P2P as a guidepost for cultural institutions: The effects of culture

The term ‘culture’ is a big word. It is frequently disputed and differentiated by researchers locating culture in institutions (think organisational culture), national culture (societies such as the American culture that is distinct from all other societies), and for cultural institutions, there is the cultural phenonema – such as the collective cultures of museums.

This post do not attempt to define ‘culture’ in any way – but aims to argue for the benefits of the peer to peer model as a guidepost for collective action especially for cultural institutions.

Giddens calls the cumulative effects of people living and working in social frameworks (a dynamic he termed structuration) the production and re-production of culture. In this he implies a recursive effect by which cultural contexts are continuously generated and re-generated through the interplay of action and structure. He calls this the ‘duality of structure’. In essense, structuration theory holds that ‘man actively shapes the world he lives in at the same time as it shapes him’ (Giddens, 1982, p. 21).

Hofstede (2001) found similar things in a cross-cultural study of IBM, arguing that ‘societal norms shape institutions which in their turn reinforce societal norms…Institutions reflect minds and vice versa’ (Hofstede, 2001, p. 20).
This is important for cultural institutions to recognise as they fulfil their core purpose of promoting the disciplines they represent (such as arts, education, sciences, history) and making meaning for the communities they serve. The cultural institution is influencing and influencing by, recursively, by the national culture formed by local communities, the global culture shaped by people’s minds, and the cultural phenomena of cultural institutions. These factors are in turn shaping and shaped by each other, again in a recursive way. This is represented in the illustration below.

By no means an exhaustive picture – this illustration has been simplified for the purpose of discussion. How can the peer to peer model guide cultural institutions to fulfil their missions? For one, there is no selection criteria for participation in peer to peer projects. Cultural institutions frequently face the challenge of reaching out to infrequent users (I call them the ‘hard-to-reach’ groups). The capacity to engage is contained in the process of engagement – an attractive point of entry for people and an effective method of inclusion for the cultural institution.

There is the occasional misunderstanding that the P2P model is ‘structure-less and hierarchy-less’ (Bauwens, 2005) – which of course may not be practical for any organisation. They are not – there are structures and hierarchies, the only difference is that these are flexible and non-obligatory, and are ‘based on merit used to enable participation’ (Bauwens, 2005). This opens up new avenues for community engagement, without the traditional impositions of the institution (which can cause barriers).

Together with the affordable infrastructure (enabling distributed access to resources) that comes with P2P processes, the recursive effects of culture are exponetially quickened and expanded. The social networks existing within various cultures, whether they are institutional, communal, or global, when amplified by the infrastructure and processes of P2P, enable broader, faster, and lower cost coordination of activities. Meanings, like collective knowledge, are emergent in the P2P model – which is effectively integrated in the recursive cultural effect of cultural institutions (see figure above).

Cultural institutions, small and large; local or state, national or international are, par excellence, curators of knowledge and resources that ‘bind space and time’ for their societies, and share the knowledge that equals power for citizens of a democracy.

Communication technologies have always been essential to their role, but the peer to peer model offer attractive capabilities. There are of course other effects of P2P; but this post has been focused on the implication of the P2P model in the recursive cultural effect of cultural institutions.


Bauwens, M. (2005). The Political Economy of Peer Production. In A. Kroker & M. Kroker (Eds.), 1000 Days of Theory. Available online: www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=499

Giddens, A. (1982). Profiles and critiques in social theory. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s Consequences. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications Inc.

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