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Essay of the Day: Reinvention of Social Capital for Socio-Technical Systems

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Michel Bauwens
17th August 2014

* Article: The Reinvention of Social Capital for Socio-Technical Systems. By Jeremy Pitt and AndrzeJ Nowak. IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE | SprING 2014.

From the Abstract:

“Social capital has been defined by Ostrom and Ahn as “an attribute of individuals that enhances their ability to solve collective action problems.” They observed that social capital has multiple forms, including a notion of “trustworthiness,” social networks including weak and strong ties, and institutions, i.e., those collections of conventional rules by which people mutually agree to regulate their behavior. They also suggested that trust was the “glue” that enabled these various forms of social capital to be leveraged for solving collective action problems, for example, the sustainability of a common-pool resource. However, we are concerned that trust is being undermined to the detriment of social capital, thereby adversely affecting our ability to address collective action problems. In developing socio-technical systems for successful collective action, for example in SmartGrids, we need to “reinvent” social capital, and discover a new “glue.””


Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Collaboration, P2P Infrastructures | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Engineering Self-Organising Electronic Institutions

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Michel Bauwens
13th August 2014

* Article: Axiomatization of Socio-Economic Principles for Self-Organizing Institutions: Concepts, Experiments and Challenges. Jeremy Pitt, Julia Schaumeier and Alexander Artikis. ACM Transactions on Autonomous and Adaptive Systems, December 2012.

From the Abstract:

“We address the problem of engineering self-organising electronic institutions for resource allocation in open, embedded and resource-constrained systems. In such systems, there is decentralised control, competition for resources and an expectation of both intentional and unintentional errors. The ‘optimal’ distribution of resources is then less important than the sustainability of the distribution mechanism, in terms of endurance and fairness, based on collective decision-making and tolerance of unintentional errors. In these circumstances, we propose to model resource allocation as a common-pool resource management problem, and develop a formal characterization of Elinor Ostrom’s socio-economic principles for enduring institutions. ”

Excerpted from a discussion by David Bollier:

“Our knowledge about what makes digital commons work is terribly under-theorized. Yes, there are famous works by Lawrence Lessig and Yochai Benkler, and there are lots of projects and websites that are based on commoning such as like Wikipedia, free software, Arduino, open access journals, among countless others. But can we identify core principles for organizing digital commons? Can we use that knowledge to engineer the evolution of new commons? Identifying such principles just might let us move beyond “openness” as the ultimate goal of online life, to a more sustainable goal, the self-governed commons.

It has been a pleasure to discover that some computer scientists are actively exploring how Elinor Ostrom’s principles for successful commons might be applied to the design of software.

There are lots of technical formalisms in the paper that I don’t understand, and to my mind the paper does not actually identify the “secrets” to engineering digital commons. But that’s okay. What is more important to me, for now, is that there are computer scientists deliberately trying to figure out how to engineer “planned emergence,” as Pitt et al. put it. The scientists envision “a new type of intrinsically adaptive institution” that can adapt to rapid changes in the social, technological and physical environment (unlike contemporary government). They also seek to combine “top-down control and coordination [with] bottom-up emergence and adaptation” in order to create hybrid institutions.

Pitt also has a very interesting article in Computer magazine (annoyingly behind a paywall also), about which he elaborates in a (free) YouTube audio interview. I found the title intriguing: “Transforming Big Data into Collective Awareness.” Pitt discusses with an editor of Computer “how integrating social and sensor information can transform big data, if it’s treated as a knowledge commons, into a higher form of collective awareness that can motivate users to self-organize and create innovative solutions to various socioeconomic problems.”
As much as we need new theoretical insights, one of the best ways to advance these lines of inquiry is to get out into the field and start developing a suitable taxonomy of digital commons.

One of the most significant changes in software design is the growing recognition that it must take account of the open, emergent properties of the platform. It’s not just code; it’s a socio-technical system. As Pitt et al. put it: “Traditionally, the role of a software engineer has been to apply some methodology to implement a ‘closed’ system which satisfies a set of functional and non-functional requirements. Our problem is to engineer ‘open’ systems where the primary non-functional requirement, that the system should endure, is an emergent property, and is a side-effect of the interaction of components rather than being the goal of any of those components.”

Designing a system so that it can adapt and evolve, and deal effectively with both errors and malevolent behaviors, is very difficult. But one might say that this is the essence of designing a commons. The code can’t solve all contingencies, but it must design as if human beings actually have some creative agency….because they do! Why turn users into automatons when they can become collaborative geniuses?

What I find exciting is the self-conscious attempt to devise “morphogenetic engineering” methods that use biological systems as a template for designing digital systems. This is not entirely new, of course, but the rise of electronic networks has made it both more attractive and feasible to pursue this line of software design. Just as ants or insects exhibit remarkable degrees of “undirected coordination and stigmergic collaboration,” as Pitt and his colleagues put it, so individual agents on open networks show remarkable capacities for such coordination and collaboration. (“Stigmergic,” as Wikipedia describes it, is the principle by which “the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a next action, by the same or a different agent. In that way, subsequent actions tend to reinforce and build on each other, leading to the spontaneous emergence of coherent, apparently systematic activity.”)

