Peer to Peer Theory

From P2P Foundation
Jump to: navigation, search

Peer to Peer Theory = an attempt to rethink a strategy for human emancipation and a better society by taking into account the transformative effects of the emergence of distributed networks and the peer to peer relational dynamic, as it expresses itself through peer production, peer governance, and peer property.


The initial attempt is written down in a manuscript by Michel Bauwens, published as P2P and Human Evolution on this Wiki.

Older versions are available on the web, see P2P and Human Evolution [1], and newer versions are available from the author by email. Updated insights are published in P2P News [2], the blog of the foundation [3], or in the various encyclopedic entries of the P2P Encyclopedia [4], awaiting integration in further versions of the manuscript.

P2P Theory is a research project above all, but we nevertheless hope to contribute with some definite conclusions and proposals as well.

P2P Theory is related to other attempts such as Howard Rheingold and his Cooperation Commons, or Paul B. Hartzog and his concept of Panarchy.

Status Update

Short Introductory Texts

A P2P Theory for Social Change

Published in the blog at

Peer to Peer Theory is an attempt to develop a new emancipatory theory, a strategy for political and social change, that is congruent with our times. How does it differ from other theories, what is distinctive about it. I think much revolves about the significance of the Relational Model by Alan Page Fiske, and the consequences we draw from it. Remember, Fiske, in Structures of Social Life, maintains there’s a universal grammar of human relationships. Intersubjective relations can take on four ideal-types: Equality Matching (I have to return something of equal value to this gift to maintain equal status); Authority Ranking (I defer to your authority because you are superior in some way); Market Pricing (I exchange something for similar value), Communal Sharing (I give what I can for this collective resource, it’s for everybody to use). I make an add-on to this theory, which I’m not sure Fiske is making himself. Which is the following: if historically the four modes have always co-existed, they have done so under the dominant influence of one of them, which `informs’ their own expression. For example, the tribal era was dominated by a gift economy, i.e. equality matching; the feudal era by Authority Ranking, the industrial and capitalist era by market pricing. The key hypothesis of P2P Theory is this: we witness the emergence of a new form of Communal Shareholding, associated with the peer to peer relational dynamic at work in distributed networks, and giving rise to such processes as peer production, peer governance, and peer property modes. Our preferred hypothesis is that we have a major opportunity to move towards a `Commons-based civilization within a reformed market and a reformed state’. Alternatives are that the present market form incorporates the P2P dynamic, or that our energy-intensive civilization collapses into Authority Ranking once more. P2P Theory attempts to describe the emergence of peer to peer as an `objective phenomenon’, but, crucially, investiges what subjective/intersubjective political strategies could be used to promote it. Because of the insight of the Relational Model, we do not believe in a marketless or stateless society, but rather, in a political economy influenced primarily by civil society and its commons. Please note that we are not advocating a Commons-only society, as a counter to both state totalitarianism (the Soviet model), and market totalitarianism (the neoliberal model), but a differentiated society, where the four modes can co-exist and where people are free to choose the intersubjective mode they enter into. In particular, what makes P2P so appealing, is that it is a form of collective life, of intersubjectivity, which builds on, but does not replace individuality or individualism. There is no return to the organic wholism of premodern society, but something entirely new that integrates individual freedom and free cooperation.

A credible strategy for political and social change therefore would combine fourfold substrategies:

1) strategies aimed at strengthening the Commons and P2P modes

2) strategies aimed at strengthening personalized gift economies in areas where market exchange is inappropriate or dysfunctional (elderly care in Japan, LETS systems)

3) a reform towards an equitable market which does not externalize environmental and social costs (natural capitalism approach); reform of the scarcity-based monetary system (a la Bernard Lietaer), multiple currencies for localized markets (open money schemes); multistakeholder framing of market exchange (Decaillot, see above)

4) reform of the state form and change of hierarchical modes using multistakeholdership and peer governance It is the combination of all of this which could be the basis of a powerful alternative. P2P Theory does not claim at this stage to offer such an integrated and differentiated strategy, but at least investigates its possibility. At the moment what is has more or less successfully done is describe and explain the emergence of peer to peer as the new relational dynamic which is both immanent in the contempary system, but which has strong transcendent aspects (i.e. a potential for systemic change).