Category:P2P Theory

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Collection of Core Works in P2P Theory

* Please watch: Screencast with an Overview of the Transformative Proposals of the P2P Foundation

* A key text that contextualizes the shift towards an economy and society of the commons: Evolution of the Modes of Exchange

  • A short introduction to the object of study and basic tenets of P2P Theory


Three inter-related processes, Peer Production, Peer Governance, and Peer Property, together constituting the Circulation of the Common:

Each aspect has its own category on wiki:

  1. Category:Peerproduction
  2. Category:Peergovernance
  3. Category:Peerproperty

Each aspect also has its own value paradigm:

  1. Peer Production depends on Openness, i.e. open access and input such as Category:Open
  2. Peer Governance depends on Participation, Category:Participation
  3. Peer Property is related to the Category:Commons and Category:Sharing

* I (Michel Bauwens) fully endorse this as the spiritual theory behind an integrative p2p theory for social and personal change: A P2P Interpretation of Soul as Intersubjective Reality and Spirit as Interobjective Reality. By Joe Corbett.

Related Aspects

See our collation of key P2P Companion Concepts for the most important concepts in P2P Theory.

P2P Foundation Theory Projects

Collating material on specific domains for theory-building around the P2P paradigm:

P2P Concepts that will change the world

P2P Transition Proposals

P2P Philosophy

We have selected 50 key essays for a better understanding of the multi-facetted emergence of p2p-based understandings in the following two sections of our wiki:

For the moment, the only specific p2p philosopher, using the concept of a contributive society, is Bernard Stiegler:

Read this interview on the New Desires of Post-Capitalism:



"Notwithstanding his rather bleak diagnosis of contemporary society, Stiegler is not pessimistic with regard to the future. Whereas today’s capitalism is headed for destruction, it is precisely in the digitalized networks through which it tries to control the populations that a new kind of economy is emerging, one that is not only inventing new modes of production like open source and peer-to-peer, but that is also slowly creating a new economy of desire that could lead to the invention of new ways of life, new modes of individual and collective existence. A new society could arise on the same technological base that is now still predominantly destroying the social bonds. The digital networks might be the prime catalysts in the transformation from today’s consumer society into what he calls a ‘society of contribution’. In this context he talks in this interview about technologies in terms of pharmaka (a term derived from Plato and from his teacher Derrida) that can act both as a poison, destroying sociality and proletarianizing human existence, as well as a medicine, producing social ties and deproletarianzing human existence."

Key Theses on P2P Politics

Michel Bauwens:

Written in 2007:

"1. Our current world system is marked by a profoundly counterproductive logic of social organization:

a) it is based on a false concept of abundance in the limited material world; it has created a system based on infinite growth, within the confines of finite resources

b) it is based on a false concept of scarcity in the infinite immaterial world; instead of allowing continuous experimental social innovation, it purposely erects legal and technical barriers to disallow free cooperation through copyright, patents, etc…

2. Therefore, the number one priority for a sustainable civilization is overturning these principles into their opposite:

a) we need to base our physical economy on a recognition of the finitude of natural resources, and achieve a sustainable steady-state economy

b) we need to facilitate free and creative cooperation and lower the barriers to such exchange by reforming the copyright and other restrictive regimes

3. Hierarchy, markets, and even democracy are means to allocate scarce resources through authority, pricing, and negotiation; they are not necessary in the realm of the creation and free exchange of immaterial value, which will be marked by bottom-up forms of peer governance

4. Markets, as means to to manage scarce physical resources, are but one of the means to achieve such allocation, and need to be divorced from the idea of capitalism, which is a system of infinite growth.

5. The creation of immaterial value, which again needs to become dominant in a post-material world which recognized the finiteness of the material world, will be characterized by the further emergence of non-reciprocal peer production.

6. Peer production is a more productive system for producing immaterial value than the for-profit mode, and in cases of the asymmetric competition between for-profit companies and for-benefit institutions and communities, the latter will tend to emerge

7. Peer production produces more social happiness, because 1) it is based on the highest from of individual motivation, nl. intrinsic positive motivation; 2) it is based on the highest form of collective cooperation, nl. synergistic cooperation characterized by four wins (the participants x2, the community, the universal system)

8. Peer governance, the bottom-up mode of participative decision-making (only those who participate get to decide) which emerges in peer projects is politically more productive than representative democracy, and will tend to emerge in immaterial production. However, it can only replace representative modes in the realm of non-scarcity, and will be a complementary mode in the political realm. What we need are political structures that create a convergence between individual and collective interests.