For more on biologically inspired digital ecologies, I recommend the work of Mihaela Ulieru, an expert in “digital intelligent systems” who alerted me to Pitt’s work as well as to her own work on “holonics” at the Impact Institute. (Thank you, Mihaela!) Holonics, as Wikipedia explains, is the study of self-reliant units of organization that are autonomous “wholes” nested interdependently within larger systems. One might say that the commons is implicitly about the study of holons because any commons is necessarily be nested within larger systems upon which it is dependent, and may itself contain holons as sub-systems.

Once you venture into the world of complex adaptive systems, you enter a world where the 20th Century ontologies no longer work. The focus is more on flows rather than stocks, and on processes and relationships rather than discrete things. This shift in orientation is needed because once you acknowledge that everything is interconnected and dynamic, it no longer makes sense to view an organism in isolation. The boundaries between an organism and its ecosystem become rather indeterminate. We start to realize that everything is embedded in everything else. Biologists are discovering, for example, that we human beings are not really discrete “individuals” so much as “super-organisms” comprised of vast numbers of sub-organisms and -systems such as “biomes” – vast collections of bacteria with whom we share a vital symbiotic relationship. Our very identities as a species and as individuals are not so obvious, but rather blur into the ecological context.

In light of this ontological shift, I find it fascinating that our perspectives may need to change from the third person to the first person, and from the (supposedly) “objective” to the subjective. For example, at the first German SommerSchool on the Commons last year, participants were concerned that Elinor Ostrom’s eight design principles are not very accessible to the general public; nor do they reflect the direct experiences and first-person voices of commoners. So they “re-wrote” them as a kind of re-interpretation or remix. ”


Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Governance, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Technology | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Additive Manufacturing as Global Remanufacturing of Politics

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Michel Bauwens
11th August 2014

In order not to yield to technological messianism, we should however be aware of the obstacles that the diffusion of these technologies is likely to meet, starting with those posed by the various actors who have opposite interests to their development, and those resulting from ecological constraints and the availability of resources.

* Article: Additive manufacturing as global remanufacturing of politics? By Yannick Rumpala. Paper for the Millennium Annual Conference 2012 “Materialism and World Politics”. London School of Economics and Political Science – 20-22 October, 2012

From the Abstract:

“There is a growing interest in 3-D printers because of the technical and economic implications they could have. The objective of this paper is to take the analysis even further by wondering if, as they could interfere in the material practices of production and consumption, they could not also have effects in a more political register. The first part of this contribution consists of re-examining the promises associated with this technology and highlights the implications of this technology as a possible way to restoring individual and collective capabilities (I). Secondly, the ways in which these machines could destabilize the industrial bases of contemporary societies, and therefore the economic order, are examined, along with the political implications of such a shift (II). Finally, the points of friction that these technological developments may encounter and that might affect future trajectories are clarified (III).”

Excerpted from Yannick Rumpala, from a blog summary presentation:

“The register in which 3D printing has developed is not really one of frontal resistance against the dominant terms of the economic system, but the latter could nevertheless find itself destabilized. This type of new technology seems to offer renewed capacities (control and mastery of the techniques used, unlocking of desires of creativity, etc.) for individuals or communities, especially the possibility of putting these capacities in social spaces that appeared to have been dispossessed of them. Could this be seen as a new form of empowerment by technology?

If each person can make, rather than buy, many of the objects he or she needs, then these new tools can bring current ways of life out of a massive industrial model dependent on large production units. They seem to reveal new patterns of production and consumption, and therefore potentially different relationships between individuals and commodities. For individuals, such a technology could thus represent a way of reducing their dependence on the industrial system. In addition, this technology, which is also designed so that some machines can become self-replicating, makes the presence of certain intermediaries almost unnecessary, including commercial intermediaries or logistics services.

If we examine them from Ivan Illich’s inspiration, these additive manufacturing technologies appear to provide autonomization possibilities, or at least they can give margins of autonomy. This method of personalized manufacturing allows the passivity to which the consumer has often been subjected to be circumvented, by reopening or broadening of spaces for creativity. The anarchist theorist Murray Bookchin, who, as part of his project of “social ecology” sought to show that some technologies can have a “liberatory potential”, may have seen there an example of those machines allowing to bring the production away from increasingly imposing industrial apparatuses and to free up individuals to do or complete other tasks than stultifying and binding work[4]. With this decentralized mode of production, which is a priori suited to individual needs, we can also assume that the utility value could tend to prevail over the exchange value, since anyone can make the desired object and that the exchange becomes superfluous (except perhaps when special characteristics must be added).
The potentialities of this type of technology are also linked to the social bases on which it grows. A large part of its development is indeed favoured by collaborations in networks, which allow individuals, again thanks to the Internet, to exchange and share ideas, and compare experiences. It thus has a strong rhizomatic potential, in the way it can spread (thanks to advances in the digital world), but also in the way it can challenge installed hierarchies and subordinations. The change would be possible not by an impetus from economic or political hierarchies, but diffusely, with a technology enabling new practices which, when generalized, could themselves have systemic effects. Thanks to the techniques developed, capacities seem to be given back to communities, like those that have qualified themselves as “makers”.

