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Ecological Backgrounds of the Deep Infrastructural Shifts in the History of Human Civilization

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Michel Bauwens
25th June 2014

Excerpted from Richard Heinberg:

“All human societies consist of three interrelated spheres: first, the infrastructure, which comprises a society’s relations to its environment, including its modes of production and reproduction—think of this primarily as its ways of getting food, energy, and materials; second, the structure, which comprises a society’s economic, political, and social relations; and third, the superstructure, which consists of a society’s symbolic and ideational aspects, including its religions, arts, rituals, sports and games, and science. Inevitably, these three spheres overlap, but they are also distinct, and it is literally impossible to find a human society that does not feature all three in some permutation.

For social change advocates, it’s what comes next that should agitate the neurons. Harris’s “cultural materialism” [2] argues for the principle of what he calls “probabilistic infrastructural determinism.” That is to say, the structure and superstructure of societies are always contested to one degree or another. Battles over distribution of wealth and over ideas are perennial, and they can have important consequences: life in the former East Germany was very different from life in West Germany, even though both were industrial nations operating under (what started out to be) nearly identical ecological conditions. However, truly radical societal change tends to be associated with shifts of infrastructure. When the basic relationship between a society and its ecosystem alters, people must reconfigure their political systems, economies, and ideology accordingly, even if they were perfectly happy with the previous state of affairs.

Societies change their infrastructure out of necessity (for example, due to depletion of resources) or opportunity (usually the increased availability of resources, made available perhaps by migration to new territory or by the adoption of a new technology). The Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago represented a massive infrastructural shift, and the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution 200 years ago had even greater and far more rapid impact. In both cases, population levels grew, political and economic relations evolved, and ideas about the world mutated profoundly.

Explaining the former example in a bit more detail may help illustrate the concept. Harris was an early adopter of the now-common view of the Agricultural Revolution as an adaptive response to environmental shifts at the end of the Pleistocene, a period of dramatic climate change. Glaciers were receding and species (especially big herbivorous prey animals such as mammoths and mastodons) faced extinction, with human predation hurrying that extinction process along. “In all centers of early agricultural activity,” writes Harris,

the end of the Pleistocene saw a notable broadening of the subsistence base to include more small mammals, reptiles, birds, mollusks, and insects. Such ‘broad spectrum’ systems were a symptom of hard times. As the labor costs of the hunter-gatherer subsistence systems rose, and as the benefits fell, alternative sedentary modes of production became more attractive.

Lifestyles based on cultivation took root and spread, and with them (eventually) came villages and chiefdoms. In certain places, the latter in turn mutated to produce the most radical social invention of all, the state:

The paleotechnic infrastructures most amendable to intensification, redistribution, and the expansion of managerial functions were those based on the grain and ruminant complexes of the Near and Middle East, southern Europe, northern China, and northern India. Unfortunately these were precisely the first systems to cross the threshold into statehood, and they therefore have never been directly observed by historians or ethnologists. Nonetheless, from the archaeological evidence of storehouses, monumental architecture, temples, high mounds and tells, defensive moats, walls, towers, and the growth of irrigation systems, it is clear that managerial activities similar to those observed among surviving pre-state chiefdoms underwent rapid expansion in these critical regions immediately prior to the appearance of the state. Furthermore, there is abundant evidence from Roman encounters with “barbarians” in northern Europe, from Hebraic and Indian scriptures, and from Norse, Germanic, and Celtic sagas that intensifier-redistributor-warriors and their priestly retainers constituted the nuclei of the first ruling classes in the Old World.

While I have omitted most of Harris’s detailed explanation, nevertheless we have here, in essence, an ecological explanation for the origin of civilization. What’s more, Harris is not merely proposing an entertaining “just-so” story, but a scientific hypothesis that is testable within the limits of available evidence.

