David Ronfeldt’s TIMN and the four forms of governance

David Ronfeldt has posted not just his own table comparing four forms of governance, but a host of other tables from other scholars who have attempted similar typologies, making this entry a very useful resource.

I’m posting David’s table and comments below, but please go to the original page for the complete text with all tables.

There is one possible confusion with peer to peer to clear up first.

Peer to peer is the relational dynamic at work in distributed networks, leading to self-aggregation around the production of common value, and the 3 new social processes of peer production, peer governance, and peer property.

Peer to peer, or communal shareholding, i.e. the free contributions to common pools without expectation of personal reciprocity, is one of the four relational dynamics, identified by Alan Page Fiske in his relational grammar, and which also includes: equality matching (reciprocity based gift economies); authority ranking (hierarchical allocation); and market pricing.

So, these types of relations are clearly linked to both economic forms and forms of governance.

It is my opinion that the tribal economy was dominated by gift economics, but I have never really studied their governance; peer governance is what governs peer producing communities, who do not want to be expropriated from their universally available commons, by a bureaucratic minority which would allocate resources.

Where then can confusion arise? Well, peer governance is exclusively reserved for distributed networks engaged in peer production. For me, it makes no particular sense to put all networks (centralized, decentralized, distributed) together, as they will have different forms of governance. Furthermore, there is likely to be, despite the different economics (i.e. gift economy vs. communal shareholding/p2p), similarities between tribal governance and peer governance, because both are based on small group dynamics (p2p being marked by the global scaling and coordination of small group dynamics) and egalitarian by nature. However, my intuition is that the transmodern form of peer governance, based on free association by affinity, will necessary be different from the customary relationships of close-nit family-related communities.

So the question is: does David Ronfeldt takes these differences between relational types, economics, and governance models into account?

Without further ado, here’s the overview table from David and his key commentary below. (Click on the image to see full size as its too large for display in this post)

David Ronfeldt’s commentary:

“As an overview, the table conveys that each form, once it is subscribed to by many actors, is more than a mere form — it develops into a realm, even a system of thought and action. Each form embodies a distinctive cluster of values, norms, and codes of conduct; and these must be learned and disseminated for a form to take root and a realm to grow around it. Indeed, each form’s rise spells an ideational and structural revolution. Each is a generator of order, for each defines a set of interactions (or, if you prefer, transactions) that are attractive, powerful, and useful enough to create a distinct realm of activity, or at least its core. Each becomes the basis for a governance system that is self-regulating and ultimately self-limiting. And each tends to foster a different kind of worldview, for each orients people differently toward social space, social time, and social action. Indeed, what is rational — how a “rational actor” should behave — is different for each form; no single “utility function” suits all of them. Each attracts different kinds of personalities.

Thus each form becomes associated with high ideals as well as new capabilities. As each develops, it enables people to organize to do more than they could previously. Yet all the forms are ethically neutral — as neutral as technologies — in the sense that they have both bright and dark sides, and can be used for good or ill. The tribal form, which should foster community solidarity and mutual caring, may also breed a narrow, bitter clannishness that can justify anything from nepotism to murder in order to shield and strengthen a clan and its leaders. The hierarchical institutional form, which should lead to professional rule and regulation, may also be used to uphold corrupt, arbitrary dictators. The market form, which should bring free, fair, open exchanges, may also be distorted and rigged to allow unbridled speculation and profiteering. And the network form, which can empower civil society and its nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), can also serve to strengthen “uncivil society” — say, by enabling terrorist groups and crime syndicates to organize transnational networks. Thus, it is not just the bright sides of each form that foster new values and actors; their dark sides may do so as well. As Jane Jacobs (Systems of Survival, 1992, esp. p. 151) observed about what she calls the guardian (+I) and commercial (+M) syndromes, “monstrous moral hybrids” can take shape if they are mingled improperly.

Finally, note the bottom three rows. One points out that each form has a different architecture: Tribes, with their interlaced lineages and marriages, resemble circles and labyrinths (not to mention networks and webs). Hierarchical institutions are often depicted as pyramids or stovepipes, and markets as atomized billiard balls moving freely in space. Nowadays, information-age networks are said to resemble geodesic domes and “buckyballs” (after Buckminster Fuller). The next row observes that each form corresponds to a different aspect of anatomy: tribes to a body’s skin or look; hierarchical institutions to a musculo-skeletal system (as Thomas Hobbes implied); markets to a cardio-pulmonary circulatory system (as Karl Marx noted); and networks to a sensory nerve system (as Herbert Spencer thought, and many writers still suppose today). These are only analogies and metaphors, but they help impart the distinctive nature of each form.

The last row notes that each form is associated with a different information and communications technology revolution. In brief, the rise of the tribal form depended on a symbolic revolution: the emergence of language and early writing (runes, glyphs), enabling the storytelling that is central to tribal cultures. The rise of the hierarchical institutional form — as in the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, the absolutist states, and their vast administrative structures — reflected a mechanical revolution: the development of formal writing and printing, first penned script and later the printing press. This was important not only for keeping records and issuing commands, but also for inscribing laws that chiefdoms and states could apply to growing populations who were not kinfolk and often not well-known to each other. Next, the rise of the market form and its far-flung business enterprises was sped by the electrical technologies of the 19th century: the telegraph, telephone, and radio. Today’s spread of the network form extends from the digital revolution and its technologies, notably the Internet, fax machines, and cellular telephones, which are especially empowering for civil-society associations around the world and across political spectrums.”

