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Everything written by Michel Bauwens

A critique of the Just Net Coalition’s defense of intergovernmental internet governance

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th January 2015


The P2P Foundation recently joined an intiative that we understood as an ‘alterglobal’ alternative to internet governance.

We were not aware that his coalition seems to support a purely inter-governmental governance of the internet, as we would indeed favour multi-stakeholder governance. The rest of the article focuses on personal matters, which are more difficult to judge.

Here is an excerpt from a critique of the JNC from IGFWatch news :

“The positioning of the Just Net Coalition against multi-stakeholder Internet governance, and in favour of a state-centric model, although now quite overt, became evident gradually. The Delhi Declaration covers this obliquely, stating “The right to make Internet-related public policies lies exclusively with those who legitimately and directly represent people” (ie. states). Another coded phrase the JNC has used to call for the centralisation of Internet governance authority in states is its call for “legitimate political authority”.

A turning point came at the meeting of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation on Public Policy Issues Pertaining to the Internet (WGEC) of the UN Commission for Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) in April 2014. To the surprise of other civil society and technical community delegates at that meeting, Parminder Jeet Singh insisted that support for paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda be retained in working group’s report, as the representatives from Saudi Arabia and Iran also forcefully argued. Up until then, indeed for an unbroken decade, opposition to paragraph 35 had been a unanimous civil society position.

Paragraph 35 states (my emphasis):

– “We reaffirm that the management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations.

In this respect it is recognized that:

* Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues.

* The private sector has had, and should continue to have, an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields.

* Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role.

* Intergovernmental organizations have had, and should continue to have, a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues.

* International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.”

In supporting this paragraph that constricts civil society’s role in Internet governance, Parminder said:

I have clarity about what is the role of different stakeholders being quite different to one another and I don’t appreciate that non-governmental actors would have the same role in decision-making than governmental actors. That should not be acceptable at a global level.

This, translated into JNC policy and the agenda for its Internet Social Forum, marks a profound shift away from the decentralised and horizontal model of Internet governance that civil society had heretofore supported, towards an hierarchical, state-led model.

For a time, JNC attempted to explain away this change by drawing a straw man distinction between “democratic multi-stakeholderism” (which JNC supports) and “equal footing multi-stakeholderism” (which it doesn’t, mischaracterising it as “governance by self-selected elites”). But it has since mostly abandoned that pretense and become more overt in promoting an intergovernmental model of Internet governance, stating for example in a more recent statement, “We invite all countries to call for a Framework Convention on the Internet and to take up leadership in developing global Internet-related policies,” and averring that “[w]ithout governmental support, it is difficult, perhaps impossible to combat the dominance of global Internet monopolies”.

Now, I have argued elsewhere why governments ought not to have a monopoly on the development of Internet-related public policies, and why a model of multi-stakeholderism that includes governments as a key, but not dominant stakeholder can still be counted as democratic. You can accept those arguments or not. If you don’t, then you might come down on JNC’s side on this issue, and that would be perfectly legitimate.”

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Posted in P2P Governance, P2P Infrastructures | No Comments »

Project of the Day: Credibles

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Michel Bauwens
29th January 2015


“Credibles crowd-funds small, sustainable food-related businesses. The re-payment of the funding is in-kind – edible credits, or Credibles. The Clearbon platform manages and balances the shared credits among multiple businesses, giving the funder more liquidity for redemption.”

An explanation excerpted from Mira Luna:

“Several years back a group of us currency geeks got together at the Hub SOMA and NoiseBridge for brainstorming sessions to ponder how to link local currencies to the all important food system for better currency flow and convert it into credit for cash-strapped farmers. Credibles cofounder Arno Hesse, also of Slow Money, was part of those meetings and helped dream up Credibles’ brilliant model – one part loyalty program, one part Slow Money investment, one part crowdfunding campaign, and one part credit currency. Several years ago just a pipe dream, Credibles now helps fund local food businesses by paying for food ahead of time, in exchange for edible credits.

Here’s how Credibles works: food enterprises issue store credits for money received in advance. Customers and fans prepay the business on the Credibles website. In exchange, they receive a balance of Credibles — or edible credits — that they “eat up” over time. One Credible equals $1. To make Credibles appealing, participating businesses offer a bonus for paying up front. For example, a yogurt producer gives a customer 10 percent extra product when he pays $200 or more up front. That means he receives 220 Credibles.”

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Posted in Ethical Economy, Featured Project, Food and Agriculture | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Free Software and the Law

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Michel Bauwens
28th January 2015


* Article: Free software and the law. Out of the frying pan and into the fire: how shaking up intellectual property suits competition just fine. By Angela Daly. Journal of Peer Production, Issue 3, July 2013

From the Abstract:

“Free software is viewed as a revolutionary and subversive practice, and in particular has dealt a strong blow to the traditional conception of intellectual property law (although in its current form could be considered a ‘hack’ of IP rights). However, other (capitalist) areas of law have been swift to embrace free software, or at least incorporate it into its own tenets. One area in particular is that of competition (antitrust) law, which itself has long been in theoretical conflict with intellectual property, due to the restriction on competition inherent in the grant of ‘monopoly’ rights by copyrights, patents and trademarks. This contribution will examine how competition law has approached free software by examining instances in which courts have had to deal with such initiatives, for instance in the Oracle Sun Systems merger, and the implications that these decisions have on free software initiatives. The presence or absence of corporate involvement in initiatives will be an important factor in this investigation, with it being posited that true instances of ‘commons-based peer production’ can still subvert the capitalist system, including perplexing its laws beyond intellectual property.”

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Posted in Copyright/IP, Featured Essay, Free Software, P2P Legal Dev. | No Comments »

The opportunity in Greece

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Michel Bauwens
27th January 2015


The Greek people must be thanked for putting the need for changing the course of economic policies firmly on the European agenda. The stakes are high. A failure in Greece will be seen as vindication of austerity as the only option. It will have negative repercussions for any progressive alternative throughout Europe. Those convinced that Europe needs to change cannot sit on the fence, but need to engage in support of the new winds of reform.

