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Labour in the circuits of global markets: theories and realities

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
1st September 2014


Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 8.19.10 AMThis is to announce the new issue of Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation, entitled “Labour in the circuits of global markets: theories and realities:

It is Supply chains are becoming ever more tightly integrated as corporations vie with each other to bring their products to global markets before they lose their value through replication or obsolescence. This restructuring of supply chains involves the interaction of a range of different public and private, local and global actors, including companies involved in ‘knowledge-based’ activities as well as those producing and shipping material goods. Both intellectual and manual labour are implicated in these processes of consolidation and acceleration and feel the squeeze: in intensification of work, the precarisation of working conditions and the fragmentation of the workforce, raising challenges for the organisation and representation of labour. This volume brings together accounts of what is happening to logistical labour along global supply chains with theoretical discussions of the problematic relationship between the ‘knowledge-based’ and real economies, and material and immaterial labour. It also presents research on other dimensions of labour precariousness, with contributions from Europe, Asia and the Americas. This volume makes important contributions in the fields of political economy, geography and labour sociology.

Two articles, included in the issue, might be of special interest to the readers of our blog: Henrique Amorim discusses the theories of immaterial labour providing a critical reflection based on Marx, while our friends Pavlos Hatzopoulos and Nelli Kambouri with Ursula Huws write on the containment of labour in accelerated global supply chains using the case of Piraeus Port, a recently privatized Commons in Greece.

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Posted in Commons, Featured Essay, P2P Labor, Politics | No Comments »

The Malware

photo of Charles Eisenstein

Charles Eisenstein
31st August 2014


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“This is not about being nice. It is about staying focused on our real goals and not letting ourselves be hijacked by other motives. Again, there is no formula for how to do this, but I think that striving to accurately understand the world of the CEO – what it is like to be them, their humanness, and not a caricature of them as a monster – can only enhance our effectiveness. If we operate from a delusion we perpetuate the image of that delusion. “

I want to add to my reflections on my Green Party visit and my relationship to social and environmental activists in general, because I have been told that I seem to be much more critical of them than I am of the CEOs, politicians, etc. who are driving the world-destroying machine. Toward them, I counsel love and understanding – well don’t the people who have dedicated their lives to protecting the earth deserve it even more?

Usually, I feel more at home among social and environmental activists than I do among people with mainstream views, because I know we feel a lot of the same pain. A big issue in the air in Minnesota was the vast expansion of mining happening in pristine wilderness areas in the northern part of the state. I was happy to be among people who didn’t need convincing that this is a terrible calamity. I felt at home knowing that each person there feels it as intensely as I do; that no one justifies it for all the GDP and jobs it will supposedly produce, that no one covers it up with one or another glib story in which normal is normal. These are people who know, to varying degrees, that the story we call civilization bears a deep sickness.

When I identify habits of hatred and domination within activists, along with hidden motives of seeing oneself as good and right and better-than-thou, I don’t mean to impugn the fundamental wellspring of these lives of service, which can only be reverence for our planet and grief for what is happening here. We are, however, all born into a society of separation and we all carry its wounds. The hidden motives and habits I describe go along with these wounds. They are a kind of malware that steers the host toward behavior that no longer serves the original sponsoring motives of compassion and service. The malware motivates ineffective strategies: ineffective at creating real change, but effective in serving the agenda of the malware. One of these strategies is to arouse as much loathing as possible toward the people running the corporations and their collaborators in politics. 

I am familiar with this malware only because I have so often witnessed it running in myself. Sometimes when I am attacked, I notice a nearly unconscious, reflexive program to dominate the attacker, to beat him into submission, to humiliate him. Because I am well-versed in my logic and enjoy a lot of support, I could probably win such battles most of the time, come out smelling like a rose, leaving a trail of defeated enemies behind me until the day of my own humiliation. I might win each battle, but I would lose the war. Knowing this, when I get the occasional piece of hate mail around a certain sensitive topic that starts with, “Shame on you Charles for…” I do my best to suspend the domination program, responding instead along the lines of, “Thank you for your forthright expression of your feelings,” or something like that. (There isn’t a formula; it comes from a moment of understanding what it is like to be the other person.) Now I cannot say that the results are always good, but sometimes an adversary is converted into an ally, or at least a modicum of understanding and human connection is born. The questioner might still disagree, but it will not be in the spirit of “shame on you.” 

