Looking Back on P2P and the P2P-Foundation in 2013

Michel Bauwens:

Kevin Flanagan has asked me to write two articles, one that reviews p2p developments in 2013, and one that looks forward to 2014.

Here is the first part of a personal and impressionistic interpretation of what happened in 2013.

Michel Bauwens, Giovanna Tassi and Andrés Delgado in Ecuador

I like to describe the development of p2p ideas and practices and the P2P Foundation as one of the expressions of this, in the following broad timeline.

The time period before 2008 was a period of anticipation, in which the p2p structures and practices were spreading amongst social movements, local groups, but in a context of emergence and marginality. During my already frequent lectures that started in late 2005, most people were presuming that my talks were about the future, when in fact they were not, they were already describing concepts, practices and ideas of pioneering social groups, but the mainstream audiences were still mostly blind to this.

But the systemic crisis of neoliberal capitalism in 2008 clearly changed that, it was if the sky was clearing and suddenly, people were looking for answers and p2p was seen as one of the potential alternatives. We moved from a period of TINA, ‘There Is No Alternatives”, to a period of TAPAS, “There are Plenty of Alternatives”.

But after 2008, people not only searched for intellectual answers but also started practicing p2p alternative mechanisms more massively. Peer production moved to the physical sphere, with rapidly emerging open hardware; massive social movements emerged, such as in the Middle East, Occupy and 15M , which largely used p2p mechanisms in their self-organisation, and the local resilience movement literally exploded, with an exponential rise in local food initiatives, transition town groups, alternative currencies and more. It was also the birth of the sharing economy movement and a clear revitalisation of the ethical economy took place, such as a revival of cooperativism, the social and solidarity economies, and a large move to progressive governments in for example Latin America.

Thus by 2012, there was a clear change in my experience. If previously I would spend 10 days in say Melbourne for 3 lectures; by 2012, I would spend 10 days in the same place but with 20 engagements, and most of the people and groups who invited me were already practising to some level, p2p principles. I am thinking of coworking centers, makerspaces and the like. Also literally everyone I met seemed to already know the P2P Foundation, as a significant ‘collective intellectual’ of the emergent movement. Visits to our online resource base, such as our wiki, jumped 400% in a single year.

2013 was therefore a year for consolidation of the emergent p2p movement. I witnessed this for example by attending the Economics and the Commons conference in May 2013 in Berlin, which I co-organized with my colleagues of the Commons Strategies Group, i.e. David Bollier and Silke Helfrich. The gathering had a level of maturity which was not comparable to the previous conference in that series in 2010. By 2013, everyone ‘got’ the Commons in one way or another, and was interested not just in mere dialogue, but in strategizing for social change. A lecture tour in western Europe lasted 3 months, and included innovative events such as the Commons Festival in Crete, which brought together players from across the commons spectrum. Local P2P-F groups, such as those in Greece, South Korea, and Brazil, got very active, creating research projects of even 2 physical p2p labs such as in Athens and Ioannina.

There were also some less positive developments. One is the cooptation of the p2p concept by mere marketplaces. In places like the Netherlands for example, it seems an almost exclusive interpretation that p2p is not about constructing commons, but about creating marketplaces for supply and demand to meet. Significantly, in a presentation about the meaning of the sharing economy by Rachel Botsman, commons-oriented peer production is not even mentioned. But there is also a counter-reaction to this neoliberalization of the sharing economy, with people like Neal Gorenflo, Janelle Orsi, Simone Cicero and others arguing for another side of the coin, i.e. a more cooperative interpretation of peer to peer, the commons, and the sharing economy. It is of course not a question of being opposed to entrepreneurs and their ‘sharing’ projects, but of being opposed to the reduction of p2p to market activities.

Perhaps because our work is getting more noticed and popular, we also started encountering more negative attention in 2013. For example, we discovered that one of our close cooperators was forging communications, took control of my personal mailbox, and filtered communication with our partners and associates, creating not just personal damage and hurt, but also financial distress. After the manipulations were discovered, the level of invitations started to rise exponentially. We still don’t know, and don’t have the means to know, whether such intervention was the result of a personal pathology, or a third party driven sabotage. Then, we were targeted by a disinformation campaign orchestrated through Anonymous twitter accounts. The good news is that we survived both, and that it actually strengthened our internal organisation. We now have a much stronger and active internal team, which nearly doubled in size in one year, with much more seriousness and commitment than before. The P2P Foundation has long been a ‘knowledge network’ with an important central node (me), but it may yet become a real human organisation that can actually intervene on the ground.

Ouishare Fest 2013

Intellectually speaking, though 2013 was too busy for in-depth theoretical pursuits, we do believe we made some important breakthroughs. For example, our development of four future p2p scenarios , which was very popular as the closing keynote for the Ouishare fest. Our proposition for a global coalition for the commons, discussed amongst political movements in places as different as Poland and Greece. Our proposition for local civic alliances for the commons and Chambers of the Commons, which is being prefigured in activities in places such as Crete and France. Thus we believe that we now have a much more cogent transition strategy.

An important development was the writing of a book of conversations, with Jean Lievens, on the peer to peer transition in the Dutch language. We got intensive coverage not just in the major newspapers and magazines in the Flanders, but also on radio and television, and the book, which will gets its third printing in January, is well on it is way to become a national bestseller. Hence our fervent hope to find publishers to translate it to other languages in 2014.

In our next instalment, we will discuss our strategic priority around open cooperativism, the transition project in Ecuador, and other thoughts about what is coming in 2014. The seeds for these projects were prepared in 2013, but their realisation will take place next year.”

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