P2P and Human Evolution Appendix 1

From P2P Foundation
Jump to: navigation, search

Methodology for Research and Interpretation of P2P Theory

Appendix to P2P and Human Evolution

A. The use of a integral framework

One word about my methodology. I have been inspired by mostly two traditions or methods of inquiry: the integral method, and the sociology of form.

I use as a heuristic device, and as such a device only, the four quadrant system developed by Ken Wilber (Wilber, 2001). This does not mean I share the conclusions of his ‘Theory of Everything’, which I think are seriously flawed. But as a method for assembling, presenting and understanding my data, I find it to be extremely useful. The four quadrant system organizes reality in ‘four aspects’, which encompass the subjective (evolution of self and subjectivity), the materiality of the single organism (objectivity), the intersubjective (the interaction of groups of subjectivities and the worldviews and cultures they so create), and the behavior of groups of objects, i.e. the interobjective perspective of systems. The integral theory tradition tries to construct a narrative of the unfolding cosmic processes, in explanatory frameworks that enfolds them all. It also does this historically, trying to make sense of an evolutionary logic, trying to enfold the different historical phases into a unified human understanding. Apart from the 'neoconservative' Wilberian version of integral theory, I have equally been influenced by the 'critical integral theory', or anti-systemic 'materialist-subjectivist' account of Toni Negri (Negri, 2001)

If you place explanatory theories about the evolution of matter/life/consciousness into two axes defined by the ‘relative attention given to either the parts or to the whole’, and another one ‘relative attention given to difference or to similarities’, integral theory would be that kind of hermeneutical system that pays most attention to the whole, and to structural similarities, rather than to the parts and to difference. In doing this it runs counter to the general tendency of modern objective science to focus on parts (to be analytical), of postmodernism to focus on difference, and hence to reject integrative narratives, and to systems theories and its follow-ups, which ignore subjectivity. It is this distinction from dominant epistemologies, which makes it particularly interesting to uncover new insights, missed by the other approaches. It is not superior, but complementary to other approaches.[1] But a key advantage of the integral framework is that it integrates both subjective and objective aspects of realities, refusing to reduce one to the other.

Figure 1: Typology of scientific approaches (ways of looking at the world)





Postmodern approaches

Subjects and Objects


Integral Approaches

Subjects and Objects


Analytical Sciences

Systemic Sciences

Objects Only

To conclude, generally speaking, an integral approach is one that:

  • respects the relative autonomy of the different fields, and looks for field-specific laws
  • affirms that new levels of complexity causes the emergence of new properties and thus rejects reductionisms that try to explain the highly complex from the less complex
  • always relates the objective and subjective aspects, refusing to see any one aspect as a mere epiphenomena of the other. This implies a certain agnosticism as to the theories that posit one particular quadrant as the more fundamental cause (such as for example historical materialism)
  • in general, attempts to correlate explanations emanating from the various fields, in order to arrive at an integrative understanding.
Figure 2: An integral framework for understanding P2P

Individual Aspects

Collective Aspects

Interior Aspects

Subjective field

The subject / the self

Intersubjective field

Spirituality / Worldviews

Exterior Aspects

Objective field

Technological artifacts as extensions of the body

Interobjective field

Natural Systems / Political, economic, organizational systems

My modified form of the four-quadrant system starts with the ‘exterior-individual’, i.e. single objects in space and time, i.e. the evolution of the material basis of the universe, life, and brain (the evolution from atoms to molecules to cells etc.), but in my personal modification, this quadrant includes technological evolution, as I (and others such as McLuhan, 1994) can legitimately see technology as an extension of the human body. Second, we look at the systems (exterior-collective) quadrant: the evolution of natural, political, economic, social and organizational systems. Third, we look at the interior-collective quadrant: human culture, spiritualities, philosophies, worldviews. In the fourth quadrant we discuss the interior-individual aspects, and we look at changes occurring within the sphere of the self. However, in practice, despite my stated intention, I have found it difficult to separate individual and collective aspects of subjectivity and they are provisionally treated in one section. That this is so is not surprising, since one of the aspects of peer to peer is it participative nature, which sees the individual always-already embedded in social processes. In the context of such a relational self, characterized by a 'cooperative individualism', and a network sociality which is also predicated on a retention of the achieved individuation aspects, it makes sense to cover both aspects together.