It is possible to imagine that the scope of these transformations can be global. Indeed, the space of flows (to use the notion of Manuel Castells) and the organization of these flows, both for materials and productions made possible, can be upset by the generalization of such tools, all the more so if they are accompanied by premises like fab labs becoming commonplace in everyday environments. If 3D printing tools bring the productions of objects back on more decentralized bases, it is likely to become difficult to speak of international division of labor. This type of technology, whose cost seems in fact to be decreasing, may make industrial infrastructures obsolete and can help redistribute economic power. It is obviously too early to say whether such tools can bring a halt to economic globalization, but at least we can assume they can contribute to dynamics of relocalization and reduction in the volume of international trade. From this point of view, one could compare this technology to an innovation such as the container, but with almost opposite effects. Additive manufacturing can contribute to further destabilization of hierarchies of scale, but in distinct forms, even adverse to those that could have occurred with globalization.

In order not to yield to technological messianism, we should however be aware of the obstacles that the diffusion of these technologies is likely to meet, starting with those posed by the various actors who have opposite interests to their development, and those resulting from ecological constraints and the availability of resources. Of course, this technology is not yet fully developed, but it would not be judicious to neglect it on the grounds of its uncertain future, for it could have a larger impact than the current experiments and techy craft projects that its designers and users are for the moment producing and trying to make work. These conceivable potentialities are all the more challenging to analyze that they revive questions about interrelationships between what is technical and what is political, including how technical advances can expand political capacities, possibly on a worldwide scale.”


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

Essay of the Day: Mitigating Anticommons Harms to Science Research

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Michel Bauwens
9th August 2014

* Article: Mitigating “Anticommons” Harms to Science and Technology Research. Paul A. David. The WIPO Journal : Analysis of Intellectual Property Issues, 1(2), 2010:pp. 59?73

From the abstract:

“There are three analytically distinct layers of the phenomenon that has been labeled “the anticommons” and indicted as a potential impediment to innovation resulting from patenting and enforcement of IPR obtained on academic research results. This paper distinguishes among “search costs”, “transactions costs”, and “multiple marginalization” effects in the pricing of licenses for commercial use of IP, and examines the distinctive resource allocation problems arising from each when exclusion rights over research inputs are distributed among independent owners. Where information use?rights are gross complements (either in production or consumption), multiple marginalization—seen here to be the core of the “anticommons” – is likely to result in extreme forms of “royalty stacking” that can pose serious impediments to R&D projects. The practical consequences, particularly for exploratory scientific research (contrasted with commercially?oriented R&D) are seen from a heuristic analysis of the effects of distributed ownership of scientific and technical database rights. A case is presented for the contractual onstruction of “research resource commons” designed as efficient IPR pools, as the referable response to the anticommons.”


Posted in Commons, Featured Essay, P2P Research, P2P Science, P2P Technology | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Prototypes for Open Source Urbanism

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Michel Bauwens
5th August 2014

What would a city look like if its infrastructures were designed, built, certified, and managed by its residents? Cities worldwide are witnessing today a transformation of their infrastructural and material landscapes. In the name of ‘open technology’, ‘open hardware’, or, more broadly, ‘open source urbanism’, citizens are wiring the landscape of their communities with the devices, networks, or architectures that they deem worthy of local attention or concern. From community urban gardens to alternative?energy microstations or Wi?Fi networks, open source hardware projects wireframe the city with new sociotechnical relations.

* Article: The right to infrastructure: a prototype for open source urbanism. Alberto Corsín Jiménez. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2014, volume 32,

A summary of this very important article from the abstract:

“This paper develops an analytical framework to place the rise of open source urbanism in context, and develops the concept of the ‘right to infrastructure’ as expressive of new ecologies of urban relations that have come into being. It describes, first, a genealogy for open source technology, focusing in particular on how open source urban hardware projects may challenge urban theory. It moves then to describe in detail various dimensions and implications of an open source infrastructural project in Madrid. In all, the paper analyses three challenges that the development of open source urban infrastructures is posing to the institutions of urban governance and property: the evolving shape and composition of urban ecologies; the technical and design challenges brought about by open source urban projects; and the social organisation of the ‘right to infrastructure’ as a political, active voice in urban governance. In the last instance, the right to infrastructure, I shall argue, signals the rise of the ‘prototype’ as an emerging figure for contemporary sociotechnical designs in and for social theory.”