A text by Maria Helena dos Santos André, Director of the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities and a former Minister of Labour of Portugal

“In a time when in Paris Marine Le Pen is “Ante Portas”, when xenophobic populists are marching through the streets of Dresden, when in London the UKIP sets the tone for an ever more Anti-European hysteria, and when in Helsinki the Finnish government becomes the most ardent proponent of more austerity for Greece, for no other reason but the fear of a success of the “real Finns” at the next ballot box, the Greek people have given a clear signal, voting against more austerity and for the European values of democracy, the welfare state, tolerance and inclusive societies.

They have rejected the ruling by European and international technocrats. They have said no to their national oligarchic establishment that has led the country to the current situation. But they also resisted the Siren calls of Golden Dawn. They have given their confidence to an untested party, with no experience in government, a party that has presented an electoral programme proposing better governance, more democracy, greater social justice and an end of austerity policies that have destroyed the economy and created unprecedented hardship while the public debt (and the private one) continued to increase. The Greek voters have sent a clear message to the rest of Europe: they want to be part of Europe, they can’t bear more austerity; they need a sustainable solution to their debt problem; they want to be a respected partner in the European Union and play an active role in the common search for a Greek and European recovery.

Europe should not see the victory of Syriza as a threat. Instead, it should be seen as a clear signal from the people and as an opportunity for Europe as a whole to reconsider its crisis response, which has already lead the continent into what may become a decade of deflationary stagnation, even with the last intervention of the ECB. There is no easy solution to the deep crisis in Europe but one thing is certain: to continue with policies that do not work, because they concentrate exclusively on fiscal prudence, is the opposite of what must be done, in giving priority to growth, investment, employment and redistributive policies.

Anyone guided by realism will recognise that Greece cannot at the same time serve its tremendous debt burden and recover economically and socially. Insisting on servicing the debt, without a strong economic recovery might be popular in some European capitals but it will just not work. Debts that cannot be paid remain un-payable even if creditors continue to insist that it should be paid.

The debt crises in Germany in the last century offer great lessons in this respect. After World War I, the victorious powers insisted that Germany should pay reparations independently of its economic performance. The results are well known: Hyperinflation in the twenties, brutal austerity in the early thirties resulting in the rise of Hitler who immediately stopped servicing any foreign debt when he came to power. After World War II, the Allies recognised that Germany had to become prosperous first and should pay afterwards. That reasoning lies behind one of the most generous debt restructuring agreements in history in 1953, when more than 50 % of the German debt was written off, repayment was stretched out over more than half a century and debt payments were made conditional on the existence of a trade surplus. The last payment of debt from World War I was actually made as late as in 2010 and payments at no time exceeded 5% of German export earnings.

In many European countries the public debate on the debt crisis is also framed in moral terms. Many claim that Greece had cheated when entering the Eurozone, that they are free-riding on hard-working Northern Europeans, that they need to be taught a lesson in order to learn financial responsibility, etc. The judgements should not be about “Crime and Punishment” but about economic viability and a better future. If debt restructuring had been guided by any moral reasoning in 1953 it would have certainly been extremely difficult to make the case for German debt relief. But it was economically, politically and socially the right thing to do and it paid off not only for Germany but for Europe as a whole.

Greece’s 317 billion Euro debt today is in absolute terms 13 billion less than five years ago but due to the economic collapse it nevertheless rose from 113 to 175 % of GDP. Any assumption that this debt can be served without growth is illusionary. This must be recognised by all those interested in a solution and be the realistic starting point for renegotiating the debt.

As long as capitalism exists there has not been a boom that did not end in a crisis and not a crisis that wasn’t followed by a recovery. Policies should reduce the severity of the crisis and increase the speed of the recovery. Austerity has failed on both accounts but nevertheless it looks that, by a number of indicators, the crisis in Greece has finally bottomed out and, with the right policies of debt restructuring and of productive public investment, there is a reasonable chance for a strong recovery. Bringing down unemployment and increasing revenues has to be a priority over debt repayment. The required economic growth will not come from any rapid rise in private sector investment as long as the risk of unsustainable debt and default remains. Therefore the solution to the Greek problem should start with a solution to the debt situation, a strong public investment programme leading to the creation of more and better jobs. Researchers from the Levy Economics Institute in New York who, in cooperation with the Labour Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Workers, regularly publish a strategic analysis of the Greek economy have calculated the economic impact of a moderate public investment programme of 6.6 billion Euro per annum funded by the EU complimented by a debt moratorium until the country returns to the real GDP level of 2010. While this would certainly not solve Greece’s problems over night, it would set Greece on a much higher growth path than continuing the current policies.

Debt restructuring and public investment alone will not solve the Greek problem but there will be no solution without it. Improving the public administration, creating an efficient and fair tax system, fighting corruption, curtailing oligarchic power, rationalising pension systems, improving access to credit, improving the functioning of education, health and social protection systems and creating the conditions for job creation are some of the important elements in a comprehensive recovery strategy. However, some of these structural changes take time and have more long-term effects, while others can boost recovery more quickly. A government of new faces is better positioned to implement such a programme. These structural reforms have bigger chances of success if done in parallel with economic recovery, job creation and growth and not during a continued depression.

New faces have also a better chance to re-energize the society and to put an end to vested interests that so far remain largely untouched. Strengthening institutions, including those that are responsible for social dialogue and collective bargaining, and improving the participation of citizens are essential for (re)-building trust in the state and political decision making. The mistake of dismantling the industrial relations and collective bargaining system must be quickly and seriously addressed in order to achieve better labour market conditions, more quality and equality in employment and a fairer income distribution.

The challenges Greece is facing are more extreme than in any other European country but they are not unique. Throughout southern Europe the policies of fiscal austerity, no public investment and wage repression have led to a deflationary stagnation with unacceptable levels of unemployment and an increase in inequalities. Pumping billions of Euros at close to zero interest rates into the private banking sector has failed to trigger private real investment and has not reached the real economy. It was more successful in raising asset prices than employment levels. As millions of people are unemployed and many governments can borrow at historically low interest rates, the case for large scale investment in public infrastructure and networks, in education, research and development at a European level is compelling.

