P2P Foundation https://blog.p2pfoundation.net Researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices Mon, 21 Jan 2019 15:13:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 62076519 El Cuá, Nicaragua: Community-owned hydropower transforms rural economy https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/el-cua-nicaragua-community-owned-hydropower-transforms-rural-economy/2019/01/18 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/el-cua-nicaragua-community-owned-hydropower-transforms-rural-economy/2019/01/18#comments Fri, 18 Jan 2019 17:30:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=74043 Association of Rural Development Workers – Benjamin Linder (ATDER-BL) Residents of the northern highlands of Nicaragua were typically overlooked by modern infrastructure development. The Association of Rural Development Workers has changed this, securing access to electricity and clean drinking water for local people for the first time. Today the association is also generating enough profits... Continue reading

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Association of Rural Development Workers – Benjamin Linder (ATDER-BL)

Residents of the northern highlands of Nicaragua were typically overlooked by modern infrastructure development. The Association of Rural Development Workers has changed this, securing access to electricity and clean drinking water for local people for the first time. Today the association is also generating enough profits from hydro power to fund US$300,000-worth of development in the region.

The Association of Rural Development Workers was founded when American engineer Benjamin Linder moved to Nicaragua in 1985 to help communities construct the first hydro project in the San Jose de Bocay region. Benjamin’s murder by Contra rebels sparked an uprising both locally and internationally, leading not only to the setting up of the association but also a renewed focus on development in the region.

Lifting of the electricity grid posts

The association has had great success in mobilizing residents within the region, including women, to participate in and take ownership of projects. Alongside a number of community scale micro-hydro projects that have provided electricity in the region for the first time, the El Bote Small Hydro project located between El Cuá and San José de Bocay supplies enough power to meet present demand in the region with significant surplus to sell or export to the national grid at the contract price of 6.8 cents per kWh. In three years, there will be an additional US $300,000 of revenue available that will be re-invested in further development projects for the region.

Before the construction of this plant, many generations of families had never had access to electricity. The plant has been the driving force behind the thriving economy of El Cua today. Moreover, drinking water systems that capitalize on pristine mountain water resources tapped into for the hydro-electricity plant has given families in the region access to clean drinking water. Thirteen separate installations have been made in towns within the region to date. Prior to this source, families predominantly relied on the contaminated Bocay river for drinking water, cooking and household needs.

“This project addressed basic needs for water and energy with a lot of local volunteer labour and some local democratic supervision based on local public ownership.”

– Evaluator David Sogge

Would you like to learn more about this initiative? Please contact us.

Or visit atder-bl.org/

Transformative Cities’ Atlas of Utopias is being serialized on the P2P Foundation Blog. Go to TransformativeCities.org for updates.

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Introducing the Commons Engine Holochain in the world of deep wealth https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/introducing-the-commons-engine-holochain-in-the-world-of-deep-wealth/2019/01/17 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/introducing-the-commons-engine-holochain-in-the-world-of-deep-wealth/2019/01/17#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=74030 Emaline Friedman: Let’s face it: reflecting on the substantial patterns of the last twenty years of digital economic culture returns a bleak assessment. That promise to connect us that we call the “sharing economy” has turned out to be the perfect set of business practices to extract corporate profits while remaining indifferent to the well-being... Continue reading

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Emaline Friedman: Let’s face it: reflecting on the substantial patterns of the last twenty years of digital economic culture returns a bleak assessment. That promise to connect us that we call the “sharing economy” has turned out to be the perfect set of business practices to extract corporate profits while remaining indifferent to the well-being of participants and public infrastructure.

Meanwhile, cryptocurrency players, who ostensibly set out to level the playing field of the digital economy, ended up delivering a hyper-capitalist gambling ring with precious few useful or usable apps — not to mention the fact that migrating away from petro-dollars doesn’t mean so much when your new accounting engine incentivizes the use of frankly obscene amounts of energy.

Crises of governance seem to belie both of these curiously blended public/private domains of activity. Where platforms like Uber and AirBnB govern hundreds of thousands without their input, decentralized networks have been repeatedly called out for putting too much faith in the infrastructure’s governance capacity itself, which has proven inadequate for mediating disputes and flagrant power inequities. What a great irony, as commentators have joined the promise of democracy to the potential of the Internet since its inception! All in all, burn-out from unstable “gigs”, exhaustion from the bipolarity of the volatile crypto-economy, and perhaps even anger with the stark injustices baked into both of these techno-capitalist parties weigh heavily on those of us paying (and giving 😉 attention.

What Comes Next?

Recognizing these indignities feels surprisingly relieving. Perhaps “calling it” on the current versions of the sharing economy and the crypto-economy will embolden us to suss out, beyond this disillusionment, glimmers of what comes next. As we’re wont to build on the ashes of our dreams, we ask: what can we build now? The Commons Engine envisions healthy financial exchange that lends the power of networks to values and goals that serve its participants rather than just platform owners, designers, and first-comers (without compromising our glossy, refined computing experience!) Above all, we want the structures that come to replace centralized systems to better account for how we interact, and therefore, to better hold us to account.

Recognizing these indignities feels surprisingly relieving. Perhaps “calling it” on the current versions of the sharing economy and the crypto-economy will embolden us to suss out, beyond this disillusionment, glimmers of what comes next. As we’re wont to build on the ashes of our dreams, we ask: what can we build now? The Commons Engine envisions healthy financial exchange that lends the power of networks to values and goals that serve its participants rather than just platform owners, designers, and first-comers (without compromising our glossy, refined computing experience!) Above all, we want the structures that come to replace centralized systems to better account for how we interact, and therefore, to better hold us to account.

In this way, we envision countering rising monetary inequality with systems of deeper wealth, and redirecting social power away from profiteering institutions that do not honor deeply enough our relationships to the planet and to each other. The following convictions ground the Commons Engine. They focus its activities jointly on the problems of these trends, and on the affordances of Holochain’s post-blockchain digital ledger technology.

We actually want to coordinate action.

The sharing economy has taught us that peer-to-peer social engagement is its own virtue. For its part, the wild world of crypto shows us, with even greater vibrato than the stock market, that viral patterns of affect truly have the power to activate coordination among actors all around the globe. The excess capacity unleashed by social cooperation is not only necessary from a strategic perspective, but from the perspective of the good life. We understand rationally that we need each other, but we also want to relate to each other for its intrinsic value. We believe it’s possible to take the notion of a sharing economy much farther, into a realm where extractive platforms are replaced by open cooperatives, and digital commons can use sophisticated value accounting tools to create reciprocal relationships that more adequately honor contributors.

Massive accounting engines can help create new commons.

Imagine replacing extractive sharing economy platforms with a new type of cooperative model that uses crypto-accounting methods to create distributed networks of providers…of energy, food, housing, transportation…who knows what else? Holochain’s architecture is lightweight enough to process tens of thousands of transactions a minute. What’s more, a federation of exchangeable asset-backed currencies using the Holo/Holochain pattern could have sufficient force to propel mainstream economic activity into directly peer-to-peer means. Generally speaking, we imagine marketplaces that do not depend on debt-producing fiat currencies, but whose actors lend each other credit — thanks to trustworthy, nuanced reputation and accounting systems with relatively low overhead.

There are forms of wealth more valuable than financial capital.

Economic relations are relations between peers, but also reflect the collective’s relationship with the natural world. Could the rules of the game by which networks play take root in shared goals, like, say, reducing dependence on transported goods, preservation of natural capital, or livable conditions for all participants?We’d really like to know what happens on our planet when we change our mindset from growth, based in competition, to sufficiency based in cooperation.This could involve, say, spreading practice-oriented knowledge and the accounting tools for regenerative action; our first cohort of regenerative agriculturalists encourages farmers to work with their soil to together transform farmland into practice grounds for more deeply responsive land stewardship. A community solar-energy network would operate on similar principles, holding sustainable forms of energy as a key priority toward which to deploy increased technological efficiency.

Economic relations are relations between peers, but also reflect the collective’s relationship with the natural world. Could the rules of the game by which networks play take root in shared goals, like, say, reducing dependence on transported goods, preservation of natural capital, or livable conditions for all participants?We’d really like to know what happens on our planet when we change our mindset from growth, based in competition, to sufficiency based in cooperation.This could involve, say, spreading practice-oriented knowledge and the accounting tools for regenerative action; our first cohort of regenerative agriculturalists encourages farmers to work with their soil to together transform farmland into practice grounds for more deeply responsive land stewardship. A community solar-energy network would operate on similar principles, holding sustainable forms of energy as a key priority toward which to deploy increased technological efficiency.

Software governance can go beyond “trustless” consensus.

Commons Engine wants to greet our potential to agree to, and collectively set our sights on, enacting values that we hold in common. On that note, a vision of enhanced coordination clearly does amplify the need to rethink governance of emerging commons. One could even say governance is a constituent factor of turning more resource pools into commons! If software mediates and thus engineers our collective action, their governance is like an ongoing experiment in calling forth and implementing agreements that reflect a general will.

Holochain applications, run by its participants, make it easy to integrate models that govern code changes and versioning. The Commons Engine means to foster markets that honor the perspective of all stakeholders. This means, on the one hand, dropping the naive idea that the architecture of decentralized tech can foster relationships of trust on its own, and on the other, pursuing forms of crowdfunding that explicitly refuse the shady practices that have given ICOs a bad reputation.

An invitation to “next economy” forerunners

Think of the Commons Engine as a Holochain project incubator that specializes in bootstrapping all sorts of hApps (HC apps): asset-backed currencies, complex open value flow designs for the material and knowledge commons, and tools for democratic governance of organizations and common-pool resources.

The Commons Engine will aid in growing out the hApps ecosystem in a meaningful way — by spreading the meme of asset-backed and mutual-credit currencies where they are most needed. Among other monetary rebels, Holochain was cited by Brett Scott as one of a few initiatives poised to combine cryptocurrency with mutual credit — in reality a cross between the cryptocurrency crusaders, monetary theorists, and localists also represented on his list. Taking advantage of the full interoperability of Holochain-based currencies and applications, creators of regional, complementary, and cooperative currencies (and the media they rely on), can greatly expand and enhance the resilience and usability of the instruments they create.

We would be honored to receive your support.

Check out our website here, and follow along with our progress on Twitter as we gather the knowledge, tools, and relational practices to support a network of partners and projects that aim to see this vision through!

-With love from Jean M Russell, Ferananda Ibarra, and yours truly, Emaline Friedman. Thanks to Jean M Russell.

Originally published in Holo’s Medium page.

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Russian Cosmism and how it informs today’s religion of technology https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/russian-cosmism-and-how-it-informs-todays-religion-of-technology/2019/01/17 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/russian-cosmism-and-how-it-informs-todays-religion-of-technology/2019/01/17#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=74025 There is a Silicon Valley religion, and it’s one that doesn’t particularly care for people — at least not in our present form.

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There is a Silicon Valley religion, and it’s one that doesn’t particularly care for people — at least not in our present form. Technologists may pretend to be led by a utilitarian, computational logic devoid of superstition, but make no mistake: There is a prophetic belief system embedded in the technologies and business plans coming out of Google, Uber, Facebook, and Amazon, among others.

It is a techno-utopian and deeply anti-human sensibility, born out of a little-known confluence of American and Soviet New Age philosophers, scientists, and spiritualists who met up in the 1980s hoping to prevent nuclear war — but who ended up hatching a worldview that’s arguably as dangerous to the human future as any atom bomb.

I tell the story in my new book, Team Human, because it’s one I have yet to see documented anywhere else. I pieced it together through interviews with some of the people involved in the Esalen “track two diplomacy” program. The idea was to forge new lines of communication between the Cold War powers by bringing some of the USSR’s leading scientists and spiritualists to the Esalen Institute to mix with their counterparts in the United States. Maybe we all have common goals?

They set up a series of events at Esalen’s Big Sur campus, where everyone could hear about each other’s work and dreams at meetings during the day and hot tub sessions into the night. That’s how some of the folks from Stanford Research Institute and Silicon Valley, who would one day be responsible for funding and building our biggest technology firms, met up with Russia’s “cosmists.” They were espousing a form of science fiction gnosticism that grew out of the Russian Orthodox tradition’s emphasis on immortality. The cosmists were a big hit, and their promise of life extension technologies quickly overtook geopolitics as the primary goal of the conferences.

Self-actualization through technology meant leaving the body behind — but this was okay since, in keeping with the gnostic tradition, the body was the source of human sin and corruption.

The cosmists talked about reassembling human beings, atom by atom, after death, moving one’s consciousness into a robot and colonizing space. The cosmists pulled it all together for the fledgling American transhumanists: They believed human beings could not only transcend the limits of our mortal shell but also manifest physically through new machines. With a compellingly optimistic have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too gusto, the cosmists told America’s LSD-taking spiritualists that technology could give them a way to beat death.

Self-actualization through technology meant leaving the body behind — but this was okay since, in keeping with the gnostic tradition, the body was the source of human sin and corruption. The stuff robots and computers could reproduce was the best stuff about us, anyway.

