considerable shake-up of Greek society’s definition of nationality, citizenship and even national identity.

Another objective of these measures is media transparency, putting an end to the entanglement of political personnel and business interests linked to the state – a combination that often includes media moguls. That is not anything particular to Greece, as Berlusconi in Italy and Bouygues in France demonstrate, but in Greece it has reached really huge proportions.

The distribution of cabinet portfolios shows that Syriza was not going to give up any ground, at that level. Notably, the Interior Ministry was handed to a leading figure in the anti-racist movements, involved in struggles supporting immigrants; and the new president of the Greek Parliament, Zoe Constantopolou, is well-known for her fight against corruption and her involvement in the struggle for individual freedoms. So that sends a strong message.

From a social and economic perspective, the re-establishment of workplace rights – which the previous governments had got rid of – is another important measure that Syriza has announced, as are the re-hiring of laid-off civil servants; the re-connection of electricity for households that had previously been cut off; and the re-establishment of the ERT (public radio and TV). These announcements seek to demonstrate the new government’s break with the previous governments’ policies serving the Memorandum.

This set of measures – which correspond to Syriza’s mandate and are meant to put an end to austerity policies – has quickly come up against the demands imposed by the European Union and the Troika. These latter have forced the Greek government into a series of retreats, paralysing the implementation of Syriza’s programme. Only just after having been elected, the new government has run into difficulties that give us a glimpse of what a grave situation we will face if it fails.

* What does the accord signed on 20 February tell us?

The agreement insists on the full and timely repayment of Greece’s debts. Most importantly, it foresees the existing programme being followed through in full, which means the country agreeing to remain under the supervision of the Troika – or as it’s now called, ‘the institutions’.

Indeed, the Greek government has committed to not taking any unilateral measures that might endanger the budgetary objectives laid down by the creditors.

This accord thus neutralises the Syriza government’s activity and its capacity to implement its programme. We ought to be clear – it keeps almost the entire Memorandum framework in place.

* What explains such a rapid defeat?

Firstly, right from the start the European institutions exercised enormous pressure. This began on 4 February when the European Central Bank announced that it had stopped the refinancing of the Greek banks – because it no longer accepted Greek debt bonds – at the same time as there was massive capital flight out of the country.

Having been around €2bn a week, according to reliable sources capital flight hit around €1.5bn every 24 hours in the last few days. My information from Athens is that the Greek banks could not have opened on Tuesday if Greece had not come to an agreement with Europe. The ECB has blackmailed Greece in exactly the same way as it did Cyprus in 2013 and Ireland in 2010.

The Greek government is being strangled, exploiting its weakest link, namely, the banking system. There was increasing pressure on Greece during the Eurogroup meetings, in an effort to force it to accept the terms of the Memorandum. If Germany was the most vindictive country – and there is a degree of theatre at moments like this – the others were no different. No one took a stance against Germany.

* What are Syriza’s responsibilities now?

We ought to be clear. Some of the debates that we have had in Syriza have now been resolved in a negative way. The idea that we could break with austerity policies and yet avoid confrontation with the European Union has been refuted in practice. The majority tendency in Syriza avoided giving a clear answer to what would happen if Greece’s creditors refused to negotiate.

Those who upheld this position also thought that our European partners would be obliged to accept Syriza’s legitimacy and thus accept the Greek government’s demands. And we can clearly see that this is not the case. The dominant tendency in the Syriza leadership has the illusion that it is possible to change things even within the existing European Union framework.

These institutions have shown their true face, which is the imposition of extremely harsh neoliberal policies and other policies leading to the economic and social marginalisation of entire countries.

* What explains these ‘illusions’?

There is a real stumbling block, not just a psychological barrier but also one that concerns political strategy. Like almost all the European radical Left, Syriza believes in the idea that it is possible to reform and transform the existing European institutions from within.

That’s the whole problem. Syriza ever more clearly dug itself into a position refusing not only to break from the Euro but even to consider this a possible threat it could make during the negotiations.

And indeed we have seen that neither Tsipras or Varoufakis ever made use of this possibility. This tendency refuses to take full account of what the EU institutions and the integration process consist of – yet this is a process that has neoliberalism in its DNA.

These institutions were created in order to entrench neoliberal policies and liberate them from any kind of popular control. We cannot break with austerity policies and the Memorandum measures unless we mount a confrontation with the European Union, and leave the Eurozone if need be. During the negotiations Greece showed that it feared ‘Grexit’ more than its interlocutors did, and that was a fatal error.

* What conclusions ought we draw from this accord?

We could describe it as a major defeat for Syriza, possibly even a fatal one, and this failure affects each and every one of Syriza’s components. The Left did not succeed in imposing its point of view, having been defeated by the leadership’s strategy, ever since the 2012 elections, of shifting closer to the centre. The idea was that since we had already won as many votes on the Left as we could, what we now had to do was go in search of centrist voters.

This electoralist logic is mistaken, because given the extent of the social crisis the tendency of public opinion is not at all the strengthening of the centre ground. On the contrary, it is radicalising, and it is this radicalisation that explains the audience for Golden Dawn as well as for Syriza.

There is a really fundamental error of analysis, here. For a political force of the anti-austerity Left to give up on essential points of its programme can only lead to defeat. And sadly that is precisely what we are seeing play out at the moment.

The Syriza government will thus have no choice other than to administer the Memorandum framework. The small changes it can make will certainly be improvements, but they will not succeed in transforming the totally disastrous economic and social situation. This will disappoint the hopes and expectations that the popular electorate placed in Syriza.

Going on this way can only mean defeat. I think it is possible that Syriza could disintegrate, and that there could be a reconfiguration of the current political alliances. If Syriza continues with this policy then there is no reason why pro-Memorandum forces should go on refusing to collaborate with it. To Potami, PASOK and even a wing of New Democracy could do so – and it was precisely this latter that Syriza was giving a nod and a wink to when it chose Pavlopoulos, a leading figure of New Democracy’s centrist wing, for President of the Republic.

* How might the Greek people react?

Syriza’s victory gave the Greek people hope again. After the ECB started with its blackmail we saw people spontaneously heading into the streets to give their support to Syriza. The current retreat risks putting a stop to all this, leading to very severe disappointment.

* Should we fear disappointed voters turning to Golden Dawn?

The current success of far-Right parties in Europe essentially owes to the fact that very large sections of public opinion see them as genuine anti-systemic forces. They seem more credible and more radical than the Left.

Thanks to the extent of the mobilisations between 2010 and 2012 the electorate that has broken from the traditional ruling parties has mostly turned to the Left.

Nonetheless, the possible recomposition of politics entails the enormous danger of us abandoning the terrain of challenging the existing order to the far Right.

Syriza has been forced to accept continuing with Troika supervision of Greece. This feeling of national humiliation is very important to understanding the breakthrough that Golden Dawn has made. Its rise is really a regressive nationalist reaction to this feeling of national humiliation, combined with economic and social breakdown.

* European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker recently declared that ‘There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties’. Are our societies – in Greece as well as elsewhere in Europe – really democratic?

The Juncker quote sums up the reality that we face. Since the 1980s the construction of the European Union has been the vehicle of neoliberal policies. Neoliberalism is in its DNA, it is written into its treaties. Its underlying logic is constitutively anti-democratic.