European and international institutions have argued for six years that there is no alternative to austerity and that the Greek people will pay dearly if they abandon the policy prescription of the Troika. In the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, the Greek people decided that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” and put more trust into an alternative, sometimes expressing contradictory ideas, rather than to continue with the trotted path of failure. They have raised expectations and deserve the credit of the doubt and the support from those interested in a change of policies in Europe.

The Greek people must be thanked for putting the need for changing the course of economic policies firmly on the European agenda. The stakes are high. A failure in Greece will be seen as vindication of austerity as the only option. It will have negative repercussions for any progressive alternative throughout Europe. Those convinced that Europe needs to change cannot sit on the fence, but need to engage in support of the new winds of reform.”

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Posted in Economy and Business, P2P Labor, Politics | No Comments »

The graph that everyone should see: the p2p revolution is real and exponential

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Michel Bauwens
26th January 2015


It is not always easy to objectify the reality of the p2p transition.

On the cultural front, we can point to the change in attitudes documented by the Edelman Peer Trust Barometer, which between the years 2003 and 2007 saw a radical shift from trust in institutions to trust in ‘people like me’.

On the economic level, we can cite the Fair Use report, which calculates that already one sixth of U.S. GDP activities relied on shared knowledge, i.e. fair use exceptions to copyright law, involving an estimated 17 million workers.

What is happening objectively in the civic sphere is harder to determine, but here is a very interesting graph from commons researcher Tine de Moor in a study entitled “Homo Cooperans”, which only counts formal civic initiatives, so not even counting the informal communities that are at the heart of peer production itself. It basically shows the start and exponential rise of civic initiatives starting about ten years ago in 2004, a deceleration in 2008 due to the shock of the crisis, and a new exponential update shortly after.

These and other data are cited in an article by Dutch transition researcher Jan Rotmans, who stresses that these initiatives are emphatically not a result of governmental stimulation, but have been created outside that sphere.

Grafiek-De-Moor

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Posted in Default, P2P Collaboration, P2P Movements | No Comments »

Top P2P Books You Should Have Read in 2014 (1): The return of the cooperative commonwealth

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Michel Bauwens
25th January 2015


Our book of the year is Humanizing the Economy by John Restakis. See why below.. I can truthfully say it’s one of the most important books I have read in the last ten years.

2014 was definitely the year of the commons – cooperative convergence. Two objective trends especially since the systemic economic crisis of 2008 are the revival of the commons, mostly driven through peer production; AND a revival of cooperatives and cooperativism, which had been subjected to a certain decline and even a neoliberal degeneration in the period since the 1980’s. What was new in 2014 is that these two sectors started talking and looking at each other. At the P2P Foundation, we call for a new synthesis in the form of open cooperativism, i.e. cooperatives which consciously and structurally co-produce commons, as pioneered by the Catalan Integral Cooperative or the Allianza Solidaria in Quito.

The best record of this, which we don’t count as a book, is the following report of a in-depth convergence conversation by leading commoners and cooperativists:

* 0. “TOWARD AN OPEN CO-OPERATIVISM. A New Social Economy Based on Open Platforms, Co-operative Models and the Commons. A Report on a Commons Strategies Group Workshop Berlin, Germany, August 27-28, 2014. By Pat Conaty and David Bollier. CSG / Boll Foundation / Foundation pour le Progres de l’Homme, 2014.

We strongly urge everyone to read this.

Our top book about the cooperative commonwealth tradition is paradoxically a book that appeared in 2010, but that strongly deserves a second life with its second print run this year. It is the marvelously well written book by John Restakis, entitled “Humanizing the Economy”, which places cooperativism in its historical tradition, and presents innovations such as solidarity cooperatives. Learn there about the cooperative tradition in Emilia-Romagna and the innovative Seikatsu movement in Japan. Since, John Restakis has developed a much stronger understanding of the commons and worked with the P2P Foundation and myself on the commons-cooperative convergence. The evidence of this lies in our P2P-Foundation published e-book on the Commons Transition, which has strong chapters by John Restakis on the convergence of the commons economy, the partner state approach, and the cooperative economy. Finally, our own book, “Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy” co-authored by Vasilis Kostakis, gives a detailed vision of expectations related to this cooperative commons economy: will it fullfill its promise, of fall victim to the forces which extract its value for purely private benefit of large multinationals of netarchical capital?

1. Humanizing the Economy. Co-operatives in the Age of Capital. by John Restakis. New Society Publishers, 2010

1. 1. b eBook: COMMONS TRANSITION: POLICY PROPOSALS FOR AN OPEN KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY. By Michel Bauwens and John Restakis. P2P Foundation, 2014

* 1.1.c. Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy. By Vasilis Kostakis and Michel Bauwens. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014

The second trend, the revival of the commons, produced two very important book this year, by David Bollier and Jeremy Rifkin.

David Bollier’s book is a very well written general introduction of what ‘commoning’ means for human life, comparable to these great classics like The Gift by Lewis Hyde; Jeremy Rifkin’s book may not go deep enough in the problematic transition, but gives a great historical introduction to changes in the modes of production, and why the commons is now an economic fact, destined to grow not just in the so-called ‘immaterial’ economy, but also in the physical economy, through the ‘margical cost’ effects of distributed energy and 3D printing.

* 2. Think Like a Commoner. A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons. by David Bollier. New Society, 2014

* 2.1. The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. by Jeremy Rifkin. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014

More good books on the Revival of Cooperativism:

* 3. Capital and the Debt Trap. Learning from Cooperatives in the Global Crisis. By Claudia Sanchez Bajo and Bruno Roelants. Palgrave MacMillan (2013)

“The recent financial crisis has had a devastating impact around the globe. Thousands of businesses have closed down and millions of jobs have been cut. Many people have lost their homes. Capital and the Debt Trap explains how key economies have fallen into a ‘debt trap’, linking the financial sphere to the real economy, and goes beyond, looking into alternatives to the constant stream of financial bubbles and shocks. Overlooked by many,cooperatives across the world have been relatively resilient throughout the crisis. Through four case studies (the transformation of a French industrial SME in crisis into a cooperative, a fishery cooperative in Mexico, the Desjardins Cooperative Group in Quebec and the Mondragon Group in the Basque country of Spain), the book explores their strategies and type of control, providing an in-depth analysis within a broader debate on wealth generation and a sustainable future.”