The idea that lit up the turned-on technoculture was that technology would be our evolutionary partner and successor — that humans are essentially computational, and computers could do computation better. Any ideas that could be construed to support this contention were embraced. And so Stanford professor René Girard — whose work had much broader concerns — was appreciated almost solely for his assertion that human beings are not original or creative but purely imitative creatures. And, even more thrilling to future tech titans like Peter Thiel, that the apocalypse was indeed coming, but it was the humans’ own damn fault.

No less popular to this day are the “captology” classes of Stanford’s B.J. Fogg, who teaches how to design interfaces that manipulate human behavior as surely as a slot machine can. According to the department’s website, “The purpose of the Persuasive Technology Lab is to create insight into how computing products—from websites to mobile phone software—can be designed to change people’s beliefs and behaviors.” Toward what? Toward whatever behaviors technologies can induce — and away from those it can’t.

As a result, we have Facebook using algorithms to program people’s emotions and actions. We have Uber using machine learning to replace people’s employment. We have Google developing artificial intelligence to replace human consciousness. And we have Amazon extracting the life’s blood of the human marketplace to deliver returns to the abstracted economy of stocks and derivatives.

The anti-human agenda of technologists might not be so bad — or might never be fully realized — if it didn’t dovetail so neatly with the anti-human agenda of corporate capitalism. Each enables the other, reinforcing an abstract, growth-based scheme of infinite expansion — utterly incompatible with human life or the sustainability of our ecosystem. They both depend on a transcendent climax where the chrysalis of matter is left behind and humanity is reborn as pure consciousness or pure capital.

We are not being beaten by machines, but by a league of tech billionaires who have been taught to believe that human beings are the problem and technology is the solution. We must become aware of their agenda and fight it if we are going to survive.

Image from Wikimedia Commons – New Planet, by Konstantin Yuon

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Book of the Day: Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/book-of-the-day-automating-inequality-how-high-tech-tools-profile-police-and-punish-the-poor/2019/01/16 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/book-of-the-day-automating-inequality-how-high-tech-tools-profile-police-and-punish-the-poor/2019/01/16#respond Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=74017 A powerful investigative look at data-based discrimination—and how technology affects civil and human rights and economic equity The State of Indiana denies one million applications for healthcare, foodstamps and cash benefits in three years—because a new computer system interprets any mistake as “failure to cooperate.” In Los Angeles, an algorithm calculates the comparative vulnerability of... Continue reading

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A powerful investigative look at data-based discrimination—and how technology affects civil and human rights and economic equity

The State of Indiana denies one million applications for healthcare, foodstamps and cash benefits in three years—because a new computer system interprets any mistake as “failure to cooperate.” In Los Angeles, an algorithm calculates the comparative vulnerability of tens of thousands of homeless people in order to prioritize them for an inadequate pool of housing resources. In Pittsburgh, a child welfare agency uses a statistical model to try to predict which children might be future victims of abuse or neglect.

Since the dawn of the digital age, decision-making in finance, employment, politics, health and human services has undergone revolutionary change. Today, automated systems—rather than humans—control which neighborhoods get policed, which families attain needed resources, and who is investigated for fraud. While we all live under this new regime of data, the most invasive and punitive systems are aimed at the poor.

In Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks systematically investigates the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America. The book is full of heart-wrenching and eye-opening stories, from a woman in Indiana whose benefits are literally cut off as she lays dying to a family in Pennsylvania in daily fear of losing their daughter because they fit a certain statistical profile.

The U.S. has always used its most cutting-edge science and technology to contain, investigate, discipline and punish the destitute. Like the county poorhouse and scientific charity before them, digital tracking and automated decision-making hide poverty from the middle-class public and give the nation the ethical distance it needs to make inhumane choices: which families get food and which starve, who has housing and who remains homeless, and which families are broken up by the state. In the process, they weaken democracy and betray our most cherished national values.

This deeply researched and passionate book could not be more timely.

WINNER: The 2018 McGannon Center Book Prize and shortlisted for the Goddar Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice 

The New York Times Book Review: “Riveting.”

Naomi Klein: “This book is downright scary.”

Ethan Zuckerman, MIT: “Should be required reading.”

Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body: “A must-read.”

Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform: “The single most important book about technology you will read this year.”

Cory Doctorow: “Indispensable.”

Reposted from MacMillan publishers. Click on the link for more reviews and an excerpt.

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Antonio Negri on the aesthetic style and strategy of the commons https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/antonio-negri-on-the-aesthetic-style-and-strategy-of-the-commons/2019/01/16 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/antonio-negri-on-the-aesthetic-style-and-strategy-of-the-commons/2019/01/16#respond Wed, 16 Jan 2019 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=74013 With Assembly (2017), Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have continued their trilogyEmpire (2000), Multitude (2004), and Commonwealth (2009) into the new decade, expanding it into a tetralogy. The fourth episode sees these advocates of commonism once again provide a critical analysis of the most topical developments in society. Their central issue this time concerns why the social movements that express the demands... Continue reading

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With Assembly (2017), Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have continued their trilogyEmpire (2000), Multitude (2004), and Commonwealth (2009) into the new decade, expanding it into a tetralogy. The fourth episode sees these advocates of commonism once again provide a critical analysis of the most topical developments in society. Their central issue this time concerns why the social movements that express the demands and wishes of so many and show that the common is a fact, have not succeeded in bringing about a new, truly democratic and just society. The line of questioning itself is already controversial, as are many of the propositions and concepts launched by the authors in Assembly. According to them we must confront the problem of leadership and institutions, dare to imagine the entrepreneurship of the multitude, appropriate old terms and, especially, reverse their meaning. We meet with Antonio Negri in his apartment in Paris, to try out this recipe for reversal and to discuss strategy and tactics, ideology and aesthetics, and art and language.

This inverview, conducted by Pascal Gielen and Sonja Lavaert, was originally published in Open! Platform for Art, Culture & the Public Domain

Antonio Negri – Photo by Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung

Pascal Gielen & Sonja Lavaert: Our book Commonism is about the triangle of ideology, aestheticsand the commons.1 Our tentative assumption is that commonism may be the next meta-ideology, after neoliberalism. We understand ideology not only negatively as a false awareness, but also positively as a logic of faith that connects fiction and reality and can make people long for and work towards a better form of living together. In Assembly you and Michael Hardt do something similar with notions such as ‘entrepreneurship’, ‘institution’, ‘leadership’. What does ‘ideology’ mean to you and do you think it may also figure in a positive narrative?

Antonio Negri: In my experience, ideology tends to have mostly negative connotations, or, rather, I have regarded ‘ideology’ mainly in negative terms. This means though that we are speaking of something that is real. Ideology is a real fact. In addition, it is something real that embodies, shapes and constitutes reality. What I see as positive in this embodiment of reality is critique – which can be critique of the ideology or of reality – and the dispositive, understood as the transition of the world of thinking to that of reality. In my view, ideologies make up reality, but I use the term preferably when discussing its negative aspect, whereas when I speak of its positive aspect, i.e., the critique or the dispositive, I prefer these latter words.

The ideological dimension is absolutely crucial when thinking about reality and in trying to analyse and understand it, but, again, it can be both positive and negative. Gramsci, for example, saw it this way. The ideological dimension is an essential part of any analysis of reality, but a discourse on ideology is therefore always both positive and negative. On the one hand there is the bourgeois ideology (that Gramsci opposed, as do we) and on the other hand there is the communist ideology (that we support). Today, I think it is better to call the communist ideology a ‘critique’ or ‘dispositive’; ‘critique’ as in taking place in the realm of knowledge and understanding, and ‘dispositive’ in the Foucaultian sense of the transition of knowledge into action.

And, well, there is the matter of meta-ideology… Again, I agree with your view that ideology, being something that belongs to the realm of knowledge and understanding, in a sense branches out into reality, feeding and shaping it, and that therefore ideology is always and everywhere present in concrete reality. However, I would be very reluctant to speak in terms of ‘meta’, ‘post’ or ‘after’, as if it were something transcendent or as if there is such a thing as a space of transcendence at all.

When we speak of meta-ideology, we refer to the tendency of transcending the traditional party political differences between left and right. It is a trend that can be seen clearly today, wherever the theme of the common is picked up or where common-initiatives are being developed. And elsewhere as well: liberal politicians write books about the importance of the basic income; neonationalism presents itself as a longing for social cohesion; religiously inspired political parties emphasize communion and the community, et cetera.

Common is not the exclusive property of the left, that much is clear. Looking at history from a Marxist perspective, we see how it was precisely the commons that were transformed by capitalism to be financially profitable. Capitalism’s attitude towards the commons is about expropriation, exploration, creating surplus value, and the dominion that is founded on these things. The common exists in two major forms: there are natural commons and social commons and, as Michael and I put forth in Assembly, these can be subdivided into five types: the earth and ecosystems; the immaterial common of ideas, codes, images and cultural products; material goods produced by cooperative labour; metropolises and rural areas that are the domain of communication, cultural interaction and cooperation; and social institutions and services that provide housing, welfare, healthcare and education. Now the essential characteristic of the present-day economy and society is that the social production of the commons is being exploited by capital. The struggle of the commons therefore is working people re-appropriating that of which they were robbed by capital. Re-appropriating what was taken from them and putting it to work for the benefit of the common: that is the meaning of liberation and emancipation. This also means that the fiction of ‘post’ or ‘meta’ is debunked and eliminated. There is no meta. The struggle of the commons is the possibility of eliminating an ‘outside’ (meta [above], post [after]). This struggle is exclusively fought in the domain of immanence, meaning: here and now, at the heart of the reality in which we find ourselves, because there is no ‘outside’. By the way, we can only speak in the abstract about common as a general unitary, singular and exactly definable concept, because in reality the common is always twofold, just like labour is.

There is much talk about ‘common’ nowadays; studies are undertaken, and various movements and schools of thought have emerged around the theme. Here in France, for example, there is the school of the economist Benjamin Coriat, editor of Le retour des communs (2015); we have Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, who posit the common as a demand and alternative in their Commun (2014), and Carlo Vercellone and other comrades – and Michael and myself are two of them – who regard the common as something that can be used ontologically, can be annexed, and for whom the struggle therefore consists of re-appropriating the common. This also ties in with David Harvey’s reading of Marx. In Assembly we concern ourselves in great detail with his analysis and for the most part we agree with him. However, whereas Harvey focuses on capitalism as a continuous primitive accumulation, we see it as a developmental phase and therefore prefer to speak of formal and real subsumption, but this perhaps is a different theme.

What I’m trying to say is: my distrust of the term ‘meta’ is that it suggests that there is no difference or antithesis anymore between left and right. Well, of course left and right are inaccurate concepts, but to put it more plainly: it means that capitalism is no longer recognised and that being liberated of capitalism is regarded as something that could easily happen or would even be a battle that is already won.

To give a concrete example of how we use the term ‘meta’: the occupation of Syntagma Square in Athens in 2011 was predominantly organized by the left, but people from quite different ideological backgrounds are also joining the movement and are developing new initiatives, out of necessity, for their daily survival. For that reason, this movement, which is really more of a patchwork of initiatives, is sometimes ‘accused’ of being apolitical. In that sense we call commonism a practice-based ideology and we call it ‘meta’ because it brings together people from various, traditionally opposed political currents, and does so out of necessity.

I fully agree with that conclusion and analysis, but I would still be wary of using such an ambiguous term. The word ‘meta’ covers a political concern aimed at reconciliation with regard to the profound rift between, to put it bluntly, the bosses and those who are exploited.

What do you think of the fact that the Open VLD, the liberal party in Flanders, is organizing a conference about the commons as apparently they think it is important, without necessarily wanting to capitalize it but, as things look now anyway, because they are genuinely interested or find something lacking in their liberal system?

It is obvious that we are facing enormous problems nowadays. We see a general transformation of the system of production as it is being automated and robotized. These are things that we thematized and analysed in our operaismo movement, some forty years or longer ago. In the first issue of Potere Operaio, in 1969, we demanded the ‘civil income’ (reddito di cittadinanza) and this was because we already foresaw this process in which labour would be reduced to a completely secondary element. The question is how to respond to this revolution and reality and as far as that is concerned I see an urgent need to create spaces for developing initiatives outside of capitalism.

There are a number of interesting initiatives in Belgium: the start-ups, with already 50,000 participants, and Michel Bauwens, the founder of the P2P Foundation. And yes, the commons is a domain that very much interests ‘the right’. The same goes for social democrats, by the way. So, the entire problem consists of understanding what the alternative could be, how to respond, what to do, and this is in fact the very theme of autonomy.

In our research and book we speak of aesthetics not only in regard to art but also in relation to society. We understand aesthetics as the shaping or design of both material and social things, of people. In your book Assembly we detect a similar idea: assembly characterizes the aesthetic style and strategy of the commons. Likewise, in Commonism, we oppose the aesthetic figure with the abstraction that we associate with exchange value, finance capitalism and neoliberalism. What does the ideal assembly look like, in your view? What are the conditions for its realization? How can non-humans (things, nature) be involved in an assembly? What instruments or strategies are needed? In short, how should assembly be practically organized in order to function well, in your view?

We argue that the assembly is already there. It is already there in the structure of the present-day economy in which labour has transformed itself in language and in cooperation that is largely autonomous. The assembly is what we are confronted with. The problem therefore is how these labour forces or subjects / people who produce subjectivity can become political subjects. This is demonstrated by the recognition of the common, by the transition to the common and being together, by the transition of the mere finding of being together to being aware of it. The transition of collaboration and being-in-common to the production of common subjectivity is the central element of the assembly.