It seeks to dissolve the instances of national control, establishing a detached supranational order freed from any mechanisms of popular control. And this is what has driven oppositional political forces to paralysis. Syriza’s defeat faced with the European Union is the most striking illustration of this – and also the saddest.

For any force that wants to oppose the dominant economic policy decisions, it is indispensable that they break with this construction.”

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Tools for Collective Labor Action in the Gig Economy

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Michel Bauwens
26th February 2015


SARAH KESSLER reports on how “Workers and activists are creating new tools” for labor organizing in the mis-named ‘sharing economy':

The first tool she discusses is Dynamo:

“Milland took her gripes to a new platform called Dynamo, which was created by Stanford PhD candidate Niloufar Salehi as part of her research into collective action online. In the process of building the platform, in collaboration with other researchers and Mechanical Turk workers, she realized it was more than just an issue of making an online petition. Despite Mechanical Turk’s reputation as a place where people go to complete simple jobs—usually for just cents per task—in their spare time, many of them actually relied on the income to pay their bills. And they were afraid of retribution by Amazon. More than that, they didn’t always agree on what needed to be changed.

Dynamo attempted to create a space where workers could discuss and organize actions. The first action the group took was to write a set of guidelines for researchers, who often use Mechanical Turk to distribute surveys or tasks that they may have previously given to undergraduates. Sometimes, Milland says, the researchers forget they are dealing with actual humans, for instance designing an experiment in which they show a worker horrible images in order to see how long he or she will continue a task despite them. The guidelines were meant to help advise ethics review boards at universities about best practices on Mechanical Turk, in order to avoid this type of situation. According to an organizer on Dynamo, they were viewed more than 12,000 times in the first month. The second action was asking him to “see that Turkers are not only actual human beings, but people who deserve respect, fair treatment, and open communication.”

There was a bit of a media blitz around the project—The Guardian, The Verge, and The Daily Beast all picked it up—and Milland says it was a good proof of concept for Dynamo campaigns. But only about 20 people submitted letters publicly. In the end, Amazon didn’t change its platform. Nothing has been added to the discussion for about a month.”

* Then, on Coworker:

“About three years ago, Michelle Miller, who had worked with traditional labor movements for years, began to notice a pattern of spikes in attention like the one around the Amazon Turk letter-writing campaign. “A group would form around an issue for a couple of weeks,” she says. “There would be some excitement, some media coverage of the issue the workers were talking about, and then it would either be resolved or it wouldn’t be, and everything would sort of dissipate back to the way it was.”

Her answer was, a platform where workers can, like on Change.org, organize petitions, but with one major difference: The communities build not just around specific issues, but around virtual and analog workplaces. Once someone self-identifies as an employee of a company, Coworker keeps them updated about new campaigns within that company. Miller says, for instance, the site has signed up more than 17,000 Starbucks employees through various campaigns.

So far, most of the campaigns are among non-gig economy laborers. Those Starbucks employees used it, for instance, to campaign for the coffee company to change its policy banning visible tattoos (it eventually did so). It has promise to be useful to gig economy workers, as well. The California App-based Drivers Association (CADA) has used the platform to create a campaign that asks Uber to add an automatic tip calculation to all of its fares.

Of course, independent contractors are not protected under the National Labor Relations Act. Without traditional union protections, there’s no law stopping Uber from just firing anyone who participates.”

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The City as Commons – Michel Bauwens interviews Professor Christian Iaione

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Michel Bauwens
24th February 2015


Originally featured on Shareable.net

A commons-based economy cannot thrive without appropriate institutions, especially those that represent a “partner state” approach. Professor Christian Iaione of LUISS University in Rome is a pioneer of such institutional innovation in Italian cities. I believe his work with the city of Bologna on Bologna’s Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons is a breakthrough. This regulation allows citizen coalitions to propose improvements to their neighborhoods, and the city to contract with citizens for key assistance. In other words, the municipality functions as an enabler giving citizens individual and collective autonomy.

More than 30 projects have already been approved in this context and dozens of Italian cities are adopting this regulation. The CO-Mantova project in Mantua, Italy is one such example. It has been set up for citizen-based social innovation using a multi-stakeholder approach that includes Professor Iaione. In the interview below, we asked him about his motivation, the ideas that have shaped his work, his urban commons projects in Bologna and Mantua, and how he sees the expansion of this approach in cities throughout the world.

Michel Bauwens: Before we explore your work, what sparked your passion for urban commons?

Chris Iaione: I grew up in Southern Italy, but with an Anglo-Saxon imprinting. My parents lived in the US in the sixties. They eventually decided to go back. My father told me they made this choice because they wanted to give back to their country. In the Seventies, they were both Vice-Mayors in their respective hometowns (Contrada and Atripalda, near Avellino). The first time I went to the US was 1980. I was five years old and running away from a catastrophic earthquake that hit my city and its county (Avellino). Schools and other public services were shut down. My mother, my brothers and I fled to New York and New Jersey to stay with friends and relatives. My father decided to stay in Italy to take care of his city and his citizens.

These were the first lessons I learned about life and the US. The sense of duty that my father taught me with his example, and that the US can be a welcoming land for those in need. Almost twenty years later in 1999, I enrolled in the UC Berkeley Extension Program. In Berkeley I learned the importance of becoming a unique human able to collaborate with other unique human beings, rather than competing to be the first of my class. I came back to the States for a third time to intern at the International Law Institute in D.C.—a city where you can feel the immanent presence of power and how distant institutions can be from the needs of citizens and how reluctant they are to innovate, but also how you can find innovators within government.

Lessons learned: if you want to change something you have to change it from the inside by finding those who are willing to work with you. I then had the opportunity to work and develop my academic studies as a research fellow at New York University School of Law. It was there that I developed the theoretical framework for local public entrepreneurship, which is the basis of the CO-Mantova project and the idea of the city as a commons. My study on the tragedy of urban roads and experiments in Bologna lead to this.

You run LabGov – LABoratory for the GOVernance of commons dealing with new commons-centric urban governance, which is part of an important Italian academic institution LUISS University, and, in particular, the International Center on Democracy and Democratization led by Leonardo Morlino, a prominent international political scientist. What is LabGov?

LabGov is an in-house clinic for social, economic, institutional and legal innovators that carry out empirical work to implement innovations in public policy based on collaborative governance and public collaboration for the commons, subsidiarity, active citizenship, sharing economy, collaborative consumption, shared value, and collective impact. I co-produce the clinic with young people graduating from LUISS University. I designed this program having in mind a powerful new social class which is on the rise. It is a class of active citizens, social innovators, makers, creatives, sharing and collaborative economy practitioners, service designers, co-working and co-production experts, and urban designers.

This social class is pushing or nudging society, business and institutions towards new frontiers. Student should have the opportunity to join this social class and help it move the frontier forward. That is why, through the clinic, student interns develop projects that must come to life. Students must implement innovation in areas where innovation has not been brought yet or amplify the innovation in existing projects. In 2013 LabGov was devoted to the subject “The City as a Commons,” while in 2014 it was focused on “Culture as a Commons.”

In academic year 2014-2015 the focus of study is green governance, to be understood as a social, economic, institutional and legal technology. Therefore, this year the LabGov is devoted to the “land as a commons: environment, agriculture and food.” All the real life projects we design in the Laboratory are then proposed to real life actors that are willing to experiment with the ideas we seed. LabGov is a nonprofit rooted in the university but working on the outside. LabGov intends to update the Triple Helix concept of the university-industry-government relationship because we believe in a Quintuple Helix approach (embedded in LabGov logo) where universities become an active member of the community and facilitate the creation of new forms of partnerships in the general interest between government, industry and businesses, the not for profit sector, social innovators and citizens, and other institutions such as schools, academies, plus research and cultural centers.

