David Ronfeldt engages with the “Partner State” (2)

Second part of our republishing of David Ronfeldt engagement with the ‘partner state’ hypothesis.

* Article: Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 1 of 2) . . . vis à vis TIMN. By David Ronfeldt. ‘Visions from Two Theories’ blog.

The version below is without the links to the source material, so go to the original for them.

David Ronfeldt:

P2P as the transforming form

Bauwens’ concept of the partner state extends from his focus on the rise of “P2P networks.” By this, he means organizational networks that tend to be all-channel (or full-mesh), where everybody is or can be easily connected to everybody else, as an equal. By design and intent, P2P networks are open and inclusive toward all comers who aim to contribute as peers. Indeed, P2P is quite similar to the +N form in the TIMN framework (though, in my view, not all +N networks and actors have to be P2P).

Thus, P2P networks lack deliberate hierarchy and are decentralized. But more than that, they are distributed — broad distribution is a hallmark. In Bauwens’ view, P2P relations occur best (and perhaps only) in distributed networks. And he contrasts them to centralized (hierarchical / single-hub) and decentralized (heterarchical / multi-hub) networks, which tend to have leaders and hubs that may constrain members. Politically, he equates hierarchy with absolute monarchy, heterarchy with a separation of powers, and distributed networks with a bottom-up, nearly leaderless, even hubless mode of governance. As his colleague David de Ugarte writes, “We are in the process of going from a world of decentralised networks to a world of distributed networks.” (source)

In other words, P2P is akin to “panarchy” — a concept championed by his colleague Paul Hartzog (who is also John Arquilla’s and my source for the concept in our writings). As Bauwens has noted, quoting an unspecified writing by Hartzog,

– “The tagline on http://panarchy.com is “many.2.many :: peer.2.peer :: d.i.y” precisely because it takes all three of these conditions for an effective panarchy . . . . No one of them is sufficient.

– “D.I.Y.” [do-it-yourself] is necessary but not sufficient. “Many to many” is necessary because communication has to be happening so that individual parts are connecting, disconnecting, and reconnecting in a myriad of new ways all of the time, and “peer to peer” is necessary because that communication has to be happening in a non-hierarchical way in order to actively work against the systemic bias that is the natural consequence of power-based social systems. Communication is only possible between equals.” (source)

In still other words, P2P tends to be “stigmergic” — a concept favored by another of Bauwens’ colleagues, Kevin Carson (not to mention John Robb). What this means is that P2P leads to problem-solving outcomes by enabling multiple individuals to make constant, interactive, iterated inputs to address a task, progressively adjusting the whole until all converge on agreement. Thus, P2P networks are meant to be self-organizing and self-adjusting; they fuse both individualism and collectivism, both competition and cooperation, in ways that were not feasible, nor much valued, until now.

Bauwens has also said that “P2P projects are characterized by holoptism.” This means that participants can access all information about other participants’ activities and thereby see the whole at any time — it’s a kind of distributed topsight. Holoptism thus contrasts with the hierarchical concept of panoptism. In sum, dynamics like panarchy, stigmergy, and holoptism all help make P2P quite different from how hierarchies and markets normally operate to reach decisions.

For Bauwens, then, P2P spells a metaphysical as well as organizational shift. It enables “cooperative individualism” and promises an egalitarian revolution of “equipotentiality” in which “people self-allocate to tasks” and accomplish “permissionless self-aggregation” without having to risk being filtered-out or out-ranked. Thus, P2P would supplant the capitalist “division of labor” with an information-age “distribution of labor” that aims for “value creation” by people who contribute voluntarily as peers in order to develop the commons:

– “Peer to peer occurs whenever we can self-aggregate and produce value without permission or dependence on obligatory hubs.” (source)

– “P2P follows the adage: each contributes according to his capacities and willingness, and each takes according to his needs.” (source)

– “The individual who joins a P2P project, puts his being, unadulterated, in the service of the construction of a common resource.” (source)

Bauwens’ favorite examples of P2P’s emergence include the early open-source efforts at file-sharing (e.g., Napster) and software development (e.g., GNU/Linux), for they spelled the nascence of a digital knowledge commons. But that’s only the beginning in his view. He foresees that P2P will reshape all realms of political, economic, social, and cultural endeavor, from local to global levels.

P2P networks vis à vis other forms of organization

P2P theory is based on the rising importance of information-age kinds of networks. Yet, P2P also recognizes the importance of two other forms that have dominated social evolution for ages: hierarchies and markets. Indeed, P2P theory, rather like TIMN, is full of discussions about the evolving roles of all three forms — hierarchies, markets, and networks — and the interplay among their respective realms, entities, and actors.

Of the four TIMN forms, tribes figure the least in P2P theory. It recognizes their early roles in social evolution, as well as some modern manifestations (e.g., online tribes). Moreover, two P2P values — communal shareholding and egalitarian participation — are drawn from ancient tribal dynamics. And one of Bauwens’ favorite new ideas for future transnational enterprises —“phyles” — blends clan and network design elements. Nonetheless, unlike TIMN, P2P hasn’t given tribes the distinction and weight that it gives the other three forms. In spots, P2P even seems more like a hybrid of TIMN’s tribes and networks.