The combined use of the four quadrants also has important advantages in avoiding various kinds of reductionisms:

  1. the analytical-materialist reductionism (scientism), which attempts to totally explain the world of life and culture by the properties and processes of matter
  2. the biological/Darwinistic reductionism, which attempts to totally explain the life of culture by the animalistic processes of survival of the fittest
  3. the 'wholistic' reductionism of the system sciences, which do not take into account the agency of the subject
  4. the linguistic reductionism of extreme postmodernists, which tend to totally bypass materiality and reduce everything to language games.

In conclusion: the integral approach allows us to use these various partial perspectives and to use them as heuristic devices, so that we can obtain a fuller picture combining them. What distinguishes an 'integral approach' from the other approaches is its use of a subjective-objective explanatory framework.

Reading the manuscript, many readers may ask themselves: what is most important:

  1. the change and evolution of human consciousness; or
  2. the material structures in which P2P is embedded.

I discuss this more in detail in the section on 'technological determinism', but here I want to point out how an integral approach avoids a chicken and the egg debate. Yes, P2P reflects prior changes in human consciousness (before being implemented, they were thought, and these thoughts reflects new ways of feeling/being/knowing/valuing); but also, the existence of technological and other structures enables further changes in human mentalities. What an integral approach allows us to do, if we are interested in promoting social and political change, is to device strategies that are active in the different quadrants at the same time, and so create a positive feedback loop between them.

I have not aimed to create a 'Theory of Everything'. I try to function as an integrator, as everyone is obliged to do today, i.e. construct temporary and malleable integrative understandings, which are then confronted with other ones. The only moral and scientific obligation is that such integration embrace as much of reality, as one possibly can. Thus, the book is an integration of all the descriptive, explanatory and social-evolutionary (i.e. historicized in social formations) strands, that I can possibly hold together in a coherent fashion. And the 'object' of this integration is 'Peer to Peer'.

B. The Sociology of Form

If the above integral approach has guided me as a safeguard to avoid proposing overtly reductionist interpretations and to cast my net as wide as possible, as well as for the organization of the subject matter, then the search for 'isomorphism' has been of great value in precisely defining what P2P is and how it differs from its close cousins, such as the gift economy. The method involves looking at the emergence of a same form throughout the social field, to define its precise characteristics in a ideal type as we gathered more information, which then in turn again helps in differentiating 'pure P2P' from its derivatives. The sociology of form focuses neither on the parts (individuals and their choices), nor on the collective as a whole (society and its socialization), but on the interaction between the parts, their 'form of exchange'.

Particular usage is made of Alan Page Fiske's (see section 3.4 for a description and Fiske, 1993) quaternary model of human intersubjective relationships, a typology of four forms through which humans can relate to each other. Therefore this book, as an attempt to develop a P2P theory, is a description of one of the major forms, which Fiske calls 'Communal Shareholding'. And the key argument of the book is that P2P is actually a new form of Communal Shareholding, and I discuss in detail how it differs from the three other forms of intersubjectivity. Fiske's framework gives a larger context of theory of social change, yet to be fully developed, which should encompass four basic constituents, as well as a theory of how they relate together in the contemporary social system.

  • Market theory: how can we think either about a 'market without capitalism' or at the very least about a 'deeply socialized capitalism'. Since I believe that the present format of neoliberal capitalism is unsustainable both in natural and psychic resources, and given that some form of market is both acceptable and necessary, how do we formulate a new market theory? A market within society has almost always existed, and is acceptable, but what is not acceptable is a 'market society', where everything is determined through a market.
  • Hierarchy theory or state theory: how do we achieve forms of leadership which promote participation rather than aim at the extension of their own monopolies. I look to theories of servant leadership, leaderless corporations, and the like. How do we get a state that is not beholden to monopolistic corporate interests, but can offer a fair arbitrage, in the public interest, between market-, gift economy, and P2P-based alternatives. How to develop peer governance and multistakeholdership?
  • Gift Economy theory: how can we reinstate/reinforce material production based on reciprocity and cooperative relationships. The key here is to investigate 'complementary currencies' and cooperative production generally.

More Information


  1. Two ways of knowing:

    “In this realm of the history of ideas, just as in linguistics, words have meaning only insofar as they participate in a system of distinctions with other words. Relativity (or diversity, or pluralism) and its linguistic complementary opposite, universality, have been used together as a set, a system, for hundreds of years in Euro-thought. Some people prefer to explore their own truth by studying the diversity of things, and some people like to explore their own truth by studying similarities between things – and both are okay, although they lead in different directions. If, at some point, the two camps come back together and respectfully compare notes, much can be accomplished in dialogue. And nobody has to do just one kind of research to the exclusion of the other.”
    (personal communication by Dan ‘Moonhawk’ Alford, Native American scholar and participant at the SEED conferences in Albuquerque)