Cultural materialism is capable of illuminating not just grand societal shifts, such as the origin of agriculture or the state, but the deeper functions of cultural institutions and practices of many sorts. Harris’s excellent textbook Cultural Anthropology (2000, 2007), co-authored with Orna Johnson,includes chapters with titles such as “Reproduction,” “Economic Organization,” “Domestic Life,” and “Class and Caste”; each features illustrative sidebars showing how a relevant cultural practice (peacemaking among the Mehinacu of central Brazil, polyandry among the Nyimba of Nepal) is adaptive to environmental necessity. Throughout this and all his books, indeed throughout his entire career, Harris aimed to show that probabilistic infrastructural determinism is the only sound basis for a true “science of culture” that is capable of producing testable hypotheses to explain why societies evolve the way they do.”


Posted in P2P Theory | No Comments »

Can ‘commonfare’ replace failed welfare states ?

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Michel Bauwens
23rd June 2014

how the ‘commons’ might become the basis for new forms of ‘welfare’

Excerpted from a discussion by provisionaluniversity in Dublin, Ireland:

“While the current regime of austerity makes it impossible for the state to provide for the material well-being of the population it is wrong to imagine that a return to a golden past of publicly-managed goods and services is possible or even desirable. Clearly the production and organization of water and energy infrastructure, social housing, healthcare and education at the level of the state allowed for huge investments and developments. But putting the provision of such basic social needs in the hands of a professional elite and state bureaucracy have also meant a separation between the many different needs and experiences of people and the institutions and expert knowledge that provide for them. The hierarchies that are built into state institutions have meant that narrow, often elitist visions of the public good have prevailed. Indeed this has ensured that the very notion of the public good has been eroded for some time as the provision of social needs, such as housing, has become little more than a form of charity or ‘service’ subject to chronic under-funding and poor planning, thereby reproducing of long-standing social inequalities. The exclusionary dynamics of the state have only been exacerbated with the financial crisis as governments have been quick to limit and put new conditions on welfare payments and access to basic social services that affect the most vulnerable.

The ‘commons’ thus arises in a context where the crisis of social reproduction, experienced everyday by millions across Europe, is not being met by either the state or the market. In response, many grassroots, community initiatives are occupying the space left open, developing new ways of providing and caring for one another. All across southern Europe, pragmatic, practical experiments are underway as people develop new ways of collectively responding to the everyday problems they face.

Greece is the obvious example, where the disasters of crisis and austerity have forced many people to develop their own networks of social and material support. In Madrid, Frossos, a woman from Thessaloniki, painted a vivid picture of how the social model in Greece had suddenly and shockingly been blown apart. The force of this change has not just played out in the political and economic spheres, but has also radically altered the fabric of social life. This has meant a tremendous amount of pain and suffering, which has partly been channelled into everyday racism and violence against migrants, but it has also been channelled into progressive social ‘experiments’. Frossos, for example, works in a solidarity health clinic run on a volunteer basis by doctors, nurses and other health-workers in Thessaloniki, Greece. The clinic offers free health care five days a week to anyone who needs it. Over the past two years it has treated 12,000 patients alone. It does this by raising funds for medicine and equipment through donations and fundraisers, such as hosting children’s music concerts in local schools. This is just one of a network of forty self-managed health clinics in Greece that have emerged since 2011.

Frossos is constantly being invited to be part of new projects and initiatives that are attempting to create new networks of solidarity and reproduction (food, health, childcare etc.) She said that these projects are emerging all over Greece because people have no choice. For example, only those who are officially employed can receive health insurance. This means that 3 million Greeks and countless undocumented migrants have no access to health care. New laws also mean that if you are taken to hospital for an operation or emergency and are unable to pay, the hospital is able to access the assets you own through the banks, including your house. There are stories of people losing their homes because they couldn’t afford the cost of an operation. Not surprisingly, people with no money don’t go to hospital even if they are dying.