When it doesn’t work, I sometimes realize to my chagrin that dominance-behavior still snuck into the interaction despite my attempt to avoid it. A part of me hurts when I get attacked, and that hurting seeks expression sometimes by hurting back. This is the habit we call “fighting.” I don’t think that any of us, even if we have devoted our lives to serving what is beautiful, are exempt from habits like this, woven as they are into the fabric of our society. 

That is not to say there is never a time in the world for a fight. It is the unconscious, reflexive habit of fighting that is most dangerous.

How to translate the approach I described in personal interactions to important goals on a larger level, such as stopping the sulfide mining projects in northern Minnesota? I wish I knew. I am certainly not advocating that we shy away from exposing uncomfortable truths in order to avoid offending the mining CEOs. This is not about being nice. It is about staying focused on our real goals and not letting ourselves be hijacked by other motives. Again, there is no formula for how to do this, but I think that striving to accurately understand the world of the CEO – what it is like to be them, their humanness, and not a caricature of them as a monster – can only enhance our effectiveness. If we operate from a delusion we perpetuate the image of that delusion. 

How to effectively resist the mining companies? I do not know. I don’t think there is a short-cut answer, a trivial solution; if I were to offer one I would be insulting the intelligence of the dedicated activists who are intimately familiar with the situation. I think that all of the tools used today, from legal challenges to petitions to direct action on-site, are valid and needn’t be run by the “malware.” 

Here is an example of how the malware operates by contaminating truth with hatred. Initially, one might describe in graphic terms the damage that sulfide mining can cause: the dead fish and birds, poisoned lakes devoid of life, devastated forests, heavy metal contamination. This description evokes horror and grief. Then the malware takes over and says, “And the mining companies are well aware of the damage and they are doing it anyway! In service to their greed!” Aren’t they awful, appalling, inexcusable. I see this kind of argument all the time, as if the main point were to convince you to hate along with me. Unfortunately, such tactics repel the undecided, who are likely to discount the graphic descriptions of the effects of mining by thinking, “Those are just fighting words. They are exaggerating so that they can defeat these people they hate.” That’s what people do in a fight – they exaggerate the bad behavior of their opponents. That is one reason why I think the truth will be more receivable if it doesn’t accompany the invitation to hate. The same is true for many kinds of resistance action.

I am aware that sometimes it is hard to find another interpretation for corporate behavior; for example, when they actively suppress evidence that shows that their activities are harming people or the environment. It sure seems like pre-meditated evil in service of greed. When cover-ups are discovered, they should be exposed as well. But again, we don’t need to resort to the explanation that “they are just wicked.” Instead we can ask what story they are living in. And we can ask ourselves, When have we told lies, hurt people, and covered it up? Why did we do it and what were we feeling? 

Marshall Rosenburg famously said, “Every judgement is the tragic expression of an unmet need.” The same wounds that get activated as the malware in resistance actions also express themselves in the internal workings of activist groups themselves, if perhaps on a subtler level. The same character assassination, infighting, lying, and cover-ups play out, destroying solidarity, consuming energy that could otherwise go toward creating change, and generating untold stress. We cannot accomplish much from a fractured foundation. This is another reason to deprogram from the habit of judging and fighting; another reason to recognize our projections and use them as tools for self-inquiry. I find it a fruitful exercise to attempt this with the people (like anti-environmentalist politicians and right-wing hatemongers) who trigger me the most. It builds a new habit that also operates with respect to my allies and the people I love. 

I offer these observations about hidden malware so that my brothers and sisters who have dedicated their lives to healing our world will be more effective. It is not to take them to task, bring them down a notch and puncture their self-importance. That is not my crusade. I’m simply describing a virus whose virulence subsides when it is no longer hidden.

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Posted in Activism, Culture & Ideas, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Original Content, P2P Epistemology, P2P Foundation, P2P Subjectivity, Politics | No Comments »

Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
29th August 2014


By Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, 2010 – First published in Resurgence Magazine

For too long, too many of us have been entranced by heroes. Perhaps it’s our desire to be saved, to not have to do the hard work, to rely on someone else to figure things out. Constantly we are barraged by politicians presenting themselves as heroes, the ones who will fix everything and make our problems go away. It’s a seductive image, an enticing promise. And we keep believing it. Somewhere there’s someone who will make it all better. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s visionary, inspiring, brilliant, trustworthy, and we’ll all happily follow him or her. Somewhere…

Well, it is time for all the heroes to go home, as the poet William Stafford wrote. It is time for us to give up these hopes and expectations that only breed dependency and passivity, and that do not give us solutions to the challenges we face. It is time to stop waiting for someone to save us. It is time to face the truth of our situation—that we’re all in this together, that we all have a voice—and figure out how to mobilize the hearts and minds of everyone in our workplaces and communities.