Excerpted from Alberto Corsín Jiménez:

“What would a city look like if its infrastructures were designed, built, certified, and managed by its residents? Cities worldwide are witnessing today a transformation of their infrastructural and material landscapes. In the name of ‘open technology’, ‘open hardware’, or, more broadly, ‘open source urbanism’, citizens are wiring the landscape of their communities with the devices, networks, or architectures that they deem worthy of local attention or concern. From community urban gardens to alternative?energy microstations or Wi?Fi networks, open source hardware projects wireframe the city with new sociotechnical relations. Such interventions in the urban fabric are transforming, and even directly challenging, the public qualities of urban space. Public spaces become technomaterial artefacts that citizens take upon themselves to service and maintain.

This paper develops an analytical stance to place the rise of open source urbanism in context. It does so by surveying, first, the genealogical and conceptual purchase of the open source movement. Next, it moves to explore the concomitances of an open source urban hardware project in the city of Madrid, developing in the process a theoretical space for the novel epistemic work that such ‘prototypes’ (as I shall henceforth refer to them) are seen to be doing.

In brief, the argument focuses on three challenges that the development of open source urban infrastructures is posing to the institutions of urban governance and property:

(1) Conceptually, projects in open source urbanism are populating urban ecologies with novel—digital and material—entities and interfaces whose emergence destabilises classical regulatory distinctions on what were hitherto deemed public, private, or commercial property forms, technologies, and spaces. Who and what is urban space made up of when its equipment and infrastructures are open source?

(2) Technically, open source urban projects are built on networks of expertise and skills that traverse localised boundaries. Decentralised communities working in open source projects have to reach prior consensus over the methods, protocols, and standards to be applied. These decisions often generate new designs, techniques, and rules for certification.

(3) Politically, open source projects are transforming the stakes in and models of urban governance. In an open source project a community assumes political and expert management over its infrastructures. Such assumption by local communities of the governance of infrastructures is straining the social contract that state administrations have traditionally subscribed to as overseers of urban equipment.

Building on recent developments in social anthropology, social studies of science and technology, and urban studies, here I aim to offer an original analytical framework for the study of open source urbanism as a novel expression and assemblage of public and collective action, one which I tentatively name a ‘right to infrastructure’.

I have coined the term ‘right to infrastructure’ to echo deliberately Henri Lefebvre’s famous notion of the ‘right to the city’ (Lefebvre, 1996), which has become more recently an emblem of urban social movements worldwide (Mitchell, 2003; Purcell, 2013). However, as I develop it here, the right to infrastructure is neither a human?centred ‘entitlement’, part of what may be thought of as human?rights approaches to urban social justice; nor an object or device whose novel (say, sensor or network) capabilities ‘claim’ recognition in an urban ecology. It is neither a right to infrastructure, nor an infrastructure made right. Rather, the right to infrastructure allows us to escape the human–nonhuman and epistemology–ontology dichotomies altogether by opening up the agential work of infrastructures as a source (an open source) of possibilities in their own right.

Central to this idea of open source urban hardware projects as expressive of a right to infrastructure is their status as ‘prototypes’. The prototype, as I shall refer to it here, is an emerging sociomaterial design for our contemporary whose main quality is its permanent ‘beta’ condition; that is, whose social and material components retrofit each other as being in mutual suspension (Corsín Jiménez, 2013). The example par excellence of a sociotechnical prototype is free software, where the infrastructure (code) is self?grounded by the very collaborative effort that sets it in motion (Kelty, 2008). I shall return to the notion of the prototype later again in the argument. For the time being, let me note that this peculiar ‘prototyping’ status of open source hardware projects also offers a provocative port?of?call for documenting the emergence of novel ecological assemblages in urban contexts, in particular the work of ‘expressive infrastructures’ mediating digital, material, and social relations (Thrift, 2012). The analysis of open source infrastructures allows thus for an original approach to the study of the technical and social assemblages that have come to be known as ‘sentient’ or ‘cyborg’ cities (Gandy, 2005; Shepard, 2011a). Furthermore, open source urban hardware projects also offer a novel point of entry into ongoing debates about the status of intellectual property and patent forms under rapidly shifting regimes of informational capitalism (Biagioli et al, 2011), in particular as they affect claims over emerging ‘urban commons’ (Harvey, 2012).

The rest of the paper is in three parts. In the first part I briefly situate the ascent of open source hardware within the larger genealogy of the free and open source (F/OS) movement, in particular the rise of F/OS software. Here I do not aim so much to produce a deep historical or comparative survey of developments to date as to point to some of the key debates surrounding the political and technical implications of open source projects, for some of these questions affect profoundly how urban ecologies are modulated by certain infrastructural developments.