Vangelis, who also volunteers in the solidarity health clinic, has been unemployed for four years. Because he works in the clinic for free he sometimes can’t afford the bus fare from his home. He relies on the kindness and support of those who are part of this new ‘community of healthcare’, as he put it. He explained that in this community the concept and practice of care extends beyond the normal hierarchical relationships between doctor and patient. The clinic does not function like the state medical institutions where patients are treated like objects and with expensive drugs. New relations and practices of healthcare are being established that recognize that health is not simply a technical, individual issue but a social, collective one. This community of healthcare also cannot exist without a wider network of solidarity and support. In this way, healthcare is not a discreet part of social life, a practice ‘owned’ by professional doctors and nurses, but rather the ‘common’ responsibility of all those involved.

The health clinic in Thessaloniki is a good example of how new forms of the commons are emerging in the wake of crisis and austerity. It illustrates how the commons is not simply about providing a material response to immediate social needs, but about the production of new social relations and practices at the level of everyday life. At the same time, the people who worked in the health clinic were acutely aware that what they were doing was not a panacea for the problems in Greece. There were many more people who were sick and dying than they could take care of. Everyday is a struggle with limited resources and labor. The minimal provision of services by under-resourced communities can also obscure the fact that while millions of people go without basis necessities, the common wealth of society is hoarded by private economic interests. This is a concrete reality for the health clinic as they struggle to pay for drugs and medicine that are privately owned by multinational pharmaceutical companies.

As well as the immediate difficulties of sustaining self-managed initiatives during a time of crisis, the organization of de-centralised, self-managed forms of social reproduction, such as healthcare, can be encouraged and used by governments at a time of crisis to placate and manage the population. While this is less the case in Greece, participants from the UK discussed the legacy of the ‘Big Society’ where the government has actively encouraged community management of basic public functions. This does not just function to obscure political questions of re-distribution, normalizing austerity, it also allows the government to more effectively police communities through various disciplining mechanisms tied to funding. In Dublin, the creative uses of vacant spaces is another way in which voluntary collective activity is being used to cover up the continuing failure of developer-led planning in the city. The positive aspects of these localized commons can also draw our attention away from the powerful financial dynamics that continue to create a topsy turvy situation in which austerity is normalized at a time when more wealth exists than ever.

One way in which the discussion of ‘commonfare’ attempted to address the apparent gap between the everyday grounded commons and the need to construct new forms of organization capable of sustaining real alternatives was to distinguish the self-managed commons from the idea of the common good. Where the self-managed commons can take many different forms, always situated and negotiated between a particular community and the resources they depend on, the common good refers to the universal need for healthcare, housing, knowledge, culture and so on. The common good is something like an axiom or principle that can guide action from below. In this sense it is not just an empirical description of our basic needs. Claiming that water, the city or even money is a common good means that it belongs to all of us, that we should have a say in how it is produced, managed and distributed. The clearest example of how this has been articulated through a concrete struggle comes from Italy where the successful campaign against water privatization was made on the grounds that water was a common good, not simply a public good that could be bought or sold by the government. As a common good it belongs to everybody and thus should be accessible to everyone. Similar demands and struggles are arising around Europe as people come to recognize that their demands for greater democracy and a life worth living go far beyond the miserly existence that the existing political and economic systems can provide.”


Posted in Commons, Ethical Economy, P2P Public Policy | 2 Comments »

Essay of the Day: Proposing a Tri-Centric Governance Model for the Food Commons

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Michel Bauwens
21st June 2014

Excerpted from Jose Luis Vivero Pol:

“The Tri-centric model to govern that transition to a commons-based economy

Nowadays, in different parts of the world, numerous examples of local transitions towards sustainable food production and consumption are taking place . Based on Elinor Ostrom’s polycentric governance (Ostrom, 1990, 2009), food is being produced, consumed and distributed by agreements and initiatives formed by state institutions, private producers and companies, and self-organized groups under self-negotiated rules.