You are known as one of the key authors of the new regulation on collaboration for the care and regeneration of urban commons, which was adopted by Bologna and is now being adopted by other Italian cities. What exactly does the “Regolamento sulla collaborazione per i beni comuni urbani” entail, and are there already practical consequences?

The Bologna Regulation is part of the “The City as a Commons” project that LabGov started in 2012. It consists of two years of field work and three “urban commons governance labs.” The Bologna regulation is a 30 page regulatory framework outlining how local authorities, citizens and the community at large can manage public and private spaces and assets together (available in English here). As such, it’s a sort of handbook for civic and public collaboration, and also a new vision for government. It reflects the strong belief that we need a cultural shift in terms of how we think about government, moving away from the Leviathan State or Welfare State toward collaborative or polycentric governance. This calls for more public collaboration, nudge regulations, and citytelling.

I have been researching the topic of the commons for quite a long time, and at some point I realized that the city could actually be interpreted as a collaborative commons. I synthesized my research in a paper “City as a Commons” presented at a conference in Utrecht and later published in the Indiana University Digital Library of the Commons. This was the background study for the Bologna and Mantova projects. I am now working with Sheila Foster from Fordham Law School on a more comprehensive study which is going to lay out a theoretical framework building on the background studies I developed in Italian (see an article titled La città come bene comune) and the empirical work I am carrying out in several Italian cities.

We met at the presentation of CO-Mantova, an ambitious project to revive the local economy with young social innovators, which also proposes an innovative fivefold local governance scheme. Tell us why Mantova needed this, how the process with youth worked, and how the city, province, and Chamber of Commerce came to accept the process. Above all: what’s next?

CO-Mantova is a prototype of a process to run the city as a collaborative commons, i.e. a “co-city.” A co-city should be based on collaborative governance of the commons whereby urban, environmental, cultural, knowledge and digital commons are co-managed by the five actors of the collaborative/polycentric governance—social innovators (i.e. active citizens, makers, digital innovators, urban regenerators, rurban innovators, etc.), public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, knowledge institutions (i.e. schools, universities, cultural academies, etc.)—through an institutionalized public-private-citizen partnership. This partnership will give birth to a local peer-to-peer physical, digital and institutional platform with three main aims: living together (collaborative services), growing together (co-ventures), making together (co-production).

The project is supported by the local Chamber of Commerce, the City, the Province, local NGOs, young entrepreneurs, SMEs, and knowledge institutions, such as the Mantua University Foundation, and some very forward-looking local schools.

The first step was “seeding social innovation” through a collaborative call for “Culture as a Commons” to bring forth social innovators in Mantua. Second step was the co-design laboratory “Enterprises for the Commons,” an ideas camp where the seven projects from the call were cultivated and synergies created between projects and with the city. The third phase was the Governance camp, a collaborative governance prototyping stage which led to the drafting of the Collaborative Governance Pact (see the Italian version here, English version forthcoming) the Collaboration Toolkit and the Sustainability Plan, which was presented to the public during the Festival of Cooperation on November 27th last year.

The next step is the fourth and final phase: the governance testing and modeling through the launch of a public consultation in the city on the text of the Pact and a roadshow generating interest in CO-Mantova among possible signatories belonging to the five categories of collaborative governance actors. We are also may have CO-Mantova opening up a Commons School.

The CO-Mantova salamander mascot

What are the prospects for public collaboration and commons-oriented local governance schemes? What do you see happening elsewhere and what do you want to see change in the near future?

This really depends on the local context. In my opinion, people are what matters the most, and the best entry point is always to find the people or group who believe in change, and in doing things better by pushing the boundaries of institutional innovation. You need people with around-the-clock commitment beyond their official duty both to the community, the institution and to excellence.

You always have to take into account that public officials are likely to be very cautious, since changing one thing tends to impact other things. Innovation is not the result of revolution, but it’s quiet, not necessarily slow, but difficult and involves a continuous negotiation process. This is something that you have to “figure out on the ground.” If you manage to implement change with the public administration rather than using political drivers, your change and is much more likely to be permanent.

There are some good example on how public collaboration and commons-oriented local governance schemes are taking place. Florence is one example where collaboration has been seeded in several institutions and projects that the city is already running. The new mayor and new commissioners have already showed interest in expanding the reach of a collaborative approach within the city government.

Moreover, a growing community of innovators is working in Italy to foster collaborative practices, sharing economy and social innovation. For example the Sharing School that was held from 23 to 26 of January in Matera, the 2019 European Capital of Culture.

What else are you working on? What are your long-term goals?

We are talking about a cultural shift. The new governance model proposed is a new way for us to relate to almost everything, from economy to society as a whole and to other people, in other words: our vision of the world changes. Whether this cultural paradigm takes expression in sharing a car, or caring about where the trash ends up, this is all part of a 21st century way of living: a way of sharing things, sharing services, sharing spaces, sharing production and sharing responsibilities.

You need a “nudging class” instead of a ruling class, a class that has the drive to convince and nudge society and institutions towards a sharing and collaborative paradigm. But you cannot force change, you have to nudge people to share and collaborate.

For this reason, since 2012, I’ve suggested the creation of a federalized network of local hubs of expertise gathering best practices, starting up experimentations in different territories, spreading governance culture and disseminating knowledge among Italian territories. This National Collaboration Network could become a hub that provides collaboration toolkits, regulations and governance schemes, as well as training programs and day-by-day assistance for local administrators to help them drive change toward sharing and governance of the commons. This could accelerate the shift towards a 21st century paradigm of public administration.

What other cities are you allied with or are learning from? Is CO-Mantova part of any networks or associations that support commons-based urban development?

Many other cities are taking the route synthesized by CO-Mantova and opened by Bologna with its regulation on collaboration for urban commons. Milano, Firenze, Roma, Naples, Battipaglia, and Palermo have decided or are deciding to invest energy, skills, and other resources on the challenge of collaboration. They increasingly believe that only through co-design and bottom-up processes of civic and economic empowerment is it possible to face the challenges that congestion, agglomeration, and density that cities will face in the future.

How are LUISS students or LabGov interns involved in Co-Mantova? And what feedback are you getting from them so far?

Labgovers, as we call LabGov interns, participated actively during all the phases of the Mantova project. They supported project design and field implementation. They handled internal and external communication, organized the workshops and conferences, and facilitated the different project working groups, which, for instance, created the Collaboration Pact, the Collaboration Toolkit, and the Sustainability Plan.

For them, CO-Mantova was their first fieldwork and occasion to test the competencies acquired during their University study, and through the colloquium that LabGov holds every year on commons governance, sharing economy, social innovation, nudge regulation. LabGov helps young, talented students develop useful skills for their careers. All skills that due to the continuous transformation of society, you will not find in books or learn in a classroom. For this reason, LabGov teaches collaboration, service design, project management, and the sharing of roles and responsibilities through a “learning by doing” approach. Thanks to LabGov, young students and graduates enter the working world better prepared than their colleagues. I am confident that Labgovers will hold important positions in society and will be the driving force of change by fostering collaboration and a commons-oriented economic approach.