In the second part of the paper I describe different dimensions of an open source urban project in Madrid. This is based on over two years of ethnographic fieldwork with a variety of self?described open source architectural collectives in the city. The description includes a recent turn of events where I have myself participated in a reinscription of certain open source infrastructural projects as educational initiatives in the city. Overall, I place the project within a recent current in urban studies that pays attention to the wiring of novel sensor capabilities and network capabilities into emerging ambient and sentient ecologies, and I inquire into how these ecologies may be modulated when the processes through which they are inscribed and wired remain open ended.

I bring the argument to a close in the last section by outlining some of the challenges and disruptions that thinking with and through open source infrastructures is likely to pose to urban and social theory at large.”

Alberto Corsín Jiménez continues on Open Source Infrastructures:

“The open source movement has drawn considerable attention of late. ‘Openness’ has become a favoured slogan for describing the epistemic pressures and transformations undergone by the political economy of knowledge and technoscience in the age of informational capitalism. Thus, whilst some authors have argued that the structure of digital information—in particular the negligible costs of reproduction—instantiates a de facto regime of superabundant or ‘open knowledge’ (Foray, 2006, pages 172–179), others have drawn attention to the enclosure of such informational commons by existing proprietary regimes (Boyle, 2008).

However, as Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom have pointed out, it is worth remembering that access to information depends to this day on the maintenance and management of complex infrastructural facilities. Their suggestion is to think of information not as a superabundant commons but as a common?pool resource (Hess and Ostrom, 2003): a resource that requires storage and preservation, and over which one must define rights and rules of access, extraction, exclusion, and alienation (Hess and Ostrom, 2006, page 7).

Whilst the economic and political underpinnings of open knowledge are on the whole well understood, there are fewer studies of the cultural practices and social organisation characteristic of such initiatives. In this regard, the aspects of the new economy of open knowledge that has received most commentary to date is its grounding in novel organisational forms, in particular so?called peer?to?peer networks of collaboration (Benkler, 2006). The common view here is that peer?to?peer decentralised networks are blurring traditional distinctions between production, distribution, and consumption of informational forms. In this economy, users themselves become producers of content (so?called ‘prosumers’), and cooperation becomes the economy’s main, if not only dynamo (Benkler, 2011).

Although the organisational qualities of F/OS software projects have been much commented on (Ghosh, 2005), in?depth or ethnographic studies of F/OS cultures are much harder to come by. Chris Kelty’s (2008) historical and ethnographic account of the development of free software has already become a classic in the field. Kelty has suggested that communities of free software developers may be conceptualised as ‘recursive publics’: a form of public sphere where the architectural framework for debate and exchange is self? grounded in the very activity of writing, editing, patching, or recompiling the infrastructure (code) that programmers work with. In a recursive public, technology is deployed “as a kind of argument, for a specific kind of order: [free software developers] argue about technology, but they also argue through it. They express ideas, but they also express infrastructures through which ideas can be expressed (and circulated) in new ways” (Kelty, 2008, page 29, emphases in the original). The notion of a ‘recursive public’ offers, then, a very useful analytical framework with which to rethink the nature of politics when the infrastructures of participation are themselves open to (self?)modulation.

Gabriella Coleman’s recently published ethnography of the ethics and aesthetics of hacking similarly draws on long?term anthropological engagement with free software programmers (2012). Whilst Kelty draws attention to the structural innovation that ‘recursivity’ brings to public sphere theories, Coleman focuses instead on the cultures of liberalism that hacking enacts. According to Coleman, the toils and pleasures of hacking reveal a contradictory and tense relationship with (American) traditions of political liberalism. Hacker attitudes and work routines simultaneously challenge and take residence within liberal conceptions of freedom, labour, and intellectual property. Thus, whilst some hackers work towards protecting individual autonomy from intrusive corporate behaviour, others promote an experience of autonomy and freedom that rejoices in the virtues of sharing and learning. And yet other programmers take pleasure in the culture of transgression that characterises certain underground hacker practices (see also Coleman and Golub, 2008).

These innovative ethnographies of F/OS projects have shown how interventions in the domains of technology and property may also be conceptualised as interventions in the domains of collaboration and social and political invention; indeed, how these in fact subtend all politics as infrastructural politics. There is a historical lesson worth briefly rehearsing here, about the proprietorial and sociological frameworks and traditions that such infrastructural politics has contributed to exposing. According to Fred Turner (2006), digital utopianism, hacker ethics, and the political economy of peer?to?peer collaboration are long?term developments from Norbert Wiener’s interdisciplinary postwar experiments in cybernetic philosophy (1989), and in particular from the do?it?yourself, environmental, and ‘homebrew’ computing countercultural movements inspired by cybernetics. In this reading, the philosophy of cybernetics is deemed responsible for laying the conceptual ground for talking of ‘informational exchanges’, virtual communities, or digital economies of cooperation more broadly. It has contributed to the understanding of open source information as a political technology.