Why do we continue to hope for heroes? It seems we assume certain things:

  • Leaders have the answers. They know what to do.
  • People do what they’re told. They just have to be given good plans and instructions.
  • High risk requires high control. As situations grow more complex and challenging, power needs to shift to the top (with the leaders who know what to do).

These beliefs give rise to the models of command and control revered in organizations and governments world-wide. Those at the bottom of the hierarchy submit to the greater vision and expertise of those above. Leaders promise to get us out of this mess; we willingly surrender individual autonomy in exchange for security.

The only predictable consequence of leaders’ attempts to wrest control of a complex, even chaotic situation, is that they create more chaos. They go into isolation with just a few key advisors, and attempt to find a simple solution (quickly) to a complex problem. And people pressure them to do just that. Everyone wants the problem to disappear; cries of “fix it!” arise from the public. Leaders scramble to look like they’ve taken charge and have everything in hand.

But the causes of today’s problems are complex and interconnected. There are no simple answers, and no one individual can possibly know what to do. We seem unable to acknowledge these complex realities. Instead, when the leader fails to resolve the crisis, we fire him or her, and immediately begin searching for the next (more perfect) one. We don’t question our expectations of leaders, we don’t question our desire for heroes.

The Illusion of Control

Heroic leadership rests on the illusion that someone can be in control. Yet we live in a world of complex systems whose very existence means they are inherently uncontrollable. No one is in charge of our food systems. No one is in charge of our schools. No one is in charge of the environment. No one is in charge of national security. No one is in charge! These systems are emergent phenomena—the result of thousands of small, local actions that converged to create powerful systems with properties that may bear little or no resemblance to the smaller actions that gave rise to them. These are the systems that now dominate our lives; they cannot be changed by working backwards, focusing on only a few simple causes. And certainly they cannot be changed by the boldest visions of our most heroic leaders.

To continue reading the full article visit http://berkana.org/berkana_articles/leadership-in-the-age-of-complexity/

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Posted in Culture & Ideas, Featured Essay | 1 Comment »

Critique of political economy of water and the collaborative alternative

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
27th August 2014


 

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 11.10.27

An thought-provoking critique on the political economy of water  along with a collaborative, Commons-oriented proposal have been published at the European Water Movement website, by Kostas Nikolaou, member of the initiative K136. Kostas begins his article criticizing the current practices regarding the water management and the recent efforts to privatize another Commons so to maximize capital accumulation. Then he deals with two critical questions: i) “who made and who makes the privatization of water everywhere in the world?” and ii) “saying no to privatization and ultimately preventing the privatization, say yes to what?”. Through the case of the collaborative alternative from Thessaloniki, Greece, i.e., the initiative K136, and other historical successes of the movement, Kostas makes concrete proposals for a cooperative alternative. If you are interested in the Commons (since you are here, certainly you are!), you should definitely read the essay in full here.

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Posted in Activism, Commons, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Featured Essay, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, Peer Property, Politics, Sharing | 1 Comment »

How Tech-Savvy Podemos Became One of Spain’s Most Popular Parties in 100 Days

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
25th August 2014


The Podemos banner asks, “When is the last time you voted with hope?” (Podemos Uvieu/flickr)

Originally published in Techpresident, this recent report by Carola Friedani details the unstoppable rise of Podemos and the participatory tools that have enabled it. We’re especially happy to see our friends at Loomio mentioned as one of Podemos’ go-to tools.


It has been called “a radical left sensation”; a “fledgling party” born out of the ashes of the Indignados (“the outraged”) or 15-M movement; and “the new-kid-on-the-block” whose success is yet another example of modern technopolitics or, as some experts have put it, “the power of the connected multitudes.”

Podemos (“We Can”), a new Spanish party established in March 2014, disrupted their nation’s political scene when it swept up five seats out of 54 and 1.2 million votes (8% of the total) in the European elections in May even though it was only 100-days-old. With 704,585 likes on Facebookand 321,000 followers on Twitter, it has more online fans than any other Spanish political party.

