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How the Iron Law of Oligarchy Extends to Peer Production

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
20th July 2014


I haven’t read this essay yet, but it is obviously crucial for a understanding of the real impact of peer production:

* Paper: Laboratories of Oligarchy? How the Iron Law Extends to Peer Production. By Aaron Shaw, Benjamin Mako Hill. Computers and Society (cs.CY); Social and Information Networks (cs.SI); Report number: ci-2014/96

Abstract

“Peer production projects like Wikipedia have inspired voluntary associations, collectives, social movements, and scholars to embrace open online collaboration as a model of democratic organization. However, many peer production projects exhibit entrenched leadership and deep inequalities, suggesting that they may not fulfill democratic ideals. Instead, peer production projects may conform to Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy,” which proposes that democratic membership organizations become increasingly oligarchic as they grow. Using exhaustive data of internal processes from a sample of 683 wikis, we construct empirical measures of participation and test for increases in oligarchy associated with growth. In contrast to previous studies, we find support for Michels’ iron law and conclude that peer production entails oligarchic organizational forms.”

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2 Responses to “How the Iron Law of Oligarchy Extends to Peer Production”

  1. Paul Hughes Says:

    Although the paper doesn’t target Wikipedia explicitly, Wikipedia most definitely falls into the category of “increasingly non-democractic” institutions. There track record over the last year, especially in regards to alternative medicine, is a travesty of democratic or impartial review. The very core of Wikipedia is to promote impartiality in the language for all entries, especially if there is controversy or dispute. But when it comes to things like alternative medicine, entries are written in a highly biased and dishonest manner. When challenged by the community through a petition, Jimmy Wales not only defended this bias, but actively enforces it.

  2. Christopher Aquilino Says:

    @PaulHughes

    I’m for decentralizing Wikipedia via political means. And/or replacing it with a decentralized wiki. Ward Cunningham has a Federated Wiki project, in that direction.

    Also some of the “iron law of oligarchy” on the web, is because of centralization of the net. I mean anything from the physical centralization, oligarchical software design, and political bodies that govern the net, just make centralization “easier”.

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