It is hardly coincidental, therefore, that the original impetus and advocacy for free software as a nonproprietary technology took root in the context of such countercultural movements. For indeed what first sparked the creation of free software licences—and has remained the most important cultural and political innovation in free and open source (F/OS) projects over the past thirty years—was the status of ‘openness’ as a proprietary object. The creation of the GNU General Public Licence (GPL) by Richard Stallman in the 1980s, which is the original and archetypical licence on which F/OS software programmes run, marked the first time that copyright law was hacked by the invention of a ‘copyleft’ licence (Kelty, 2011). But the controversy surrounding its original development is echoed today in almost all debates concerning the legal status of digital objects (Gillespie, 2007).

These include discussions about the intangibility, materiality, and legal agency of software and digital objects; the distinction and/or breakdown of the idea–expression dichotomy; and the ensuing problem of adjudicating between creativity, collaboration, and shared practice in software development. What is a copyrightable object (code, firmware, binaries)? Who are the (collective, individual, relational) subjects of rights? And how do these various distinctions map onto political, social, and ethical categories (the public domain, freedom, the commons)? These are all controversial debates that have been sparked anew by the digital revolution (Biagioli et al, 2011).

The study of open source urban hardware projects is part of these debates, posing a formidable challenge to—and spurring considerable innovations in—property forms and law. For in most countries the licensing of designs in open hardware projects falls under the jurisdiction of patent law, not copyright law.

Unlike F/OS programmes, open source hardware projects produce tangible outputs— artefacts, devices, machines. According to the Open Source Hardware Definition and Statement of Principles, what makes a piece of hardware ‘open’ is its design process (OSHW Draft, “Definition of free cultural works”, http://freedomdefined.org/OSHW). It is the design, not the object qua object that remains open. This makes open source hardware fundamentally different from F/OS software, in that design and output do not coincide in the same object.

In software the code is the design and the infrastructure; in hardware, the tangible output is assembled from the design. In other words, the source of openness in open source hardware is the design. The design of an open source hardware project encompasses therefore both the design of its hardware and software and the documentary record of its design process. That is, one needs to make explicit how (in what formats, files, stages, languages) the process of design is described, documented, and published. Step by step such documentary registry spells a methodology of design. Hardware design documentation includes, for example, mechanical drawings, circuit? board layouts, photographs, and descriptive texts. There are many layers to a design, and open source hardware projects require that every native component of a design be rendered ‘open’, or that if a portion of the design is not released under a F/OS licence it be made clear.

An important consequence of the role played by the methodology of design in the standardisation of an open hardware project is its legal affordances. Open source hardware licences are generally limited to controlling the circulation of design documents and have no purchase over manufactured objects. In open source hardware, then, the method of design is turned into a social form with proprietary effects: that is, the organisation of the network of collaborators; the material qualities of components, formats, and layers (photographs, sketches, code); and the methods of description and documentation are all entangled in the social process of making or hacking property. Property is not the outcome or output of a design process, but the very design process itself. The question of what is open—and how the process of opening it up is carried out—when the underlying object is hardware rather than software, remains, therefore, a hotly contested issue, and one about which little is known to date.”


Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Infrastructures, P2P Public Policy | No Comments »

Essay: Towards a Participatory Market Society

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Michel Bauwens
31st July 2014

* Article: Economics 2.0: The Natural Step towards A Self-Regulating, Participatory Market Society. Dirk Helbing.

From the Abstract:

“Despite all our great advances in science, technology and financial innovations, many soci- eties today are struggling with a financial, economic and public spending crisis, over-regulation, and mass unemployment, as well as lack of sustainability and innovation. Can we still rely on conventional economic thinking or do we need a new approach? Is our economic system under- going a fundamental transformation? Are our theories still doing a good job with just a few exceptions, or do they work only for “good weather” but not for “market storms”? Can we fix existing theories by adapting them a bit, or do we need a fundamentally different approach? These are the kind of questions that will be addressed in this paper. I argue that, as the complexity of socio-economic systems increases, networked decision- making and bottom-up self-regulation will be more and more important features. It will be explained why, besides the “homo economicus” with strictly self-regarding preferences, natural selection has also created a “homo socialis” with other-regarding preferences. While the “homo economicus” optimizes the own prospects in separation, the decisions of the “homo socialis” are self-determined, but interconnected, a fact that may be characterized by the term “net- worked minds”. Notably, the “homo socialis” manages to earn higher payoffs than the “homo economicus”. I show that the “homo economicus” and the “homo socialis” imply a different kind of dynamics and distinct aggregate outcomes. Therefore, next to the traditional economics for the “homo economicus” (“economics 1.0”), a complementary theory must be developed for the “homo socialis”. This economic theory might be called “economics 2.0” or “socionomics”. The names are justified, because the Web 2.0 is currently promoting a transition to a new market organization, which benefits from social media platforms and could be characterized as “participatory market society”. To thrive, the “homo socialis” requires suitable institutional settings such a particular kinds of reputation systems, which will be sketched in this paper. I also propose a new kind of money, so-called “qualified money”, which may overcome some of the problems of our current financial system. In summary, I discuss the economic literature from a new perspective and argue that this offers the basis for a different theoretical framework. This opens the door for a new economic thinking and a novel research field, which focuses on the effects, implications, and institutional requirements for global-scale network interactions and highly interdependent decisions.”