In conclusion, how do you see the inter-relationship of the commons, city governments, citizens, market players and market institutions?

The job of city governments, and maybe every government layer, is changing. Their function is less about commanding or providing. They are increasingly acting as a platform that enables collaboration between citizens and social innovators, not for profit organizations, businesses and universities — the five actors of collaborative governance — to unleash the full potential of urban, cultural, and environmental commons, promote a sustainable commons-oriented development paradigm, updating the concept of State or government and therefore implying as Neal Gorenflo would say a “shift in power and social relations.” Market institutions are more interested in this process than one might think. This is the main take away of the Mantova experiment. In fact, it is the local Chamber of Commerce, the local cooperative movement, the local businesses and the young entrepreneurs that are investing more in this innovative project than other sectors. SMEs and big companies alike are looking for new, innovative approaches to the way value is produced. The race to the bottom that globalization has triggered is no longer an available strategy for a knowledge economy system like Mantova. Economic actors increasingly understand that they should invest in producing collaborative value and create collaborative economic ecosystems that foster creativity, knowledge, identity, and trust.

This new phenomenon represents an opportunity to revolutionize the current state of play of the society, economy, institutions and law. This new social, economic, institutional and legal paradigm is going to characterize the 21st century as the “CO-century,” the century of COmmons, COllaboration, COoperation, COmmunity, COmmunication, CO-design, CO-production, CO-management, COexistence, CO-living. For all these reasons, it is urgent to design the rules and institutions of this new century. LabGov.it is working on this frontier and is doing it together with experts, organizations, and individuals that represent what we think is a newly rising social class, a class of economic and institutional innovators.

“If you are looking for glory, you are probably not a very good innovation agent”.

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The distributive enterprise as a model for the open hardware economy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd February 2015


Excerpted from Marcin Jakubowski:

How to create business models that tend to distribute wealth equitably?

Our method is open source – but in itself, Open Source is not a business model. It is a development methodology. OSE likes open source because it promotes collaboration, cross-fertilization, and innovation. This also means that a workable business model still has to be developed on top of the open source development method for this process to be viable. Standard business models of monopoly capitalism – which have been designed for secrecy – may not apply. A casual observer may conclude that ‘open source business models do not work because standard models of monopoly capitalism cannot be applied readily’. This view is short sighted – because innovative business models can be created to make open source development work. As a business model solution – OSE is proposing the Distributive Enterprise.

In a nutshell, the Distributive Enterprise is a model where we develop enterprises, and give them away for free. We mean shipping real product – where robust business models are created. Ethically and practically, we believe in this and we are developing this model.

Think about it this way: it takes years of development to create a solid and sustainable enterprise. Many companies toil for years to develop their product, and do a lot of reinventing the wheel while they are at it. By the nature of this process, the result can not be optimal – due to the cost of competitive waste. Once a product ships, companies set up castles of protectionism around themselves, from patents to legal and tax ‘structuring’, up to some really foul play. Think of all the companies that make the same, common product. Startup, development, and innovation costs could be reduced significantly if open collaboration existed between all the companies: from product design to enterprise aspects, from sourcing to business model generation and marketing. The intended result of lowered start-up barriers is that an enterprise could break through start-up mode readily – and begin innovating. By innovating, we mean getting a head start on transitioning from business as usual to a regenerative enterprise – a transformative endeavor on a whole new playing field than plain survival. With such collaboration, everybody wins – people and the planet – and products become better from continuous improvement.

What would it look like if OSE could produce turnkey blueprints that can be downloaded for free and someone could start an enterprise from scratch? If both the product design and enterprise design were worked out in the bluerints, a veritable Construction Set could be created for enterprise creation.”

Check the original extensive article to see how they intend to experiment with this with their CEB Press machine.

OSE then offers some conclusions:

“Why is DE so important? Therein we have a practical chance to transition enterprise to regenerative enterprise and systems solutions. Think solving wicked problems, similar to Singularity University and Exponential Organizations – but add open source and remove the technofix.

From one perspective, solving wealth disparity is low-hanging fruit. There is enough for all of us: from first principles – the sun shines 10,000 times more power to the surface of the earth than the entire global economy uses today. The reality is that currently, the wealth of our distributed energy source is not distributed well.

OSE’s notion of a regenerative economy is the open source economy. We define the OS economy as an efficient economy, where distribution of wealth also happens – so everyone is happy. OSE’s current practical approach to the regenerative economy is the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). As we are developing the GVCS, we are innovating on open collaborative development protocols so that any product can be developed quickly. Over the last few years, we have discovered indeed how much of a BHAG the GVCS really is, and what it really takes to get to 100%. We are perhaps 1/4 of the way there as of 2014.

At present, we believe that a 2 week design cycle for a complex machine/product is possible – compressing the effort of about 5 years of human time to 2 weeks via swarming. We imagine something like a Red Bull Creation – but larger, more focused, replicable, self-funding, and with a carefully designed collaboration architecture. For comparison, the industry standard time to design a house is 4 weeks. For a car, the time is 2 years.

For perspective, the current market share of open source hardware is only approximately one millionth of the total economy . This means there is a long way to go for open hardware, because 85 << 3.5 billion.

Let’s rewind. Global wealth inequality is a pressing challenge. The World Economic Forum deemed wealth disparity the single most pressing risk to the world in 2014. Open source economic development – and in particular – Distributive Enterprise – can yield drastic improvements on this issue. Is anyone paying attention to this opportunity?

There are 2 components to the Distributive Enterprise. The first is its substance – which we call Extreme Enterprise (XE). An extreme enterprise is an enterprise that ships product – and specifically – an optimized, low cost, open source product that is as good as it gets. The optimization includes zero competitive waste – no patents or protectionism of any sort. All documentation assets are available. From design to BOM to production engineering plan, and even marketing materials. An Extreme Enterpise’s efficiency includes social aspects of the Genuine Progress Indicator: by design, it tends to distribute wealth to the populace rather than to concentrate it.

The second component of the Distributive Enterprise is training for startup. Training is desirable so that any entrepreneur who would like to start the enterprise could get the required crash course – an accelerator program focused on distributive good. The entrepreneur is free to pursue the enterprise option either on their own – because all product and enterprise documentation is available – or via an accelerator program that OSE is creating – to minimize barriers to entry.

Who has the incentive to develop all the necessary assets as above? An ethical player like OSE. Is there financial sustainability to such a model? Absolutely. We test the enterprise model to determine if it work. While dogfooding the enterprise as such – we run this enterprise, learn the ropes, and end up with a working business model. Then we add training. As we believe that information wants to be free, we put all of our training materials online. If you want to take immersion crash training with us, we charge you for that. To minimize the barriers for our social entrepreneurs-in-traing – or OSE Fellows – we are evaluating setting ourselves up as a community college such that tuition can be covered via external support – or we can look for other ways to underwrite our Fellows while making the program self-sustaining.

The Distributive Enterprise is a combination of the Extreme Enterprise and training as above. The DE is a business that develops the Extreme Enterprise – up to dogfooding its enterprise model – and then teaches the enterprise to others. As such, the DE is the polar opposite of the monopoly: its revenue model is based on creating competition for itself. The DE model can train 2 types of entrepreneurs: the entrepreneurs who wants to produce as an XE, or someone who wants to dive into the deep end and start another DE. The latter becomes a teacher of other entrepreneurs. The former is solely a producer.