The comrades and activists who take part in the fight of the movement, from Occupy Wall Street to the Indignados in Madrid, have attempted to bring about such a transition, especially from the condition of people producing under capitalism and whose situation simply happens to them to a free condition in which the common is built and formed. This transition is fundamental and in addition it demonstrates that commonism is much more feasible today than in the previous situation, in which the workers were organized and brought together by capital. Before, the workers were brought together, they did not come together of their own initiative. This is no longer the case and precisely this means an enormous boost for the possibilities. The possibility for liberation is infinitely larger and wider today, because there is this being-together, an ontological fact that is also a point of departure.

The assembly is an ontological fact that must become political, that is the heart of the matter.

Marx has said of the working classes that they were made by capital and that therefore it was necessary for them to become aware of their situation through a political party, an external organization, an ideology, et cetera, in order to become political. Today we see a maturity and an original organization, so to speak, thanks to the transformation that occurred in labour and society. Labour today is no longer a labour under command. The aspect of the command is becoming increasingly alienated from the possibility to work together subjectively. What is important, is that the language that is formed by the worker comes before the command, precedes it. The importance of neoliberalism, by the way, is that it understood that this autonomous use of language can be reversed and can be made use of by capital. This is why the most important political work of today is to recognize this subjective and special use of language and to reverse again what capitalism and neoliberalism have reversed, and to bring about the liberation.

We are still not quite convinced, in the sense that we miss a concrete definition of what assembly exactly is. Looking at this as a sociologists, we look at examples of assemblies such as the Ex Asilo Filangieri in Naples, and we think: assembly is a tool, a meeting method, a more democratic way of organizing things, of taking autonomous decisions, of achieving self-governance. Can we say that assembly is a formula for organizing direct democracy?

What Michael and I have in mind is exactly the type of phenomenon like L’Asilo in Naples, where sovereignty has been reversed: to the common, to a space and a series of shared goods (beni communi) in the widest sense, both material and immaterial goods. In other words, where a series of remarkable initiatives is undertaken for the common good. The concept of common is always a production, something that is invented, made, shaped. The assembly is this: a body of people, a small multitude that manages well the shared (material and immaterial) goods and thereby constitutes a common. The fundamental concept of assembly is that the political and social are again joined and today we have a chance, an opportunity to do this. Unlike Lenin, we no longer find ourselves in exceptional conditions like it was with the Russian Revolution when there was only hunger, war and catastrophe and everything had to be torn down in order to create a new force. Now, today, we have the opportunity to transform the assembly into a force. Because that is politics: lending force. Or, that is aesthetics, if one wishes to use that term: lending form and force. There is no form without force. Politics is force, power – and that includes the aspect of violence. In politics it is about the force (the power, sometimes violence) to construct peace.

What we see in the practical functioning of assembly, for example, is that the practice of language becomes very important. After all, people have to speak to each other and try to convince others through dialogue. Now this mechanism has two problems: 1) those who speak more and better have an advantage in winning the debate; and 2) there is a class phenomenon. In the situation of an assembly the middle class becomes dominant: those who are white, educated and can speak well have the floor, so there is an element of selection. My question to you is: how can the assembly be organized in such a way that there is no such selection or that this shortcoming is compensated for by letting basis-democratic principles prevail? How does one give a voice to those who remain silent?

We are of course discussing examples and I think that especially in Naples, if one looks at the periphery, in the surrounding region, in all those places where the casa del popolo are strong and many initiatives are taken by the people, one definitely sees a direct proletarian use of language, and in quite dominant forms. There are also initiatives such as L’Asilo that already have quite a tradition, that have statutes and a legal structure. And yes, in those cases a certain political class is involved. However, I think that the assembly is both cause and product of a break with class distinction. The obvious objection one could have against these assembly initiatives is that not everything has been properly defined. We are after all speaking of a process that is not free of contradictions and downfall, but it is an extremely important process and it has begun.

The problem is that we have to develop a different model than that of parliamentary democracy, or, rather, we need a post-parliamentarian model of democracy.

What do you think of the fact that in Naples a commissioner for the commons (assessore dei beni communi) has been appointed? We ask this specifically with regard to your rejection of state institutions.

We cannot have this discussion with Naples as an example. The situation there is quite ambiguous. What is happening there now was achieved with great effort after an immense political crisis: the PD(Democratic Party) in Naples is divided into four or five factions, the 5 Stelle movement is weak, and there is this incredible Mayor Luigi de Magistris, a former magistrate – very straight and tough – who is open to what according to him might constitute the majority. So all this makes Naples a rather unique case, a confluence of events. There are so many contingent factors playing a part there. The first concern of the comrades who occupied buildings was therefore to obtain a guarantee, an anchoring in the institutions.

But to return to our point, the institutions are indeed a major problem, but we should not concern ourselves with the case of Naples as it is very much a separate case.

 In Assembly you regard the new leadership of the commons as a possible strategy of the multitude and as a tactic of the leader. The leader can only temporarily – and depending on her or his expertise – make certain tactical moves in the general strategy of the multitude. How can this be organized and in how much is your reversal of attribution of the strategy (to the multitude) and of tactics (to the leader) different from a representative democracy where leaders are also only appointed temporarily?

I think that we are faced with the problem of removing or eroding the political relationship between movement and leader. What is at stake is decision authority. What exactly was the formula of political parties? A party gathered a great number of people along a certain political line that was decided upon by the top, by the leader, and which was literally imposed on or taught to the people in a top-down fashion. In our work, Michael and I take the critique by movements as our starting point, because these movements reject the existing institutions. Today, we have to reject leadership but not necessarily institutions as such. So we are now faced with the problem of the institutions and we have to solve this, we have to face this, and study it together. Or, in other words: we have to bring back the leadership to the movement and it is within the movement that the hegemonial strategy of leadership must be developed. We have to take the decision authority away from the leader, or rather, take the abstraction and transcendence of the decision away from the leader.

But how does one choose the leader, and how do the commons differ from representative democracy?

The problem is not how to choose, as this can be done in any number of ways. The problem is that of the power that is given to the leader. Often though, the leader will spontaneously emerge from the multitude.

The power of the leader must be limited to the tactical level and this usually means the power to make proposals.

Anyone who has been active within the movement knows the phenomenon of the leader who spontaneously comes forward. It has to do with the actual needs and problems the movement faces and into which the leader has more insight than anyone else. One often sees how a leader’s power is acknowledged at some point and then begins, works out well, and thus becomes a reality.

Let me give an example. During the 1917 revolution, Lenin succeeded in becoming the tactical leader because he could instantly, in a very direct manner, provide answers to two problems that presented itself at the time: peace now, and land to the farm labourers. However, on the other hand, the powers representing the military and the farmers were convinced that neither the soldiers nor the farm labourers were ready for these changes and so they didn’t undertake any action. It was a paradox: the leader, Lenin, saying no to the ruling institutions because he understood what the soldiers and the farm labourers needed. This is a tactic that becomes power and force (forza).

The leader is always temporary, tactical. He steps forward in a struggle of the people / subjects who have demands and needs.

But then how does the leader know what those needs are? Simply because they stem from the people?

Quite so. He knows what is needed because he is part of it, because he is in the middle of it, but, again, this is a paradox. According to the official history books Lenin was a demagogue who played games with the people, but I know that the reverse is true: the revolution succeeded because Lenin understood that these were the real needs and because he immediately articulated an answer to them, without all the compromises, crippling detours and institutions as created by the parliamentary system. Those real needs to which he provided an answer were peace now, immediately, and giving the land to those who worked the land, without any compromise. 

The same is true for many leaders. Churchill, for example, took a direct decision to fight against the Germans in World War II. This is the point: the leader who immediately and directly coincides with the needs and wants of the many / the common.

In Assembly you defend the hypothesis that the institutions or the leader don’t need a centralized rule but that they can be realized by a multitude in a democratic manner. The examples you provide for the future of the movements are in line with this hypothesis: for example, Black Lives Matter. But isn’t this notion and aren’t these examples at odds with or even contrary to your criticism of the ‘horizontal leader-lessness’?

Well, many movements are leaderless, but that is not the issue. What is problematic, or what these movements need, is institutions. What we are trying to say is not so much that movements need leaders – as, again, they should take charge of leadership themselves – but that they do need institutions. It is a mistake for these movements not to have an institution, to not adopt an institutional framework. However, Michael and I are convinced that within the movements there is a tendency to do this, to form institutions – these are not anarchist groups – and thereby realize this horizontal hegemony. Our work is about searching for a type of institution that is not sovereign and is not connected to ownership. How this works out in practice, well, that is exactly what we need to discuss, think about, try out…

This leads nicely to our next question. You advocate complementarity of the three political strategies: pre-figurative politics, antagonistic reformism and hegemony. Existing institutions are abolished and new, non-sovereign institutions are created. What exactly needs to be abandoned when it comes to existing institutions?

We are currently witnessing the death struggle of the concepts that have dominated political thinking and practice in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The most important of these dying concepts are national sovereignty and property, both private and public. National sovereignty has been beaten by globalized capitalism, but at the same time actual capitalism is founded on those same barely surviving concepts that influence and mutually confirm each other. The concept or principle on which national sovereignty is based, in particular the ‘border’, has really become absurd. We transcend and cross borders constantly. Our brains are globalized and have no more use for the concept of border, so we need to get rid of it. That is the theoretical work that needs to be done: giving short shrift to moribund principles and concepts such as the border. As abundantly clear as this is for national sovereignty, so it is for ownership, both private and public: ownership is based on the same logic as the border, an obsolete concept that is at odds with reality. Even more so: property and border are one and the same thing.

The concept of the common, by contrast, is not one of ownership. In thinking about this issue it is extremely important to make a distinction between ‘common goods’ (beni comuni), which can be the object of ownership, and ‘the common’ (il comune) as in ‘commonwealth’, which is a production, something that is formed by the common from within and which consequently cannot be owned.

Is there anything positive you could mention about what these new ‘non-sovereign’ institutions might look like? How should the three political strategies – pre-figurative politics, antagonistic reformism and hegemony over the institutions – work together exactly? Is there a sequence that these three strategies should follow, or should they be deployed in parallel?

That is a question of the political practice. I simply can’t answer that, as it is too hard to do this sitting at a writing desk. It is both impossible and undesirable. I don’t see it as part of my work, which is studying, philosophizing, providing general frameworks in a critical manner, studying the foundation of the discourse, questioning the principles and concepts. And then there is the practice of the struggle and it is within the struggle that debate and consultation should take place, among each other, about what should be done. We cannot be expected to predict the future, and it is not our ambition to do so. To me this is one of the core issues: we will have to wait until the future announces itself, breaks out. That takes place in practice, whereas in my work I wish to point out directions, and formulate a critique of the principles of ideas and structures.

In Assembly you quote Hegel: ‘Everything turns on grasping and expressing the True not only as aSubstance, but equally as Subject’.2 What exactly is subjectivity to you? Does subjectivity take on a different form today and if so, what does it look like?

To Hegel, subjectivity meant synthesis and overcoming. Think of Alexandre Kojève’s interpretation of the master-slave dialectic: the slave overcomes the master in as far as he serves him and at the same time constructs him. Also think of the concept of the proletariat in relation to capitalism in the work of the young Marx: the proletariat forms itself and realizes its project in as far as it becomes a fully integrated part of the bourgeois society. In Capital we no longer find this interpretation, and it is also gone from or at least nuanced in our analysis of the reality of workers today. Today, the subjectivity of the worker is that of singularity, of a particularity that is being produced in the construction of the common. This particularity is invention, is immaterial and serves to construct the common, that is, a bringing together of all these things. The (worker’s) subjectivity of today is a production of ‘being’, as it is an innovation and a surplus. It is a practice of freedom and therefore the production of subjectivity is something that transcends any identity. The subject is non-identic, is not an identity (hence the impossibility of providing exact definitions for it). The subject is formed in the collaboration, in being social, and it is something historical.

How do you see the role of art and the art world in the organization of assembly? On the one hand we state that the art world today indeed has a role by creating a space for exchange and debate, which is lacking in mainstream media, at exhibitions and during biennales. On the other hand we conclude that it doesn’t go any further and that these initiatives remain limited to the domain of the discursive. Also, these initiatives are often used as PR tools, turning the debate into a commodity. In light of this, what role can the art world – and art itself – play according to you, and can it have a role at all in shaping and strengthening the commons?

As I have tried to clarify in my book Art and Multitude (1989), art can always be linked to its mode of production. Art is production. Its dignity is derived from the fact that it is production of ‘being’, of meaningful images. In other words, of images that shape ‘being’, that take ‘being’ out of a hidden condition and transform it into an open and public condition. This always happens during a process of production. This is why there is an analogy between how goods are produced in general in a certain historical context and how art is produced in that same context. In art there is always a ‘making’ in the sense of constructing something. Art is always a form of building, a bringing together, a productive gesture. When looking at things from this point of view, it becomes clear that it is all about making distinctions within this world. There is beautiful art and there is ugly art, useful art and useless art; likewise there is art that markets itself as a commodity and there is art that is a form of productive artistic making.

