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Everything written by Michel Bauwens

P2P Truth: A Map of Deepest Values by Andrius Kulikauskas

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Michel Bauwens
27th September 2014

Today we have something a little different, a very nicely illustrated mapping project reflecting on p2p values and spirituality by Andrius Kulikauskas.


The peer-to-peer movement values relative truth with a passion that is practically absolute. I believe that individual perspectives have the potential to discover the universal truth, at least enough of it so as to make the peer-to-peer movement viable. The path from relative to absolute truth is the subject of my e-book, The Truth, from Relative to Absolute.


I think the most practical concept from my book is a person’s deepest value. In 2004, I wondered how my online laboratory Minciu Sodas might organize a Yahoo! group around Franz Nahrada and openly support his many projects. We needed a single concept that summarized what he cared about. For him, it was Global Villages. He later expressed his deepest value in life as optimal interplay. From 2004 to 2010, I organized more than twenty such discussion groups, including Janet Feldman’s Holistic Helping, Pamela McLean’s Learning From Each Other, Samwel Kongere’s Mendenyo (“men without food”, motivation through sacrifice), John Roger’s Cyfranogi (“participate”, participatory society) and my own group Living by Truth. Here is an excerpt from my book:

Truth is inside of us, deeper than words. Ask people what they know firsthand:

What do they value? What is their deepest value in life which includes all of their other values?

They may not have an answer. Or they may feel it but not yet have words for it. Or they may have already thought it through. As the ancient Greeks would say, they know themselves.

Their values are all uniquely beautiful: Holistic Helping, Learning From Each Other, Participatory Society, Serving Others, Fighting Peacefully, Synergy, Freedom, Faith, Family, Unity, Love…


If two people give the same answer such as Family, and you ask them what they mean by that, they will give you different answers.

Their deepest value is their spiritual name, like a Native American name. They will almost always let you share it.


It is how they hope to think of themselves. In practice, it is their strong point but also their blind spot. It is what we should have them be in charge of.

It is how they are happy to be categorized, how you can empathize with them and hold them accountable.

It is their soul, the essence of their personality, their principle which they substitute for themselves, their name which is written in the Book of Life, what is truly eternal.


They are thus like stars in the sky, seeing the entire sky from their particular position. As Jesus says, they are born again of the Spirit. They are Allah’s holy names.

Their deepest values are all aspects of love, which is surely God’s deepest value. They address what they each think is the problem with this world, the lack of love they feel. It is how they integrate their many values as they clash in daily life.


They invest themselves in their deepest value, which does not change but rather grows ever more clear to them. As they know themselves, they dare to go beyond themselves and ask what they do not know.

What do they seek to know? What is a question that they don’t know the answer to, but wish to answer?

In 10 years, I collected deepest values and investigatory questions from hundreds of people. I think it would be very fruitful to work together to collect many more. They might serve as the basis for appreciating the greatest variety of perspectives and discovering what amongst them might actually be universal.


I am working on a map of deepest values and related concepts. I’ve noticed that often a value such as my own “living by absolute truth” breaks do wn into one concept that is given (in my case, “the absolute truth”), and another concept that depends on my choice (“living” that truth). Others value “living by harmony”, “living as a creation of God” and such variations are the basis for my map.


I’ve noticed that some values presume very little and might make sense from an abstract God’s point of view. Others, however, are psychological and distinguish internal thinking and external actions as with motivations, obstacles and solutions. There are values which presume two or more beings as with empathy and collaboration. Community, education, glory suppose an entire culture. Family, children, technology, democracy, money, making a living, sustainability and the Bible all depend on the details of the world as we know it. I’d love to work together to sort through the underlying presumptions. I’m also interested in related art projects. I share a letter about my research in English and I’m working on it in Lithuanian.


Posted in P2P Spirituality | 1 Comment »

Video of the Day: 3 global experiences on Degrowth technologies

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Michel Bauwens
22nd September 2014

Can technology also help degrowth objectives, giving humankind a lighter touch on the planet ? A debate with two colleauges at Degrowth 2014.


