David Week: Grand narratives and P2P Theory

David Week reacts to Bonnita Roy‘s arguments on ‘grand narratives’:

“There is nothing in the “essence” of any theory that makes it into a meta-narrative. It’s the way it is used. Any theory, when used to dominate all other perspectives, worldviews, cultures, language by a strong claim that it is universal or foundational is being used a metanarrative: because the claim there is that it applies to all humans, in all places, at all times. This is kind of narrative colonialism, which instead of listening to other people or cultures or works of art to hear what they have to teach us, tries to subsume and include them in some overarching framework (which of course— amazing coincidence—is ours, not theirs.)

Consider Freud. Freud had certain ideas, and certain methods, that he imagined and projected as being foundational to the human psyche, and universal across all human beings. Today, psychotherapists don’t think or talk that way. Any mature psychotherapist will tell you that his approach may not be right for you, in which case he or she will refer you elsewhere. I trust you can see that the first approach (Freud) involves an attitude of totalising force, whereas the latter is more grounded, local, and individual.

Now: that does not prevent psychotherapists acting together as a cooperative, coherent community. The way that they work together is more a like a system of sharing or exchange, in which any particular therapist can choose to adopt certain tools and reject others, but without any method or theory binding on all of them.

Is this not strong? The metaphor which gives insight into this comes from Wittgenstein (talking about the meaning of words). He wrote that the strength of a rope does come from strands that run the entire length of the rope, but the dense overlapping of many short strands. This is true of real ropes (at least hemp ones: perhaps not nylon) and it’s also true of human communities. You can have a strong community without any single belief or attitude being common to all members: it’s the many overlaps in memory, in thought, in relationship that make it strong.

Let’s go then to P2P theory. Is it a metanarrative? It depends then on how you tell it. Let’s say that you conceptualise and offer it as a set of change models and tools, collected to enable people to move beyond capitalist forms of organisation, and collected according to a number of common themes including peer-to-peer, commons, cooperation, environmental sanity, equality etc. (there are probably 15-20 of these themes, that I can see). And these themes aren’t locked together in some kind of rigid “model”. They are all chosen just because they seem to have promise, and seem to work together well.

Can this help build large-scale, concerted, collective action without a being a metanarrative? Yes. Just as the psychotherapeutic community works without any over-arching universal theory, and builds change in people and in society quite successfully. Or, frankly, as industrialism works across religions and cultures without imposing any particular set of beliefs, but rather a set of structures and techniques which bind the industries of nations into a global economy.

So I THINK that the way that I have spoken here is consistent with what I see in my exposure to P2P as it is lived and spoken. And the reaction you are getting does not lie in some aspect of what you think of as P2P Theory, but more likely in the way that you tell it. Because for most of us with a university education of a certain era, the metanarrative style is so conditioned in that it really does take years of self-work and self-therapy to knock it out of one’s brain. But I think you’re most of the way there already, in the way that you actually speak and act, rather than, perhaps, the way you think a “theory” is supposed to work.”

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