Like language, art produces communication, it makes connections. Especially nowadays, art is like the practice of language in constructing connections, becoming event. Art is getting rid of materiality and is increasingly linked to immaterial production. It follows the same trend as the immaterial production and makes connections in fluid, unstable, and new images, in unexpected forms and figures. In this way art affiliates itself with the present-day mode of production and, like this mode of production, it interprets behaviour that is related to special events and passions. We are in a phase of metamorphosis of art, just like we are in phase of the production mode in which labour is completely transforming itself.

With regard to art I would like to underline two things. First, I assume that art is a form of making and working that is therefore completely linked to the production mode of a specific historical situation. Second, I assume that art has the capacity to produce ‘being’. Of course not all art always produces real ‘being’. By this I absolutely do not mean that there is good and bad art; that is not for me to say. But I do think a distinction can be made between art that serves the market and that is produced and circulates within the market, and art that is absolute production, meaning that it produces ‘being’.

One year ago, at the Venice Biennale, Marx was read; at documenta 14 in Athens, so much engaged political art was shown that the 12 April 2017 issue of Dutch national newspaper NRC Handelsbladlikened it to a ‘stage for the revolution’.  At the same time, however, these revolutionary platforms stay within the confines of biennales and documentas, which reminds one of what Walter Benjamin has called the ‘aestheticization’ of politics, which according to him was also a sign of fascism. Is there a way out of this for art? Can art escape from institutions that maybe do not affirm fascism as such, but certainly neoliberalism, and that turn art into a commodity?

There is always an escape route! Obviously these places must be regarded as battlefields, as places of confrontation and collision, of conflict and rifts. One can always escape that which biennales and documentas represent: that is, one can and should try to escape their control function – these big art institutions of the state or the market do function as control mechanisms – and artists therefore find themselves in exactly the same condition as the workers.

In my view, the problem with art institutions is this: they are arenas, more specifically arenas of a fight for the truth, of critique of ideology and production, places where the discourse of power is exposed, but they are always also marketplaces. The point is to break out of this cage of control by the state and the market and this has always been part of the development of art as it has manifested itself in many different forms, each time in a different manner. For example, at one time we had patrons of the arts who had the same role as the art institutions of today; it was no different then.

And so we have this whole history of constant artistic resistance against these conditions. I don’t think that art has ever been in line with power in any way. The great Italian Renaissance painters and sculptors were not, nor were the painters of the Golden Age in the Lowlands. On the contrary, there have always been breaking points in art that become evident in the artistic production, while these painters and sculptors were nevertheless an integral part of their specific social context. Because of these breaking points one can regard art as a way of unearthing the truth. They qualify art as a mode of truth.

I often talk to friends-comrades who make art and they are becoming increasingly critical of the market. There is a general resistance against the market these days in the actions of those comrades who believe strongest in or empathize with the class struggle – a rejection of the market that is becoming more and more radical. The protest is expressed in this negation, which is quite strong, and it leads to a radical criticism without compromise and without market possibilities.

There is of course also, and quite often, a strong temptation of ‘nothing’, of not doing / making, or of presenting art works that express a not-doing / not-making.

Anyway, I tend to be cautious with regard to these issues, and I think that in every action – and therefore also in art actions – a material composition is required and therefore a composition with reality as well. What I mean is: one should neither look for purity nor demonize the power / force.

In Assembly you emphasize the importance of language and communication. You mention the changing of meaning of words, speaking, and translation, and the appropriation of words as important political action. In this context you posit the idea of entrepreneurship of the multitude. Is this at all possible with a term like ‘entrepreneurship’, which has been associated with capitalism in all its guises for over 200 years? Is there not a risk that critique will wither and distinctions become blurred with such an act of appropriation?

I don’t think so, and frankly I don’t understand why such a polemic arose around specifically this issue as soon as our book was published. We, Michael and I, have always recuperated and reused words, and reversed their meaning in our work. For example, ‘empire’ may be the most academic and traditional term in the history of political science. Not that we were the first to do so: the word ‘capital’ as the title of Marx’s three-part book on the critique of political economy is about as capitalistic as can be. There is nothing wrong in appropriating words that are part of the tradition and ethics of the capitalistic bourgeoisie and assign them a new meaning. On the contrary, this is what we should do. The problem with regard to this form of language practice is to understand the force of reversal.

As to the semantic series of words such as ‘entrepreneurship’, ‘enterprise’, ‘entrepreneur’ in relation to the common – because we never just speak of ‘entrepreneurship’ but about the ‘entrepreneurship of the common’ – the word ‘enterprise’ admittedly is rather ambiguous. Enterprise is something like Christopher Columbus who crossed the Atlantic Ocean and demonstrated a huge capacity for invention. So on the one hand the word refers to a heroic, fantastic project. Columbus engaged in an improbable and completely new undertaking in the space of his time. On the other hand, the term ‘enterprise’ also refers to that with which it is commonly associated, namely a project aimed at financial profit and at generating income.

What we try to do in Assembly is to appropriate words that belong to tradition. We see it as our task to gain words for the common, to recuperate the words. Again, we do not speak of entrepreneurship tout court, but of entrepreneurship of the common. Speaking of the entrepreneurship of the common has the same potential and power as speaking of refusing to work: it leads to a re-appropriation of the common. So the power of this language use lies in this action of re-appropriation and in this the reversal is crucial.

IAssembly you imply that revolution is ontological and not a contingent event – that revolution is not aimed at seizing power, nor that it brings you to power, but that it changes power, or that it can bring you to power but that it changes the nature of power in doing so. You call upon the multitude to seize power in the sense of Machiavelli at the end of The Prince (1532): a call for a new leader who emerges from the multitude, and to not waste the opportunity. What is essential here is the phrase ‘to take power differently’, by which you mean, with Spinoza, that the ‘common’ or ‘freedom, equality, democracy, and wealth’ are guaranteed. ‘Differently’ here does not mean repeating the hypocrisy of freedom (without equality) as a concept of the right, nor that of equality (without freedom) as a proposal by the left. The formulation therefore is inspired by Spinoza to whom the ‘common’ was the basic idea that can also be summarized as: there is no freedom without equality and there is no equality without freedom. Common is an ontological and logical category that assumes and unites an internally contrasting multitude of singularities. Our question is twofold. Why speak of ‘commonism’ instead of simply calling it ‘communism’? And where is solidarity in all this?

Why we don’t call it ‘communism’? Perhaps because that word has been all too much abused in our recent history. In Italy, in the 1970s, there was a group of situationists who called it commontismo(rather a sympathetic lot, these situationists, but it all ended very badly: they turned out to be activist robbers, went to prison or became drug addicts; it all ended tragically).

I have no doubt that one day we will call the political project of the common ‘communism’ again. But it’s up to the people to call it that, not up to us.

Where is solidarity in our discourse? In everything we say there is solidarity because solidarity is in the principles of our discourse. To say it in Aristotelian terms, there is solidarity as in three of the four types of causes: as material cause in the rejection of loneliness, as efficient cause in the collaboration to produce and as final cause in love. In other words, everything that we propose, our entire theoretical building, has its material, efficient and final cause in solidarity. The ‘commontism’ is drenched in solidarity. One cannot live alone, in loneliness, one cannot produce alone, and one cannot love alone.

Our proposals cannot be read in any other way but as proposals of solidarity, or how to escape from loneliness. We have to escape from loneliness in order to define a solidary, close community, as we cannot survive alone in a barren desert. We must escape from loneliness in order to produce, because alone we would never have the means or the time. We must escape from loneliness in order to love, because on your own and without someone else there can be no love. This is the only way to understand this radical transition of / to the common, a transition that we are evolving towards, by the way. There is truly a developing tendency towards solidarity and towards an escape from loneliness.

We live in times of great crisis and terrible emptiness but at the same time these are also times of great expectations. We are facing a void between that which is finished and that which still has to begin. Especially in talking to young people one becomes aware of this terrible loneliness, but also of this great longing. The desert caused by neoliberal capitalism is insufferable in every regard.

Our next question is about that. As in your previous writings, in Assembly you start from the optimistic thought that the Occupy movements demonstrate a rebellion of the multitude, that the ‘possible is a given’, that the ‘common is a given’. But in Assembly you also pose the question, perhaps for the first time, regarding why the revolution of the Occupy movements failed. Does this indicate a turn in your work, a turn away from the earlier optimism? And what does this mean for the idea of revolution?

There is no turn from optimism to pessimism in our work. What we attempted to do is to understand the problem in a realistic manner and to think about possible solutions. The problem as we see it is that of the limits and limitations of movements, both of Occupy and other movements we have seen over the past decade. The most important limitation, in our analysis, is that these movements have not been willing or not been able to translate themselves into institutions and that where they did attempt to do so and in those cases where they actually formed institutions, it all ended in a betrayal of the movement. We see this for example in a part of the Indignados that founded Podemos, who eventually betrayed the situation from which they departed. Having followed all the debates from close up, my opinion of Podemos is negative. They have not succeeded in maintaining the reversal of the relation between strategy and decision or between tactic and strategy, leaving only the tactic.

So it is not about being more or less optimistic, but about grasping the problem in a realistic manner and about thinking of ways to solve the problem and this is what we try to do in our work. We try to see the limits and limitations of the political common-movement. Our conclusion is that power should be seized, but that in and with that operation power should be changed. Therefore, as you quote and as we expressed it in Assembly, it is all about ‘to take the power differently’ and then maintain this radical transition / reversal.

You also deal with populism in Assembly. Shouldn’t we discard the term ‘people’ anyway?

Yes, that’s what the common is all about. The term ‘people’ stays within the logic of Hobbes and the bourgeois line of sovereignty and representation. It is a fiction that violates the multitude and has only that purpose: the multitude should transform itself into one people that dissolves itself in forming the sovereign power. Think of the original frontispiece of Hobbes’ Leviathan, which perfectly illustrates this. But it was Spinoza who, against Hobbes, emphatically used the concept multitudoand underlined that the natural power of the multitude remains in place when a political ordering is formed. Actually, Spinoza, in elaborating these concepts of multitudo and comunis encapsulates the entire issue of politics and democracy, as I have attempted to demonstrate in my book L’anomalia selvaggia and to which we refer again in part in Assembly. Crucial in the transition of singularity to the common, Spinoza teaches us, are imagination, love and subjectivity. Singularity and subjectivity becoming common and translating themselves into newly invented institutions, is one way of summarizing commontism.

With regard to the current digital and communicative capitalism you also dwell on critique and what you call Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s techno-pessimism. You state that in order to arrive at an evaluation of modern technology it is necessary to historicize the arguments of critique. The position of Horkheimer and Adorno only relates to the phase of capitalist development that is controlled by large-scale industry. This constitutes a serious limitation of their critique. My question is: is this restriction of their critique related to the counter image of Enlightenment and modern thinking as forged in the Romantic period by opponents of revolutionary ideas and emancipation and in which their Dialektik der Aufklärung is also caught? Or, to put it differently, is it due to the fact that they do not make an explicit enough distinction between emancipatory modern thinking and capitalism? What is your view on this, also in the light of your thesis on the alternative modernity of Machiavelli-Spinoza-Marx, in which the first two are regarded as the main suspects by Horkheimer and Adorno?

I grew up against the background of the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and it is evident that operaismo is indebted to their critical work, but at the same time the entire development of operaismo can be seen as opposing the conclusions of Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944). Horkheimer and Adorno’s work leads to extremes and extremism, it takes you to the border and then you can’t go any further. It is the conceptualization of a hermetic universe. In operaismo we asked ourselves, departing from this hermetic universe, how one could break it open. Instead of ending where they did, in operaismo we took the hermetic universe as a starting point, that is the universe of capitalism, of the excesses of instrumental rationality, and of the logic of control and repression, and we asked ourselves how we could break open this hermetic universe. We looked for ways to force open this hermetic universe, which had deteriorated into commodity and was heading for catastrophe. Introducing subjectivity is the central element in this, the crowbar.

So we are the children of the Dialectic of Enlightenment, but also rebel against it.

What we rediscovered in operaismo (and also in Assembly) against the positions of Horkheimer and Adorno’s dialectics is ontology, the class struggle and the possibility of subjectivation. Our interest in the pre-1968 Herbert Marcuse can be seen from this perspective, and what has been especially important, according to us, is the work of Hans-Jürgen Krahl. He was a young student of Adorno who was killed in a traffic accident in early 1970, but he wrote a very important work about the formation of the class struggle, Konstitution und Klassenkampf (published posthumously in 1971). His discourse was similar to what we tried to do in Italy. It involves the discovery of the immaterial and intellectual labour that had the potential for political action, for liberation and for breaking with the total exploitation. Georg Lukàcs also played an important part in this discovery, as did Maurice Merleau-Ponty in France. In the intersection between phenomenology and Marxism we find the fabric in which our movement originates.

If you, as an intellectual, thinker, researcher, critical theorist, were to give an assignment to the future generation, what would it be?

What I see as most important, as fundamental in my life, and what I experience as unique in my life and something that connects everything and is positive, is the fact that I have always been a communist militant. Throughout my life I have never done anything, not as a philosopher nor in any of the many other professions or occupations I engaged in, not as a sociologist or sometimes even as professional politician, never have I undertaken anything that wasn’t completely driven by my communist commitment. I have always been a communist militant in everything. That is what I would like to leave to the future. I would like for communist commitment to become the central element again in people’s lives. Because the commonist militant is the salt of the earth.