Posted in Commons, Conferences, Culture & Ideas, Events, Featured Content, Featured Video, Media, Original Content, P2P Ecology, P2P Foundation, P2P Technology, Videos | No Comments »

Michel Bauwens on the FLOK Project as a Techno-Social Change Project

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Michel Bauwens
21st September 2014

At the Degrowth Conference Leipzig 2014. Presenting the Commons Transition plan developed as part of the FLOK project in the context of four socio-technological choices.

Watch the video here at


Posted in Commons, P2P Public Policy, Videos | No Comments »

Launching of the “P2P and Innovation” magazine in Brazil

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Michel Bauwens
18th September 2014

p2p and innovation mag annoucement

By Janice Figueiredo:

“The first issue of the “P2P and Innovation” (“Revista P2P & INOVAÇÃO”) magazine in Brazil has just been launched. The magazine brings together eight articles, which are the result of the course Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation, ministered in Brazil in November 2012. During the course – made possible through a partnership between the Brazilian Institute of Information in Science and Technology (IBICT) and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) – Bauwens discussed with the students the collaborative practices around the world based on open knowledge, peer production and the commons.

At the end of the course, the Collaborative Economy and P2P Production Research Group in Brazil was constituted, aiming to promote the ethical, political and academic debate around the collaborative practices of peer production and the commons.

The “P2P and Innovation” magazine is published twice a year (biannual) and is linked to the “Collaborative Economy and P2P Production Research Group in Brazil” from IBICT. Its mission is to offer a space for reflection and debate about all sorts of experiences in collaborative production among pairs with focus on innovation in culture, social and political environment.

The 8 articles can be accessed at the following link.

The Collaborative Economy and P2P Production Research Group in Brazil can be reached here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/133310776823326/

You may submit articles to futures issues of the maganize through this link. Articles in either English or Portuguese can be published. “


Posted in Media, P2P Theory, Peer Production | No Comments »

Interview: Andy Goldring on Time in Permaculture Economies

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Michel Bauwens
16th September 2014

Read the interview of Andy Goldring by Michelle Bastian here.

Michelle Bastian explains:

“One of the aims of the Sustaining Time project is to provide materials that can open up discussions around the relationship between time and attempts to move towards more sustainable economic models. As part of this interviews were conducted with a range of people involved in thinking economies differently, including Katherine Gibson (Community Economies Collective), Anna Coote (nef), Sam Alexander (Simplicity Institute) and more. These will be published as part of the Temporal Belongings Interview series which looks at the realtionship between time and community from a number of different angles.

In the first of the series, I talk with Andy Goldring, CEO of the Permaculture Association about the relationship between permaculture, economies and time. He makes the case for why permaculture practitioners should move towards becoming economists. He also gives a inspiring account of how to work for the long term, developing more poetic ways of living, valuing play and why we need to take back the calendar.”


Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Culture & Ideas, P2P Epistemology, P2P Spirituality, P2P Subjectivity | No Comments »

10 Open Source Policies for a Commons-Based Society

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Michel Bauwens
15th September 2014

Mira Luna from Shareable asked me for my top recommendations of government policies to encourage open source development and the commons. While government policy usually sides with proprietary knowledge in the public sector, there is a huge opportunity to use goverments as a ally, supporter and guardian of the commons. To learn more and get involved, check out the P2P Foundation,  OpenSource.comOpen Mind and the Open Source Initiative.

1. Education – Government should invest in the education and awareness for public of the legal and licensing choices for open knowledge to create and protect open commons, including for law students.

2. Research Publicly funded research should be Free/Libre/Open Source (FLOS). Citizens have the right to learn from the technologies their governments invest in on their behalf (e.g. public university research). This includes open designs that enable the production of free and open hardware.

3. Purchasing - Government purchasers, educational institutions and other recipients of government funding should preferentially invest in open machinery, software and hardware, for example use open scientific hardware in laboratories to save the public and students’ money by using nonproprietary and free products. (e.g. Linux for university and student use).

4. Patents –  Adopt policies which preserve open source status of new technologies in relationship to patents, especially in early stages of development (e.g. 3D printers).

5. Data - Data produced or commissioned by public entities for public use (e.g. surveys of vacant properties, government budgets) should be open and shareable by the public.

6. Collaboration -Governments and education institutions should invest in physical infrastructures that enable human collaboration around open knowledge, such as hackerspaces, fablabs, and co-working spaces.