9. Peer property, the legal and institutional means for the social reproduction of peer projects, are inherently more distributive than both public property and private exclusionary property; it will tend to become the dominant form in the world of immaterial production (which includes all design of physical products).

10. Peer to peer as the relational dynamic of free agents in distributed networks will likely become the dominant mode for the production of immaterial value; however, in the realm of scarcity, the peer to peer logic will tend to reinforce peer-informed market modes, such as fair trade; and in the realm of the scarcity based politics of group negotiation, will lead to reinforce the peer-informed state forms such as multistakeholdership forms of governance.

11. The role of the state must evolve from the protector of dominant interests and arbiter between public regulation and privatized corporate modes (an eternal and improductive binary choice), towards being the arbiter between a triarchy of public regulation, private markets, and the direct social production of value. In the latter capacity, it must evolve from the welfare state model, to the partner state model, as involved in enabling and empowering the direct social creation of value.

12. The world of physical production needs to be characterized by:

a) sustainable forms of peer-informed market exchange (fair trade, etc..);

b) reinvigorated forms of reciprocity and the gift economy;

c) a world based on social innovation and open designs, available for physical production anywhere in the world.

13. The best guarantor of the spread of the peer to peer logic to the world of physical production, is the distribution of everything, i.e. of the means of production in the hands of individuals and communities, so that they can engage in social cooperation. While the immaterial world will be characterized by a peer to peer logic on non-reciprocal generalized exchange, the peer informed world of material exchange will be characterized by evolving forms of reciprocity and neutral exchange.

14. We need to move from empty and ineffective anti-capitalist rhetoric, to constructive post-capitalist construction. Peer to peer theory, as the attempt to create a theory to understand peer production, governance and property, and the attendant paradigms and value systems of the open/free, participatory, and commons oriented social movements, is in a unique position to marry the priority values of the right, individual freedom, and the priority values of the left, equality. In the peer to peer logic, one is the condition of the other, and cooperative individualism marries equipotentiality and freedom in a context of non-coercion.

15. We need to become politically sensitive to invisible architectures of power. In distributed systems, where there is no overt hierarchy, power is a function of design. One such system, perhaps the most important of all, is the monetary system, whose interest-bearing design requires the market to be linked to a system of infinite growth, and this link needs to be broken. A global reform of the monetary system, or the spread of new means of direct social production of money, are necessary conditions for such a break.

16. This is the truth of the peer to peer logical of social relationships: 1) together we have everything; 2) together we know everything. Therefore, the conditions for dignified material and spiritual living are in our hands, bound with our capacity to relate and form community. The emancipatory peer to peer theory does not offer new solutions for global problems, but most of all new means to tackle them, by relying on the collective intelligence of humankind. We are witnessing the rapid emergence of peer to peer toolboxes for the virtual world, and facilitation techniques of the physical world of face to face encounters, both are needed to assist in the necessary change of consciousness that needs to be midwifed. It is up to us to use them.

17. At present, the world of corporate production is benefiting from the positive externalities of widespread social innovation (innovation as an emerging property of the network itself, not as an internal characteristic of any entity), but there is no return mecachism, leading to the problem of precarity. Now that the productivity of the social is beyond doubt, we need solutions that allow the state and for-profit corporation to create return mechanisms, such as forms of income that are no longer directly related to the private production of wealth, but reward the social production of wealth."