Pascal Gielen is full Professor of Sociology of Art and Politics at the Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts, University of Antwerp where he leads the Culture Commons Quest Office (CCQO). Gielen is editor-in-chief of the international book series Arts in Society. In 2016, he became laureate of the Odysseus grant for excellent international scientific research of the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders in Belgium. His research focuses on creative labour, the institutional context of the arts and cultural politics. Gielen has published many books  translated in English, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish.

Sonja Lavaert is professor of philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. She has published on early modern philosophy (Machiavelli, Spinoza), radical contemporary philosophy (Agamben, Negri, Virno), critical theory, Italian studies and philosophy of art. She is the author of Het perspectief van de multitude (2011) and she co-edited The Dutch Legacy. Radical Thinkers of the 17th Century and the Enlightenment (2017) and Aufklärungs-Kritik und Aufklärungs-Mythen. Horkheimer und Adorno in philosophiehistorischer Perspektive (2018). Her research focuses on the philosophical representations of history, and on the genealogy of political and ethical concepts in the interdisciplinary area of philosophy, language, literature, and translation.Credit: This essay is reproduced from the forthcoming book with the kind permission of the authors Pascal Gielen and Sonja Lavaert and publisher Valiz, titled Commonism: A New Aesthetics of the Real, edited by Nico Dockx and Pascal Gielen, for the Antennae-Arts in Society series (Amsterdam: Valiz, September 2018), www.valiz.nl. Text licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivativeWorks 3.0 License.

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Algorithms, Capital, and the Automation of the Common https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/algorithms-capital-and-the-automation-of-the-common/2019/01/15 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/algorithms-capital-and-the-automation-of-the-common/2019/01/15#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 09:38:36 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=74010 “autonomous ones not subsumed by or subjected to the capitalist drive to accumulation and exploitation.” This essay was written by Tiziana Terranova and originally published in Euromade.info Tiziana Terranova: This essay is the outcome of a research process which involves a series of Italian institutions of autoformazione of post-autonomist inspiration (‘free’ universities engaged in grassroots organization of public seminars,... Continue reading

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“autonomous ones not subsumed by or subjected to the capitalist drive to accumulation and exploitation.”

This essay was written by Tiziana Terranova and originally published in Euromade.info

Tiziana Terranova: This essay is the outcome of a research process which involves a series of Italian institutions of autoformazione of post-autonomist inspiration (‘free’ universities engaged in grassroots organization of public seminars, conferences, workshops etc) and anglophone social networks of scholars and researchers engaging with digital media theory and practice officially affiliated with universities, journals and research centres, but also artists, activists, precarious knowledge workers and such likes. It refers to a workshop which took place in London in January 2014, hosted by the Digital Culture Unit at the Centre for Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths’ College, University of London). The workshop was the outcome of a process of reflection and organization that started with the Italian free university collective Uninomade 2.0 in early 2013 and continued across mailing lists and websites such as EuronomadeEffimeraCommonwareI quaderni di San Precarioand others. More than a traditional essay, then, it aims to be a synthetic but hopefully also inventive document which plunges into a distributed ‘social research network’ articulating a series of problems, theses and concerns at the crossing between political theory and research into science, technology and capitalism.

What is at stake in the following is the relationship between ‘algorithms’ and ‘capital’—that is, the increasing centrality of algorithms ‘to organizational practices arising out of the centrality of information and communication technologies stretching all the way from production to circulation, from industrial logistics to financial speculation, from urban planning and design to social communication.1 These apparently esoteric mathematical structures have also become part of the daily life of users of contemporary digital and networked media. Most users of the Internet daily interface or are subjected to the powers of algorithms such as Google’s Pagerank (which sorts the results of our search queries) or Facebook Edgerank (which automatically decides in which order we should get our news on our feed) not to talk about the many other less known algorithms (Appinions, Klout, Hummingbird, PKC, Perlin noise, Cinematch, KDP Select and many more) which modulate our relationship with data, digital devices and each other. This widespread presence of algorithms in the daily life of digital culture, however, is only one of the expressions of the pervasiveness of computational techniques as they become increasingly co-extensive with processes of production, consumption and distribution displayed in logistics, finance, architecture, medicine, urban planning, infographics, advertising, dating, gaming, publishing and all kinds of creative expressions (music, graphics, dance etc).

The staging of the encounter between ‘algorithms’ and ‘capital’ as a political problem invokes the possibility of breaking with the spell of ‘capitalist realism’—that is, the idea that capitalism constitutes the only possible economy while at the same time claiming that new ways of organizing the production and distribution of wealth need to seize on scientific and technological developments2. Going beyond the opposition between state and market, public and private, the concept of the common is used here as a way to instigate the thought and practice of a possible post-capitalist mode of existence for networked digital media.

Algorithms, Capital and Automation

Looking at algorithms from a perspective that seeks the constitution of a new political rationality around the concept of the ‘common’ means engaging with the ways in which algorithms are deeply implicated in the changing nature of automation. Automation is described by Marx as a process of absorption into the machine of the ‘general productive forces of the social brain’ such as ‘knowledge and skills’3,which hence appear as an attribute of capital rather than as the product of social labour. Looking at the history of the implication of capital and technology, it is clear how automation has evolved away from the thermo-mechanical model of the early industrial assembly line toward the electro-computational dispersed networks of contemporary capitalism. Hence it is possible to read algorithms as part of a genealogical line that, as Marx put it in the ‘Fragment on Machines’, starting with the adoption of technology by capitalism as fixed capital, pushes the former through several metamorphoses ‘whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of machinery…set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself’4.The industrial automaton was clearly thermodynamical, and gave rise to a system ‘consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs so that workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages’5. The digital automaton, however, is electro-computational, it puts ‘the soul to work’ and involves primarily the nervous system and the brain and comprises ‘possibilities of virtuality, simulation, abstraction, feedback and autonomous processes’6. The digital automaton unfolds in networks consisting of electronic and nervous connections so that users themselves are cast as quasi-automatic relays of a ceaseless information flow. It is in this wider assemblage, then, that algorithms need to be located when discussing the new modes of automation.

Quoting a textbook of computer science, Andrew Goffey describes algorithms as ‘the unifying concept for all the activities which computer scientists engage in…and the fundamental entity with which computer scientists operate’7. An algorithm can be provisionally defined as the ‘description of the method by which a task is to be accomplished’ by means of sequences of steps or instructions, sets of ordered steps that operate on data and computational structures. As such, an algorithm is an abstraction, ‘having an autonomous existence independent of what computer scientists like to refer to as “implementation details,” that is, its embodiment in a particular programming language for a particular machine architecture’8. It can vary in complexity from the most simple set of rules described in natural language (such as those used to generate coordinated patterns of movement in smart mobs) to the most complex mathematical formulas involving all kinds of variables (as in the famous Monte Carlo algorithm used to solve problems in nuclear physics and later also applied to stock markets and now to the study of non-linear technological diffusion processes). At the same time, in order to work, algorithms must exist as part of assemblages that include hardware, data, data structures (such as lists, databases, memory, etc.), and the behaviours and actions of bodies. For the algorithm to become social software, in fact, ‘it must gain its power as a social or cultural artifact and process by means of a better and better accommodation to behaviors and bodies which happen on its outside’.9

Furthermore, as contemporary algorithms become increasingly exposed to larger and larger data sets (and in general to a growing entropy in the flow of data also known as Big Data), they are, according to Luciana Parisi, becoming something more then mere sets of instructions to be performed: ‘infinite amounts of information interfere with and re-program algorithmic procedures…and data produce alien rules’10. It seems clear from this brief account, then, that algorithms are neither a homogeneous set of techniques, nor do they guarantee ‘the infallible execution of automated order and control11.

From the point of view of capitalism, however, algorithms are mainly a form of ‘fixed capital’—that is, they are just means of production. They encode a certain quantity of social knowledge (abstracted from that elaborated by mathematicians, programmers, but also users’ activities), but they are not valuable per se. In the current economy, they are valuable only in as much as they allow for the conversion of such knowledge into exchange value (monetization) and its (exponentially increasing) accumulation (the titanic quasi-monopolies of the social Internet). In as much as they constitute fixed capital, algorithms such as Google’s Page Rank and Facebook’s Edgerank appear ‘as a presupposition against which the value-creating power of the individual labour capacity is an infinitesimal, vanishing magnitude’12. And that is why calls for individual retributions to users for their ‘free labor’ are misplaced. It is clear that for Marx what needs to be compensated is not the individual work of the user, but the much larger powers of social cooperation thus unleashed, and that this compensation implies a profound transformation of the grip that the social relation that we call the capitalist economy has on society.

From the point of view of capital, then, algorithms are just fixed capital, means of production finalized to achieve an economic return. But that does not mean that, like all technologies and techniques, that is all that they are. Marx explicitly states that even as capital appropriates technology as the most effective form of the subsumption of labor, that does not mean that this is all that can be said about it. Its existence as machinery, he insists, is not ‘identical with its existence as capital… and therefore it does not follow that subsumption under the social relation of capital is the most appropriate and ultimate social relation of production for the application of machinery’.13 It is then essential to remember that the instrumental value that algorithms have for capital does not exhaust the ‘value’ of technology in general and algorithms in particular—that is, their capacity to express not just ‘use value’ as Marx put it, but also aesthetic, existential, social, and ethical values. Wasn’t it this clash between the necessity of capital to reduce software development to exchange value, thus marginalizing the aesthetic and ethical values of software creation, that pushed Richard Stallman and countless hackers and engineers towards the Free and Open Source Movement? Isn’t the enthusiasm that animates hack-meetings and hacker-spaces fueled by the energy liberated from the constraints of ‘working’ for a company in order to remain faithful to one’s own aesthetics and ethics of coding?

Contrary to some variants of Marxism which tend to identify technology completely with ‘dead labor’, ‘fixed capital’ or ‘instrumental rationality’, and hence with control and capture, it seems important to remember how, for Marx, the evolution of machinery also indexes a level of development of productive powers that are unleashed but never totally contained by the capitalist economy. What interested Marx (and what makes his work still relevant to those who strive for a post-capitalist mode of existence) is the way in which, so he claims, the tendency of capital to invest in technology to automate and hence reduce its labor costs to a minimum potentially frees up a ‘surplus’ of time and energy (labor) or an excess of productive capacity in relation to the basic, important and necessary labor of reproduction (a global economy, for example, should first of all produce enough wealth for all members of a planetary population to be adequately fed, clothed, cured and sheltered). However, what characterizes a capitalist economy is that this surplus of time and energy is not simply released, but must be constantly reabsorbed in the cycle of production of exchange value leading to increasing accumulation of wealth by the few (the collective capitalist) at the expense of the many (the multitudes).

Automation, then, when seen from the point of view of capital, must always be balanced with new ways to control (that is, absorb and exhaust) the time and energy thus released. It must produce poverty and stress when there should be wealth and leisure. It must make direct labour the measure of value even when it is apparent that science, technology and social cooperation constitute the source of the wealth produced. It thus inevitably leads to the periodic and widespread destruction of this accumulated wealth, in the form of psychic burnout, environmental catastrophe and physical destruction of the wealth through war. It creates hunger where there should be satiety, it puts food banks next to the opulence of the super-rich. That is why the notion of a post-capitalist mode of existence must become believable, that is, it must become what Maurizio Lazzarato described as an enduring autonomous focus of subjectivation. What a post-capitalist commonism then can aim for is not only a better distribution of wealth compared to the unsustainable one that we have today, but also a reclaiming of ‘disposable time’—that is, time and energy freed from work to be deployed in developing and complicating the very notion of what is ‘necessary’.

The history of capitalism has shown that automation as such has not reduced the quantity and intensity of labor demanded by managers and capitalists. On the contrary, in as much as technology is only a means of production to capital, where it has been able to deploy other means, it has not innovated. For example, industrial technologies of automation in the factory do not seem to have recently experienced any significant technological breakthroughs. Most industrial labor today is still heavily manual, automated only in the sense of being hooked up to the speed of electronic networks of prototyping, marketing and distribution; and it is rendered economically sustainable only by political means—that is, by exploiting geo-political and economic differences (arbitrage) on a global scale and by controlling migration flows through new technologies of the border. The state of things in most industries today is intensified exploitation, which produces an impoverished mode of mass production and consumption that is damaging to both to the body, subjectivity, social relations and the environment. As Marx put it, disposable time released by automation should allow for a change in the very essence of the ‘human’ so that the new subjectivity is allowed to return to the performing of necessary labor in such a way as to redefine what is necessary and what is needed.

It is not then simply about arguing for a ‘return’ to simpler times, but on the contrary a matter of acknowledging that growing food and feeding populations, constructing shelter and adequate housing, learning and researching, caring for the children, the sick and the elderly requires the mobilization of social invention and cooperation. The whole process is thus transformed from a process of production by the many for the few steeped in impoverishment and stress to one where the many redefine the meaning of what is necessary and valuable, while inventing new ways of achieving it. This corresponds in a way to the notion of ‘commonfare’ as recently elaborated by Andrea Fumagalli and Carlo Vercellone, implying, in the latter’s words, ‘the socialization of investment and money and the question of the modes of management and organisation which allow for an authentic democratic reappropriation of the institutions of Welfare…and the ecologic re-structuring of our systems of production13. We need to ask then not only how algorithmic automation works today (mainly in terms of control and monetization, feeding the debt economy) but also what kind of time and energy it subsumes and how it might be made to work once taken up by different social and political assemblages—autonomous ones not subsumed by or subjected to the capitalist drive to accumulation and exploitation.

