Call for Papers: Decentralizing the Commons


We are witnessing today a steady growth in the impact of user-generated content and peer-production on the so-called sharing or collaborative economy. These emergent practices are an indicator of radical changes in the mode of production in an age of ‘prosumerism’, characterized by two main trends. On the one hand, corporations such as Google, Uber or Facebook are capturing the value created by the actors contributing to the collaborative economy, in a way that has been described by some scholars as an exploitation of free labour. On the other hand, projects such as Wikipedia or GNU/Linux are emblematic of a new model of production that relies on the contribution of many individuals collaborating to a collective project that is not owned by any given entity but rather by the community as a whole (Commons-Based Peer Production or CBPP). These individuals organise themselves without relying on traditional hierarchical and mercantile organisational structures, to produce a set of commons resources which are made freely available to the public for use and reuse. In the last few years, CBPP has expanded beyond the field of software and encyclopedias to also cover the realms of information (OpenStreetMap, Wikihow), hardware (FabLabs, Open Source Ecology), accommodation (Couchsurfing, BeWelcome) and currency (Bitcoin, Altcoins).

The concept of decentralisation is a key requisite for the protection of these commons — from their governance system, including the allocation of power and functions in the organisation of labour; to the characteristics of the socio-technical means of collaboration, in terms of both the underlying technical infrastructure and the ownership structure of such infrastructure. Despite the original design of the Internet as a decentralized network, with the advent of the Web 2.0, centralized (and often proprietary) platforms — typically driven by corporate interests — have progressively taken over the web. These centralized choke-points can be used by governments to increase surveillance (as disclosed by the Snowden revelations), to blackout the Internet (e.g. Egypt, Syria, or San Francisco’s BART), or to restrict the activities of activist organizations (such as Wikileaks). It has now become clear that it is not enough to develop free/libre/open source (FLOSS) alternatives, if we do not as well endeavor to re-decentralize the Internet. New decentralized software tools may ultimately be useful to support the operation and the long-term sustainability of CBPP communities.

In view of this, we organised the second FLOSS4P2P workshop (@Fablab London, supported by P2Pvalue), gathering a wide spectrum of people working on decentralized FLOSS projects that could help or support the activities of peer production communities. Given the success of the workshop, we would like to prepare a book in collaboration with the Institute of Network Cultures (on the model of the former MoneyLab Reader) to explore the topic of decentralisation in the commons sector.

We welcome proposals from academics, activists, researchers and practitioners interested in exploring the topic from a wide set of perspectives, ranging from computer science, engineering, sociology, philosophy, organisational theory, cultural studies, digital studies, etc. Contributions can cover a variety of topics, including tools for grassroots communities, commons-based peer production, both online and offline wikis, maker culture, activism, hacktivism, free culture, citizen science and hospitality exchange. Contributions can take a variety of formats, e.g. a story, a sci-fi tale, a comicstrip, a manifesto, a critical essay, an interview, a study, a poem, a conversation, a debate, a combination of the former… we would like you to experiment and surprise us!

We invite you to submit an initial abstract (max. 750w; count each image as 200w, if any) explaining your idea by January 30, 2016. Examples of possible topics are:

  • Dynamics of (de)centralization in CBPP communities
  • Decentralized software applications for online/offline communities
  • Decentralized solutions to tackle specific communities concerns
  • Guidelines for developers and/or researchers
  • Comparison of centralized/decentralized processes in CBPP (e.g. decision-making, infrastructure ownership, value generation, value distribution)
  • Practical experiences around centralized/decentralized structures (in the form of stories, research, interview, etc.)

The more compelling ideas will be selected to be included in the book.
Please upload your contribution using the following Easychair link:

If you have further questions about the expected content, format, etc. do not hesitate to let us know. We look forward to hearing about your ideas!