P2P and the digital divide, a reply to Steve Ediger

This is a reply to Steve’s informative posting about the increasing digital divide.

Michel Bauwens:

Dear Steve:


Thanks for this interesting contribution, which points to a major paradox in our times. That as the technical means for distribution of intellect, computers as means of production, and finances are lowering the access thresholds; our social systems and neoliberal processes go in the opposite direction. In this context, the new potentialities just form part of a new inequality, on top of the others.


However, it has never been my intention, to consider peer production, governance and property, as automatic laws of society; they are an object of social struggle. First, over what they are, i.e. to what degree will they be incorporated in the capitalist economy and increase social inequality; or to what degree can they subsume the market (not obliterate the market, which fulfills a number of useful functions), so that the market becomes in part governed through peer arbitrage, so that every human being has access to a dignified life. This is why, a part from describing the objective emergence of P2P modes, I also take pains to uncover its ethical and normative demands and prescriptions, while also thinking about a political strategy which can strengthen it.


Yes, the current mode of the political economy has not only increased inequality to an unprecedented degree, but it is furthermore destroying its very own basis, as well as the basis for the survival of the human species, i.e. the integrity of the biosphere.


I don’t see P2P theory as a totalitarian theory, which can totally replace other emancipatory theories and practices.


This being said, how do we react to the digital divide? We need social and regulatory policies that can reverse the 30-year increase in inequality. This would aim at the basic levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The cognitive level can only be addressed by an even stronger stress on cultural and educational policies. When these policies are applied, the transition to peer production will be all the smoother.


But at the same time, we can’t wait. Those of us with the material and cognitive means to participate, must help those without it, to leapfrog into the new practices. The digital divide cannot be an argument to be disheartened about the new techno-social possibilities, but on the contrary, to increase our energy and willingness to distribute the means of access to it. For those at the bottom of the social hierarchy, the infrastructure of cooperation, communication, and access to knowledge, can be a powerful weapon in their struggles for a more just society.


The new paradigms of openness, participation, and universal common property regimes, are especially useful for those countries and their poorest inhabitants, who, relying on open markets alone, are not getting access. Openness, to code, knowledge, can dramatically bring down the cost of development, bringing down the prices for computing and telecommunication infrastructures, but also to pharmaceuticals and their monopolistic pricing. Universal common property regimes will protect the assets of tribal peoples and farmers against private appropriation. Participatory techniques give social struggles global access to all the others fighting for social justice. These are of course in no way automatic trends, they depend on us.

For the more political entries in this blog, see:

– A P2P Theory for social change

Is P2P Left or Right?

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