7. Commons - Government should preferentially invest in the type of material commons that allows the creative actors to live and thrive in urban and rural centers, protected from the private speculation that renders commons-oriented creative work more difficult if not impossible. Examples include: creation of non-speculative, off market housing through urban community land trusts and publicly owned community centers.

8. Health - Governments should especially invest in open medical research, so that medicines will be available at reasonable price levels. Patents on drugs permit the deaths millions of Africans each year who fall to AIDS alone. Many natural cures go untested because they can’t be patented.

9. Economy - Government should invest in public-commons partnerships and incubators that create livelihoods and a thriving economy around open knowledge, software and design.

10. Systemic Change –  Government should embark on open source and commons-oriented transition policies that systematize the transition towards a society and economy towards open knowledge, following the example of the Commons Transition Plan in Ecuador.


Posted in Commons, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Media, Open Content, Original Content, P2P Foundation, Sharing, Videos | No Comments »

Book of the Day: How Sharing, Localism, and Connectedness are Creating a New Social Design

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Michel Bauwens
15th September 2014

* Book: Sustainist Design Guide: How Sharing, Localism, Connectedness, and Proportionality are Creating a New Agenda for Social Design, by Michiel Schwarz and Diana Krabbendam. BIS Publishers, 2014

From the author, Michiel Schwarz:

“A new culture of sharing is emerging. We are increasingly sharing goods, places, services, and information. It is creating social value and community. In this way, shareability is becoming a valued quality that drives new business practices, community cooperatives, and new forms of “collaborative consumption.” The open source movement and the emerging open design practice reflect the same mentality. Centred around collaboration and exchange, sharing schemes are often linked to mobile and Internet technologies.

The sustainist design challenge is as follows: What would happen if “shareability” would be taken as a design criterion? How might we bring shareable assets into the design process for products, services, environments and situations? What might we (re)design to encourage more sharing and open exchange?”


Posted in Featured Book, Open Hardware and Design, P2P Books, Sharing | No Comments »

The emergence of peer-support families

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Michel Bauwens
14th September 2014

Excerpted/republished from Warren Blumenfeld in Tikkun, the strongly recommended magazine of the Network of Spiritual Progressives:

“I’ve often heard of parents abusing and even disowning young people when they suspect or when a young person “comes out” to them as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans*, though except for movies and television episodes, I have never actually witnessed this. That is, until this week when I watched a YouTube video titled “How not to react when your child tells you he is gay.”

The video depicts what looks like an “intervention” by both birth parents and step-mother of twenty-year-old Daniel Pierce who they suspect is gay. When called into the living room, Daniel placed his phone on the “record” mode. After Daniel confirmed his sexuality, his mother stated, “I have known since you were a young boy that you were gay,” But then she accused him of making “a choice” by deciding to be gay.

The two women invoked the name of God and scripture, which soon spun into the three “adults” collectively unloading a verbal tirade and then physically abusing Daniel. They eventually tell him he is no longer welcomed, and demand that he move out of the house as soon as possible.

I became speechless, mouth open with no sounds audible, upset, literally shaking, and tears pooling in my eyes. At the conclusion of the video, images of other youth appeared on the YouTube screen. The youth had apparently filmed their reactions. I clicked on one after the other, and as I watched, my depression and outrage softened by the remarkable peer community that immediately and passionately came to Daniel’s defense.

What I witnessed when Daniel’s family of chance failed him was his new peer family of choice stepped in to lift him over their shoulders high above the din and the cruelty. All responders showed true and honest empathy and imagined themselves walking in Daniel’s tattered shoes.

Some talked of their own coming out experiences and the range of support they received from parents and friends. Others replied that though they identified as heterosexual, they could imagine the emotions arising in them if ever having to suffer the rejection and abuse Daniel was forced to endure. Some offered Daniel and other young people coming out advice to garner support. And all committed their solidarity, their support, their compassion, and most of all, their love – values and emotions denied to Daniel by his birth parents and step mother.

