Review of “Subjectivity in the Ecologies of P2P Production”

“Subjectivity in the Ecologies of P2P Production”, a new essay written by Phoebe Moore from Salford University,  can be found in The Fibreculture Journal, issue 17.

Free Software can be viewed as a social movement -although not every contributor would define its contribution that way- while Open Source, Moore notes, is more of a development methodology. However, she does not isolate her analysis to one or the other, investigating “whether the activities of collaborative software producers as well as hardware production communities such as those found in FabLab…can indeed be perceived as revolutionary due to their subversive work and production methods. The recursive communities, Moore articulates echoeing  Kelty and Powell,  are linked around these practices, characterised by shared practices, goals and self-perceptions. According to the author, “people’s emerging subjectivities are the most important dimension of such radical production ecologies, because they reflect both the immaterial and material dimensions of the inherently political projects involved.”

Moore enriches her argument, developed in her 2010 book, that “governments and the elite transnational capitalist class struggles to adapt to, and subsume, potential revolutionary factions within the knowledge and information economy.” Here she also claims that “the creative and networked industries provide the components for creating post-capitalist relationships, or if that is somewhat optimistic, at least a challenge to capitalist relationships. Explicit methods of immaterial and material production and emerging P2P ecologies are built on tenets that defy capitalism and allow subjectivities that blossom outside of the dominant models that are fraught with competition and rivalries.”

Discussing the subjectivities involved in peer projects, Moore brings to the fore a range of projects which stand as an existing alternative model -“better termed an ecology”-  to the existing dominant modes of capitalist production: from destructive anticapitalist rhectoric to post-capitalistic construction, to put it in the Bauwensian sense. Further, in peer production projects, “the subjectivity as well as social status of the capitalist him/herself is challenged with competing collaborative forms of subjectivity. As these new types of self identifications are developed within organic social movements, transformation becomes increasingly possible.”

Concerning the subjectivities in peer production, s very interesting articulation found in the essay is arguably the concept of the “internal margins” or to put it in Moore’s words: “A growing population of over-qualified, highly skilled individuals now work in the ‘internal margins’, or the internal ghettos, that line the sidestreets resulting from a growing lack of stable employment within the market for knowledge workers. As a result of the emerging impermanence of work, and as knowledge becomes increasingly commodified, several contradictions have emerged.

In addition, emphasis is put on the emerging subversive framework which simultaneously creares and is created by contributors’ collaborative practices: they “give each group of producers a subversive framework for knowledge sharing and a radical space to express subversive identities that reject competitiveness and obsessive individualism. This ecology potentially overthrows, or at least dramatically challenges, the current dominant model of flexibilised subjectivities which are positioned around capitalist norms”. “Where is the ‘boss of it all’ in open ecology communities”, Moore rhectorically asks to answer that “indeed, it exists within subjectivities. While workers’ knowledge within capitalist companies automatically becomes the intellectual property of employers, the FSF and FLOSS and open hardware ecologies allow a level of personal ‘possession’ of the product and through this formation of revolutionary subjectivities and thus the self. The recursive commons is born.”

What is needed, Moore argues, is a revolution of subjectivity to create environments “in which people can labour and live in an interdependent and self-sustaining way, outside of capitalist modes and means of production.”  “Can P2P production values change users’ incentives, directing these towards participation in form of production that transcend competition, ownership, and profit seeking?”, Moore wonders to conclude:

“The emerging P2P ecology allows us to open a critical perspective on the technological determinism and privileging of technical innovation that now pervades contemporary neoliberal digital capitalism. Indeed, this ecological change within social and technological relations coincides with these contemporary modalities of production, seen in dominant and pervasive enterprise initiatives in every labour sector in the neoliberal era. Can the emergence of P2P participants’ battle with capital transform the traditional hierarchies that characterised sites of production typical of the industrial age? The contemporary post-capitalist ecology I have described here does seem to allow workers to arrest their own self-management. They return to a situation wherein people can formulate revolutionary subjectivities and own their labour and means of production, rather than continue to be subordinated to hierarchies and deterministic views of technology and progress. The self-organising communities of peer production threaten the status quo by taking ownership of the means and modes of production. This also involves rethinking ecologies of production , beginning with the structuring of capital output into a commons from which to adopt and adapt, whether personally or communally, through the use of the General Public Licensing model which renders intellectual property obsolete.

Through ‘commoning’ and through the production of open software and hardware and related alternative protocols, it has become possible to challenge capitalism. Capitalist elites do counter this, cutting through the aesthetic veneer that advances the autonomous affective self (Colman, 2010: 3). Yet the peer production movement, as media ecology, still poses an active,  potentially revolutionary challenge to the contemporary post-industrial project of capitalist subsumption.”




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