The Red Stack: Virtual Money, Social Networks, Bio-Hypermedia

In a recent intervention, digital media and political theorist Benjamin H. Bratton has argued that we are witnessing the emergence of a new nomos of the earth, where older geopolitical divisions linked to territorial sovereign powers are intersecting the new nomos of the Internet and new forms of sovereignty extending in electronic space14. This new heterogenous nomos involves the overlapping of national governments (China, United States, European Union, Brasil, Egypt and such likes), transnational bodies (the IMF, the WTO, the European Banks and NGOs of various types), and corporations such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, etc., producing differentiated patterns of mutual accommodation marked by moments of conflict. Drawing on the organizational structure of computer networks or ‘the OSI network model, upon with the TCP/IP stack and the global internet itself is indirectly based’, Bratton has developed the concept and/or prototype of the ‘stack’ to define the features of ‘a possible new nomos of the earth linking technology, nature and the human.’15 The stack supports and modulates a kind of ‘social cybernetics’ able to compose ‘both equilibrium and emergence’. As a ‘megastructure’, the stack implies a ‘confluence of interoperable standards-based complex material-information systems of systems, organized according to a vertical section, topographic model of layers and protocols…composed equally of social, human and “analog” layers (chthonic energy sources, gestures, affects, user-actants, interfaces, cities and streets, rooms and buildings, organic and inorganic envelopes) and informational, non-human computational and “digital” layers (multiplexed fiber optic cables, datacenters, databases, data standards and protocols, urban-scale networks, embedded systems, universal addressing tables)’16.

In this section, drawing on Bratton’s political prototype, I would like to propose the concept of the ‘Red Stack’—that is, a new nomos for the post-capitalist common. Materializing the ‘red stack’ involves engaging with (at least) three levels of socio-technical innovation: virtual money, social networks, and bio-hypermedia. These three levels, although ‘stacked’, that is, layered, are to be understood at the same time as interacting transversally and nonlinearly. They constitute a possible way to think about an infrastructure of autonomization linking together technology and subjectivation.

Virtual money

The contemporary economy, as Christian Marazzi and others have argued, is founded on a form of money which has been turned into a series of signs, with no fixed referent (such as gold) to anchor them, explicitly dependent on the computational automation of simulational models, screen media with automated displays of data (indexes, graphics etc) and algo-trading (bot-to-bot transactions) as its emerging mode of automation17. As Toni Negri also puts it, ‘money today—as abstract machine—has taken on the peculiar function of supreme measure of the values extracted out of society in the real subsumption of the latter under capital’18.

Since ownership and control of capital-money (different, as Maurizio Lazzarato remind us, from wage-money, in its capacity to be used not only as a means of exchange, but as a means of investment empowering certain futures over others) is crucial to maintaining populations bonded to the current power relation, how can we turn financial money into the money of the common? An experiment such as Bitcoin demonstrates that in a way ‘the taboo on money has been broken’19 and that beyond the limits of this experience, forkings are already developing in different directions. What kind of relationship can be established between the algorithms of money-creation and ‘a constituent practice which affirms other criteria for the measurement of wealth, valorizing new and old collective needs outside the logic of finance’?20

Current attempts to develop new kinds of cryptocurrencies must be judged, valued and rethought on the basis of this simple question as posed by Andrea Fumagalli: Is the currency created not limited solely to being a means of exchange, but can it also affect the entire cycle of money creation – from finance to exchange?21.

Does it allow speculation and hoarding, or does it promote investment in post-capitalist projects and facilitate freedom from exploitation, autonomy of organization etc.? What is becoming increasingly clear is that algorithms are an essential part of the process of creation of the money of the common, but that algorithms also have politics (What are the gendered politics of individual ‘mining’, for example, and of the complex technical knowledge and machinery implied in mining bitcoins?) Furthermore, the drive to completely automate money production in order to escape the fallacies of subjective factors and social relations might cause such relations to come back in the form of speculative trading. In the same way as financial capital is intrinsically linked to a certain kind of subjectivity (the financial predator narrated by Hollywood cinema), so an autonomous form of money needs to be both jacked into and productive of a new kind of subjectivity not limited to the hacking milieu as such, but at the same time oriented not towards monetization and accumulation but towards the empowering of social cooperation. Other questions that the design of the money of the common might involve are: Is it possible to draw on the current financialization of the Internet by corporations such as Google (with its Adsense/Adword programme) to subtract money from the circuit of capitalist accumulation and turn it into a money able to finance new forms of commonfare (education, research, health, environment etc)? What are the lessons to be learned from crowdfunding models and their limits in thinking about new forms of financing autonomous projects of social cooperation? How can we perfect and extend experiments such as that carried out by the Inter-Occupy movement during the Katrina hurricane in turning social networks into crowdfunding networks which can then be used as logistical infrastructure able to move not only information, but also physical goods?22.

Social Networks

Over the past ten years, digital media have undergone a process of becoming social that has introduced genuine innovation in relation to previous forms of social software (mailing lists, forums, multi-user domains, etc). If mailing lists, for example, drew on the communicational language of sending and receiving, social network sites and the diffusion of (proprietary) social plug-ins have turned the social relation itself into the content of new computational procedures. When sending and receiving a message, we can say that algorithms operate outside the social relation as such, in the space of the transmission and distribution of messages; but social network software places intervenes directly on the social relationship. Indeed, digital technologies and social network sites ‘cut into’ the social relation as such—that is, they turn it into a discrete object and introduce a new supplementary relation.23

If, with Gabriel Tarde and Michel Foucault, we understand the social relation as an asymmetrical relation involving at least two poles (one active and the other receptive) and characterized by a certain degree of freedom, we can think of actions such as liking and being liked, writing and reading, looking and being looked at, tagging and being tagged, and even buying and selling as the kind of conducts that transindividuate the social (they induce the passage from the pre-individual through the individual to the collective). In social network sites and social plug-ins these actions become discrete technical objects (like buttons, comment boxes, tags etc) which are then linked to underlying data structures (for example the social graph) and subjected to the power of ranking of algorithms. This produces the characteristic spatio-temporal modality of digital sociality today: the feed, an algorithmically customized flow of opinions, beliefs, statements, desires expressed in words, images, sounds etc. Much reviled in contemporary critical theory for their supposedly homogenizing effect, these new technologies of the social, however, also open the possibility of experimenting with many-to-many interaction and thus with the very processes of individuation. Political experiments (se the various internet-based parties such as the 5 star movement, Pirate Party, Partido X) draw on the powers of these new socio-technical structures in order to produce massive processes of participation and deliberation; but, as with Bitcoin, they also show the far from resolved processes that link political subjectivation to algorithmic automation. They can function, however, because they draw on widely socialized new knowledges and crafts (how to construct a profile, how to cultivate a public, how to share and comment, how to make and post photos, videos, notes, how to publicize events) and on ‘soft skills’ of expression and relation (humour, argumentation, sparring) which are not implicitly good or bad, but present a series of affordances or degrees of freedom of expression for political action that cannot be left to capitalist monopolies. However, it is not only a matter of using social networks to organize resistance and revolt, but also a question of constructing a social mode of self-Information which can collect and reorganize existing drives towards autonomous and singular becomings. Given that algorithms, as we have said, cannot be unlinked from wider social assemblages, their materialization within the red stack involves the hijacking of social network technologies away from a mode of consumption whereby social networks can act as a distributed platform for learning about the world, fostering and nurturing new competences and skills, fostering planetary connections, and developing new ideas and values.


The term bio-hypermedia, coined by Giorgio Griziotti, identifies the ever more intimate relation between bodies and devices which is part of the diffusion of smart phones, tablet computers and ubiquitous computation. As digital networks shift away from the centrality of the desktop or even laptop machine towards smaller, portable devices, a new social and technical landscape emerges around ‘apps’ and ‘clouds’ which directly ‘intervene in how we feel, perceive and understand the world’.24). Bratton defines the ‘apps’ for platforms such as Android and Apple as interfaces or membranes linking individual devices to large databases stored in the ‘cloud’ (massive data processing and storage centres owned by large corporations).25

This topological continuity has allowed for the diffusion of downloadable apps which increasingly modulate the relationship of bodies and space. Such technologies not only ‘stick to the skin and respond to the touch’ (as Bruce Sterling once put it), but create new ‘zones’ around bodies which now move through ‘coded spaces’ overlayed with information, able to locate other bodies and places within interactive, informational visual maps. New spatial ecosystems emerging at the crossing of the ‘natural’ and the artificial allow for the activation of a process of chaosmotic co-creation of urban life.26 Here again we can see how apps are, for capital, simply a means to ‘monetize’ and ‘accumulate’ data about the body’s movement while subsuming it ever more tightly in networks of consumption and surveillance. However, this subsumption of the mobile body under capital does not necessarily imply that this is the only possible use of these new technological affordances. Turning bio-hypermedia into components of the red stack (the mode of reappropriation of fixed capital in the age of the networked social) implies drawing together current experimentation with hardware (shenzei phone hacking technologies, makers movements, etc.) able to support a new breed of ‘imaginary apps’ (think for example about the apps devised by the artist collective Electronic Disturbance Theatre, which allow migrants to bypass border controls, or apps able to track the origin of commodities, their degrees of exploitation, etc.).


This short essay, a synthesis of a wider research process, means to propose another strategy for the construction of a machinic infrastructure of the common. The basic idea is that information technologies, which comprise algorithms as a central component, do not simply constitute a tool of capital, but are simultaneously constructing new potentialities for postneoliberal modes of government and postcapitalist modes of production. It is a matter here of opening possible lines of contamination with the large movements of programmers, hackers and makers involved in a process of re-coding of network architectures and information technologies based on values others than exchange and speculation, but also of acknowledging the wide process of technosocial literacy that has recently affected large swathes of the world population. It is a matter, then, of producing a convergence able to extend the problem of the reprogramming of the Internet away from recent trends towards corporatisation and monetisation at the expense of users’ freedom and control. Linking bio-informational communication to issues such as the production of a money of the commons able to socialize wealth, against current trends towards privatisation, accumulation and concentration, and saying that social networks and diffused communicational competences can also function as means to organize cooperation and produce new knowledges and values, means seeking for a new political synthesis which moves us away from the neoliberal paradigm of debt, austerity and accumulation. This is not a utopia, but a program for the invention of constituent social algorithms of the common.

In addition to the sources cited above, and the texts contained in this volume, we offer the following expandable bibliographical toolkit or open desiring biblio-machine. (Instructions: pick, choose and subtract/add to form your own assemblage of self-formation for the purposes of materialization of the red stack):

— L. Baroniant and C. Vercellone, Moneta Del Comune e Reddito Sociale Garantito (2013), Uninomade.

— M. Bauwens, The Social Web and Its Social Contracts: Some Notes on Social Antagonism in Netarchical Capitalism (2008), Re-Public Re-Imaging Democracy.

— F. Berardi and G. Lovink, A call to the army of love and to the army of software (2011), Nettime.

— R. Braidotti, The posthuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).

— G. E. Coleman, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2012).

— A. Fumagalli, Trasformazione del lavoro e trasformazioni del welfare: precarietà e welfare del comune (commonfare) in Europa, in P. Leon and R. Realfonso (eds), L’Economia della precarietà (Rome: Manifestolibri, 2008), 159–74.

— G. Giannelli and A. Fumagalli, Il fenomeno Bitcoin: moneta alternativa o moneta speculativa? (2013), I Quaderni di San Precario.

— G. Griziotti, D. Lovaglio and T. Terranova, Netwar 2.0: Verso una convergenza della “calle” e della rete (2012), Uninomade 2.0.

— E. Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

— F. Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm (Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995).

S. Jourdan, Game-over Bitcoin: Where Is the Next Human-Based Digital Currency? (2014).

— M. Lazzarato, Les puissances de l’invention (Paris: L’empecheurs de penser ronde, 2004).

— M. Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2013).

— G. Lovink and M. Rasch (eds), Unlike Us Reader: Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Culture, 2013).

— A. Mackenzie (2013), Programming subjects in the regime of anticipation: software studies and subjectivity in In: Subjectivity. 6, p. 391-405

— L. Manovich, The Poetics of Augmented Space, Virtual Communication 5:2 (2006), 219–40.

— S. Mezzadra and B. Neilson, Border as Method or the Multiplication of Labor (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).

— P. D. Miller aka DJ Spooky and S. Matviyenko, The Imaginary App (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, forthcoming).

— A. Negri, Acting in common and the limits of capital (2014), in Euronomade.

— A. Negri and M. Hardt, Commonwealth (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2009).

— M. Pasquinelli, Google’s Page Rank Algorithm: A Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and the Rentier of the Common Intellect(2009).

— B. Scott, Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money (London: Pluto Press, 2013).

— G. Simondon, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (1958), University of Western Ontario

— R. Stallman, Free Software: Free Society. Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman (Free Software Foundation, 2002).