The DE concept can be applied most effectively to common products that are in wide demand, and where current demand is met by some centralized, non-local operation. The DE can bump out the invading colonial, by virtue of community support and based on raw econommic performance afforded by lean, open source XE. There is a huge case for such regenerative economic activity, because relocalized production brings wealth back to communities. Many startups today focus on zero sum games, turking, and other activities that do not generate real tangible value or real transformative potential. As such, DE brings a meaningful option.

The DE can be applied readily to common products with a huge market as opposed to the long tail – products related to the basic infrastructures of survival that are multibillion or near trillion dollar markets: food (food products, agriculture equipment), construction (homes, work places), manufacturing (distributed producution tools, automation), energy (solar, biomass, hydrogen, etc.), transportation (cars). Complex products such as computers or semiconductor fabrication (digital age technology) are not considered here for simplicity, though there is no a priori reason why such enterprises cannot be considered.

There’s a radically viral intent in this concept. Viral such that perhaps we can change the 85 = 3.5 billion.”

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Posted in Open Hardware and Design, Open Innovation, P2P Business Models | 2 Comments »

Adam Arvidsson on P2Pvalue and the role of reputation in collaborative communities

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Michel Bauwens
22nd February 2015


P2PValue_logo-semihorizontal

P2Pvalue is an EU funded research project investigating value creation in P2P communities and exploring what powers P2P collaboration. The P2P Foundation is a partner in the project. Each month we feature an interview with members of the research team. This month we feature Adam Arvidsson whose work on the Ethical Economy and Digital Ethnography looks at the role of reputation in collaborative communities.

Last month we feature Ignasi Capdevila on surveying P2P communities and previous to that Karthik Iyer spoke with us about how notions of value in collaborative communities differ from more traditional conceptions of value as measured in monetary terms.

Michel Bauwens: Can you give us a backgrounder of your work on the Ethical Economy and its value regime, and how this is related to this research project on P2P Value.

Adam Arvidsson: The work on ‘the ethical economy’ went on for a long time, too long a time actually. I had been interested in peer production ever since dabbling in the web2.0 start up scene in 2004, I met Michel in 2006 and got in touch with he P2P Foundation. I was always a bit suspicious of the idea of peer production as a separate reality that followed its own, often fairly idealistic rules, a la Benkler and (the early) Bauwens and I always suspected that this was a wider phenomenon, cutting across the information economy. Indeed the argument in The Ethical Economy is that peer production is just one aspect of a wider transformation of value creation that takes place inside as well as outside of or in opposition to the corporate economy and that this new mode of production has yet to find its value regime. I use my work on the Ethical Economy as a sort of theoretical preamble for this project where we have the chance to investigate questions about value empirically.

Michel Bauwens: If you look at the preliminary results of your research, does it confirm your thesis, or did you already make some adjustments to your theoretical understandings?

Adam Arvidsson: There are always adjustments. However it looks to me as if my early hypothesis about reputational value stands pretty well.
Clearly there are other value horizons that people consider, like social impact, following their ideals etc, but this seems to be subsumed under or in any case hegemonized when some concept of reputational peer productions systems gets established and rationalised. I would like to explore this process of ‘becoming repetitional’ of alternative value horizons.

Michel Bauwens: What do you mean by ‘repetitional’ values and ethics?

Adam Arvidsson: The idea is that people might initially care more about  pursuing their personal values and having an impact and such but as collaboration systems get more mature, they begin to care more about their reputation. Indeed, they perceive the extent to which they are able to pursue their values and have impact as measured in terms of their reputation. Having a good reputation becomes a confirmation of success in these pursuits.

Michel Bauwens: What have you learned from the work of the other researchers in the project , say the work of Primavera de Fillipi and Melanie Dulong?

Adam Arvidsson: A lot. I’m just beginning to dig into the huge legal literature on peer production. With Primavera we have been discussing repetitional measurements and the different features of money, power and reputation as ‘media’ of value creation. Hopefully something interesting can come out of this.

Michel Bauwens: What are your expecations for the rest of the research period ? What are your own plans for further research beyond this project?

Adam Arvidsson: Well now I’m just trying to survive on a day to day basis. After the project I plan to take a 5 year holiday. And then maybe go explore the connections between collaborative economy and what I begin to think of as an Asian Mode of Production, small, networked, market oriented and highly competitive entrepreneurs co-existing around a pool of common assets and competing under forms that are regulated by repetitional ethics. Indeed the ‘marriage’ between the informal street level economy of asian cities and high tech peer production is incredibly interesting.

adamaAdam Arvidsson is Associate Professor at the Department of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Milano (previously at the University of Copenhagen 2002-2008), and co-director of the Centro Studi di Etnografia Digitale. He has published extensively on consumer culture, digital culture and, in recent years, new forms of value creation and measurement. Adam Arvidsson has coordinated a work package in one Erasmus Life Long Learning project (EDUFASHION: on alternative forms of innovation in fashion), and co-directs the Responsible Business in the Blogsphere Project, based at the Copenhagen Business School. He also works with the Hanwang forum for sustainable development in China. Adam Arvidsson’s forthcoming book “The Ethical Economy. Rebuilding Value after the Crisis” is in publication with Columbia University Press.

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Posted in Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Research, Theory | No Comments »

The meaning, opportunities and dangers related to the Syriza victory

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st February 2015


A very astute analysis by Leo Panitch, which gives historical background to the emergence of Syriza as a movement, and looks at the geo-strategic importance of this first victory against austerity politics.

Well worth watching via:

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Posted in P2P Movements, P2P Public Policy, Politics, Videos | No Comments »

Crowdlearning and coworking in Porto Alegre: atmospherics by the Sharing Brothers

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st February 2015


Very interesting episode which focuses on the relation between community dynamics and business models.

Watch the video here:

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How 3D Printing is rooted in the history of the progressive and democratic Arts and Crafts Movement

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
20th February 2015


In this thesis I am going to study the ideas of the Arts and Crafts Movement. More specifically I will study its ideas of the democratization of art, and attempt to point out similarities and differences that are apparent in the newly emerging 3D printing scene.

Really well written research thesis that gives a historical context to the contemporary revival of distributed manufacturing.

* MA Thesis: 3D Printing, the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Democratization of Art. Lassi Patokorpi. University of Tampere, School of Language, Translation and Literary Studies, English Philology, April 2014

Lassi Patokorpi summarizes his aims:

“The industrial era revolutionized society, manufacture and art. The days of old, when people lived in intimate communities in the countryside, when carpentry was a thriving trade and people would make a large part of their own things were over. Are those days now coming back? The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 1800s, inspired by William Morris and John Ruskin, strove to make art popular, as it had been in the Middle Ages, and create a new, more beautiful world. Its ideas were aesthetic, democratic and socialist. The Movement had a great influence, which was most distinctly visible in Germany in the 1920s, but in spite of its influence all of the attempts to create a new popular art that would be widely shared by the people failed. It is my claim that today in the 21st century, new technologies such as 3D printing and revolutionary ideas like Open Source have created a new set of circumstances that might finally bring us closer to achieving the dreams of William Morris and the Movement he inspired.