His new cross-racial, cross-sexuality, cross-gender family included, as well, a cross section of religious commitments from devout Christians to atheists and agnostics. Some showed a deep understanding of scripture, others did not. For some, words came quickly. For others, the sheer surprise and shock of disbelief made it difficult to put feelings and thoughts into words. The deep emotions of outrage, disgust, identification, their cry, no, their demand for justice linked them to one another and to Daniel.

This forum clearly demonstrates the endless possibilities of social media to transform passive bystanders into active empowered upstanders. Daniel’s boyfriend also posted online soon after the incident:

Bros, my boyfriend got kicked out of his home and disowned yesterday. It’s been a really traumatic experience for him, and I feel so terrible and angry that this happened.

Fortunately, he’s living with a friend for now. Seems like he can be there long-term until he’s able to support himself….

UPDATE: Thanks everyone. I cannot believe how much response this has received…. We are in the debt of everyone on this sub – even before this incident. Daniel is going to be fine, I think. We’ve had numerous people reach out offering words of encouragement, a place to stay, donations, contacting news sources, and so much more. We are glad we could get the word out about this issue that many people will continue to struggle with. I’m sure we will have the opportunity of helping others the way we’ve been helped. :)

This peer family and others like it throughout the country has indeed inspired me because there is no going back to the desperately closed and terror-filled times of my youth. The current generation will not go back into those dank closets of fear and denial that stifles the spirit and ruins so many lives.

Yes, they will physically return to their schools and their homes. They will continue to study and play sports, to watch movies, listen to their iPods, text their friends, and write about their days on Facebook. Some will most likely continue to serve as community organizers, and some will go on to become parents, teachers, and political leaders once their school days are behind.

But, the place they will go to, though, is nowhere that can be seen. It is a place of consciousness that teaches those who have entered that everyone is diminished when any one of us is demeaned; that heterosexism, sexism, biphobia, cissexism (trans* oppression) as well as all the other forms of oppression have no place in a just society.

Young people have been and continue to be at the heart of progressive social change movements. Youth are transforming and revolutionizing the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities related not only to sexuality and gender identity categorizations and hierarchies, but they are also making links in the various types of oppression, and they are forming coalitions with other marginalized groups.

They are dreaming their dreams, sharing their ideas and visions, and organizing to ensure a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression, and along their journey, they are inventing new ways of relating and being in the world. Their stories, experiences, and activism have great potential to bring us to a future where people across the gender and sexuality spectrums will live freely, unencumbered by “religious” and social taboos of cultural norms related to gender and sexuality. It is a future in which all the disparate varieties of sexuality and gender expression will live and prosper in us all.

Their increased visibility and activism has had the effect of shaking up traditionally dichotomous notions of male/female and gay/straight. They are creating a vision of social transformation as opposed to mere reform by contesting and exploding conventional gender constructions, most notably the limiting and destructive binary conceptualizations and definitions of “masculinity” and “femininity.”


Posted in P2P Collaboration, P2P Subjectivity | No Comments »

Book of the Day: The New Ecopolitical Nations

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Michel Bauwens
14th September 2014

* Book: Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation. by Ignasi Ribó. Mycelia Books, 2012

This summary description is followed by a review and an excerpt:

“A new world is emerging under the rusted structures of the nation-state. Catalonia, Scotland, Quebec, Flanders, the Basque Country may soon be sovereign and independent states. The process of breaking up the large Western states into ecologically and socially meaningful political communities may have just started and could lead to a more democratic and sustainable world system. In Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation, the Catalan author Ignasi Ribó develops a new and original theory of the nation, in order to show that there is indeed a real alternative to the model of the nation-state and to the modern project of building increasingly larger states. The habitat-nation, founded on the inhabitants’ deliberate choice of living together and on the ecoliberal principles of justice, could well be the theoretical framework for this new world that is just starting to emerge, both in Europe and in America. ”

Review by Mike Menser:

“Ignasi Ribó’s Habitat is an engaging treatise focused upon one of the most pressing questions facing the global ecological movement: what is the appropriate political unit for fostering the social cohesion necessary to respond effectively to the ecological crisis? Should we be hyperlocalists intensely protecting every intimate inch of our everyday life? Green statists pressuring our presidents to bring about a sustainable economy? Or nomadic cosmopolitans, linking together across any and every boundary in an attempt to make a truly global, multi-everything eco-community?