Which leads to another point: P2P theory often refers to hybrids; they occur quite often, and involve all the TIMN types of forms. Thus, Bauwens recalls the tribal form when he defines “P2P as communal shareholding based on participation in a common resource.” He regards the hierarchical form as a “natural and flexible” positive for P2P projects “where everyone finds his place according to demonstrated potential” — for indeed, he adds, “Peer to peer is not anti-hierarchy or even anti-authority, but it is against fixed hierarchies and ‘authoritarianism’.” Finally, the market form enters when P2P is viewed as “a hybrid form with market-based and commons-based aspects.” (source)

I think that Bauwens is correct in making points about hybrids. They are for real (and I’ve often written about hybrids myself). But they appear to play larger, more important roles in P2P theory than in TIMN. A positive I see is that, in identifying hybrids, P2P at least preserves ways and places for the classic forms to persist. This may help counter traditional antipathies on the Left to hierarchies and markets, and Leftist hopes that P2P networks could sweep them aside. But a negative I see is that hybrids are so important in P2P theory that they start to dominate the overall picture. Of course, in P2P theory, P2P networks are themselves supposed to become dominant. But that requirement, which is different from TIMN’s requirement that no single form dominate as societies advance, may be what inherently requires P2P to give greater importance to hybrids, including for defining the nature of the partner state.

In short, P2P has many overlaps with TIMN in organizational terms. That’s why I am attracted to examining P2P, and why I may do a detailed analysis comparing TIMN and P2P in a later post. For now, however, in order to keep this post focused on the partner-state concept, only a few observations seem pertinent to offer, as follows:

In P2P theory, P2P networks are not only the transforming form, but also the form that is expected to become dominant in the future. P2P networks will — and should — penetrate and alter all sectors and activities. States (i.e., hierarchies) and markets will still exist, but they will be so transformed that only vestiges remain of their original bureaucratic and capitalist tendencies. Indeed, the partner state will take shape as an expression of the P2P form, not the hierarchical institutional form. The partner state may initially emerge as a hybrid of the hierarchical and network forms, but P2P dynamics are supposed to eventually override if not supplant the hierarchical dynamics that ruled the bureaucratic nation-state. The little hierarchy that endures will be made more transparent, voluntary, and benevolent; and the exercise of power will become much more about responsibility than control.

This is similar to but not exactly like what TIMN augurs for the state and society. Yes, TIMN, much like P2P, is motivated by the rise of the network form, and expects it to alter all sectors and activities. But while TIMN, much like P2P, expects the network form to generate a new sector (see the next section), TIMN does not imply that the +N form will become the dominant form across almost all of society. States will continue to be more about the hierarchical than any other form, no matter how modified states become. In my view, TIMN is concerned about developing but also balancing and limiting the roles of all four forms, keeping their domains relatively separate despite their influences on and interactions with each other. TIMN expects hybrids to occur in all sectors, but not to the degree that appears in write-ups about P2P theory and its implications for politics, economics, and social relations.

None of this is to say that TIMN or P2P is right and the other wrong about the future of the state. I view both theoretical frameworks as still evolving, far from finished. I’m just trying to convey an understanding of P2P, while also analyzing it from a TIMN perspective. Bauwens’ partner-state concept is consistent in many ways with TIMN (though I think my somewhat-similar nexus-state concept will prove more likely, despite criticisms). Bauwens’ concept is, in my view, on the right track.

Moreover, as I noted in the post about Blond’s concept of the civic state, part of what seems interesting for both P2P and TIMN is that Blond (on the Right), Bauwens (on the Left), and I (in the Middle?) all end up in roughly similar places with parallel views about the future, despite our differing interpretations:

* We all recognize that the state will remain a crucial institution.

* We all sense that state and society should be less market-oriented.

* We all hope to strengthen the roles of community and civil society.

* We all propose new organizational approaches that reflect network notions — Bauwens and I far more explicitly than Blond.

These overlaps, and that last point in particular, serve my search for ways to foresee whether and how a +N sector may materialize — a key reason for my being interested in their future notions about the state and society.

Against this general background, I turn next to focus on several interesting and important aspects of the partner-state concept . . .

Well, not yet. This write-up is already far longer and more repetitive than I wanted, and I figure I still have a long way to go. So, partly for the sake of recovering a sense of momentum at this blog, I’m breaking it into two parts, and posting what’s above right now as part 1 of 2.

The second part, which may end up equally long, will address the following topics, probably under the following tentative section titles:

* P2P as a new (third) mode of governance based on civil society

* The rise of the commons as a new (third) sector

* Transition and transformation: a new phase of social evolution

* Toward a new political spectrum: beyond today’s Right and Left

* Wrap-up comments about P2P theory and the partner state”

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