* 3.1 e-Book: Democratic Wealth: Building a Citizens’ Economy. Ed. by Stuart White, and Niki Sethi-Smith. openDemocracy and Politics in Spires, 2014

“Democratic Wealth’ is a collection of essays that challenges the poverty of thinking around economic policy, particularly after the 2007 financial crash. It explores the renewed interest in republicanism and suggests this as a framework to shape an economy that serves the common good. It is a selection of articles from a series published by openDemocracy and Politics in Spires, a blog run by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

* 3.2 eBook: Alternatives To Capitalism: Proposals For A Democratic Economy. by Robin Hahnel, Erik Olin Wright. New Left Project, 2014

“New Left Project’s new e-book, Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy, is now available for download.
In it the leading radical thinkers Robin Hahnel and Erik Olin Wright take on the crucial but all-too neglected question: what kind of society should we be fighting for instead of capitalism? Hahnel favours ‘participatory economics’. Wright advocates ‘real utopian socialism’. Alternatives to Capitalism puts these practical proposals through their paces in an in-depth, frank and extremely instructive debate about the central question of our time.”

* 3.3 Gary Alexander. eGaia Growing a peaceful, sustainable Earth through Communications. Published by Lighthouse Books, ISBN 0907637248 (2nd ed. 2014)

A updated second edition. See here for reviews.

* 3.4 Co-operatives in a Post-growth Era. Creating Co-operative Economics. Edited by Sonja Novkovic and Tom Webb. Fernwood Pubn. (with Zed Books), 2014

“Featuring a remarkable roster of internationally renowned critical thinkers, this book presents a feasible alternative for a more environmentally sustainable and equitable economic system. The time has never been better for cooperatives everywhere to recognize their own potential and ability to change the economic landscape.”

* 3.5 Robert Costanza and Ida Kubiszewski. Creating a Sustainable and Desirable Future: Insights from 45 Global Thought Leaders. World Scientific, 2014

“The book offers a broad, critical discussion of what a sustainable and desirable future should or can be, with chapters written by some of the world’s leading thinkers, including: Wendell Berry, Van Jones, Frances Moore Lappe, Peggy Liu, Hunter Lovins, Gus Speth, Bill McKibben, and many more.”

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Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Ethical Economy, Featured Book, Open Models, P2P Books, P2P Business Models, Peer Property, Sharing | 1 Comment »

A political assessment of the (post-) 2011 horizontal movements

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Michel Bauwens
25th January 2015


after 2011 horizontality must be criticized and overcome, clearly and unambiguously — and not just in a Hegelian sense. Secondly, the situation is probably ripe enough to attempt once again that most political of passages: the seizure of power. We have understood the question of power for too long in an excessively negative manner. Now we can reinterpret the question of power in terms of multitudes, in terms of absolute democracy — that is to say, in terms of a democracy that goes beyond canonical institutional forms such as monarchy, aristocracy and “democracy.” I believe that today the problem of democracy is best formulated and addressed in terms of the multitude

The ROAR magazine interview of Toni Negri was taken by Lorenzo Cini and Jerome Roos, with special thanks to Tommaso Giordani for the translation.

Excerpts:

* In recent years, there appears to be somewhat of a convergence between your approach and Harvey’s. What do you consider to be the most important overlaps in your work? And what do you see as the main differences or tensions?

It seems to me that there is a very clear and explicit convergence between Harvey’s positions and those of my own current of thought, most clearly on the contemporary transformation of productive labor, of living labor — that is, of labor capable of generating surplus value. If I may use Marx’s language from The Fragment on Machines, I would say that there is substantial common ground between Harvey’s work and my own in the analysis of the transformation of the forms of value, that is to say, in the step from value as connected to the structures of large-scale industry to the current situation, in which society is wholly subjected to the logic of capital — not only in the productive sphere, but also with regards to reproduction and circulation.

Italian workerism [operaismo] already developed such an analysis in the late 1970s, suggesting, at the time, new forms of struggle that would deploy themselves within the larger social sphere, because we had understood that the social had become a locus of value production. Already in those years, we identified the crucial shift in the locus of surplus production: a shift away from the factory and towards the wider metropolis. And this same shift appears to me to have become central to Harvey’s work. This is the essential point: from here, both the question of surplus extraction and the question of the transformation of profit into rent have become central in the critical analyses of contemporary capitalism that Harvey and I have developed.

What, then, are the differences? I believe it’s simply a question of genealogy, of the theoretical trajectory that has brought us to this shared analysis. I have reached these conclusions starting from the analysis of the transformation of the nature of labor, which is, in fact, the concept on which the entire workerist approach was based. In other words, I began from the workerist concept of the refusal of labor. With this idea, we meant two things. On the one hand, we took it as a rejection of the law of value as the fundamental norm of the capitalist order. On the other hand, we interpreted it in a more constructive way, as a call for the acknowledgment of new forms of productivity of work beyond the factory, at a wider social level. From this Marxian analysis of the internal transformation of labor, we arrived at the same conclusions at which Harvey arrived — and on which he developed a more thorough empirical analysis.

* Starting from what you just said about the concept of productive labor, we would like to reflect with you on the forms and content of contemporary struggles. In your book Commonwealth, co-authored with Michael Hardt, you have written that today the metropolis is to the multitude what the factory was once to the working class. In light of this change of paradigm, does it seem accurate to you to identify in the recent uprisings that have erupted in countries like Brazil and Turkey a set of struggles linked to questions about the production and reproduction of metropolitan life, instances of a new class struggle conducted at the metropolitan level?

