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The P2P Foundation Books of the Year 2011: Our annual top ten list of P2P books

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
9th January 2012


Here is our selection and reading recommendations of the best books we reviewed and presented in 2011 (but which may have been published in 2010). The same list but with links to extensive treatments for each book is here.

1. On Debt, hierarchy and P2P dynamics

Debt: The First 5,000 Years
David Graeber. Melville House Publishing, 2011

Without any doubt, this is the most important book of the year, and not just for the p2p/commons community. Not only is debt the key issue in the present structural crisis, but David Graeber has uncovered how this is a key thread running through human history.

Matt Cropp has an interesting quote on the ‘hierarchy’ aspect of debt:

“A debt between two individuals thus creates a temporary hierarchical relationship between them, and in societies in which the alienation of relationships pioneered by slavery has been internalized, such debts can then be transfered to, or even originated by, a creditor with no interest at all in the wellbeing of the debtor as long as the debt continues to be serviced. As a result, debts in such societies can make the status of debtor virtually a form of slavery as they are pushed to do things that would have been unthinkable had the need to pay off their debts not been hanging over their heads.”

(Reminder, last year’s pick was: Civilizing the Economy. A new economics of provision. Marvin T. Brown. Cambridge University Press, 2010; the whole 2010 list is here.

2. Understanding P2P Economics

Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition
Charles Eistenstein. EVOLVER EDITIONS/North Atlantic Books, 2011

A really great and important book, which also delves into the economics of usury, and pays attention to the anthropological and spiritual aspects of economic ordering.

Sacred Economics describes the dynamics of its collapse, reframing it as a birth crisis propelling humanity into a very different world. The book then describes the new money system and economy that will emerge afterward, an economy whose outlines we can already see today like a recessive gene hidden inside each institution of the old world, waiting the time for its expression. Its elements include negative-interest currency, resource-based economics, commons-based currency, peer-to-peer economics, gift economics, degrowth, local currency, mutual credit, and a new materialism — embodied in the money system — that sees the planet and every being on it as sacred.

2b. Runner-Up on P2P Economics

New Capitalist Manifesto. Building a Disruptively Better Business
Umair Haque. Harvard Business Press, 2011

Umair Haque makes the case for a new type of inclusive capitalism, that takes the common good into account.

“So here’s the twenty-first-century capitalists’ agenda, in a nutshell. To rethink the “capital” — to build organizations that are less machines, and more living networks of the many different kinds of capital, whether natural, human, social, or creative. And second, to rethink the “ism”: how, when, and where the many different kinds of capital can be most productively seeded, nurtured, allocated, utilized — and renewed. Put both together, and the promise is for companies, countries, and economies to climb to a higher level of advantage, to scale a steeper apex of achievement.”

3. On P2P Urbanism and Design

Twelve Lectures on Architecture; Algorithmic Sustainable Design.
Nikos A. Salingaros. Umbau-Verlag, 2011.

Øyvind Holmstad:

“With this new toolbox from Nikos we have the tools needed to truly reunite man with nature both through innate biophilic patterns and geometry. To respect and care for nature we have to create nature through infusing all we create with the geometry found in nature, and to obey the laws of nature. A reason why so many don’t care about nature today is that our cities and towns are anti-nature.”

3b. Runner-Up on P2P Design

Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive
Bas Van Abel, Lucas Evers, Peter Troxler, et al. BIS Publishers, 2011.

Open Design Now looks at design in the new creative commons, co-creation era. It presents practices, tools, and licensing systems, as open design is a way of designing everyone can participate in. It has been recommended by John Thackara.

4. Labor is becoming P2P

Dmytri Kleiner argues that capitalism is not compatible with peer to peer.

This book is written for politically minded hackers and artists, especially artists whose work is engaged with technology and network cultures.

4b. Runner-up: Labor is not a commodity, but a commons

Tom Walker considers employment as a common pool resource, i.e. advocates a labor commons instead of considering it as a commodity to be sold on the market.

5. Emerging P2P Political and Social Movements

Will the internet make us more free? Or will the flood of information that courses across its networks only serve to enslave us to powerful interests that are emerging online? How will the institutions of the old world – politics, the media, corporations – affect the hackers’ dream for a new world populated not by passive consumers but by active participants? And can we ever live up to their vision of technology’s, and its users’, potential?.