In this thesis I am going to study the ideas of the Arts and Crafts Movement. More specifically I will study its ideas of the democratization of art, and attempt to point out similarities and differences that are apparent in the newly emerging 3D printing scene. I will ultimately attempt to uncover a possible philosophical or ideological kinship between the ideas behind these two historically distant and superficially very dissimilar phenomena. The second half of the thesis will be an analysis of the ambivalent role of the machine and how it relates to handcraft. The Arts and Crafts Movement had an adversarial view of the machine and yet the machine is the prerequisite for 3D printing.”

* Excerpt 1: Peer Production and the Logic of the Artist

“The emergence of peer production and open source practices in the computer world have shown that the conventional methods of organizing labour and running a business are not the only viable options available. The open source practice, based on open access and free-willed participation, baffles corporate logic because it represents almost an opposite ideology: sharing instead of proprietary rights and voluntary labour instead of wage-driven work relationships. An open source community has, instead of pecuniary aims, more idealistic aims of creating good products for the sake of creating good products, something that does not fit into the mechanics of profit-driven entities. This new economic logic is called hyperproductivity by Bauwens (2009, 128). Hyper-productivity conveys “drive for absolute quality” (Bauwens, 2009 128). The phenomenon of hyper-productivity is also visible in more traditional self-managed worker co-operatives, where the products created often are of too high quality, and do consequently not meet the market demands (Holmström 1985, 10, more on worker co-operatives in section 6.4).

In my view this hyper-productivity, central to the open source culture and peer production, most likely derives from voluntary work. In other words, people collaborating in open source communities are most likely motivated to create products that respond to actual end-user needs – simply because they are themselves also end-users of the products – and they believe they are working towards a goal that is intrinsically valuable: a good product. In his historical account of medieval practices in arts and crafts, Morris points out that artists created their products to suit real needs (1889, 67–68). This is likely also a motivating factor in peer production communities. Moreover, workers’ co-operatives share the same objective of meeting consumers’ real needs, instead of catering to “false needs simulated by advertising” (Holmström 1985, 8). Peer producers, and to some degree workers in cooperatives, are exceedingly autonomous (Benkler and Nissenbaum 2006, 405–406). Ideally, it would seem to imply that people in peer production communities contribute only to causes that they see worthy of contribution.

This logic differs from wage-driven labour where the worker is, quite obviously, most often only motivated by salary. This dissimilarity between market-oriented and qualityoriented work is also apparent in Morris’s criticism of the industrial production of the 19th century. According to Morris, the ethic of the man of commerce, who is only geared toward the attainment of profit, is different from that of the artist who only aims to produce items as well as he possibly can.

Consider the following quotation from Morris’s lecture, “The Arts and Crafts of To-day”

– To the commercial producer the actual wares are nothing; their adventures in the market are everything. To the artist the wares are everything; his market he need not trouble himself about. (2000 [1889], 68)

The logic of the artist that Morris describes here bears resemblance to Bauwens’s hyperproductivity.

The artist and the peer producer are oriented towards the product, not the market. According to Morris, when the artisan is oriented towards the product in an industrial setting as a wageworker he or she loses touch with the wares themselves that he or she produces. As a result, the wageworker sees the wares only as a source of livelihood (1889, 66). This means that the business model itself eradicates the will or at the very least the possibility of crafting proper products. Morris regards this type of commercialism as destructive to art. But how realistic is it to disregard the wage-oriented approach and pursue more idealistic and altruistic aims? At the moment, peer production is a system that operates within the capitalist system, and is to a large extent dependent on it. According to Bauwens (2009, 130), the current system allows people to operate outside of the commodity and wage logic, but only as a hobby. Peer production is a system that is “sustainable collectively, but not individually” (Bauwens 2009, 131). Thus perhaps the biggest problem that faces the peer producer and the logic of the artist is the difficulty of its incorporation into the capitalist system. At the moment, peer production creates use value in the form of wealth (social capital) but the larger part of this use value stays outside of the market economy because the market economy operates around money and profit, not wealth. The market operates only on the margins of peer production (Bauwens 2009, 134). The question remains: is peer production at all possible inside the capitalist system which operates this way?

Peer production is a type of social production. People take part in producing something for the common good (Benkler and Nissenbaum 2006, 396) and the whole modus operandi of a peer production society is based on – and revolves around – mutual cooperation of peers. Because peer produced products are created in co-operation with the society, peer production reflects the needs of the whole society, and the created product does not only serve to increase profits of a single entity, the latter point being a source of much of Morris’s criticism. In this regard peer production resembles closely Morris’s ideals. People are contributing to purposes they find worthwhile and taking part in the collaborative process of creating things, not just being passive consumers, is an act of being an artist in the Morrisian sense. The independence and autonomy of individuals collaborating in peer production, and them acting largely outside the economic sphere, would seem to guarantee that things produced are of actual use to the peer producers themselves. In the Morrisian sense this guarantees that the product, or the art, that is produced is useful, and serves to 28 minister either to the body or the soul. In short, if you produce what you need, you produce something useful.”

* Excerpt 2, from the Conclusion:

“William Morris was an artist, craftsman and socialist who rebelled against capitalism and the ensuing culture of inequality. Morris held that art was not the preserve of geniuses but belonged to everyone. Because Morris defined art as everything man-made, including fine art and crafting, his concept of art is translatable to production or manufacture as well as to the contemporary sense of the word art. John Ruskin was fiercely antagonistic toward the machine. Morris, too, was in principle against the machine, but admitted that it could ameliorate exhausting and wearisome work. Yet Morris’s and Ruskin’s disdain for the machine should not simplistically be treated as Luddism, or outright opposition to technology. They opposed the machine because in the ruthless hands of the capitalist system it oppressed workers, seeing the production of commodities merely as a source of profit. The Arts and Crafts Movement followed Morris’s and Ruskin’s teachings of art and society, but was slightly more lenient in their attitude toward the machine. Later in the 20th century Lewis Mumford formulated the concepts of the monotechnics and polytechnics which separate technology into oppressive forms of technology and forms of technology that support natural human development, respectively. Mumford’s view highlights the fact that technology is not inherently good or bad but is instead dependent on its user’s philosophy.

What peer production, the idea of the Arts and Crafts workshop, as well as workers’ co-operatives, all share is a similar effort toward the attainment of quality for its own sake and the appreciation of co-operation. The underlying idea behind these phenomena seems to be a kind of socialism that proposes that the common good and good quality products in themselves are more important than individual gain and profits. In the 21st century, these ideas are subversive to the current economic system. At the same time, these ideas are reminiscent of the pre-industrial conventions of manufacture and organization.

The capitalist logic has led to severe environmental concerns and distorted the way society perceives the value of commodities. 3D printing, peer production and the open source 74 philosophy could change the way the economy (base) is organized, and therefore also change the culture (superstructure) and its view of material objects. It would also reduce wasteful mass manufacturing and fossil fuel reliant transportation, both of which are important causes of environmental decay, but at the same time induce wasteful manufacturing behaviour due to the ease by which 3D printers function.

3D printing has definite revolutionary potential. It promises a new way of manufacturing items and along with the open movement and peer production, a new way of organizing an economy. In an ideal world 3D printing would be able to give everyone access to the means of production, and as a consequence, democratize production or at least make the connection between the maker and the user more intimate. In the end, 3D printing could turn out to be a technology that would support human development; it could be polytechnics. Different projects that aim to take the society in this direction have already been established, such as the WikiHouse project which proposes to give everyone the possibility of constructing buildings. The ideas behind these projects are reminiscent of the philosophy or ideology of the Arts and Crafts Movement of creating a public and democratic art.