Ribó rules out all three. States are too focused on securing sovereignty via militaries and/or markets to be socially sane, much less ecologically sound. Hyperlocalists cannot have a big enough impact, and cosmopolitans lack the embedded commitments needed to foster trust and cooperation. Instead Ribó calls for an approach that will make left progressives uneasy and right wing conservatives puzzled: ecological nationalism (85) grounded in the principles of autonomy, reciprocity, care, and friendship (134). The argument goes as follows. To solve the ecological crisis we must live sustainably. Sustainability means living together with other humans and nonhumans so as to be able to preserve and reproduce all those conditions necessary for our collective survival. After a jaunt through some evolutionary biology, Ribó focuses on intersecting the ecological, social and political dimensions of cohabitation (the economic is not addressed). The place of cohabitation is “habitat.” The mechanisms by which we come to operate in a habitat are “habits.” Human beings are, fundamentally, in a sort of ecological Hume-an twist, bundles of habits. Indeed, all organisms are complexes of habits. There is no great chain of being composed of beings with distinct essences, but rather a number of bioregional assemblies of different ways of being in the world: habit-complexes with different modes of obtaining energy, perceiving, reproducing, dwelling, fending off prey, and so on (124). But even if humans are members of the great earth community, we are dissimilar, since we form deliberative political communities in order to pursue the good life. Humans choose to live together.

This seemingly trivial tenet—what Ribó calls “cohabitation”—constitutes the basis for his ecopolitical view. In order to live together, we need to foster habits that promote the trust necessary for coexistence. The project then is not about (cultural) identity or citizenship (my relationship with some abstracted state-based demos), it is about everyday life and the bonds we develop with our cohabitants, all those who make the systems and institutions I require for my life, and autonomy, possible. Ribó writes, “Wherever a particular bioregion, that is, the geographical coincidence of a biological and a social community, is able to uphold these effective relations of justice founded on the habits of autonomy, reciprocity and friendship, we can properly speak of a habitat-nation” (98–9). According to Ribó, examples of such places are Basque Country, Spain [sic], and the Scandinavian states. The distinctiveness of these places arises not from abstracted relationships to the state (e.g., the notion of citizenship) or transcendental moral orthodoxy of rational persons, but the commitment of the inhabitants to each other and to their place. According to ecopolitical theory, on the contrary, the political community should be articulated from meaningful social communities “bound to a certain natural habitat” (192). The foundation of the community is friendship, the “deliberate choice of living together” (192–3). This does not require common language or religion, but is instead based upon the norms necessary for just cohabitation: autonomy, care, reciprocity, and friendship.

Such units are just when they recognize the freedom of inhabitants (the principle of autonomy), as well as the obligations that arise because of our interdependent contributions (reciprocity). But what really makes these units work is friendship, which gives them a coherence born of trust that also allows for the development of the capabilities of said inhabitants with respect to their desires and aims (the principle of care). The boundaries of the system needed for the just reproduction of our society we call the habitat-nation. Ribó then makes a moral argument for a just inhabitation utilizing an unusual reconstruction of a Rawlsian framework with a dose of Aristotle. What does justice as fairness look like in the habitat-nation? In Ribó’s reconstructed “original position,” not only do we not know our economic position or natural talents, we do not know our species! We could be “humans, starlings or martians”. He writes, “It would make much more sense therefore to conceive the original position as a hypothetical meeting of indeterminate individuals who know they will inhabit the political community resulting from their contract, but are unaware of the natural, social, or specific characteristics within this community”.

While many will find much to disagree with in this reinterpretation, Ribó’s rendering of justice as fairness and his understanding that inequality must benefit the whole society (principle of care as applied to the habitat-nation) is his ecopolitical attempt to respect the autonomy of individuals with respect to the rest of the group. What is more intriguing is that he deems the primary good to be cohabitation: the ability to live together, with human and nonhumans. What is necessary to make this happen is not well appreciated by Rawls, or by liberalism in general, and that is friendship and care. On this note, it is worth contrasting Ribó’s Rawlsian reconstruction and political utilization of Aristotle’s philia with Sibyl Schwarzenbach’s view laid out in On Civic Friendship: Including Women in the State (Columbia University Press, 2009). Schwarzenbach calls for an overt refounding and reconstructing of state while Ribó forcefully condemns it, along with political parties, and thus seems to align himself with more bottom-up or “horizontal” political movements as described in Marina Sitrin’s excellent Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism and Autonomy in Argentina (Zed, 2012).