Founded by left-wing academics, and led by a 35-year-old political science lecturer, Pablo Iglesias, Podemos’ platform strongly advocates for anti-corruption and transparency measures, is supportive of participatory democracy and critical of the two main parties – the PP (the center-right People’s Party) and the PSOE (the Socialist Party) – as well as the government’s austerity measures. As Iglesias told the Guardian, Podemos is about “citizens doing politics.”

Iñigo Errejón, a researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, and the coordinator of Podemos’ electoral campaign, tells techPresident, “The rise of Podemos is about their new way of reading and articulating widespread citizen discontent, which had previously surfaced within the 15-M movement.”

Podemos is considered an offshoot of 15-M, a tech-savvy group that from 2011 to 2012 protested against the country’s political inefficacy, high unemployment and other political and economic woes.According to Cristina Flesher Fominay, founder and co-chair of the Council for European Studies Social Movement and a professor at the University of Aberdeen, Podemos’ popularity was made possible in part by its roots in 15-M as well as the charismatic and media-savvy leadership of Iglesias and the party’s ability to mobilize the youth, unemployed and voters that tend to abstain.

The party’s success also came from deep changes to the way politics has been done, says Errejón, a combination of bold reforms and use of technology to make the decision-making process as inclusive and transparent as possible.

Crowdfunding

Compared to a standard campaign, which in Spain can cost more than 2 million euros per party, Podemos succeeded with hardly any money, initially raising 100,000 euros (US$133,650) through crowdfunding.

Podemos’ charismatic leader Pablo Iglesias speaks at a rally (credit: CyberFrancis/flickr)

“Since the beginning, we believed that we needed to be financially independent from banks and corporations, and for this reason we asked for citizen funding,” Eric Labuske, 26, and Miguel Ardanuy, 23, who are members of Podemos, wrote in a joint e-mail to techPresident. “We have used crowdfunding for specific projects, such as building servers for our web platforms and materials for our political campaigns. We also use a monthly donation system to cover all our expenses.” Labuske coordinates citizen participation activities within the party and Ardanuy is part of a working group that is organizing Podemos’ Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Ciudadana) in October 2014 when members will debate and vote on proposals for an agenda, as well as the future trajectory of the party.

Not only is crowdfunding important in distancing themselves from the sway of corporate funding, according to Labuske and Ardanuy, it also enables citizens to get involved politically and, as a result, forces the party to be as transparent as possible. “As our funding depends on small donations from citizens, we have the obligation of being accountable and transparent, by publishing our accounts and balances online,” they explain. Podemos also documents its crowdsourcing process online.

Even now, crowdfunding is Podemos’ main source of funding, making up more than half of all its resources with the rest coming from regular donations. The party has collected more than 150,000 euros (US$200,450) since March 2014 through more than 10,000 funders.

Some of the money is used for specific projects; for example, when the PP accused Iglesias of associations with the Basque terrorist group, ETA, Podemos raised more than 16,000 euros(US$21,380) in three hours to defend themselves against libelous attacks.

Podemos also met their 23,000 euros (US$30,735) goal for organizing its Constituent Assembly. Any member can participate and anyone can become a member by filling out an online form.

Podemos’ lean crowdfunding model is also reflected in their bold reforms for public spending. It aims to set MEP salaries at 1,930 euros (US$2,580), or triple the national minimum wage, as opposed to the standard 8,000 euros (US$10,690) a month, and use the extra income towards building the party or towards a particular cause. Podemos also hopes to set a minimum guaranteed income and reform financial regulation.

Online voting and decision making

A large part of Podemos’ digital strategy is turning decision-making into an inclusive, citizen-driven process. It used an online platform, Agora Voting, to select their Euro-MPs during the primaries, attracting 33,000 voters who were verified through SMS. While those votes only account for 3 percent of their actual voter base, Podemos was the only party aside from Partido X, a 15-M spin-off founded over a year before them, that used open primaries, which allowed any voter regardless of party affiliation to throw in their support. Podemos also used Agora to select their executive coordination team, a group of 26 in charge of organizing the Constituent Party Assembly.

So far the platform has been used to vote directly for candidates, but in the long run Podemos may use some of the other voting models supported by the platform, such as liquid delegation. This form of voting allows a participant to delegate his or her vote to someone else they feel has more expertise, but the delegation can also be revoked. Agora also supports single transferable voting, a system that seeks to create proportional representation through the ranking of candidates in order of preference on a ballot.