Designing 3D models could become the primary occupation of craftsmen who would practice digital craftsmanship. The machine in this situation is very different from that which Morris criticized in the 19th century, as it does not relegate workers into performing menial, repetitive tasks. Morris defined art as pleasurable work, and digital craftsmanship can indeed be considered pleasurable activity. Morris’s definition also entails, however, that the end product is also the product of human hands. This is not the case with 3D printing.

The question whether a reproduction can be art was brought up by Walter Benjamin.

Benjamin formulated the concept of aura which was based on the uniqueness of handmade objects. Benjamin’s concept of authenticity is problematic because it is a product of a bygone historical understanding of objects. In today’s world authenticity of objects does not necessarily need to rely on uniqueness. In spite of that, even reproducible objects appear to 75 sustain some level of uniqueness. All reproductions are not as valuable, even if they are in some sense exactly the same. This is because humans ascribe authenticity to objects and thus authenticity is not a material attribute of the object.

Ruskin found the value and beauty of handwork in its imperfection. Morris believed artisans could communicate something salient through their work. This would seem to suggest that a handmade object is valuable because it can convey humanity (Morris would perhaps call it ‘the human spirit’) and tell something about its maker. The question arises whether 3D printed objects can convey a human relationship in the same way. The matter gets even more complicated when computerized design and mathematical algorithms appear on stage. Computerized design and certain algorithms can simulate imperfections created by handwork or organic forms and patterns that can be found in nature and which can only be recreated with 3D printers.

It is evident that the concepts of art, craftsmanship, reproduction, and authenticity have transformed through the centuries. During this time technological developments have pushed the boundaries of these concepts. In the 21st century post-industrial world 3D printing will move these boundaries again. Further inquiries into the subject of democratization of art, and into the relationship between man, the machine, and nature, ought to be made. The Deutscher Werkbund and the German Bauhaus School of the 1920s–1930s and their role in the development of the concept of the democratization of art would be a fitting continuation for the work done in this thesis. Finally, I think William Morris and Lewis Mumford warrant more academic attention as they continue to offer valuable perspectives into the societal and cultural issues of the post-industrial world.”

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Posted in P2P Art and Culture, P2P Manufacturing, P2P Movements | No Comments »

In defense of pragmatic ‘real utopias’

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
19th February 2015


We badly need more utopian speculation. The consensus future we read about in the media and that we’re driving towards is a roiling, turbulent fogbank beset by half-glimpsed demons: climate change, resource depletion, peak oil, mass extinction, collapse of the oceanic food chain, overpopulation, terrorism, foreigners who want to come here and steal our women jobs. It’s not a nice place to be; if the past is another country, the consensus view of the future currently looks like a favela with raw sewage running in the streets. Conservativism — standing on the brake pedal — is a natural reaction to this vision; but it’s a maladaptive one, because it makes it harder to respond effectively to new and unprecedented problems. We can’t stop, we can only go forward; so it is up to us to choose a direction. Having said that, we should be able to create a new golden age of utopian visions. A global civilization appears to be emerging for the first time. It’s unstable, unevenly distributed, and blindly fumbling its way forward. But we have unprecedented tools for sharing information; slowly developing theories of behavioural economics, cognitive bias, and communications that move beyond the crudely simplistic (and wrong) 19th century models of perfectly rational market actors: even models of development that seem to be generating sporadic progress in those countries that were hammered down and ruthlessly exploited as colonial assets by the ancien regime and its inheritors. We need — quite urgently, I think — plausible visions of where we might be fifty or a hundred or a thousand years hence. – Charlie Stross *

Some days ago we published a critique of utopia by Vera Bradova.

Alain Ambrosi responded, and we agree with this sentiment, in the following way:

I am surprised to read this on a blog which promotes the commons and commoning . Thomas More who forged the term ” Utopia” witnessed in his own life the first movement of enclosures in England (XVI century). His book Utopia is an explicit criticism of the Tudor aristocracy and private property and it promotes use value over exchange . He was beheaded for that. Before he wrote this book he was not a “dreamer” but a jurist, a philosopher and a man of state. William Morris who was inspired by More several centuries later was an artist and businessman, not simply a dreamer but a doer. His book “News from Nowhere” is more a criticism of his time than an imposition of “top down design”. David Bollier and others who define the commons today as “a pragmatic utopia” are direct descendants of the early utopians. I am surpised to see that the only utopians cited here are Stalin, Pol Pot, Lenin and Mussolini (why not throw Hitler in with them too?) – arguably very pragmatic dictators rather than the founders of utopianism.”

From our own point of view, and fate wants me to write this as I’m participating in Erik Olin Wright’s ‘Real Utopias’ project here in Madison, Wisconsin, utopias are a very necessary part of the social imagination, to defend us from the dictatorship of very real neoliberal capitalism, which is presented to us in the context of “There are no alternatives” (TINA), to which we respond, “There are manyh (p2p) alternative” (tapas).

Here is an excerpt from Gene Youngblood, on the necessity of utopias:

* Utopia is Vital for Political Change, by Gene Youngblood:

“Dismiss at the outset any silly notion about utopia as some kind of ideal world, some kind of blueprint for bourgeois comfort, a map to happiness. To frame it that way is irresponsible and counter-revolutionary. It plays directly into social control. It says the desire called utopia — the desire for release from hierarchy, and all it implies — is hopelessly naïve and not to be taken seriously.

Well, I think that’s a betrayal of us all. It’s collaboration in our oppression. Never frame utopian desire in a negative way. The only possible solutions to the crises we face are utopian solutions. Utopia has become imperative. If it isn’t utopian, it isn’t radical enough. So we’ve got to recuperate the word and re-imagine the idea. Begin by taking it seriously — utopia is not a place, it’s a desire. The desire for radical change, for transformation at the root. That’s something that can never be permitted by power, which is precisely why the call for it around the world has restored the radical figure of utopia to political currency.

Dial the clock back to May 1968 in Paris, and the famous slogan “be realistic, demand the impossible,” where impossible meant not permitted. In other words, make a demand that, granted, would bring the system down. Like a free and open internet.

In the years following those heady days of sixties counterculture, utopia lost its potency. It became discredited with the rise of cultural studies and identity politics, and their rejection of the cultural imperialism they thought utopia was about. So that, in 1999, in defiance of this trend, Russell Jacoby could publish his brave lament The End of Utopia, by which he meant the atrophy of radical will in our time.[20] But a mere six years later, in 2005, Fredric Jameson could proclaim in Archaeologies of the Future that utopia had regained its position at the leading edge of political thought. “It has recovered its vitality,” he observed, “as a political slogan and a politically energizing perspective. It is taken seriously as a social and political project.”[21]

Utopianism is political theory. It shifts the public conversation about utopia away from content — an ideal world — to what’s represented by the idea of utopia as such. Utopia is no longer understood as not possible because it’s too ideal, but as not permitted because it’s too radical. The struggle for freedom replaces the older utopian preoccupation with happiness.

Utopia is hypothetical. It asks what if? It entices and beckons. It says, “come get me.” A population inflamed with radical will stands on the horizon and says to the audience-nation, “We’re the distance between who you are and who you must become to meet the challenge. Come get us. What do you have to do to be us?”