— A. Toscano, Gaming the Plumbing: High-Frequency Trading and the Spaces of Capital (2013), in Mute.

— I. Wilkins and B. Dragos, Destructive Distraction? An Ecological Study of High Frequency Trading, in Mute.

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  1. In the words of the programme of the worshop from which this essay originated: http://quaderni.sanprecario.info/2014/01/workshop-algorithms/ ↩
  2. M. Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative (London: Zer0 Books, 2009); 2009, A. Williams and N. Srnciek, ‘#Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics’, this volume XXX-XXX. ↩
  3. K. Marx, ‘Fragment on Machines’, this volume, XXX–XXX. ↩
  4. Ibid., XXX. ↩
  5. Ibid., XXX. ↩
  6. M. Fuller, Software Studies: A Lexicon (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008); F. Berardi, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2009)  ↩
  7. A. Goffey, ‘Algorithm’, in Fuller (ed), Software Studies, 15–17: 15. ↩
  8. Ibid. ↩
  9. Fuller, Introduction to Fuller (ed), Software Studies, 5 ↩
  10. L. Parisi, Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, Space (Cambridge, Mass. and Sidney: MIT Press, 2013), x. ↩
  11. Ibid., ix. ↩
  12. Marx, XXX. ↩
  13. C. Vercellone, ‘From the crisis to the “commonfare” as new mode of production’, in special section on Eurocrisis (ed. G. Amendola, S. Mezzadra and T. Terranova), Theory, Culture and Society, forthcoming; also A. Fumagalli, ‘Digital (Crypto) Money and Alternative Financial Circuits: Lead the Attack to the Heart of the State, sorry, of Financial Market’ ↩
  14. B. Bratton, On the Nomos of the Cloud (2012). ↩
  15. Ibid. ↩
  16. Ibid. ↩
  17. C. Marazzi, Money in the World Crisis: The New Basis of Capitalist Power ↩
  18. T. Negri, Reflections on the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics(2014), Euronomade ↩
  19. Jaromil Rojio, Bitcoin, la fine del tabù della moneta (2014), in I Quaderni di San Precario. ↩
  20. S. Lucarelli, Il principio della liquidità e la sua corruzione. Un contributo alla discussione su algoritmi e capitale (2014), in I Quaderni di san Precario ↩
  21. A. Fumagalli, Commonfare: Per la riappropriazione del libero accesso ai beni comuni (2014), in Doppio Zero ↩
  22. Common Ground Collective, Common Ground Collective, Food, not Bombs and Occupy Movement form Coalition to help Isaac & Kathrina Victims (2012), Interoccupy.net  ↩
  23. B. Stiegler, The Most Precious Good in the Era of Social Technologies, in G. Lovink and M. Rasch (eds), Unlike Us Reader: Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Culture, 2013), 16–30. ↩
  24. G. Griziotti, Biorank: algorithms and transformations in the bios of cognitive capitalism (2014), in I Quaderni di san Precario; also S. Portanova, Moving without a Body (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 2013 ↩
  25. B. Bratton, On Apps and Elementary Forms of Interfacial Life: Object, Image, Superimposition  ↩
  26. S. Iaconesi and O. Persico, The Co-Creation of the City: Re-programming Cities using Real-Time User-Generated Content ↩

Photo by ahisgett

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Book Launch: Peer to Peer: The Commons Manifesto https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/book-launch-peer-to-peer-the-commons-manifesto/2019/01/15 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/book-launch-peer-to-peer-the-commons-manifesto/2019/01/15#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 09:19:08 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=74006 WHEN: 21st March 2019 @ 5:00 pm – 7:00 pmWHERE: University of Westminster (Room UG05); 309 Regent St; Marylebone, London W1B 2HT; UKCOST: Free Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis & Alex Pazaitis (P2P Foundation) –Book Launch ‘Peer to Peer. The Commons Manifesto’ (University of Westminster Press) Not since Marx identified the manufacturing plants of Manchester as... Continue reading

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WHEN: 21st March 2019 @ 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
WHERE: University of Westminster (Room UG05); 309 Regent St; Marylebone, London W1B 2HT; UK
COST: Free

Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis & Alex Pazaitis (P2P Foundation) –Book Launch ‘Peer to Peer. The Commons Manifesto’ (University of Westminster Press)

Not since Marx identified the manufacturing plants of Manchester as the blueprint for the new capitalist society has there been a more profound transformation of the fundamentals of our social life. As capitalism faces a series of structural crises, a new social, political and economic dynamic is emerging: peer to peer.  What is peer to peer? Why is it essential for building a commons-centric future? How could this happen? These are the questions this seminar tries to answer.


Michel Bauwens is the Founder of the P2P Foundation and works in collaboration with a global group of researchers in the exploration of commons-based peer production, governance, and property.

Vasilis Kostakis is the Professor of P2P Governance at Tallinn University of Technology and Faculty Associate at Harvard University. He is also Visiting Professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Vasilis is the founder of the P2P Lab and core member of the P2P Foundation.

Alex Pazaitis is a Core Member of the P2P Lab and a Junior Research Fellow at the Ragnar Nurkse Department, Tallinn University of Technology.

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Nesta’s ‘ShareTown’ interactive shows what a cooperative, tech-enabled economy might look like https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/nestas-sharetown-interactive-shows-what-a-cooperative-tech-enabled-economy-might-look-like/2019/01/14 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/nestas-sharetown-interactive-shows-what-a-cooperative-tech-enabled-economy-might-look-like/2019/01/14#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 21:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=73974 Aaron Fernando: It is common to see questionable policies enacted by state and local governments under the guise of economic development — policies which appear to serve the interests of private entities rather than the interests of society at large.

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Cross-posted from Shareable

Aaron Fernando: It is common to see questionable policies enacted by state and local governments under the guise of economic development — policies which appear to serve the interests of private entities rather than the interests of society at large. Yet at the other end of the spectrum, real and sustainable sources of wealth, along with the many non-financial elements crucial to the health of societies, continue to be generated by individuals and small-scale producers, largely without much assistance from local governments.

Recently, the U.K.-based foundation Nesta released an interactive visualization called ShareTown, intended to help people think about what it might look like if local governments used technology and focused on both small-scale local organizations and individuals in creating positive social outcomes within a locality. Described as “an unashamedly positive vision of a preferred future in which interactions between citizens and local government are balanced and collaborative, and data and digital platforms are deployed for public benefit rather than private gain” ShareTown allows visitors to click around and explore an interrelated set of organizations, institutions, and individuals in one vision of a prosperous local economy of the future. These organizations include a makerspace, a community waste and re-use center, a childcare cooperative, a mobile library and resource center, and many others — all in some way utilizing technology and supported (financially or otherwise) by local government.

The ideas in ShareTown were derived from a workshop in May 2018 with leaders from local governments and members of the public, and discussed in light of drastic budget cuts faced by local governments around the U.K. Although ShareTown is U.K.-specific and offers links to “Reference Points,” which are existing projects, similar projects have already been sprouting up around the world. For instance, ShareTown contains a platform co-op which links freelancers with resources and protections against certain types of risks. The cooperative SMart is mentioned ShareTown, but others around the world like the Freelancer’s Union in New York City, New York, operate similarly.

However it is noted that “ShareTown is not intended as a prediction, but a source of inspiration — and provocation.” ShareTown was created by Nesta’s ShareLab, which has “a mission to grow evidence and understanding of how collaborative digital platforms can deliver social impact.” Thus, explicit in this approach is the belief that data collection and specific technological tracking and monitoring solutions will lead to positive social outcomes. This includes certain initiatives with potentially uncomfortable data-gathering, such as a mobile library operated with a mix of public and private funding which also tracks user outcomes.

In light of recent, serious data breaches like those of Marriott and Equifax, along with the reality that digital platforms and big data have been utilized by the few to manipulate the many, this technological optimism is indeed a provocation and something to be discussed. ShareTown provides a thought-provoking angle with which to think about the role of government and technology in maintaining a healthy local economy, and can be thought of in tandem with frameworks such as the Cleveland Model and the Preston Model. These two models in particular illustrate flows of money, time, and other resources between institutions and organizations without focusing on the usage of technology. Taken together, these frameworks can help both local residents and public officials think about and reframe how a locality achieves economic resilience even with limited resources.

Header image is a screenshot of Nesta’s ShareTown interactive

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7 Lessons & 3 Big Questions for the Next 10 Years of Governance https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/7-lessons-3-big-questions-for-the-next-10-years-of-governance/2019/01/14 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/7-lessons-3-big-questions-for-the-next-10-years-of-governance/2019/01/14#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=73983 Reposted from Medium Milica Begovic, Joost Beunderman, Indy Johar: The intent of putting the Next Generation Governance (#NextGenGov) agenda at the centre of the Istanbul Innovation Days 2018 was to start to explore the future of the world’s governance challenges, and to debate how a new set of models are needed to address a growing... Continue reading

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Reposted from Medium

Milica Begovic, Joost Beunderman, Indy Johar: The intent of putting the Next Generation Governance (#NextGenGov) agenda at the centre of the Istanbul Innovation Days 2018 was to start to explore the future of the world’s governance challenges, and to debate how a new set of models are needed to address a growing ‘relevance gap’ in governance and peacebuilding.

Any exploration into the Next Generation of Governance requires us to recognize that in an increasingly multi-polar world, a world where power is increasingly more directly used and the singular rule of law we had ‘hoped’ for is being challenged, the future of governance is not only about the technocratic capacity to make rules (even if they are machine readable rules), but also our ability to construct new social legitimacy for all and by all.

In a world where we are facing urgent calamities and deep-running risks like never before, organizations like UNDP are witnessing a growing gap between the incremental progress in practice and a rapidly accelerating set of challenges — whether rampant inequality and its impact on social cohesion, growing ranks of forcefully displaced people, the fragmentation of state agency, rapid depletion of the commons, or the seemingly intractable rise of new forms of violence. This gap — between the emerging reality (strategic risks) and existing practice — is set to exponentially grow unless there is a major rethink of development practice and how we remake governance fit for the 21st century.

Earlier, we hypothesized that across the world, our governance models are broken: we are holding on to 19th century models that deny the complexity of the ‘systemocracy’ we live in : a world of massive interdependencies. #NextGenGov therefore is an exploration — the first of many — of the type of experiments that chart a way towards a future in sync with the Sustainable Development Goals. It aims to explore the lessons, challenges and gaps emerging with governance not relegated to a single goal (SDG 16) but as the prerequisite of achieving the SDG agenda as a whole.

A very 21st century kind of failure

It could be argued governance is the central failure of the 21st century — sidelined as an inconvenient overhead, governance innovation has seen consistent underinvestment and a lack of attention. Our means of governance and regulation have become relics in an age of growing complexity. New capabilities and trends like rapid real-time data feedback loops, algorithmic decision making, new knowledge of the pathways of injustice and inequality, and the rise of new tools and domains of power are challenging established ways of decision making. Frequently hampered by simplistic notions about the levers of change, awed by networked power dynamics in the private sector and undermined by public sector austerity, many of us seem scared and disoriented in responding to the scale of failure and new needs we are witnessing. Worse still, we seem unable to make the case that ultimately, good governance should not be a means of state control but a means to unleash sustainably the full and fair capacity of all human beings.

In this context, the growing strategic risks of our age are making past governance protocols and processes increasingly incoherent and misaligned to the need of both member states and our broader global ecosystems; both real-world precedents and statistically derived probability are collapsing as viable decision-making tools. This incongruity is revealed at different scales and conditions:

1. The existing structures, governance and business models, skills, and institutional cultures are producing solutions that do not fit the new nature of problems they are supposed to be addressing (IPCC’s 1.5 C report and genetically engineered baby in China as most recent proxies of misalignment of current practice and emerging existential threats).

2. Business-as-usual as a method to address the entirely new scale and modality of problems is a recipe for decline and irrelevance (consider ongoing efforts to apply current regulatory paradigms to distributed technologies like blockchain).

3. Governments and investors too are experiencing the lack of coherence between existing solutions and emerging problems, and are therefore eager to restructure their relationship with UNDP and similar organisations.

Towards new Zones of Experiment

Searching for fresh perspectives, our approach was to hone in on a series of Zones of Experiment — a range of domains that could unlock some of the great transitions the world is facing. We looked at new ways to protect and restore the commons, to actualize the human rights of landless nations, and to prevent conflict and empower civic actors in revealing abuses. We also explored science fiction, arts and culture as seedbeds for imagining alternative economic systems, the role of new technologies in urban governance, and new practices in the way power is organized, manifested and influences decision making.

Across these zones of experiment, we are seeing how a new generation of edge practitioners is challenging the status quo, and how their experiments enable us to learn both context-specific and transferable lessons. Together, they point the way to the #NextGenGov agenda as a new approach to strategic innovation (and feedback coming in after the IID2018 indicates the need to explore additional Zones of Experiments with emerging new practices such as governance of digital financial markets and impact of systemic structural issues, such as decline of trust on single point sectors including attitudes towards vaccination).

Underlying all these is the double edged sword of rapid technological progress in a multi-polar world that is challenging established ethical certainties. The unexplainable AI is one such manifestation, where the advanced identification of correlation is argued to be sufficient to guide decision-making be judicial or even law enforcement, challenging — even perhaps regressing — us to a pre-scientific age and undermining the basic principles of governance — accountability and equality of treatment (as argued by Jacob Mchangama).