Currently, Podemos is working on an even more ambitious project. LaboDemo (Laboratorio Democrático), a techno-political consulting and researching organization that is focused on how to use Internet tools to optimize democratic processes, began to collaborate with Podemos in June on testing new apps that would allow for instant mass polling.

“We started to test a number of tools after a national meeting of all the ‘Circulos’ on 14th June,” Yago Bermejo Abati, the coordinator of LaboDemo, tells techPresident. The ‘Circulos’ or Circles are local, offline places for citizen participation that are open to all, launched by Podemos in order to fulfil its ambition of being a real citizens’ party. The Circulos have been one of the key factors of Podemos’ success. Today there are around 800 Circles scattered throughout the country. During meetings, members discuss policy issues, such as debating the proposals that will be brought to Podemos’ National Party Assembly. They often use Titanpad, a tool that allows many people to edit one document. “That means that everyone can take part in the building of Podemos. This is democracy,”says a post on one of the local Circulos’ Facebook page.

A screenshot of Podemos’ Circulos map

Podemos also uses the Circulos as a place to test new apps. “Appgree was first tested at the national meeting,” says Bermejo Abati. Appgree is a mobile app that filters proposals by type and can quickly poll thousands of people simultaneously. More than 9,000 participated during the national Circulos meeting in June and more than 5,000 were on the app simultaneously. A number of questions were proposed, for example, like suggesting a collective tweet to the president of Spain.

“We think Appgree will be useful in the future to allow very fast feedback regarding proposals or polls,” explains Bermejo Abati.

Another online platform Podemos just began to use in order to maximise participation is Reddit. “We believe that everyone needs to be part of the construction of Podemos,” say Labuske and Ardanay. “And unlike the other political parties in Spain, we want to use [Reddit] to enforce democracy in our country. We think that transparency and direct contact between politicians and citizens are vital to reach the level of democracy we want.” After LaboDemo suggested it, Podemos decided to use Reddit’s “ask me anything” feature to enable the party’s political candidates to debate with citizens.

“We wanted to create a massive national debate. We have chosen Reddit as our platform and we call it Plaza Podemos,” adds Bermejo Abati.

Plaza Podemos received more than 80,000 unique visits and more than 400,000 page visits since its launch about one month ago. During this time the party also hosted four Reddit interviews with Podemos Euro-MPs Pablo Echenique, Lola SànchezCarlos Jiménez and Teresa Rodrìguez, each of them answering hundreds of questions posed by users.

“We conceive Plaza Podemos as a virtual square to deliberate, discuss and visualize all the issues that concern Podemos’ followers,” says Bermejo Abati. “Since these interviews are done directly by the people, they produce truly interesting questions. It is also a great way for the MPs to explain some of their actions in the European Parliament.” Plaza Podemos is also enabling the offline Circulos to connect to each other virtually.

Podemos intends to utilize Reddit to debate the ethical, political and organizational principles that are going to be voted on at their National Citizen Assembly in October. The Reddit debates provide a new way of interacting with a political party and Bermejo Abati believes it will develop into a “new kind of politics.”

Another participatory platform that Podemos is currently experimenting with is Loomio, a collaborative and open source decision-making platform that allows groups of people to discuss issues, propose actions, gauge group opinion and are given a set deadline to vote. It aims to encourage consensus-making rather than the polarization of an issue.

“After Podemos adopted our platform, several thousand Podemos folk have now started 396 groups within the last month,” Ben Knight, co-founder of Loomio, tells techPresident. Some of them are local groups, like Podemos Toledo. Others are thematic, like Podemos Economistas, which as its name suggests, debates the party’s economic policy. “[Loomio’s] user-base and total activity have almost doubled as a result,” adds Knight.

A screenshot of Plaza Podemos on Reddit.

The problem with “e-democracy”

Despite Podemos’ success, it is not without its critics, especially those who pursue similar goals of using online participation to create a more inclusive democratic process.

“[The party] has been very efficient on social networks,” Simona Levi, a prominent former 15-M activist and a co-founder of Partido X, says to techPresident. “However it still hasn’t addressed some problems, such as the risk of clicktivism, of implementing a fallacious idea of participation.” She wonders how Podemos will prevent decisions being made primarily by those with the time to participate or whether people who vote online are really informed before they cast their ballot, especially when it comes to complicated policy issues like political or economic reform.

