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Should we aim for P2P Guilds and Leagues instead of P2P Phyles?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
17th November 2012


“Such guilds and leagues as may be created in the service of p2p culture will be able to confederate in any number of flexible ways. So too can those peer groups who, despite my valiant efforts of persuasion, prefer to call themselves phyles, tribes, clans, pods, schools, gaggles, or ganfaloons… In many cases peers will be able to join multiple guilds, leagues, phyles, etc. as appropriate to their interests and skills. In p2p culture most such groups, despite their other characteristics, will tend to be the peers of each other and will tend to practice the same cooperative individualism or cooperative autonomy that pertains amongst individual people peers. This will make a flexible and resilient network of peers and peer groups spanning local, regional, national and global topologies.”

Excerpted from discussion initiated by Poor Richard:

“Various authors have suggested the concept of “phyles” or “tribes” for characterizing horizontal organizational structures in p2p culture. See for example the Las Indias cooperative movement. (p2pfoundation.net)

I am not opposed to these , and in the end it is important for peer groups to self-identify with the descriptions they prefer; but I think I prefer the idea of confederated GUILDS and LEAGUES, and perhaps I can make an argument for these terms that will be persuasive to some.

A guild can function just as envisioned for a phyle (from Greek phul? — tribe, clan) but does not carry the same connotation as a tribe, clan, or phyle of having a primary basis in familial kinship, nor the historical reputation (in certain cases) of rebellion against central authority. The subtle but important difference is that a guild is all about practical know-how and about taking care of business– not about ideology or revolution (eh, at least on the surface…).

Typically a guild (German: Gilde) is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. In the most general sense a guild is simply an organization of persons (peers) with related interests, goals, etc., especially one formed for mutual aid or protection. Historically guilds were any of various medieval associations, as of merchants or artisans, organized to maintain standards and to protect the interests of their members.

- “The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society. They often depended on grants of letters patent by a monarch or other authority to enforce the flow of trade to their self-employed members, and to retain ownership of tools and the supply of materials. A lasting legacy of traditional guilds are the guildhalls constructed and used as meeting places.

- “An important result of the guild framework was the emergence of universities at Bologna, Paris, and Oxford around the year 1200; they originated as guilds of students as at

One point on which I think guilds differ from Las Indias’ conception of phyles (“In Phyles, Community precedes Enterprise” -David Uguarte) is that for guilds, community and enterprise are two sides of one coin. I think this fits well with p2p culture while also being relatively non-confrontational with mainstream corporate/capitalist norms. The ability of guilds and leagues (such as the League of Women Voters) to present a relatively “normal” outward face, may have occasional tactical advantages.

According to Phil Jones,

- “One issue people have with the traditional Guild is that Guilds are demarcated by profession. They aren’t a grouping that implies a multidisciplinary team. Guilds are great for teaching, accrediting and providing a retirement policy but aren’t self-sufficient or “closed” economic loops.”

Guilds, phyles, tribes, etc. . . .each has extensive variation and we can pick and choose features of one or all and remix to suit our purposes. However, I think that overall, p2p relations have more to do with behavior and knowledge than with kinship. Guilds in the form of trade unions and academic institutions also have a rich history of confederation across multiple disciplines and locations, making the guild, IMO, a more appropriate basic raw material to further hack, improvise, and remix.

Michel Bauwens notes that “for lasindias, guilds can be phyles and are in fact the historical example for it .. the Venetian and Florentine guild councils, who originally ruled the cities, had international structures to support themselves, with halfway houses etc … The Hanseatic League is an interesting example. It never did have a constitution or formal membership as far as I know. Cities, guilds and towns just identified with it and co-operated in respect of matters of common interest, like suppressing piracy.”

Another interesting example is the Iroquois League:

- “The Iroquois League, historically the Iroquois Confederacy, is a group of Native Americans (in what is now the United States) and First Nations (in what is now Canada) that consists of six nations: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca and the Tuscarora. The Iroquois (also known as the Haudenosaunee or the “People of the Longhouse) have a representative government known as the Grand Council. The Grand Council is the oldest governmental institution still maintaining its original form in North America. The League has been functioning since prior to major European contact. Each tribe sends chiefs to act as representatives and make decisions for the whole nation.” (Wikipedia)

Anyway, I like many (if not all) of the characteristics of leagues and guilds, and I like the anachronistic romance of the words. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Justice League of America. . . these could become the League of Extraordinary Peers and the P2P Justice League. Steal This Film is a film series documenting the movement against intellectual property that was produced by The League of Noble Peers.

We could also have P2P Makers Guilds, P2P Designers Guilds, P2P Programmers Guilds, and P2P Privacy Guilds. Such guilds would not be organizational stovepipes. Peers could affirm their interests and expertise by membership in as many guilds as they may qualify for.

Interestingly, many players of computer and video games have become familiar with guilds and their popularity continues to increase. “In computer and video gaming, a … guild is an organized group of players that regularly play together in a particular (or various) multiplayer games. These games range from groups of a few friends to 1000-person organizations, with a broad range of structures, goals and members… Numerous [guilds] exist for nearly every online game available today” (Wikipedia) In some cases the guilds are internal to the game play and sometimes they are external. Some gaming guilds have their own web sites. I don’t know if these gaming guilders are learning good guilding habits or bad ones from the perspective of p2p culture. My distance from the gaming community has obscured this information from me.

In any case, such guilds and leagues as may be created in the service of p2p culture will be able to confederate in any number of flexible ways. So too can those peer groups who, despite my valiant efforts of persuasion, prefer to call themselves phyles, tribes, clans, pods, schools, gaggles, or ganfaloons…

In many cases peers will be able to join multiple guilds, leagues, phyles, etc. as appropriate to their interests and skills. In p2p culture most such groups, despite their other characteristics, will tend to be the peers of each other and will tend to practice the same cooperative individualism or cooperative autonomy that pertains amongst individual people peers. This will make a flexible and resilient network of peers and peer groups spanning local, regional, national and global topologies.”

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