Barefoot into Cyberspace is an inside account of radical hacker culture and the forces that shape it, told in the year WikiLeaks took subversive geek politics into the mainstream. Including some of the earliest on-record material with Julian Assange you are likely to read, Barefoot Into Cyberspace is the ultimate guided tour of the hopes and ideals that are increasingly shaping world events.

5b. On the new mobilizations in 2011

Springtime: The New Student Rebellions
Edited by Tania Palmieri, and Clare Solomon. Verso, 2011.

First-hand accounts of the momentous student movement that shook the world.

“The autumn and winter of 2010 saw an unprecedented wave of student protests across the UK, in response to the coalition government’s savage cuts in state funding for higher education, cuts which formed the basis for an ideological attack on the nature of education itself. Involving universities and schools, occupations, sit-ins and demonstrations, these protests spread with remarkable speed. Rather than a series of isolated incidents, they formed part of a growing movement that spans much of the Western world and is now spreading into North Africa. Ever since the Wall Street crash of 2008 there has been increasing social and political turbulence in the heartlands of capital.”

5c. Runner-up: Global energy mobilizations

The above is really comprehensive book with many excellent chapters on social movements related to equitable energy provisioning:

“a major contribution to the movement working for a transition from carbon capitalism to an ecologically sound energy system. Its sixty chapters document the present energy crisis, describe alternative technologies, and introduces us to the people who worldwide are fighting for a healthy planet and the recreation of the earth’s commons”

6. On the revolution in Sharing and Human Cooperation

Jean Lievens has written an extensive synthesis of Yochai Benkler’s new book:

“In my opinion a wonderful book for anyone who is interested in improving and transforming our economic and political institutions.

Human motivation is a subject that ‘makes me tick’. I really enjoyed reading “The Penguin and the Leviathan”, not only because it paints a much nicer picture of “human nature” than the one used by the free marketeers, but also because it gives a glimpse of a future, higher form of society that will be much more based on human cooperation. I think it is important to see that the seeds of this future society are very much present today.”

6b. Runner-up: Rethinking Darwin to uncover the Evolutionary Roots of Morality

First-hand accounts of the momentous student movement that shook the world.

“The autumn and winter of 2010 saw an unprecedented wave of student protests across the UK, in response to the coalition government’s savage cuts in state funding for higher education, cuts which formed the basis for an ideological attack on the nature of education itself. Involving universities and schools, occupations, sit-ins and demonstrations, these protests spread with remarkable speed. Rather than a series of isolated incidents, they formed part of a growing movement that spans much of the Western world and is now spreading into North Africa. Ever since the Wall Street crash of 2008 there has been increasing social and political turbulence in the heartlands of capital.”

6c. Runner-up: The sharing revolution amongst contemporary youth

Share Or Die
Edited by Malcolm Harris. Shareable.net, 2011

Share or Die is the first collection of writing from Generation Y about post-college work and life in the 21st Century. … A new economy based in collaboration rather than competition is growing, and young people are at the cutting edge. Unsatisfied with their parents’ communities, 20-somethings are using technology to build an entire infrastructure of social entrepreneurship dedicated to using less and sharing more. Share or Die chronicles some of these projects and gives readers the tools they need to join this new economy.

7. What about power and governance in the P2P era?

“Tim Gee is an activist, a blogger and a campaigns trainer. His first book Counterpower: Making Change Happen is published today. It looks at the strategies and tactics that have contributed to the success (or otherwise) of some of the most prominent movements for change, from India’s Independence Movement to the Arab Spring. He discussed the ideas in the book with NLP’s Ed Lewis.”

Mobilizations and occupations are never sufficient:

“To maintain their dominance, elites need people to accept their ideas, they need a flow of finance and they need instruments of coercion to enforce their will. Demonstrations can help turn opinion against a ruling elite. But it is by undermining the flow of finance and the physical ability to enact laws that a movement really begins to show its might. In the book I call these three categories of resistance ‘Idea Counterpower’, ‘Economic Counterpower’ and ‘Physical Counterpower’. If we use all three we improve our chance of success.”