The tri-centric governance schemes are usually compounded of

(a) civic collective actions for food undertaken initially at local level and whose aim is mostly preserving and regenerating the commons that are important for the community (food as a common good);

(b) the government whose main goal is to maximize the well-being of their citizens and providing an enabling framework to enjoy the commons (food as a public good); and

(c) the private sector that can trade undersupply, specialised or gourmet foodstuff (food as a private good).

Those initiatives demonstrate that a right combination of self-regulated collective actions, governmental rules and incentives, and private sector entrepreneurship yield good results for food producers, consumers, the environment and society in general, and the challenge now is how to scale up those local initiatives to national level. Civil Society + Ethical Economy + Partner State (enables and empowers social production = commons-oriented peer production)

The re-commonification of food will take several generations so the transition phase should witness greater levels of public sector involvement. The enabling State (similar to that of a partner state ) has a vital role to play through taxing and incentives schemes, public credit and subsidies for collective actions, enabling legal frameworks that are not too stringent for self-regulated initiatives and land reforms to maximize common interest. Public/Commons Partnerships shall be promoted so as to guarantee Health, Education, Water, Food and Energy Coverage. The state must be seen as a funding and operational instrument to achieve the society’s well-being, being food security part of it. However, this leading role of states should gradually be shifted to the self-initiated collective actions by producers and consumers, as the public provision of food does not surpass the net benefits yielded by the self-organized and socially-negotiated food networks. Therefore, there should be enabling spaces for local governments, local entrepreneurs and local self-organized communities to coexist.”


Posted in Featured Essay, Food and Agriculture, P2P Governance | No Comments »

Rediscovering Cornelius Castoriadis, thinker of autonomy and democracy

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Michel Bauwens
21st June 2014

Here is a very interesting interview from a major thinker on human emancipation, Cornelius Castoriadis. The interview was conducted by documentary maker Chris Marker for a series of TV episodes in 1989. The language is french but with very clear subtitles in English.

Watch the video here:


Posted in P2P Theory, Videos | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Horizontal Hope

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Michel Bauwens
20th June 2014

This is from the unknown author of a French-language book, L’espoir horizontal” Alternative et outil pour agir”:

“When Gutenberg invented the printing press the deployment of knowledge outside of the clergy and nobility quickly caused problems in the institutions of the feudal system; the decline of feudalism significantly expanded science and the university, and radically changed the world and its operations to lead us to the industrial era.

In general, our communication tools are levers that can radically change the way we work, encouraging us to deploy more “collective intelligence”.

Similarly, the internet today has produced a “crisis of conscience” about the reality of political decisions and help in the deployment of a new world of open – source , collaborative company management, participatory media, the 15M movement, Occupy Wall Street, leading to new kinds of revolts as in Tunisia and Egypt.

Although the internet is not going to solve all our problems by itself, such a tool will necessarily involve a major change in our society. One can even argue that it will allow us to establish a way of life more “human” and more equitable among all.

Unfortunately, the overall vision of what can make a tool such as the internet is often limited to a simple appeal to the “democratic” , where in reality it is our democratic vision that will revolutionize the internet. For the internet offers us the ability to share real- time information with everyone else. Among specialists in collective intelligence, we speak of ” holopticism.” Schematically holopticism is the ability for all members of an organization to collect in real-time everything that is going on. This is key when you understand how information is vital in order to participate equally in a decision.

Understanding collective decisions and synergy

Some have claimed that there is a natural selfishness in humankind and a need for leaders. Nonetheless, monarchies and republics, even with their leaders, have not yet, with few exceptions, avoided crises , revolutions and chaos.

Paradoxically, the greatest remedy to this selfishness was found in the collective decision-making . The idea of ??popular power is not a Greek invention, it is found to the origins of the human species : for example, even prehistoric tribes of hunter gatherers followed collective decision-making, and did not have a hierarchical structure.

Similarly, in nature, among dolphins , for example, one finds ways of living without hierarchy, where leadership changes from one individual to another at any time , and where individual freedom is extraordinary despite a strong spirit.