Levi explains that Partido X tried to address these problems with their own version of online political participation based on the idea that online participation by itself is not enough and that people don’t need to express an opinion on everything, especially if they are not informed enough.

“Our methodology seeks to go beyond clicktivism, introducing the idea of responsibility, competence and scalability in the participatory decision-making process,” she says. For instance, Partido X tried to implement a decision-making process based less on majority voting and more on consensus, less on opinion and more on expertise.

However noble Partido X’s attempt at creating a more meaningful platform for political engagement, it was less effective at communicating its vision to the public. While Partido X was often considered the main heir to 15-M, it was unable to win any seats in the last election while Podemos has become the fourth largest national political force and the third largest in many regions, including Madrid.

Podemos’ founders do realize its methods are far from perfect. “We are always looking to improve our participation systems and looking to find new ones,” say Labuske and Ardanuy. “Improving democracy is one of our main objectives, and we believe that technology is very important in reaching that goal.” And despite its flaws, Podemos is leading the way in online politics in Spain.

Carola Frediani is an Italian journalist and co-founder of the media agency, Effecinque.org. She writes on new technology, digital culture and hacking for a variety of Italian publications, including L’Espresso, Wired.it, Corriere della Sera, Sky.it. She is the author of Inside Anonymous: A Journey into the World of Cyberactivism.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident’s WeGov section.

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Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Networks, Open Government, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Public Policy, Politics | No Comments »

Recognizing a Human Right to the Commons

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
21st August 2014


Dutch legal scholar Femke Wijdekop of the Institute for Environmental Security has tackled an urgent question for anyone concerned with planetary environment.  She writes:

How can we construct a right to a healthy and clean environment that is enforceable in today’s complex international legal order? What legal construct would be visionary and ambitious enough to meet the urgent need for environmental justice and protection and at the same time be enforceable in court rather than fall into the category of ‘soft law’?

Femke Wijdekop

Wijdekop answers these questions in an essay, “A Human Right to Commons- and Rights-based Ecological Governance:  the key to a healthy and clean environment?” The legal analysis was published by the Earth Law Alliance, a group of lawyers organized by British lawyer Lisa Mead who advocate an eco-centric approach to law.

Wijdekop’s piece draws upon some of the ideas in my book with Burns Weston, Green Governance in arguing for “procedural environmental rights to establish, maintain, participate in, be informed about and seek redress for ecological commons.”  She has presented these ideas to international lawyers and constitutional scholars in The Hague, and is now reaching out to environmentally minded lawyers.

Here is the case for the commons as a new system of governance to protect the environment:

[The commons is] a dynamic governance system that leverages cooperation, bottom-up energies and local knowledge in service to the preservation and sustainable allocation of Earth’s natural resources. The distributed, flexible system of commons governance can more closely track the dynamic, complex realities of natural ecosystems than top-down bureaucratic systems typically do. Top down systems are more rigid and unable to adapt to the evolving circumstances of an ecosystem. They also tend to marginalize or override local knowledge and participation and bolder the interests of political elites who dominate the governance process. Commons governance on the contrary uses the creativity, energy and knowledge of the locals, channeling them into a supportive structure for synergy and innovation.

Wijdekop agrees that a procedural right to common – to access to the resources vital to one’s survival through a working commons – would offer an attractive alternative to the performance failures of nation-states and international treaty organizations.  She concludes that varieties of commons “would be rooted in a well-established social practice that is currently going through a resurgence all over the world. It has a rich legal tradition dating back to Roman times, yet is visionary and futuristic enough to accommodate emerging environmental harms and the legal responses needed to counter those harms. It would not only protect living commoners, but future generations and the rights of Earth herself as well. Because of its flexible and organic nature, the right to commons-and rights-based ecological governance could be tailor-cut to work for local commons and global commons such as the sky, the oceans or the atmosphere alike.”

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to Wijdekop has taken up the commons as a way to assert an “an ‘expansive’ human right to the environment that is resilient and enforceable.”

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Original Content, P2P Ecology, P2P Foundation, P2P Legal Dev., Politics | No Comments »

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

photo of Michel Bauwens

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.””

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

Essay of the Day: Engineering Self-Organising Electronic Institutions

photo of Michel Bauwens

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. ”

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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.”

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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.”

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