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Essay: Grassroots Sustainable Community-Based Enterprise in India

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Michel Bauwens
29th July 2014

* Article: Jasmine growers of coastal Karnataka: Grassroots Sustainable Community-Based Enterprise in India. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development: An International Journal. Volume 23, Issue 5-6, 2011. Special Issue: Community-Based, Social & Societal Entrepreneurship

From the Abstract:

“The case of the jasmine flower growers in coastal Karnataka is an example of a local successful grassroots enterprise that has proved robust for over 70 years. The aim of this research is to examine the history, mechanisms, interconnectedness, and success of the jasmine growing program in coastal Karnataka and assess its compatibility with the community-based enterprise (CBE) model as proposed by Peredo and Chrisman [Peredo, A.M., and J.J. Chrisman. 2006. Toward a theory of community-based enterprise. Academy of Management Review 31, no. 2: 309–28]. We found that the existence of a natural, autonomously developed CBE without ‘western’ intervention can help to fine tune our knowledge of sustainable CBE and assist in helping practitioners learn what works and what does not when proposing a CBE.”


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Enric Duran on shared and disobedient crowdfunding platform networks

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Stacco Troncoso
25th July 2014

We’ve recently featured Coopfunding, an Open-Sourced crowdfunding platform designed to “…promote the financing of projects with a social, self managed and cooperative nature.”  Today we present a guest article by Enric Duran, one of the developers behind Coopfunding and its parent-project, the Catalan Integral Cooperative, explaining the reasons that led to the creation of Coopfunding. This article was originally published in Radi.MS

The expansion of crowdfunding in the last few years has been quite vertiginous.

Hundreds of projects have been able to get off the ground around the world coming from very different backgrounds but united in the aim of creating a link between donors and the projects they sponsor.

Crowdfunding, for its practicality and usefulness, has expanded without any ideological limitation and while it served to finance many social projects it has also supported more conventional initiatives based on consumerism and business as meant in the capitalist system.

In this way, more traditional fund raising events like benefit gigs and have been overlooked, and we should take in to account that with the crowdfunding model we are at risk of leaving the financing of social initiative in the hands of unscrupulous business which, through the management of crowdfunding platforms, are making the same profit that any middle man would make in an ordinary business transaction, through the charge of commissions which range between 5% and 10% of the donations received. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indygogo have already made profits in the millions region.

we are at risk of leaving the financing of social initiative in the hands of third party business

Also, there are several projects which are managed by cooperatives which nevertheless still charge a 5% fee on donations in order to support themselves, like Goteo.org, managed on mainland Spain by a foundation dedicated to the expansion of common good, funditaly.it, a recent cooperative project and also a foundation in Veezuela calledwww.causasolidaria.com.

Another interesting project, which promotes the decentralization of its supporter, is Awesome Foundation, where donors from all over the world can network by theme or territory, pool their savings together and choose a project to which donate $1000 every month. Although it isn’t a micro-financing platform, it is still a project without intermediaries.

Still, there are some projects around the world that avoid supporting themselves through fee charging, like for instancehttp://www.microgenius.org.uk/, managed as a public service by http://www.communityshares.org.uk/ with the aim of facilitating the selling of shares in cooperative projects. Also without commission are Mymoneyhelp.fr, born in Lille, which is financed by social enterprise sponsoring and http://crowdfunding-italia.com, which is operating through voluntary work.

The majority of platforms impose an “all or nothing” clause with a limited term of not many days to accomplish the target

Another obstacle is that the majority of platforms impose an “all or nothing” clause with a limited term of not many days to accomplish the target (40 days is the usual). It’s a mechanism which benefits the intermediaries, since generally it is asked that promoters use their own funds or funds they had already secured through other means to start the campaign, of which they will have to loose the 5% commission fee in order to reach their target and secure the donations.

Furthermore, it seems to benefit the donors by guaranteeing the success of the projects they sponsor, whilst, in a sort of paternalistic way, denying them the choice to fund the projects regardless of it success in reaching the target.

Probably this does not affect the projects which have a strong human capital and who are well connected to social networks, since they will be able to fulfill the terms imposed, but this dynamic definitely puts smaller projects at a disadvantage, since they may not have the capacity to mobilize support in such a short amount of time. In this way then, a sort of social darwinism is created, where only the strong projects are likely to succeed, where as the smaller ones are lost on the way to oblivion. Evidently, this competitive and pressure are typical of the system in which we live, and not of the one most social movements are trying to create.