Yes, very much so. Both the Turkish and the Brazilian struggles are clearly biopolitical struggles. How, then, can we link this biopolitical dimension to the new forms of labor we discussed before? This is a question with which Michael Hardt and I have been dealing ever since 1995, when we began working on Empire. It appeared to us that if labor becomes social labor, if production and capitalist oppression were swallowing up the social sphere, then the question of bios became an essential one. The set of struggles developing around the welfare state was becoming one of the central aspects of class struggle. This discovery became even more important once we understood that productive labor was not only (or even mainly) a material activity, but also (and mostly) an immaterial one. That is, an activity linked to caring, affection, communication, and what we can loosely call ‘generically human’ processes and activities.

It was this attention to the ‘generically human’ that helped us understand how the productive process had become fundamentally a biopolitical process. Consequently, the more politically significant struggles became those that deployed themselves on the biopolitical terrain. What did this mean in more concrete terms? We did not have an exhaustive and final answer. Yes, we had some intuition that one had to fight against, for example, the privatization of healthcare and education, but at the time we did not manage to fully grasp what was later revealed to us by the formidable struggles of 2011. It was those struggles that revealed the full articulation of the biopolitical discourse, that is, the new character of contemporary struggles. And it becomes very clear that the metropolis is its essential setting. This does not mean that it will always be so, but today it is certain that the metropolis is the crucial locus of this struggle.

The metropolitan strike in Paris in 1995 was essential in making me understand this. A city as complex and articulated as Paris completely supported the struggle, which blocked the city in its entirety, starting from transportation. That struggle expressed in a paradigmatic sense the cooperative and affective elements of the forms of conflict and knowledge that were emerging on the metropolitan stage in those years. It is not a coincidence that these aspects, linked to cooperation and to affective production, are still central in contemporary metropolitan struggles, which are fully biopolitical struggles.

* The cycle of struggles that began in 2011 briefly hinted at the possible birth of a new constituent process. Today it seems that many of these movements are confronted with what you and Michael Hardt have called a ‘thermidorian closure,’ bringing about the re-establishment of the old regime. What is your analysis of the current state of these struggles, and what could have been done differently to prevent the present outcome?

To start with, we need to establish some differences. The Spanish mobilization, for example, has a force and a degree of political originality that is still evident today, and constitutes an important phenomenon that must also be seen as partly emerging from the tormented history of Spain in the twentieth century, from the civil war, through the incomplete democratic transition, to the failure of the Socialist Party.

On the other hand, there is a much more ambiguous phenomenon such as Occupy, which appears to be a mobilization of the so-called middle classes more than an expression of the cognitive working class. And yet, beyond these obvious weaknesses, even Occupy displayed an important degree of originality, especially in terms of the struggle developed on the issue of debt and financial capital.

* Let’s discuss the struggles in Europe today. Taking our cue from an article you wrote together with Sandro Mezzadra just before the European elections of 2014, and a follow-up piece you just published ahead of the Greek elections, we wanted to ask you whether you see the European dimension as the only one in which the movements can possibly act to advance a project of the common as a genuine alternative to the present capitalist crisis.

This is certainly the most timely and important political question today. Currently, in Europe, we are in the lowest phase of the cycle of struggles. I do not believe in the theory that, the worse the political, social and economic situation, the stronger the revolutionary movement. We are faced with a serious economic crisis that has had extremely negative consequences. The capitalist establishment has, for the moment, successfully exploited the regression and the domestication of existing struggles, and has managed with ease to control the post-Fordist productive transformation that hailed the defeat of the Fordist mass worker. Today, we are experiencing the consequences of our defeat in the 1970s, in the absence of a political organization capable of expressing the interests of the contemporary workforce and, more generally, of the contemporary productive society that emerged from that process of capitalist transformation.

However, in this negative situation, we still have to carefully consider if and how capital will be able to overcome the crisis. For example, I tend to agree with Wolfgang Streeck’s analyses, which examine the current crisis in the light of some 1970s literature such as that by Offe, Hirsche, and O’Connor, who saw the crisis of the times as a consequence of the falling rate of profit. This fall, however, is intimately linked to the devaluation of the workforce, to the incapacity of considering the workforce as a central player in development.

It is necessary to be very careful on a number of points. When one says that some instances of the common, certain demands of the struggle for the common can be, and have been, reabsorbed by and into the “management crisis” and into all those mechanisms of management of the common, one often ignores that this absorption into capitalist management is not a creative one. It is not, for example, akin to the assimilation of the working class that occurred in the Fordist and Keynesian paradigm, when this absorption did generate a rise in demand and manifested itself in a strong and energetic economy.

Today, we are faced by a capitalist contraction that leaves even those who operate the contraction breathless. In this context, we have to be extremely attentive, because the very real risk is that of giving a completely pessimistic reading to a situation that, of course, is characterized by an important crisis — but whose outcome is still completely open.

* With this last question we would like to reflect with you on the innovation represented by a number of political phenomena that are occurring in some European countries at the moment. Do you see, in Europe today, a political organization capable of starting a constituent process and creating a transnational political project based on the communism of the 21st century — that is, a political project based on the practice of the common? And what do you consider to be the significance, in this light, of new political forces like Syriza and Podemos?

Before answering your question, I must confess that I have developed a problem in recent years. If I am asked to assess the struggles of 2011, I can’t help but concentrate my critical remarks on the question of horizontality — or of exclusive horizontality, at least. I have to criticize it because I think that there is no project or political development capable of transforming horizontal spontaneity into an institutional reality. I think, instead, that this passage must be governed in some way or another. Governed from below, of course, on the basis of shared programs, but always bearing in mind the necessity of having, in this passage, an organized political force capable of constituting itself and of managing this transformation.

I think that the present state of the movement forces us to be self-critical about what happened in 2011, and I think this self-criticism must focus on the question of political organization. We need to acknowledge, for example, that the Lista Tsipras experiment in Italy has been a tragic failure, even if I, together with Sandro Mezzadra and other comrades, welcomed it with faith and hope. However, on the other hand, it should have been clear, from the beginning, that with organized parties such as SEL or Rifondazione Comunista it would have been impossible to find political forms capable of channeling and allowing spontaneous forces from below to affirm themselves.