In sum, we have to cast off abstract moral categories such as rational persons (a fiction), political ones such as demos (an anti-ecological abstraction), citizenship, and sovereignty, and embrace the biocultural terrain of the habitat. The habitat nation is not self-sufficient; to make it the fundamental unit, then, is to require further relations and coalitions. These can be formed along the lines of cohabitation and friendship, rather than market rivalry and competition as in the interstate system (186–7). Although this will sound too ambitious or naïve to some, in the last chapters Ribó thinks strategically about how this ecopolitical transformation might take place in North America and Europe. This is one of the more refreshing and welcome aspects of the book. Ribó takes the pains to explain how his view differs from the top-down decentralization of the EU (205–7) and how it could build upon projects in places as diverse as Québec and Mexico, but he also recognizes the particular political difficulties facing the US and how they are different from those in Europe. Ribó is optimistic without being naïve. Indeed, the book begins with a short story about a small nation whose defection from a large state brought about the collapse of one of the biggest empires in human history. The country was Lithuania. What motivated this tiny nation to risk so much? A mix of ecological degradation and the desire for independence. Acting on the small scale can have big results. The implications for the global environmental movement are profound. Especially, as Ribó points out, since two-thirds of the world’s population lives not in the megastates of the Chinas and Indias but in the more human and natural-scaled Guatemalas and Nigers.”

Excerpt by Ignasi Ribó:

““This book has grown out of a previous one, written in Catalan, De la indignació a la nació (“From indignation to nation”), which was published on September 11th 2012, the same day that hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona to demand their freedom and a state of their own. It was in that book that I first developed the ecopolitical theory and the notion of the habitat-nation that I am exposing here to English readers. The original aim of my reflections was to displace the old ideology of the nation-state, which is still very much divisive in Catalonia, and to ground the nation on a new, more inclusive theoretical framework in which all individuals, regardless of their culture, their origin or their condition, even their species, could find their place in the political community and contribute to the sustainability of common habitation.

By its own nature, the ecopolitical project is not restricted to the transformation of a particular social community such as Catalonia, but aspires to become a model of universal appeal, albeit always within the limits and the possibilities of each specific community. My theory, therefore, rather than offering ready-made institutional solutions that could be indiscriminately applied to all social communities, attempts to set up the foundations that would allow these communities, if they so wish, to constitute themselves as habitat-nations and to develop their own ecopolitical institutions according to their habits and forms of habitation. For the same reason, the theory of the habitat-nation avoids any ideological or partisan ascription, focusing instead on the elaboration of a constitutional framework that could be accepted and assumed by all inhabitants regardless of their inclinations, values or political preferences.

In my previous book, I delved in much more detail into the practical implications of the theory presented here, putting forward specific mechanisms and institutions that could serve to implement the ecopolitical notions in the future state of Catalonia. While many of these reflections and proposals, which touched on political, economic and social issues in considerable depth, might be of some interest to non-Catalan readers, I have decided to exclude them from this book in order to concentrate on the more general proposals of the ecopolitical theory. As a consequence, the reader might feel that my ideas are not sufficiently fleshed out, but tend to linger for too long on the high spheres of theory. I have nothing to say against this criticism, except to invite the critics to undertake the work of elaborating those specific proposals, adapting and developing the concepts discussed in this book to meet the needs and the possibilities of their own habitat-nations. After all, a book should strive to create a sense of wonder and inspire readers to seek their own solutions to the problems, rather than giving them a creed to follow.

Whatever the actual institutions that may eventually stem from it, an unavoidable conclusion from my theory is the urgent need to redefine the geopolitical units that make up the current world, abandoning once and for all the model of the nation-state and advancing towards more ecologically and socially sustainable political communities. This book attempts to justify, both theoretically and practically, why this process is so necessary and how it could be accomplished in the present political context. But surely, as always, the world is already running ahead of our theories. The rusted structures of the nation-states, particularly the largest ones, are already showing evident signs of decay and instability. New habitat-nations may be about to achieve statehood, both in Europe and in America. A new world seems to be forging its way ahead. Let us hope that it will be so organised that we shall not regret calling it our home.”