As Primavera de Filippi outlined in her keynote speech, new technological capabilities always carry the potential both to disrupt the status quo or conversely reify existing structures of power and inequality. If we want to put the new tools of power in the hands of the many not the few, we need to focus on the governance of the new infrastructures rather than rely on governance by those infrastructures. However, whether in blockchain applications (Primavera’s domain) or elsewhere, it is evident that often we simply don’t know yet what kind of detailed issues, unintended consequences or unexpected feedback loops we might face when applying new technological capabilities. This means experimentation can’t be seen as an add-on but should be at the core of exploring the future and rapid learning about implications of emerging trends.

This is not the place to summarize each zone of experiment discussed during the Istanbul Innovation Days. But we can outline a series of shared lessons and implications for the future of governance and peacebuilding.

1. Micro-massive Futures — A series of new micro-massive data, sensing, processing and influencing capabilities (as revealed in the work of Metasub, PulseLab Kampala and Decibel) is enabling state and non-state actors to transcend the tyranny of the statistically aggregated average, and instead focus on the micro, the unique and the predictive — early warnings on looming epidemics or weather-related crop failure, emerging signs of microbial antibiotic resistance, or the compound impacts of pollution on individuals, particularly in disadvantaged populations. The much more fine-grained understanding they enable (whether through big data, social media mining, or specific sampling and real-time blockchain-anchored measurement) creates radical new pathways to harboring and enhancing the public interest. Achieving decent average outcomes (of health, pollution, human development…) has more than ever become obsolete as a goal: the geographically, individually and temporally hyper specific data we can obtain, and the wicked nature of the issues at hand, require new ways of understanding ‘risk’ — and acting on it. This same micro-massive future on the other hand is also weaponizing the capacity to mine data in order to influence outcomes at the societal scale — opening up huge new questions about the meta governance of these new capacities in the first place. This implies a double set of responsibilities: if we can now govern and influence outcomes at the micro-level of the individual and molecular detail, and at the massive scale of societal bias, with at both scales growing capabilities to understand risk and predict possibilities — how do we govern in this new reality in order to use these powers for good? Or conversely how to ensure that the emerging capabilities of new governing realities are not resulting in human rights abuses, discrimination and violence?

2. From control to ennoblement — Where such distributed data generating and analysis capacity comes into its own is through new contracting agreements that change our capacity to manage shared assets. The multi-party contributory contracts, e.g. the blockchain-based agreements at the heart of the Regen Network, show us how the collective inertia around agricultural restoration could be overcome. Crucially, rather than disincentivizing ‘bad behaviours’ through control, such ennobling regulatory systems can now be imagined to incentivize, communicate and verify contributory systems. Equally, this capability is paving ways for entirely new class of governance mechanisms for the commons — including bestowing legal rights on rivers and the Amazon. How do we reimagine governance if such ennoblement and restoration would structurally be our objective?

3. Making the invisible visible — New ways of building the politics of change are continuously emerging. Using mapping, animation, arts and other visualization tools, practitioners like Forensic Architecture and Invisible Dust — and in different ways, Open Knowledge Germany — are empowering citizens and civic groups to reveal issues which for a wide range of reasons tend to remain hidden — whether in the case of state agents committing human rights abuses or pernicious, slow-moving killers like air pollution (which in many case of course equally implicates states in failing to uphold human rights). By involving distributed civic networks and creative professionals from right across traditional disciplines, and by connecting to the aspirations of populations in different ways, such emerging tactics act as a powerful complement to established tools to build the demand for change.

4. Hybrid participatory futures — Getting to a next level of citizen engagement in the transitions we face requires a next generation of platforms that enable engagement with complexity, new technology and alternative imaginings of the future. This is about new settings for deliberation, new ways of extending invitations to take part, and tapping into the creative resources of science fiction and the arts to reimagine social contract and alternative economic systems. Medialab Prado in Madrid, the Edgeryders community, the deliberative citizens’ assemblies in Ireland or, at local scale, RanLab’s deliberative polls across Africa, show in different ways that new settings for participation can engender new cultures of participation cutting across ‘online’ and ‘offline’. Their deep investment in the tactics of convening people enable the creation of new and highly constructive new communities of concern around difficult topics, as well as building legitimacy for bold experimental approaches. This in turn enables the prevention of potential policy failure or the addressing of topics hitherto thought untouchable by established political players. In an era that frequently bemoans the decline of trust in the abstract, such cultural infrastructure rebuilds avenues towards greater trustworthiness across different parties, and an ability to imagine futures unconstrained by current divisions and biases, as the mitigation of risk. As differing platforms have differing biases in terms of who they attract an what behaviors they foster, such participation will always needs to be hybrid — well curated online platforms, temporal gatherings and permanent physical spaces all play a role in building the shared legitimacy for civic innovation. Enabling the participatory co-creation of the future is a fundamental component of the governance architecture in a complex world: we must complement the nudging of people’s behavior (a crucial tactic which has been applied with considerable success) with nurturing human imagination and facilitating deliberation and engagement with evidence.

5. Public goods & rights beyond the state — In an era where about 68 million people are currently stateless and this number is expected to rise significantly in the coming years, we are seeing state players as unable, unwilling or simply absent in the anchoring of fundamental human rights like people’s individual and family identity, and unable to access public goods provided outside the national boundary. The Rohingya project and IRYO show powerful alternatives and lessons for the remaking of public services like healthcare for both refugee populations and other contexts where access to such services is patchy. These positive alternatives are equally matched by more challenges examples of the quasi privatization of justice — where large technology multinationals are already acting something like a judicial system — “one that is secretive, volatile, and often terrifying.’ They also reveal the need and possibility to reimagine not just service provision but also new architectures of governance beyond the nation state — consider the incoherence of applying national laws to growing numbers of stateless people, para-state futures around the world. The fundamental question arises whether the seemingly limitless rise in populations on the move and para state governance could compel us to imagine and construct at a more structural level new domains of service provision potentially disinter-mediated from the state — and whether that might be more than just dire necessity but also an opportunity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

6. From Evidence based to Experimentation Driven Policy — In an age of increasing complexity, the danger of traditional evidence based policy leading us by the rear view mirror is evident. Instead, the zones of experiment — whether EcoLogic’s futuristic urban landscapes or the service design innovation shared by Pia Andrews from both New Zealand and New South Wales — show the possibility of a new arc of policy formation: experimentation is used to create new forms of situated intelligence and learning, consisting of both new evidence and new insights to underpin the ongoing and iterative development of policies and programmed. These pathways enable institutions to make sense of changes, (re)formulate intent and execution pathways, and thus co-evolve in an open and collaborative process. Fundamentally this is about recognizing 21st century governance will be structurally different: the new institutional capacity can clearly not be designed in vitro but has to grow in-situ, informed by strategic portfolios of experimental options in order to grow the evidence necessary for policy intervention.

7. Sovereignty 2.0. In an age where a vital commons governance can now also be advanced either by imbuing ecological entities — such as rivers in Columbia and elsewhere — with legal rights or by emerging new sets of capabilities like smart contracts and machine learning — as indicated by Regen Network — could this mean the massive scaling of strategies that imbue new types of bodies with ‘sovereign’ powers and capabilities for e.g. machine-based contracting and fining? If so, and heeding Primavera de Filippi’s warnings, the governance of these infrastructures will be a crucial field of innovation.

Whilst even individually these are important new trajectories, when taken together these emerging lessons show how we need to challenge our existing practices at a deeper level. Given the degrees of uncertainty and emergence we face, this implies a call for strategic investment in a broad portfolio of experiments can guide us to the future; fundamentally these are learning options that enable UNDP and its partners to seed and test new ways of governing across different domains. In parallel,#NextGenGov also pointed towards a further set of questions and challenges we face when staring into the future of Governance in a multi-polar tomorrow.


In a world of sped-up complexity and change, the social contracts and legitimacy underlying our governance systems are constantly in question, not least because the relevance gaps affecting nearly all players (between needs and capabilities; between promise and delivery; between aspiration and capacity) means that not just trust, but actual trustworthiness is in decline. Across the world, we are seeing broadly two cultural-societal paradigms that underlie potential future social contracts: both of which could be argued as falling. Where individualism is the main tenet, we all too often fail to mainstream and anchor societal innovations that would reduce collective risk, whether vaccination rates or distributed flood prevention strategies. Where the collective is seen to take priority over the individual, the possible inability to accommodate divergence and diversity risks undermining the distributed creativity, energy and drive needed (and available!) to address wicked issues. The challenge we face is to move towards social contracts based on an explicit recognition of interdependence — reaffirming the need for the hybrid participation structures suggested above to provide the distributed fertile ground for this, as well as opening the space for discussions on system governance beyond the human governance. In future Innovation Days and Next Gen Gov experiments we need to transcend natural rights and embrace new sovereignty 2.0: such as sovereignty for rivers, trees and forests, opening the scope for dynamic interactions of such rights frameworks for a new social ecological contract.


Irrespective of scale or context, it is clear that no sole actor — whether state, civic sector, corporate or start-up — has the ability to tackle the wicked issues of our time alone. This means that discourses on good governance and democracy fundamentally have to be about the distributed power to co-create society. Clearly this is conditioned both by the openness of institutional infrastructures and by the socio-economic fundamentals that enable or hinder people’s agency. Recognizing democracy as creating the positive freedom of ‘being able to care’ (whether about individual life choices, the craftsmanship of work, and about wider social and planetary interdependencies) implies not just a concern about the trends that reduce such capabilities (such as declining economic growth, growing job insecurity or the disasters that uproot people’s lives) but also a focus on the multitude of avenues that enable such care to be expressed and acted upon. The challenge we face is that in this reality, seeing multiparty parliamentary systems as the sole mechanism for delivering democracy seems increasingly hollow: citizen assemblies and participative, high-frequency accountability & feedback systems are examples of vital complementary mechanisms for the enhancement and preservation of public and shared goods. The examples we have seen are evidence of how they can unlock positive, inclusive new avenues to the future at any scale from the local to the global — in ways that ‘politics’ as usual cannot.


In the non-pejorative sense of the word, bureaucracy is at the core of governance. Innovation and experimentation in the realm of our everyday bureaucracy can change the nature and people’s experience of governance and everyday life itself — look no further than Mariana Mazzucato’s work on the role of bureaucracy to create new markets. Just like the 19th century centralized bureaucracies shaped the notion of the modern state, the present ‘boring revolution’ in our capabilities (e.g. around data insight, zero overhead cost of micro transactions and transparent multi-actor contributory contracts) can drive a radical reinvention of the notion of governance and power. This is what is at stake. The challenge we face is evident in the many salutary lessons that IID2018 provided, on how positive outcomes of this process should not be taken for granted. Instead they can only result from clear intent, human-centered design and an approach to strategic innovation that is up to the magnitude of the issues at hand.

Beyond IID2018…to be continued

The IID2018 was an effort to manifest the strategic relevance gap between our rapidly growing needs and risks, and our all-too-slowly developing practice — in this case that of increasingly inadequate global governance models and implications across a range of interdisciplinary policy spaces. If revealing strategic risks and their interrelated nature is about building the demand side for ambitious change — Invisible Dust’s credo of “making the invisible visible” clearly struck a chord — then what comes next has to be a strategic innovation response that goes beyond organizational tweaks or individual responses. After all, in a show-of-hands poll on the first day of IID2018, only 5 people thought the world is on track in achieving Sustainable Development Goals — hardly surprising, given recent news on climate change or the accumulating impact of air pollution on health and learning. Addressing governance failures is at the heart of delivering the SDGs and it will require concerted belief, effort and strategic scale investment.

By virtue of its cross-sectoral strategic development role, UNDP has a natural and unique responsibility to focus on addressing the strategic, entangled and systemic governance risks facing us at a national, transnational and global level — and in doing so it needs to act as integrator on a country and transnational levels, whilst recognizing and respecting the necessity of a multipolar yet machine advanced interoperable future — where the notion, means and conceptions of governance are fully reimagined and socially co-created for a 21st century. Practically, this means NextGenGov was just the beginning of investing in and building a strategic portfolio of experiments that enable partners to learn, manage risk, and effect system change, in order to rebuild the (technical, political, informational, financial) capability of states and civic actors for agile, iterative governance that is premised less on building solutions and more about dealing with our new certainty — uncertainty.

*Special thanks in developing a part of this blog (strategic relevance gap) go to Luca Gatti of Axilo.

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Michel Bauwens: Introduction to commons-based peer production https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/michel-bauwens-introduction-to-commons-based-peer-production/2019/01/14 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/michel-bauwens-introduction-to-commons-based-peer-production/2019/01/14#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 09:30:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=73981 Michel Bauwens: This video from IASC COMMONS is covers the evolution of the commons through history, and the role of the commons in the current shift from labor-based capitalism to contribution-based capitalism and the potential for post-capitalist developments in this particular context Photo by † David Gunter

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Michel Bauwens: This video from IASC COMMONS is covers the evolution of the commons through history, and the role of the commons in the current shift from labor-based capitalism to contribution-based capitalism and the potential for post-capitalist developments in this particular context

Photo by † David Gunter

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