7b. Runner-up: internet governance

Clay Spinuzzi says this is an excellent book on the network form:

“He’s interested in the question of global Internet governance; “the problem of Internet governance has produced and will continue to produce institutional innovations in the global regulation of information and communications”

7c. Transparency as the new default

WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency
Micah Sifry. ORBooks, 2011

Cory Doctorow:

“Micah Sifry’s WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency is a thoughtful and thought-provoking look at the promise and limits of Internet-based transparency efforts. Sifry looks at everything from digital sunshine laws to the Iranian election to Cablegate, and examines what has worked to make the world’s governments and corporations more accountable and when technology-driven transparency efforts have failed. “

8. Nowtopian efforts in arts and urban gardening

Radical Gardening
George McKay. France Lincoln, 2010

George McKay in Stir magazine:

“Radical Gardening is about the idea of the ‘plot’, and its alternate but interwoven meanings in the garden. There are three. First there is the plot of the land, the garden space itself, how it is claimed, shaped, planted, and how we might understand some of the politics of flowers. Then there is the plot as narrative or story, whether historical or contemporary. The book draws on a small but persistent tradition of writing which sets itself against the dominant narratives of gardening. I trawled through many old and new anarchist and socialist magazines and leaflets to find some of these. Third, there is the notion of the plot as the act of politicking, sometimes a dark conspiracy but more often a positive, humanising gesture in a moment of change. So the ‘plots’ of Radical Gardening are the land itself, the history of the struggle, and the activism of the political conspiracy.”

8b. Runner-up: the peer production of art

This book directly addresses the peer production of art, and how this dark matter could move from the current ‘free labour’ and precarity position in the art world, to become its core.

A summary from the publisher:

“The premise of this book is that the formal economy of contemporary art is dependent upon a previously suppressed sphere of informal, non-market, social production involving systems of gift exchange, cooperative networks, distributed knowledge, and collective activities, which is becoming increasingly visible and potentially threatening to the symbolic and fiscal cohesion of high culture, especially in its most politicized form as interventionist art.”

8c. On the Situationist tactic of ‘detournement’

McKenzie Wark traces the Situationist International’s beginnings in 1950s bohemian Paris up to the explosive days of May 1968. This account puts the legendary figure of Guy Debord back into the context of the other fascinating figures who made up the movement, including Constant, Asger Jorn, Michèle Bernstein and Jacqueline De Jong. Accessible to those who have only just discovered the Situationists and filled with new insights, Wark reconnects their work to new practices in communication, built form, and everyday life.

9. Towards alternative P2P Infrastructures

Insect Media. An Archaeology of Animals and Technology
Jussi Parikka. University of Minnesota Press,2010

Jussa Parrika‘s book looks at how the internet and media are extensions of animality, rather than of our humanity.

9b. Runner-up: building blocks for an interconnected Collaborative Civilization

Report: Fast Thinking. a Research and Education Network Renaissance
Gordon Cook. Volume XIX, No.s 11-12, XX, No.s 1-5 February – August 2011 [26]

Gordon Cooks maps out the building blocks for an interconnected Collaborative Civilization .

9c. Runner-up, a reader on the continuing IP wars

Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property
Gaelle Krikorian and Amy Kapczynski (eds.). Zone Books, 2010

A classic reader with best-of-class essays on the topic.

This book is a major contribution to the A2K movement. I think it’s so important because the movement as I mentioned is very eclectic and diverse.

10. The new epistemologies and spiritualities

A review by Larry Susskind:

“In their extraordinary new book, Planning With Complexity (Routledge, 2010), Judith Innes and David Booher make the case for a new way of knowing and deciding. They call this new approach collaborative rationality. Instrumental rationality — the traditional way of making the case for what needs to be done and why in the public arena — has given way to collaborative approaches to generating and justifying decisions.”

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2 Responses to “The P2P Foundation Books of the Year 2011: Our annual top ten list of P2P books”

  1. Øyvind Holmstad Says:

    Fascinating, the author of book nr. 2 writes an awsome review of book nr. 1: http://www.shareable.net/blog/there-is-an-alternative-0

  2. Øyvind Holmstad Says:

    Here’s a quite resent interview of David Graeber by Ross Wolf: http://rosswolfe.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/the-movement-as-an-end-in-itself-an-interview-with-david-graeber/

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