The fact is that a lot of projects which may need self financing can survive whether they reach their target or not, since that’s always been the case: many self managed projects have survived through the determination and creativity of their promoters. Many projects then, may need to receive on going financial support, or at particular times of the year, something that platforms such as crowdfunding do not take in to account.

Coopfunding.net re invents the concept of crowdfunding and adapts it to the real needs of the social projects that make use of it.

For this reason, it is necessary that we re invent the concept of crowdfunding and adapt it to the real needs of the social projects that make use of it. This is what the project coopfunding.net is trying to do, having become operative after many months of gestation.

Some of you may remember that Coopfunding already had a pilot appearance in the Spring of 20013, when a crowdfunding platform decided to cut our campaign due to the legal risks that it might have posed.

The campaign was collecting funds in order that Radi, which is not in operation at radi.ms, could become an alternative communication media through which we could still organize our activities despite my forced clandestineness since 2013.

This then, is another thing to bear in mind. 99% of crowdfunding platforms abide by the rules chosen by the 1% of the population, within the legal boundaries decided by different countries. Therefore, if we want to enjoy a crowdfunding platform which is coherent with the principles of projects which propose disobedience and revolution, we have to build one ourselves since we cannot depend on those which, despite their best intentions, are still bound by the legality of their policies.


Coopfunding is a crowdfunding platform, newly released, without commissions or mediation, where each project can choose their terms according to their needs. With or without dedlines, rewards, with total flexibility and with the objective of being a tool for supporting social change projects.

The financial sustainability of the project is envisaged to be relying on the donations of social activists, through varied payment options and through the inclusion of local currencies, barter and criptomoney, whatever each project decides.

Coopfunding is a cooperative project open to the participation of whoever may want to contribute to make it possible, within a framework of disobedience towards the current system and a vision of integrated revolution. Furthermore, Coopfunding is a shared ownership projects, since it relies ultimately on the open consensus process of the Cooperativa Integral Catalana.

The tools which we use to access such support should be shared and communal too

I think it is important that, if we want a society where the tools we need are shared and communal, we might as well start with the ones where we can already apply this principle. Since financial support is a key factor in the success of many projects who are building alternatives, the tools which we use to access such support should be shared and communal too.

It would be very interesting if we could create a network of cooperative initiatives so that they may collaborate and support each other and gain public visibility, something very important in order to reach all the people that are necessary to have an effective fund raising campaign.

We are hoping and wishing that soon many other projects of this nature will spring up around the world, if you know of any please share the information!


Posted in Activism, Campaigns, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Cooperatives, Crowdfunding, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Guest Post, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Foundation, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Information Machine and the Society of Metadata

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Michel Bauwens
21st July 2014

* Article: Italian Operaismo and the Information Machine. By Matteo Pasquinelli. Theory, Culture & Society February 2, 2014

From the Abstract:

“The political economy of the information machine is discussed within the Marxist tradition of Italian operaismo by posing the hypothesis of an informational turn already at work in the age of the industrial revolution. The idea of valorizing information introduced by Alquati (1963) in a pioneering Marxist approach to cybernetics is used to examine the paradigms of mass intellectuality, immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism developed by Lazzarato, Marazzi, Negri, Vercellone and Virno since the 1990s. The concept of machinic by Deleuze and Guattari (1972, 1980) is then adopted to extend Marx’s analysis of the industrial machine to the algorithms of digital machines. If the industrial machine can be described as a bifurcation of the domains of energy and information, this essay proposes to conceive the information machine itself as a further bifurcation between information and metadata. In conclusion, the hypothesis of the society of metadata is outlined as the current evolution of that society of control pictured by Deleuze (1990) in relation to the power embodied in databases.”


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Essay of the Day: Why the Soviet Internet Failed

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Stacco Troncoso
20th July 2014

Ben Peters

Ben Peters, Assistant Orofessor of Communication at the University of Tulsa, presents preliminary findings of a dissertation chapter examining why the Soviets did not succeed in building an ARPANET equivalent. In particular, he examines Soviet bureaucratic and social structures as decentralized networks, compares them to conventional critiques of centralized power, and speculates on the chapter’s relevance for modern-day practices of power distribution.


“Why wasn’t there a Soviet equivalent to the US ARPA NET? Building on fresh archival evidence, this paper examines several surprising leads: one, that the first person anywhere to conceive of and propose a national computer network for civilian use appears to have been the Soviet cyberneticist and Engineer Colonel Anatolii Kitov; two, that Soviet economic cybernetics tried repeatedly but did not succeed in building such a network; three, that the collective failure comes in part due to unregulated bureaucratic competition and infighting over resources within the Soviet state and academy (while the US ARPANET and French MINITEL networks initially benefited from centralized state subsidy) and in part due to the untenably comprehensive and hierarchically decentralized design in vogue among Soviet cybernetists in the 1960s. The fact that cybernetics was a discursive vehicle for reform-oriented science in the early 1960s makes its failed contributions that much more culturally poignant. These and other ironies are explored.”

Read the full text here


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