With Podemos, however, we are probably dealing with something different. Beyond the questionable ideologies around which Podemos constituted itself, I believe that — maybe because of the goodwill of its leaders, or perhaps thanks to the situation in which it finds itself — Podemos is infinitely more powerful than it is organized. It is producing, for the moment, an extremely interesting and active movement that might be capable of contributing to a healthy institutionalization of the struggles.

On this question of struggle at the institutional level and of political organization, I would like to conclude with two more general propositions. The first one is that after 2011 horizontality must be criticized and overcome, clearly and unambiguously — and not just in a Hegelian sense. Secondly, the situation is probably ripe enough to attempt once again that most political of passages: the seizure of power. We have understood the question of power for too long in an excessively negative manner. Now we can reinterpret the question of power in terms of multitudes, in terms of absolute democracy — that is to say, in terms of a democracy that goes beyond canonical institutional forms such as monarchy, aristocracy and “democracy.” I believe that today the problem of democracy is best formulated and addressed in terms of the multitude.”

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Essay of the Day: The Role of Crowdsourcing for Better Governance in Fragile States

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
25th January 2015


* Report: The Role of Crowdsourcing for Better Governance in Fragile States Contexts. World Bank, 2014

From the Summary:

““[The report serves] as a primer on crowdsourcing as an information resource for development, crisis response, and post-conflict recovery, with a specific focus on governance in fragile states. Inherent in the theoretical approach is that broader, unencumbered participation in governance is an objectively positive and democratic aim, and that governments’ accountability to its citizens can be increased and poor-performance corrected, through openness and empowerment of citizens. Whether for tracking aid flows, reporting on poor government performance, or helping to organize grassroots movements, crowdsourcing has potential to change the reality of civic participation in many developing countries. The objective of this paper is to outline the theoretical justifications, key features and governance structures of crowdsourcing systems, and examine several cases in which crowdsourcing has been applied to complex issues in the developing world.”

Patrick Meier discusses the findings:

“The research is grounded in the philosophy of Open-Source Governance, “which advocates an intellectual link between the principles of open-source and open-content movements, and basic democratic principles.” The report argues that “open-source governance theoretically provides more direct means to affect change than do periodic elections,” for example. According to the authors of the study, “crowdsourcing is increasingly seen as a core mechanism of a new systemic approach of governance to address the highly complex, globally interconnected and dynamic challenges of climate change, poverty, armed conflict, and other crises, in view of the frequent failures of traditional mechanisms of democracy and international diplomacy with respect to fragile state contexts.
That said, how exactly is crowdsourcing supposed to improve governance? The authors argues that “in general, ‘transparency breeds self-correcting behavior’ among all types of actors, since neither governments nor businesses or individuals want to be caught at doing something embarrassing and or illegal.” Furthermore, “since crowdsourcing is in its very essence based on universal participation, it is supporting the empowerment of people. Thus, in a pure democracy or in a status of anarchy or civil war (Haiti after the earthquake, or Libya since February 2011), there are few external limitations to its use, which is the reason why most examples are from democracies and situations of crisis.” On the other hand, an authoritarian regime will “tend to oppose and interfere with crowdsourcing, perceiving broad-based participation and citizen empowerment as threats to its very existence.”
So how can crowdsourcing improve governance in an authoritarian state? “Depending on the level of citizen-participation in a given state,” the authors argue that “crowdsourcing can potentially support governments’ and/or civil society’s efforts in informing, consulting, and collaborating, leading to empowerment of citizens, and encouraging decentralization and democrati-zation. By providing the means to localize, visualize, and publish complex, aggregated data, e.g. on a multi-layer map, and the increasing speed of genera-ting and sharing data up to real-time delivery, citizens and beneficiaries of government and donors become empowered to provide feedback and even become information providers in their own right.”

According to the study, this transformation can take place in three ways:

1) By sharing, debating and contributing to publicly available government, donor and other major actors’ databases, data can be distributed directly through customized web and mobile applications and made accessible and meaningful to citizens.

2) By providing independent platforms for ‘like-minded people’ to connect and collaborate, builds potential for the emergence of massive, internationally connected grassroots movements.

3) By establishing platforms that aggregate and compare data provided by the official actors such as governments, donors, and companies with crowdsourced primary data and feedback.

“The tracking of data by citizens increases transparency as well as pressure for better social accountability. Greater effectiveness of state and non-state actors can be achieved by using crowdsourced data and deliberations* to inform the provision of their services. While the increasing volume of data generated as well as the speed of transactions can be attractive even to fragile-state governments, the feature of citizen empowerment is often considered as serious threat (Sudan, Egypt, Syria,Venezuela etc.).” *The authors argue that this need to be done through “web-based deliberation platforms (e.g. DiscourseDB) that apply argumentative frameworks for issue-based argument instead of simple polling.”

The second part of the report includes a section on Crisis Mapping in which two real-world case studies are featured: the Ushahidi-Haiti Crisis Map & Mission4636 and the Libya Crisis Map. Other case studies include the UN’s Threat and Risk Mapping Analysis (TRMA) initiative in the Sudan, Participatory GIS and Community Forestry in Nepal; Election Monitoring in Guinea; Huduma and Open Data in Kenya; Avaaz and other emergent applications of crowd-sourcing for economic development and good governance. The third and final part of the study provides recommendations for donors on how to apply crowd-sourcing and interactive mapping for socio-economic recovery and development in fragile states.”

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Ten Degrowth-Oriented Policy Proposals

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th January 2015


Degrowth is a historical necessity but a very hard political sell, and at the P2P Foundation we use rather the post-growth thematic and a focus on ‘thrivability’. But these proposals from Giorgios Kallis seem entirely reasonable and even vital.

Giorgos Kallis:

In what follows we present 10 proposals that we wrote for the context of Spain and Catalunya, and which we submitted to progressive political parties such as Podemos, the United Left, the Catalan Republican Left, CUP or Equo . The context to which these proposals refer to is specific; but with certain amendments and adaptations they are also applicable elsewhere and relevant for radical Left and Green political parties all over Europe.