In humans, the method of decision-making that seems most prevalent historically is not dictatorship, nor a majority vote, nor “anarchy.”

This is a decision that involves a form of unanimity in the group, as evidenced by the exciting work of our ethnologists.

From “the apparent consensus decision” by Philippe Urfalino: The Navajo do not have the concept of representative government. They are used to deciding any issue in meetings of all concerned … Traditionally, they make a decision after having discussed until consensus is met, or until the opposition concedes that it is impractical to continue.

This way of taking collective decisions, described in 1946 by Clyde and Dorothea Kluckhon Leughton for Navajo Indians, seems to have been the most widespread form of social organization.

The presence on all continents of this mode of decision-making sometimes described as “consensus”, sometimes as “unanimous” is evidenced by the work of anthropologists and historians. This is the only mode decision found among hunter-gatherer societies ( Baechler [1994 ] Silberbauer [1982] ) and was also the only legitimate form of collective decision in village communities in Kabylia (Mahé [2000] ) and in Black Africa ( Abeles [2003 ] Terray [1988] ) and Asia ( Popkin [1979] , Smith [1959] ).

European village communities of the Middle Ages also used deliberative assemblies, concluding their decisions without a vote, particularly in central and northern Europe: Otto Gierke ( Cited by Dumont [1983], p 99) noted the prevalence of unanimity for Germanic Europe. The Assembly of heads of clans Iceland, Althing, probably worked the same way (Byock [2001]). Consensus still prevailed in the decisions in some Scandinavian villages [as recently as thirty or fifty years ago?] (Yngvesson [1978] for Sweden, Barnes [1954] for Norway).

When we point out these examples, our interlocutor often stops us immediately: “You speak of prehistoric tribes? You mean to say that we should engage in direct democracy? These modes of operations also saw tribal wars, plus they were in small groups and on a large scale this organization is impossible. It is already hard to hear in a small group , and then how to decide unanimously on the scale of a country? Anyway, they had the same problems as us, etc. “

It is then necessary to establish simple elements:

- No, we’re not talking about direct democracy as commonly understood, but a more complex form of organization that includes other ways of deciding sets.

- These are recent discoveries, and few are those who know exactly what decision-making process were used to achieve unanimity, let alone their exact mechanisms.

- Similar processes are used today in many commission of experts, assembly of eminent persons, or the Italian Constitutional Court , because we consider that it is the most effective methods to get the best decision.

- In addition, we know exactly why these modes of natural organizations are not found in large numbers?

Their mechanisms are generally misunderstood. They reside in both the means for sharing information in the time allocated to adaptation decisions, but also in the differentiation between the general consensus view, and that of consent.

We can represent the difference thus: one is a case of “everyone says yes,” and the other “no one says no.”

Let us dwell for a moment on this important concept. The consensus decision involves equality: it is the principle 1 vote = 1 vote. This is the method we use today in our Western democracies seeking what is called a majority consensus (51% of votes). This is a binary pattern of “for” or “against.” It is an aggregation of individual preferences, a bit silly without allowing for differences in strength of preference or conviction.

Sometimes we have simple preferences, while at other times, we are strongly opposed to a proposal as presented, or one of its implications.

Consent will generally involve consideration for the requirements to the decision: decisions will be made through firm opinion and reasoned objections will face priority over simple preferences. In trying to resolve these conditions, the final decisions will satisfy a much larger number of participants, and will also be better. It is also the only known way to successfully achieve unanimity

For example, if we are three friends and we must choose between two containers of ice cream, if two of us prefer vanilla but the third is allergic, we will choose other so that everyone can eat. The firm argued objection will carry more weight than the aggregate preferences.

Understanding these natural phenomena is now a key to better decide as a group. However, they have two main limitations: the need to communicate effectively and the time required to make decisions.

Do we know exactly why these modes of organizations that seem so natural are not found in large numbers? With our current democracies, it is assumed that everyone has or can participate in decisions as if they were equal to everyone else!