Posted in Empire, Featured Book, P2P Ecology, P2P Governance | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Local vs. Centralized Resilience in Responding to Disasters

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Michel Bauwens
13th September 2014

* Article: Walker, B., and F. Westley. 2011. Perspectives on resilience to disasters across sectors and cultures. Ecology and Society 16(2): 4.

Brian Walker and F. Westley:

“Discussion of accountability led to consideration of where responses to disasters should best originate. Participants viewed the greatest threat as originating from the highly interconnected nature of our communication system and economies but, although consistent with resilience perspectives, there was little discussion of the fact that government institutions at any level were rarely interconnected except to note the amount of jealousy, turf issues, and struggles for resources that characterized coordination attempts. However, government representatives who were present expressed the need to push power up to the international level, in an attempt to anticipate and provide adequate response to threats such as terrorism, which seemed to have a truly global dynamic, but at the same time to push power down to the local community level where sense-making, self-organization, and leadership in the face of disaster were more likely to occur if local governments felt accountable for their own responses. One discussion framed the need in terms of promoting the philosophies of both Hobbes, i.e., a social contract ceding freedoms to a higher authority, and Rousseau, i.e., look for the good in people to develop personal responsibility from the bottom up. This is reflected in the social-ecological resilience literature on the need at local scales for adaptive governance and comanagement, and at higher scales for global scale institutions in the face of looming global scale failures (as articulated in a recent Science article, Walker et al. 2009). Current efforts and emphases are focused too much at the levels in between.

This brought to mind the notion that for general resilience we need both top-down and bottom-up institutions. For dealing with disasters society needs both. This corresponds with the conclusions of E. Ostrom and colleagues (e.g., Dietz et al. 2003) on the need for both in common property adaptive governance institutions. However, barriers to adaptation are different at the two scales as Ditchley discussions revealed. In particular, from a resilience perspective the mechanisms for building social learning and memory were identified as different.

Building local general resilience

There was considerable discussion about building local resilience and some interesting evidence presented that exercises such as simulations help considerably in this regard. We came to see such rehearsals for disaster preparedness as the equivalent of probing the boundaries of resilience. Conducting evacuation exercises, for example, not only identifies particular areas that need addressing to improve response capacity, but the exercise itself increases community collaboration, communication, and identity and therefore response capacity. This is related to the need for sense-making and social memory in situations of disaster. Response is slowed by the disorder of breakdown and requires framing, often by particular leaders, to ignite action. Rehearsals and exercises provide an opportunity for making sense in advance of the actual disaster, which allows for better response and triggers self-organizing capacities. In effect, this is a kind of storytelling that builds a repertoire of alternative scripts. It appeared that exercises and rehearsals also triggered memory and social learning which at times produced more scripts as alternative responses.

Building general resilience in central agencies

As noted above, the need for speed in times of crisis can reduce general resilience by privileging specific resilience. It can also reduce the capacity for learning which is key for transforming short-term disaster into longer term resilience. In emergency operations responses are by definition highly specific and formal, with little room to improvise. There is also a general tendency with consequent expenditure of effort to assign blame, and failure to follow the prescribed formula can result in having to accept an undue proportion of that blame. However, by definition, if disasters are unexpected improvisation, a kind of in the moment experimentation, may be essential and the capacity to share such rule breaking can allow for deep learning and innovation in the central agencies responsible for disaster relief. Creating such a safe space for a temporary suspension of rules and of accountability assessment is challenging but can be transformative. One fascinating comment in regard to how the breakthrough was made around Northern Ireland peace negotiations was that a consensus was achieved in one meeting that peace was more important than justice. Unless such rule free zones are temporarily invoked the tendency is to look for blame, which shuts down the capacity to learn from the crisis. Those familiar with the ecosystem dynamics part of social-ecological systems will recognize that it is during times of major disturbance that novelty and experimentation come to the fore. It is in the social part of the system that conservative caution dampens it. The contemporary systems of accountability, although important, must at times be seen as real barriers to resilience.”


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