* Citizen debt audit. An economy cannot be forced to grow to resolve accumulated debts that have contributed to fictitious growth in the past. It is essential not only to restructure but also to eliminate part of the debt with a people’s debt audit, part of a new, really democratic culture. Such elimination shouldn’t be realised at the expense of savers and those with modest pensions whether in Spain or elsewhere. The debt of those that have considerable income and assets should not be pardoned. Those who lent for speculation should take the losses. Once the debt is reduced, caps on carbon and resources (see 9) will guarantee that this will not be used as an opportunity for more growth and consumption.

* Work-sharing. Reduce the working week to at least 32 hours and develop programmes that support firms and organisations that want to facilitate job-sharing. This should be orchestrated such that the loss of salary from working less only affects the 10% highest income bracket. Complemented by environmental limits and the tax reform proposed below, it will be more difficult for this liberation of time to be used for material consumption.

* Basic and maximum income. Establish a minimum income for all of Spain’s residents of between 400 and 600 Euros per month, paid without any requirement or stipulation. A recent study suggests this is feasible for Spain, without a major overhaul of the tax system. Design this policy in conjunction with other tax and work reforms so that they increase the income of the poorer 50% of the population while decreasing that of the top 10%, to finance the change. The maximum income for any person – from work as well as from capital – shouldn’t be more than 30 times the basic income (12,000 – 18,000 Euros monthly).

* Green tax reform. Implement an accounting system to transform, over time, the tax system, from one based principally on work to one based on the use of energy and resources. Taxation on the lowest incomes could be reduced and compensated for with a carbon tax. Establish a 90% tax rate on the highest incomes (such rates were common in the USA in the 1950s). High income and capital taxes will halt positional consumption and eliminate the incentives for excessive earnings, which feed financial speculation. Tackle capital wealth through inheritance tax and high taxes on property that is not meant for use, for example on the second or third houses of individuals or on large estates.

* Stop subsidizing and investing on activities that are highly polluting, moving the liberated pubic funds towards clean production. Reduce to zero the public investment and subsidy for private transport infrastructure (such as new roads and airport expansion), military technology, fossil fuels or mining projects. Use the funds saved to invest in the improvement of public rural and urban space – such as squares, traffic free pedestrian streets [paseos y ramblas] -, and to subsidise public transport and cycle hire schemes. Support the development of small scale decentralised renewable energy under local and democratic control, instead of concentrated and extensive macro-structures under the control of private business.

* Support the alternative, solidarity society. Support, with subsidies, tax exemptions and legislation, the not-for-profit co-operative economic sector that are flourishing in Spain and include alternative food networks, cooperatives and networks for basic health care, co-operatives covering shared housing, credit, teaching, and artists and other workers. Facilitate the de-commercialisation of spaces and activities of care and creativity, by helping mutual support groups, shared childcare and social centres.

* Optimise the use of buildings. Stop the construction of new houses, rehabilitating the existing housing stock and facilitating the full occupation of houses. In Spain those objectives could be met through very high taxes on abandoned, empty and second houses, prioritising the social use of SAREB housing [those falling under the post-crash banking restructuring provisions following the Spanish real estate crisis], and if this is insufficient, then proceed with social expropriation of empty housing from private investors.

* Reduce advertising. Establish very restrictive criteria for allowing advertising in public spaces, following the example of the city of Grenoble. Prioritise the provision of information and reduce greatly any commercial use.

* Establish committees to control the quantity and quality of advertising permitted in the mass media and tax advertising in accordance with objectives.

* Establish environmental limits. Establish absolute and diminishing caps on the total of CO2 that Spain can emit and the total quality of material resources that it uses, including emissions and materials embedded in imported products, often from the global South. These caps would be in CO2, materials, water footprint or the surface area under cultivation. Similar limits could be established for other environmental pressures such as the extraction of water, the total built-up area and the number of licenses for tourist enterprises in saturated zones.

* Abolish the use of GDP as indicator of economic progress. If GDP is a misleading indicator, we should stop using it and look for other indicators of prosperity. Monetary and fiscal national accounts statistics can be collected and used but economic policy shouldn’t be expressed in terms of GDP objectives. A debate needs to be started about the nature of well-being, focusing on what to measure rather than how to measure it.”
(http://www.thepressproject.net/article/71088/Yes-we-can-prosper-without-growth-VIDEO)

Giorgos Kallis then comments on these proposals:

“These proposals are complementary and have to be implemented in concert. For example, setting environmental limits might reduce growth and create unemployment, but work-sharing with a basic income will decouple the creation of jobs and social security from economic growth.

The reallocation of investments from dirty to clean activities and the reform of the taxation system will make sure that a greener economy will emerge, while stopping to count the economy in GDP terms and using prosperity indicators ensures that this transition will be counted as a success and not as a failure.

Finally, the changes in taxation and the controls in advertizing, will relax positional competition and reduce the sense of frustration that comes with lack of growth. Investing on the commons and shared infrastructures will increase prosperity, without growth.

We do not expect parties of the Left to make “degrowth” their banner. We understand the difficulties of confronting, suddenly, an entrenched common sense. But we do expect radical left parties to take steps in the right direction, and to pursue good policies, such as the ones we propose, independent of their effect on growth. We do expect genuine Left parties to avoid making the relaunch of economic growth their objective. And we do expect them to be ready, and have ideas in place, on what they will do, if the economy refuses to grow. Is this a reasonable expectation in the current political conjecture of Southern Europe for example? Yes and no.

The draft economic policy of Podemos released in November, has many elements that fit with the above agenda. The document does not set growth as its strategic goal. It omits any reference to GDP. It proposes to reduce working hours to 35, it sets a minimum guaranteed income for the unemployed, it calls for a forgiveness of part of household and public debt, and it promotes a shift of investments towards caring, education and the green economy, posing the satisfaction of basic needs through an “ecologically sustainable consumption” as its primary objective.

The policy could go further by shifting taxes from labour to resources, establishing environmental limits, controlling advertising, generalizing the basic income, and reforming the welfare state by thinking ways to universalize the solidarity economy that is thriving in Spain, providing viable and low cost solutions for health, care or education.