In standard utopian narratives that little detail is ignored. We’re just there in utopia, in this revolutionary world, with no explanation whatsoever of how we got there. The struggle is missing, and that’s why standard utopias are so unconvincing. There’s no ground truth under them. “The agency that realized the utopian condition is omitted,” Jameson observes. “The narrative overleaps the revolution itself and posits an already existing post-revolutionary society. The axial moment, the break with history, the transformation into agency just isn’t there.”

That conspicuous absence begs the question, and reminds us that utopia is always and only one thing — the struggle for freedom at scale. Please understand: what’s utopian is the scale of an impossible demand, not struggle per se. It’s the utopian image I invoked at the beginning. That utopia is truly universal; to define it any other way is a betrayal of us all.

So, we’ve gone from utopia as not possible to utopia as not permitted. What’s not permitted above all else is the forging of a utopian algorithm: the people must not see how to get from here to there. That brings us to the utopian myth of a communication revolution.

Recall that inverted totalitarianism is based on controlling the social construction of realities. A communication revolution inverts the way that’s done, from top down to bottom up. It decentralizes and pluralizes the social construction of realities. I repeat: a communication revolution is the decentralization and pluralization of the social construction of realities. Period. That means it has nothing to do with technology. Of course it needs technology to happen, but the revolution isn’t in the technology just as music isn’t in a piano, just as intelligence isn’t in a brain. Technology is never the driver, always the enabler. It’s not technology that’s transformative but the culture that forms around it. And as I said at the beginning, which culture defines the internet is the great question of our time.

It was already the question in the early 1970s, when a set of technologies emerged in the United States that made a communication revolution theoretically possible — cable television, satellite distribution, portable video recording, videocassette and laserdisc publishing, and time-shared mainframe computing. With hindsight we recognize that mix as a kind of proto-internet.

The early 1970s was also the beginning of the end of the counterculture moment in America. I had been at the center of it. From 1967 to 1970, I was associate editor and columnist for The Los Angeles Free Press, the first and largest of the underground newspapers that flourished in the U.S. at that time. So I was in a position to understand counterculture as a communication revolution. Not that you had to be in my position. I mean we were all living it. We were living the first and only communication revolution that has ever happened in the United States, brief and limited as it may have been.

To understand that, think of communication not as a verb but a noun. Not something you do, but a place you occupy, a condition you arrive at. The word has two Latin roots: communis actio, common actions; and communare, a shared space. Common actions called conversation that lead to a shared space of agreement over an understanding — in our case, understandings of existence, priorities, values and relations. Humberto Maturana calls it a consensual domain.

That’s what we did in the 1960s. We built a consensual domain called counterculture and we convened there. We left the culture without leaving the country, and our cohort inverted the social construction of realities. We did it on a politically threatening scale, so of course it had to be dealt with. Counterculture had to be neutralized and assimilated. That is, it had to be commodified. The commodification of outsiderdom had already begun in the 1950s — Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild One, Jack Kerouac on prime time television — so we in the sixties were de facto delivering ourselves directly to capital. The broadcast administered a mortal dose of publicity and the end was in sight.

It was a question of autonomy. Counterculture couldn’t be sustained within shopping-counter culture. We couldn’t live as a utopian enclave circumscribed by the imperial broadcast. We were looking for ways to remain in self-exile, and when technology emerged that could theoretically enable that at scale, we were alert to it. We saw it because we believed it, and we believed it because we were living it.

As the broadcast entered the dream life of the audience-nation, we dreamed of escape. Cultural hegemony might dominate our days, but it didn’t have to be our destiny. We thought we might be able to sustain in virtual space the cultural autonomy we were losing in physical space. We knew that wouldn’t be enough. The struggle wouldn’t be won or lost in the realm of representation, but as always it had to start there. It was the beginning of media activism. We understood that if we changed the media we’d change the world. I refer you to my call to arms in the journal Radical Software in 1970.[25]

Media activists saw a utopian opportunity to create a democratic media commons through operational inversion of the broadcast, from mass communication to group conversation. A paradigm shift was technically possible — from the dominator model to a partnership model, from hierarchy to heterarchy, from communication to conversation, from control to coherence.

Conversation, from the Latin conversari, to turn around together, is generative. It brings forth worlds. It’s how we construct realities. We can talk about things because we generate the things we talk about by talking about them.[26] We become a reality-community. And the closure, the circularity, of turning around together seals our cultural autonomy. We become an autonomous reality-community.

Now, that phrase is actually redundant because there’s no other kind of community. Every community is an autonomous reality-community. That is, every community is a conspiratorial conversation that generates the realities that define it as a community. Word of mouth becomes a world of mouth, the birth of a notion.

I use this otherwise unnecessary phrase to make us aware of what we’re doing today. To make explicit the fact that, in our migration to the internet, we are decentralizing and pluralizing the social construction of realities at politically destabilizing scale. Every website, blog or microblog; every networking or sharing platform; every streaming or hosting service; every virtual world, is either a reality-community or a platform that supports conversations that constitute them. Every Facebook or LinkedIn connection, every tagged Twitter micropost, every You Tube or Vimeo channel, every image posted on Flickr, every playlist shared on Spotify, every Last.fm scrobble, and every grouping in each of them creates the possibility of a conversation that coheres a community around a reality.

Optical fiber was on the horizon in the early 1970s, and that allowed us to imagine communication systems beyond the limitations of cable television. Instead of the “public access” crumbs tossed to us by the cable TV industry, we imagined socialized public utilities based on switched optical fiber networks operated by telephone companies. I refer you to the video of me calling for a National Information Utility in 1974.

I was demanding the impossible, and that was the point. Impossible because a utility is a common carrier, open to everyone equally. That would subvert social control. The people would have to demand it. They weren’t going to demand something they couldn’t envision, so I offered a vision of a public communication utility with emotional bandwidth, which at the time was the six-megahertz analog bandwidth of broadcast television. In other words, two-way video would be the platform for democratic conversation at scale.

Information storage and retrieval, although essential, was seen as a supplemental feature of the communication system that media activists were imagining. Nobody thought of the computer as a communication device. It was just a library in a box. It was access to information, and a communication revolution isn’t about access to information, at least not primarily. It’s about access to people. It’s about access to conversations through which realities are socially constructed.

Operational inversion of the broadcast would give full-throated release to the scream we call silence. We were in solitary confinement. There was an urgent need to say what we had not been able to say, to an audience we never had — ourselves. Dark fiber would light up quickly. Channels of agitation and desire would multiply exponentially, turning the audience-nation into a democratic republic of autonomous reality-communities in virtual space. They would be atopias — social formations without boundaries or borders, defined not by geography but by consciousness, ideology and desire.

It would be necessary to choose among them. You couldn’t just passively receive. You’d have to work at it. From the ever-expanding universe of reality-communities, you’d have to assemble the particular universe of meaning in which you would live. It would be your media lifeworld. Lifeworld is a sociological term which means our subjective experience of everyday life. We share the lifeworld with others, but we experience only our own personal lifeworld from moment to moment. The lifeworld is your world, the world you inhabit. It’s your habitat.

So you’d assemble your media habitat, your personal lifeworld of autonomous reality-communities. It was understood that one of the possible lifeworlds you might build for yourself could be what we call a counterculture — a world whose meanings, values and definitions of reality are exactly counter to those of the broadcast. You could increasingly live the life of that world as The Build progressed, and it would bring you to the threshold of secession.”

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