This is a big mistake. Imagine a chess game where your opponent could see the whole board, and on your side, you can see only a part. Even if you have an incredible intelligence, and are more talented than him, you will definitely lose this game: you cannot effectively analyze the best move to play because you do not see all the parts of the board.

The need to have enough useful information related to a decision is the first thing that pushed humanity to function in pyramidal structures, i.e , with a hierarchy, a leader who decides what is best for us. With the growth of major cities it became impossible for every member of our community to have sufficient knowledge of what was happening. In order to make a decision within a large organization, one needs enough general information. And the only way to allow someone to have this information is through the “centralization of information”: information passes to a higher level, and this in turn does the same, until the information arrives at the “head” of the organization, which has privileged access .

It’s called the panopticon: schematically, if you’re at the bottom of a mountain, you can see a small shrub near you but not what there is on the other side of the mountain. If you are at the top of the mountain, you will see the entirety of the mountain, but not the details.

You know more than the boss about what is happening in your business, but you know less than he or she does concerning what happens in other sectors.

Thus, we understand the concept of “information field” is an essential element for making good decisions, and that, without any skill. By virtue of having more information, you can make a better decision whatever your intelligence, your experience or your talent on the subject.

In a small group , we can easily share all relevant information , and thus move towards greater equity decision . But in a large organization , it was impossible and unimaginable until now.”


Posted in Featured Book, P2P Books, P2P Governance, Politics | 1 Comment »

Video: Tomas Diez on Evolving From Fab Labs To Fab Cities in Barcelona

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Michel Bauwens
20th June 2014

How Barcelona is redefining itself around digital fabrication.

Ouishare Fest 2014 presentation via Tomas Diez on Evolving From Fab Labs To Fab Cities

Watch the video here:


Posted in Commons, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Manufacturing | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Reproducing Wealth Through 3D Printers

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
19th June 2014


A Summary:

“This paper reflects a long tradition of utopian thought in engineering, a tradition in which the progressive application of human reason to nature is projected to make the market obsolete. This promise comes in at least two versions. One tendency, epitomised by the ‘red cyberneticists’ in the Soviet Union, primarily objects to the irrationality of the price mechanism, and strives to replace the market with computers as a means of allocating resources (Dyer-Witheford, 2013). The second tendency, to which Rep-rap project arguably belongs, looks forward to the day when wealth is so abundant that scarcity will have been superseded, and markets with it. But the quote testifies to another constant also historically prevalent in engineering thought, namely an uneasiness about conflicts of values and interests that might erupt in violence. To avoid this scenario, emancipation must be derived from the manipulation of natural laws that evolve independently of human consciousness and deliberations. This corresponds to a vision in which the market society, or whatever part of it is held to be undesirable, is to be overcome through a (second, third…) industrial revolution. By contrast, the opposing understanding of revolution situates human freedom in a radical break with the past and with the chain of causality that rules in nature. Another way to understand the word “revolution” in both these cases, is as “politics”. What is at stake, then, is two different understandings of how to think and do politics. The first prescribes technological development as a means of promoting social change, while the second puts its faith in popular mobilisation and the articulation of conflict. It is not my intention to compare and contrast the two ideas of revolution/politics in order to show one of them (i.e. the engineer’s vision) to be wrong. Instead, this paper explores their common historical roots and interdependencies. There was a time when there was no clear separation between the politics of the engineer and the politics of the social reformer/militant (cf. Jamison, 2006). As we will see later, the parting of the ways had something to do with the rebellious weavers of Lyon, the world’s first computerised workers. If I choose to stress the commonalities rather than the divergences, it is partly because the two ways of thinking and doing revolution/politics seem about to converge again. Geeks and engineers are forced to engage in parliamentary politics in response to intellectual property laws and related enforcement regimes. Social activists, in turn, are compelled to become acquainted with natural science and engineering in order to make sense of the social conflicts characteristic of today’s world .”

