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David Ronfeldt: hierarchies will not disappear

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd January 2009


Here’s is David Ronfeldt’s reaction to our critique formulated here and which concerned his new update to his seminal paper on cyberocracy:

David Ronfeldt:

“Michel et al. — Fair enough. Interesting too. Some comments in reply:

At first sight, I thought your criticisms meant we had generally neglected p2p networks. But that can’t be. We make a big deal out of the rise of network forms of organization, including “p2p” (though I have previously preferred the term “all-channel”).

Then I saw you refer to “peer production” (a la Benkler?), as found among open-source undertakings for software development and file-sharing. Well, that we do not attend to. I view it mostly as an innovation in a part of the economy — one that engages a proposition for my TIMN effort, and I’d rather take it up when I get around to doing the rise-of-markets chapter for that study.

[See below for a reminder of what TIMN is about. The proposition is that the rise of a new form (and its realm) has effects that modify the existing forms/realms. Thus, state hierarchies get modified by market principles to generate liberal democracies. Today, capitalist markets are being modified by network principles to generate new modes of social production. But I digress.]

However, I finally spotted that you were mainly referring to “peer-governed civil-society networks” that include newer kinds of entities than just NGOs and NPOs. Hmmm. Well, the paper does repeatedly emphasize NGOs and NPOs, partly for shorthand reasons, and it wouldn’t have taken much extra space to add epistemic communities, virtual associations, and other new network entities to the picture, not to mention individuals, as we have done in other writings. Moreover, on review, I see I left out a phrase I’ve used in the past to help cover such possibilities, by referring to the emergence from civil society “of a new network-based realm whose name and nature are not yet known.” I’m certainly not supposing that all of civil society will fold into this new realm. Maybe Danielle and I can edit for all this before long.

I try to keep an eye out for innovative entities and networks that transcend existing NGO/NPO-related categories. But I’ve not spotted a lot yet, even less when it comes to durable new entities that would be of interest to policymakers and could participate in governance programs. It will be interesting to see what happens to the “Obama network” in this regard.

Amid all this, you found our second section in the Postscript “disappointing, as a third nonprofit sector already existed.” Well, yes, it has kind of existed for a little over a decade or so. But that isn’t long. Researchers didn’t make much of it as a social or third sector until the 1980s-90s (see our citations). Policymakers still aren’t sure about it, from what I’ve seen. Our point is that its significance will be for sure when policy dialogue shifts — when it moves beyond the standard public-private, government-or-market categorizing, and engages a language that means going in distinctly new directions.

Later, you claim we have a “top-down bias.” But in fact, there is lots of room — and need — for bottom-up as well as side-to-side structures and processes in our vision. This is most evident in the section on sensory apparatuses, as in our references to sousveillance and collective intelligence. However, your comment is aimed at the section on networked governance. There we observe that hierarchy will persist; it is essential to some degree for states. But, even in the quote you use as an example of top-down bias, what we look forward to seeing are more networked partnerships between state and other actors. I figured it would be implicit that such networks would not have to be top-down hierarchical.

Perhaps you have a deeper critique in mind, akin to Kevin Carson’s interesting comments aspiring for p2p networks and p2p governance to displace hierarchies (not to mention markets too) as a main form of social organization. That networks are gaining ground relative to hierarchies and markets has been a key theme in my work for many years, esp. in writings with John Arquilla. We have even helped argue that networks can outfight hierarchies in some circumstances. But it is quite another matter to suppose that, over the long run, hierarchies (or markets) are goners, and networks their entirely preferable successors.

My theoretical stance stems from trying to figure out the TIMN framework and what it means for social evolution. As you may recall, it concerns how societies have developed four major forms of organization — tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks — and combined them (and their resulting realms) in a prefered progression that takes centuries to evolve: from monoform T, to biform T+I, to triform T+I+M, and next to quadraform T+I+M+N societies. As I see it, one of the underlying principles for success is balance: Each form, as it arises, is essential. For societies to achieve higher levels of systemic complexity, no form (or the realm it creates) should be allowed to dominate any other; some kind of balance and equilibrium should be built among these inherently contradictory forms and their realms. If correct, I regard that as science, not bias.

I hope to get back to working on this framework soon. Our cyberocracy paper relates to it, but I never meant for it to be a major endeavor.

One advantage of posting and sharing via SSRN is that the paper is not firmly published. After we see what other comments roll in, we could revise and repost.

I commend you on the material here on your blog. I’ve spent more time than before in browsing it, and I’m impressed. I’m also pleased that you’ve helped circulate our paper.

These are my personal, independent views (and Danielle’s may differ).

Onward.”

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2 Responses to “David Ronfeldt: hierarchies will not disappear”

  1. Michel Bauwens Says:

    From David Ronfeldt, via email:

    i’m delighted to see that you’ve treated my timn work well. yes, i had spotted your postings about it. that’s partly why i decided to include your name on my latest send-around: the cyboc paper.

    your email raises a lot of theoretical points, more than i can handle right now. maybe later, because this is all very interesting, and we are seeking in rather similar directions.

    but i do have one comment that i can offer quickly enough. it’s about fiske’s framework. there is some overlap with timn, but not exactly. i briefly explain this in a 2006 study you may not have seen yet that focuses on the tribal (t) form, but also contains material on the other timn forms (see url below).

    my take on fiske is different from your own. you equate the tribal form with equality-matching, but i equate it to his communal-sharing form. you think his communal-sharing form matches p2p nicely. in my view, none of his forms match the network form the way i’d like. here’s what i say there:

    “One psychologist (Fiske, 1993) posits that all social relationships reduce to four forms of interaction: communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, and market pricing. People develop their capacities for social interaction in that order, from infancy through early childhood. The sharing, ranking, and pricing forms correspond to the tribal, hierarchical, and market forms, respectively. The equality-matching form, which is mainly about equal-status peer-group behavior, does not correspond to any single form; it has some attributes that fit under network form, but other attributes (e.g., reciprocity, feuding, revenge) fit better under the tribal form.”

    the url for this (including for .pdf download) is: www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WR433/ (Social Forms, 2006)

    a deeper issue here is whether the tribal and the network forms are all that different. i think they are. and i’d like them to be so. i write several pages about this. but as i note, if it turns out that the new network form is an upgraded version of the old tribal form, then the timn framework should be converted into a three-form framework, and what will come next later in spiral fashion is an upgraded version of the hierarchical form. hmm

  2. Patrick Meier Says:

    I would recommend reading Brafman and Beckstrom’s “The Starfish and the Spider.” A short excerpt:

    “Decentralized systems, on the other hand, are a little trickier to understand. In a decentralized organization, there’s no clear leader, no hierarchy, and no headquarters. If and when a leader does emerge, that person has little power over the others. The best that person can do to influence people is to lead by example. Nevins calls this an open system, because everyone is entitled to make his or her own decisions. This doesn’t mean that a decentralized system is the same as anarchy. There are rules and norms, but these aren’t enforced by any one person. Rather, the power is distributed among all the people and across geographic regions” (pp. 19-20)

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