Hierarchy and peer to peer – a recap

(note: also proposed as a discussion on our Ning network site)

Though there are many kinds of networks , they all seem to have a hierarchy

This seems to be the logical conclusion from recent research reported in Nature

We quote:

researchers at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) have shown that it’s possible to extract automatically the hierarchical structure of networks. The researchers say their results ‘suggest that hierarchy is a central organizing principle of complex networks, capable of offering insight into many network phenomena.’ They also think that their algorithms can be applied to almost every kind of networks, from biochemical networks (protein interaction networks, metabolic networks or genetic regulatory networks) to communities in social networks.”

I believe this is true, as the opposite would imply ‘sameness’ of all the nodes, totally equal influence.

But this does not mean that there is only one kind of hierarchy, or leadership, i.e. how is it intentionally exercised in human social networks.

It is therefore useful to recall the summary provided by John Heron:

The key question is: do the centralized and hierarchical elements in the protocol, enable or disable participation?

In true peer to peer networks, Heron writes, the role of hierarchy is to enable the spontaneous emergence of ‘autonomy in cooperation’:

There seem to be at least four degrees of cultural development, rooted in degrees of moral insight:

(1) autocratic cultures which define rights in a limited and oppressive way and there are no rights of political participation;

(2) narrow democratic cultures which practice political participation through representation, but have no or very limited participation of people in decision-making in all other realms, such as research, religion, education, industry etc.;

(3) wider democratic cultures which practice both political participation and varying degree of wider kinds of participation;

(4) commons p2p cultures in a libertarian and abundance-oriented global network with equipotential rights of participation of everyone in every field of human endeavor.”

Heron adds that “These four degrees could be stated in terms of the relations between hierarchy, co-operation and autonomy.

(1) Hierarchy defines, controls and constrains co-operation and autonomy;

(2) Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere only;

(3) Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere and in varying degrees in other spheres;

(4) The sole role of hierarchy is in its spontaneous emergence in the initiation and continuous flowering of autonomy-in-co-operation in all spheres of human endeavor

From all of the above, we can conclude that hierarchy does not disappear in peer to peer processes, but that it changes its nature. Hierarchy, or authority ranking as it is called by Alan Fiske, takes on new forms such as peer governance, servant leadership, multistakeholdership.

Here is how Joseph Rost defines leadership in the new collaborative era:

The first is that the activities be influential, that is, noncoercive. The second is that the activities be done by people in a relationship. The third is that the activities involve a real significant change. And the fourth element is that the activities reflect the purposes of the people in the relationship, not just a single person. All of these standards insure collaboration rather than the notion that leadership is a great leader doing great things .”

Similarly, another author on leadership, Jeffrey S. Nielsen distinguishes ‘rank thinking’, from ‘peer thinking’ :

I define rank thinking as the belief that only a few in any organization should be given special privilege to monopolize information, control decision-making, and command obedience from the vast majority either through coercive or manipulative power. Peer thinking, on the other hand, is the belief that everyone in the organization should have equal standing to share in information, participate in the decision-making process, and choose to follow through persuasive means. Peer thinking assumes that we each have equal privilege to speak and an obligation to listen. Peer-based organizations create a space–an arena–where we come to recognize and respect one another as equal participants in organizational life .”

Can we do anything about unwanted, because too hierarchical and unequal, forms of protocollary power, in the context of using value-sensitive design?. Can we actually design networks of cooperation so that they are more democratic?

Here we can refer productively to the conscious design of what Stephen Downes calls Knowing Networks . What are there characteristics?:

First, diversity. Did the process involve the widest possible spectrum of points of view? Did people who interpret the matter one way, and from one set of background assumptions, interact with with people who approach the matter from a different perspective?

Second, and related, autonomy. Were the individual knowers contributing to the interaction of their own accord, according to their own knowledge, values and decisions, or were they acting at the behest of some external agency seeking to magnify a certain point of view through quantity rather than reason and reflection?

Third, interactivity. Is the knowledge being producted the product of an interaction between the members, or is it a (mere) aggregation of the members’ perspectives? A different type of knowledge is produced one way as opposed to the other. Just as the human mind does not determine what is seen in front of it by merely counting pixels, nor either does a process intended to create public knowledge.

Fourth, and again related, openness. Is there a mechanism that allows a given perspective to be entered into the system, to be heard and interacted with by others?

It is based on these criteria that we arrive at an account of a knowing network. The scale-free networks contemplated above constitute instances in which these criteria are violated: by concentrating the flow of knowledge through central and highly connected nodes, they reduce diversity and reduce interactivity. Even where such networks are open and allow autonomy (and they are often not), the members of such networks are constrained: only certain perspectives are presented to them for consideration, and only certain perspectives will be passed to the remainder of the network (namely, in both cases, the perspectives of those occupying the highly connected nodes).

Even where such networks are open and allow autonomy (and they are often not), the members of such networks are constrained: only certain perspectives are presented to them for consideration, and only certain perspectives will be passed to the remainder of the network (namely, in both cases, the perspectives of those occupying the highly connected nodes).”

1 Comment Hierarchy and peer to peer – a recap

  1. AvatarMartien

    To quote Dee Hock: How about using the verb “to educe” to replace the “non-coercive”. It has a positive connotation and is a marvelous word seldom used or practiced, meaning “to bring or draw forward something already present in a latent, or undeveloped form.” It can be contrasted with induce, too often used and practiced, meaning “to prevail upon; move by persuasion or influence—to impel, incite, or urge.”.

    Also, TMO hierarchy is an emergent phenomenon. It arises as a result of self-organization when a cell (group, department, organization, community) develops beyond the capability of its membrane and splits, while the cells are part of a whole, and the whole is incomplete without the parts. Hence a holarchy emerges. A holarchy can be seen as an autohierarchy.

    And to quote Deepak Chopra: A great leader is the symbolic soul of a collective longing inspiring the collective consciousness. A great leader is a catalyst for change or transformation, inspiring this collective consciousness. You, as a leader, represent the longing of the people that you lead.

    Finally, in a sociocracy, a holarchy also emerges where consent governs policy decision-making. Consent means there are no argued and paramount objections to a proposed decision. People are elected to functions and tasks by consent after open discussion. Groups elect the people (“leaders”) who will represent them at the next higher level in the holarchy. When a community cannot elect their ambassador, something’s wrong within. They have to go back to inner search and fix this before they can be heard in the rest of the holarchy.

    So, both hierarchy and leaders emerge from the peer governance en consent-based processes. It is a bottom-up, grassroots process.

    On the other hand, we have seen that having a benovelent dictator gives a community (or holarchy) a great evolutionary advantage (Linus Torvalds, Jimmy Wales) when the community as a whole is not able to reach a decision or make a choice.

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