Excerpted from the conclusion:

“This article started out by observing that there are two related but partially opposed conceptions of revolution and, by extension, of politics. One idea prescribes social change through the development of new technology, whereby clashes between opposing interests can be short-circuited. The other stresses popular mobilisation and articulation of conflict, possibly culminating in violence followed by the depravation of the original values. In reality, neither has a particularly promising track record. On the subject of technology-driven revolution, David Noble identified the key question more than 30 years ago: How is it that everything seems to change constantly while nothing essential moves? He sought an answer in the engineering schools and their reproduction of a certain engineering subjectivity. Assuming that Noble was right, what is one to make of the current deprofessionalisation of engineering practices, evidenced in the existence of an ever-expanding community of hobbyist-engineers? The same observation holds for education. The hacker personifies a learning process that has escaped established engineering curriculums and the associated educational institutions. As the Mentor put it in his famous 1986 manifesto, the hacker rejects the pre-chewed chunks of knowledge spoon-fed to him by teachers.

The Rep-rap project sets out to provide one piece of the puzzle in a larger peer-to-peer manufacturing infrastructure. With such an infrastructure in place, engineers can bypass fixed capital. It is a roadmap for the “exodus” of engineering practices from wage labour relations and (which is the same thing) from commodity production. The role assigned to “self-replication” in this larger scheme of things, although framed within a conceptual framework of evolutionary laws and technical determinism, testifies to the very opposite, the importance of design choices. The kind of 3D-printer that can reproduce itself (in symbiosis with human beings) is designed to ensure the community’s functional autonomy from corporations and venture capital. The counter-scenario unfolds if the community relies on a Rep-Strap, that is to say, on a 3D printer where critical parts can only be made with large capital investment. This generates the need for for a return on investment, which prompts rationalisation, which leads to hierarchy, employees, and so on. Optimistically, it could be said that the open source Rep-rap 3D-printer, when combined with other tools in a larger peer-to-peer infrastructure, meets the criteria set out by Herbert Marcuse for what would constitute a new technology: “The technological transformation is at the same time a political transformation, but the political change would turn into qualitative social change only to the degree to which it would alter the direction of technical progress – that is, develop a new technology.” (Marcuse, 1964, p.227).

The Rep-rap project, for all its pragmatism, began with the goal of transcending capitalism. In contrast, when social movements have endorsed pragmatism and micro politics, they have typically come to terms with the present as an unsurpassable horizon for their politics. Insulated from post-modernist self-doubt, students in engineering departments never stopped dreaming of a radically better tomorrow. This Enlightenment legacy might prove important because, from environmental science to computer hacking, we are beginning to see the growing influence of engineering cultures and geek publics on traditional social movements. Activists belonging to social movements as well as social scientists have something to offer the geek public in return. Social theory is required to articulate conflicts that unfold behind individuals’s backs. State and corporate bureaucracies are clearly visible targets for hackers and hobbyist-engineers. Those institutions, which seemingly arise spontaneously out of the aggregation of individual choices – i.e. markets – are not always so easily identified. At times, engineers have denounced the price system as contrary to a rational and scientific organisation of society. At other times, price is seen as just a fact of nature, from which evolutionary laws can be deduced and the efficiency of a technical solution measured. When the latter standpoint wins the day, the market disappears from view, and all the fervour is directed against bureaucracies, state regulation and, with them, employment security. There is then an overarching risk that the dream of wealth-without-money will be fulfilled in its nightmarish form, as work-without-wages.”


Posted in Economy and Business, Featured Essay, Open Hardware and Design, P2P Manufacturing | No Comments »

The Return of the Subject After Postmodernism

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
19th June 2014

I find this text very congruent with what I have written in the past on p2p subjectivity.

Excerpted from Simone Stirner:

“Over the last ten years, quite astonishing changes have happened, for instance in terms of discussing subjectivity in academia. Across a variety of disciplines – literary studies, philosophy, political theory and even psychology – calls for a rethinking of subjectivity can be heard. Publications dealing with “The return of the subject” or “The Self beyond the Postmodern Crisis“, suddenly become ubiquitous.