4 Comments David Ronfeldt’s TIMN and the four forms of governance

  1. Avatardavid ronfeldt

    hello michel — many thanks for the interest, and for raising issues. it helps keep me going. i’ve some comments in reply.

    first, regarding fiske: i came across his work a few years ago. it remains intriguing that he too is working on four forms, and that we each started at about the same time in the early 1990s, he a couple years earlier.

    to recap, his four forms — or relational models — are communal sharing (CS), authority ranking (AR), equality matching (EM), and market pricing (MP). he indicates that people learn them starting in childhood, in that order. he also explains that they may occur in different mixes in different settings. if he offered a simple summary table about them, i’d post it, but the only table i find (fiske, 1991) goes on for pages (too complicated).

    i have quibbles with his details. for example, he says (fiske & haslam, 2005, p. 271) that elders deciding who marries whom is an instance of AR — but i’d say that in tribal/clan settings it has a lot more to do with CS. [yikes, so many letters. sorry, readers.]

    but even if we handle my quibbles, i still wonder about his framework. it’s good that his CS, AR, and MP models align respectively with my tribal (T), hierarchical institutional (I), and market (M) forms. as i recall, he agreed in an email that his CS corresponds to tribes (my T).

    but that leaves me wondering what to do with his EM. it does not quite match up to my notion of networks (the N in TIMN). and when i look at the details he lays out, it seems to me that some pieces belong under one form, and other pieces under another. yet, of his four models, it seems the one most suited to energizing civil-society relationships, though i don’t see where/whether he makes that clear. moreover, his evolutionary view — CS comes before AR, comes before EM, comes before MP — makes MP seem to be the most mature and sophisticated of all his relational models, which makes me cringe a bit.

    so, i’m continuing to think that, from a social systems perspective, EM should be broken up and distributed. i’m also thinking there’s a relational form that lies beyond, that’s not in his framework yet. perhaps something to do with knowledge-searching teamwork that doesn’t quite fit under his existing models.

    btw, i gather you associate P2P mainly with his CS (though i earlier thought you associated P2P more with EM?). yet, fiske (table, 1991) associates peer behavior with EM, not CS. but he associates the commons with CS, not EM. so, i suppose some matters remain to be sorted out regarding P2P vis a vis fiske’s models. i admit to being a little confused.

    i quite agree that there are different kinds of networks, and that this matters for governance. indeed, there are different kinds of tribes, hierarchical institutions, and markets too. that might be for another set of tables (but it’s not high on my agenda right now).

    as for TIMN vis a vis P2P, there is still much to discuss. in my view, TIMN means that +N is next, and that this will alter the earlier forms but not subordinate or absorb them. for +N to work well in advanced societies, culture wars (T-level) must subside. states (+I) will continue to be needed, in new ways. markets (+M) must be brought back into balanced association with the other forms. and maybe much of what you (and i too) like about P2P will take place along the way. at the same time, i sense that your view of P2P may be much more expansive across all the forms than is my view of how +N may shape TIMN. we shall see. — onward, david

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens


    A big thanks for this cogent response.

    Some reactions:

    1) first, you and Fiske are not talking about the same thing; yours is a governance typology, his a relational model. In my view, different relational models can co-exist in societies dominated with a particular governance model

    2) second, I associate P2P indeed with CS, i..e communal shareholding, because it is contributions to undifferentiated wholes, without expectation of a direct return from a particular individual

    3) I do find the evolutionary implication of CS coming first, problematic, because of my association of P2P with CS, and of the tribal economy with the gift economy.

    In my view of the literature, I’ve seen a lot of people describing tribal economies as gift economies and therefore Equality Matching … Perhaps he is talking about the very early, more undifferentiated tribal forms, where there was little exchange with the outside? And I’m looking at the more complex forms, using sophisticated gifting circles?

    4) To remind you of the essential P2P challenge to TIMN: we are focusing on distributed networks in particular, and of a particular governance forms that emerges with self-aggregation in peer production; while for me, TIMN generalizes different network forms into one model

    5) Otherwise, I agree that P2P will emerge and operate within continuing state and market forms for a long time to come


  3. Avatardavid ronfeldt

    a few additional points:

    the TIMN forms (not to mention fiske’s forms as well) have existed, spread throughout life, since ancient times. but they have arisen and matured at different rates, in different eras (for reasons discussed elsewhere). and as each form has arisen, a new realm or system of activity has take shape around it: e.g., the rise of +I leads to development of the state and associated politics as a major realm, even though hierarchical institutions show up elsewhere in society too (like business companies).

    these and other dynamics about the rise of earlier forms and their realms have implications for projecting what +N will do, and i think also for P2P. most important, its rise must end up defining a new realm, at least the core of that realm. if it does not do so, it cannot gain its fullest philosophical and doctrinal import. (maybe that’s the limitation of fiske’s EM form; it’s about a set of fairness principles and behaviors that are so widely distributed they cannot define a single realm, unlike his CS or AR.)

    thus a challenge for me, and i believe you as well, as we try to look ahead, is to figure out exactly what philosophical and doctrinal principles are so embedded in +N, and/or P2P, that a new realm emerges, a realm that is different from the prevailing ones. another way to ask is, what aren’t advanced societies getting done using existing forms that they could get done using a new form.

    asking that about +N or P2P when their rise is still new right now in the 21st century is a bit like asking, back in say the 16th or 17th century, how +M (the rise of markets) would affect societies. who could foretell +M would not only reshape their economies but also enable the spread of market principles into politics, resulting in liberal democracies?!

    even though it’s early and it’s dim, my thinking is that the answer will take shape around some civil-society activity that will better address social equity or public-goods matters. a new realm will emerge around that. at the same time, +N will affect the other realms. it will give rise to what i call the nexus state as a successor to the nation state, but it will still have hierarchy at its core. there will also be some new modes of economic production, but that won’t be the key, since +M markets will endure at the core.

    if this line of thinking is on track, one possible implication here is, don’t hang the future of P2P too much on new modes of production. look for something else as a central emphasis.


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