In Greece in contrast, the huge overhanging debt, and the need to escape the socially disastrous policy of austerity and structural adjustment imposed by the Troika, makes it much harder to ignore growth.

Syriza confronts austerity rightly with a proposal to forgive part of Greece’s public debt. Unfortunately though, the objective of such debt cancellation is seen as the relaunching of growth, with Syriza adopting Joseph Stiglitz’ proposal for a “growth-clause”, whereby the remaining part of the debt will be growth financed.

Syriza proposes a European New Deal and espouses public investments that will spur growth in Greece, but unlike Podemos, it does not talk of a “green” New Deal, or about a shift from conventional to clean industries or from resource intensive sectors to caring and education.

Within the current conjecture of powers in Europe, the dictatorship of the markets and the fixation of Germany with austerity, even the Stiglitzian proposal of Syriza comes to pass as “radical” and stands slims chances of being realized, save for dramatic socio-political events in Greece and a political upheaval in the EU. Assuming that Syriza were to implement its strategy one day, the question is what would it do if, even after a restructuring of debts, the professed growth was not to come.

Would it recoil into a left version of austerity as the “socialists” of Hollande did in France when faced with the same problem?
Would it pursue even more intensely the current extractivist model of development, exploiting the environments of Greece for resources, exports and tourism, even though this would be against the wishes of its political base that is at the forefront of current struggles against extractivist projects?

Or would it stop and listen to its youth, which is involved in the thriving solidarity economy of Greece, trying to decipher and think how to universalize these pre-figuring local experiments into something new for the national economy as a whole? Not an easy feat, but a radical left was never supposed to follow the easy path.”

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Book of the Week: Radio Audiences and the Social Life of Radio Content (3)

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd January 2015


* eBook: Radio Audiences and Participation in the age of Network Society. Ed. by Tiziano Bonini and Belen Monclus. Routledge, 2015

Key theme: The listener as producer: the rise of the networked listener

In this third installment, editor Tiziano Bonini explores the social life emerging around radio programmes:

From the Conclusion: The Social Life of Radio Content:

“In their latest work, Spreadable Media, Jenkins et al. (2013) affirm that we are facing a paradigmatic change in media texts circulation. A hybrid model of circulation is emerging, a result of the combination of top-down institutional strategies (the media corporations that decide what to produce, when and how to launch a film/album/radio or TV series/bestseller book/event) and grassroots/bottom-up tactics. Control over media-produced content is no longer fully in the hands of the media themselves, but is negotiated with the public, one that is now connected into networks and capable of establishing the popularity or failure of a given content through sharing on its network.

Content produced by the media, and by the radio in particular, has never had such a rich social life. In the past, what one heard on a radio programme could only be discussed with a private circle of friends; today, the opinions of networked listeners generate more noise in the public space of (private) social networks. Audiences are making more “noise” than ever. One can listen to content produced by radio again and again, with a podcast, by sharing it through Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Audioboo, on one’s social network pages or one’s own blog; it can circulate without broadcasters being able to control its movements.

In the ecosystem of spreadable media, content is both user-generated and user-circulated (Jenkins et al., 2013). Networked listeners are becoming more and more productive, and this productivity consists of both the generation of one’s own content and the circulation of media content. The simple act of posting a link to a radio programme’s podcast on one’s personal Facebook page, along with adding a comment that provides a context for listening, is a highly productive act, which requires time, effort, intelligence.
Listeners have become producers on different levels: they produce comments/likes/retweets; they produce stories about radio content that they then share with their own social networks; they reproduce radio content, share podcasts, and contribute to their circulation. Listeners produce content that is picked up by radio producers and included in the radio flow, such as SMS texts, posts and comments on Facebook, tweets, phone calls, but also audio, photo, video, and text contributions that allow them to co-produce radio programmes. They also become co-producers of radio programmes by financing their expenses (see chapter 9). Listeners produce feedback that influences the editorial decisions made by radio producers (as in the case of the co-creation of musical playlists; see chapter 10), and produce independent radio and sound content that bypasses radio (amateur podcasters, Spreaker webcasters, Mixcloud and Soundcloud audio content).

If the media companies do not get used to coexisting with this new ecosystem and do not allow it to grow, they risk losing the attention and affect of the networked publics because, as Jenkins et al. (2013) say, if content is not spreadable, it is dead. “Information wants to be free” was a famous slogan by American futurologist Stewart Brand. It is now time to say: “media content wants to be free”. Adaptation to the new media environment is fundamental. English scholar David Hendy (2013a) offers three examples of this adaptation: 1) the degree to which radio is enabling listeners to create their own schedule; 2) the degree to which it is abandoning a proprietorial attitude towards its own programme material and allowing it to be shared and manipulated in ways it doesn’t control; 3) the degree to which it ‘crowd-sources’ by drawing on the creative efforts of ‘ordinary’ people.

The new intimacy between radio and its public that is emerging with SNS is reshaping the notion of the public, as well as radio production practices.

Whether this new intimacy is potentially liberating and democratic, in the direction indicated by Benjamin (the “politicisation of art” (2008)), or a means toward further exploitation, is not only a question linked to the new social network platforms, but one that can also be moulded and managed by human factors. Radio producers and listeners can use radio and SNS to engage in a fruitful exchange of content and build a more democratic and participative model of communication, or, on the contrary, reproduce the old, hypnotic, Pavlovian broadcast communication based on a master-slave (media/radio/SNS-audience/follower) relationship.
In this ecosystem, the traditional media, including radio, are no longer the sole guardians of knowledge and its circulation: they are immersed in a network and connected to each other and with the public, and they are only – for the moment – hubs for sorting bigger information coming from the other nodes of the network that they belong to. But today’s followers could be tomorrow’s producers, and the relationships of power between those who produce and those who listen could be reversed, because, as David Gauntlett brilliantly asserts, the broadcasting culture of “sit back and be told” is hopefully, potentially, being replaced by a networking culture of “making and doing” (2011, 223). Radio has always been a product of two players: the makers – who speak at the microphone – and the receivers – who listen to it and decode the message – but now listeners have more tools than ever before to act as makers too.”

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