But also in literature, film, arts and political agency, we can witness a paradigm shift. The subject reappears and it comes with other dismissed categories such as trust, belief, coherence and even love. I would suggest that it reappears in a confined space that Peter Sloterdijk in his “Spherology” describes as a “Bubble” – an artificially created space, where in a human, intersubjective experience, the outside forces exposed by postmodern thinkers can be temporarily shut out.

In Performatism or The End of Postmodernism, the literary scholar Raoul Eshelman depicts a new kind of subject that establishes itself in spite of disruptive forces in an act of belief. This subject is a coherent self that re-introduces the possibility for identification, affection and selfhood, although not in a naïve, unreflective way.

Similarly, Karen Coats assures that there is no way the Cartesian Ego can return after all that was learned from Postmodernism – only to then sling the slogan “I love, therefore I am” into the arena of debate, calling for a rethinking of the concept of the Self, acknowledging the role of love in its construction. The writings of Lebanese-French author Amin Maalouf ask for a rethinking of the concept of identity describing it as an act of positive affirmation, which can include an attachment to a religion or land or ethnic group, while acknowledging the instability of identity as such. And even the great evangelist of postmodernism, Ihab Hassan, suddenly calls for an “Aesthetic of Trust”, where in a “world flow of ultimate mysteries”, the relation between subject and object can be redefined in terms of “profound trust”.

As others have documented on this webzine, in literature as well as film or television, too, we suddenly come to meet characters who masquerade as coherent subjects. They are innovative figures who step into the scene with a quirkiness that, perhaps precisely because of their idiosyncratic authenticity, renders possible a new relation between literary hero and recipient. Furthermore, we experience a shift considering political agency: Wasn’t the subject of Postmodernism (as Slavoij Žižek doesn’t cease to remind us), essentially powerless in the workings of global capitalism? Then the symbol of the OccupyWallStreet-Protests, the fragile, yet brave and daring ballerina on top of the iron bull, definitely proves a new kind of political agent.

The reemerged subject is not the old modern one. It contains no transcendental justifications. Concepts of identity, selfhood and subjectivity can always be dismantled and deconstructed. But while the awareness about this still rightfully persists, new times call us to acknowledge that the subject nevertheless appears, in moments of intersubjectivity, in reciprocal spaces of believe, trust and love.”


Posted in P2P Subjectivity, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Book of the Day: The Principles of LiquidFeedback

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th June 2014

* Book: The Principles of LiquidFeedback. January 2014.

Info via principles2014@liquidfeedback.org

Summary from the author/publisher:

“This book gives an in-depth insight into the philosophical, political and technological aspects of decision making using the internet and the “secrets” of LiquidFeedback, a computer software designed to empower organizations to make democratic decisions independent of physical assemblies, giving every member of the organization an equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

The inventors of LiquidFeedback explain the principles and rules of procedure developed for LiquidFeedback providing the key features for democratic self-organization. They give a theoretical background about collective decision making and answers to practical questions. This is a must-read for anybody planning to make online decisions or to build online decision platforms and is also interesting for anybody interested in the future of democracy in the digital age.

The book contains more than 200 pages, including:

* detailed descriptions of the concepts of Liquid Democracy

* explanation of the structured discussion process in LiquidFeedback, including:

the collective moderation system
protection of minorities and the problem of “noisy minorities”
preferential voting

* reasons for the design principles of LiquidFeedback

* real-world integration into existing democratic systems

* analysis of the verifiability of voting systems”


Posted in Featured Book, P2P Governance, P2P Technology | No Comments »

Video: Michele D’Alena on the City as Commons Project in Bologna

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th June 2014

Interesting lecture at the Ouishare Fest on the pioneering efforts in Bologna:


Posted in Commons, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, Videos | No Comments »