Key Citations

What the Hyperreal World Demands from Us Is Our Participation in its Mode of Production

A crucial essay on what it means to be a 'peer':

"The cultural attitude of the early 21st century may perhaps one day be known as “the assault on concentration.” In an endless stream of information, the “new” is what counts. And when the “new” is endlessly replenished, concentration is superfluous. One does not need concentration when reality effortlessly floats by like a series of fragments, images, stimuli, informational content, episodes of a TV series, or handy slogans " ... "The proliferation of individual, yet acceptable viewpoints obfuscate a vantage point that becomes less visible over time: namely, that as an individual, one can generate universal insights. To deny this is to fully accept and internalize the postmodern assumption and its associated nihilism. To hold that one’s position “is just another narrative” is to submit oneself already to the postmodern mode of cultural production, and thereby succumbing to its oppressive and invasive logic of production. To treat one’s own convictions as mere narratives devoid of universality is to internalize the postmodern mode of cultural production, severing oneself from the exercise of one’s autonomy. If anything, a renewed and radicalized subjectivism is not the ultimate weapon of postmodernity, but against it. It is an attitudinal disposition that refuses to regard itself as a mere cog in the machine, and that actualizes the power of its own autonomy and validity through the liberating power of its subjective determinations. It does away with the bland relativism that reality is the sum total of viewpoints, thereby overcoming the postmodern, projected fear that one reasons “just from one’s own privileged perspective”, and that therefore one has to distance oneself from one’s innermost convictions. I use the term “subjectivism” as a deliberate provocation. The philosophy of high modernity abhorred subjectivism because it was seen as a nonsensical aberration that would have no place in the project of modernity. In postmodern culture, the only type of subjectivism on offer is the watered-down and marketable variety. In both cases, the exercise of individual autonomy is deeply mistrusted and undermined. Nevertheless, what appears from the viewpoint of high modern and postmodern culture as a cultural dead end appears from the viewpoint of radical subjectivism as the way forward—and more importantly, as the road to liberation and the free exercise of autonomy."

- Otto Paans [2]

William Irwin Thompson: Transitions are Catastrophes

"The transition from one World to another is a catastrophe, in the sense of the catastrophe theory of René Thom. Indeed, a catastrophe is the making conscious of an Unconscious Polity; it is the feeling in Being of a domain that is unknown to thinking. Catastrophes are often stimulated by the failure to feel the emergence of a domain, and so what cannot be felt in the imagination is experienced as embodied sensation in the catastrophe. When rational knowing and political governance no longer serve to feel the actual life of a World, then consciousness becomes embodied in experience outside the world-picture but still within the invisible meta-domain. The conscious process is reflected in the imagination; the unconscious process is expressed as karma, the generation of actions divorced from thinking and alienated from feeling. Catastrophes are discontinuous transitions in Culture- Nature through which knowing has an opening to Being. This moment of passing-together through a catastrophe, this occasion of com-passionate participation, presents an opportunity for a shift from karmic activity to Enlightenment. Thus the transition from one World-Structure to another is characterized by catastrophes in which the Unconscious Polities become visible. At such times there can be a rapid flip-over or reversal in which the unthinkable becomes possible.

No governing elite will allow us to think this transition from one World-Structure to another, but imagination and compassion will allow us to feel what we cannot understand. As "Nature" comes to its end in our scientific culture, the relationship between conscious and unconscious will change and the awareness of immanent mind in bacteria and of autopoesis in devices of Artificial Intelligence will give us a new appreciation of the animism of ancient world-picture. The "Man" of the historical set of Culture-Nature will come to his end in a new irrational world of angels and devils, elementals and cyborgs. In this science fiction landscape, this invisible meta-domain in which we already live, the end of Nature as unconscious karma makes of Enlightenment and Compassion a new political possibility."


Change Emerges From Practices First

"It is a basic principle of a broadly pragmatist approach to theoretically analyzing politics of all kinds that the important innovations emerge in worldly practice before they show up in academic writings. Theory – and theorists – follow along behind overt political action, extracting and systematizing insights in such a way that they become more widely available than they would if they simply remained in their original context. In so doing, theory and theorists provide conceptual instruments—including explicit visions of alternate futures that may have been only implicit in worldly practice—that can inform future political practice, albeit in ways that belie or even contradict the abstract, idealized purity of the kinds of theoretically-informed explanations produced by academics. Theory and theorists must therefore be open to learning from events, because we have to listen before we can speak."

- Patrick Thaddeus Jackson [3]

Contemporary Civilizational Change needs to be global, conscious, and relatively fast

“In the past, all transitions in the forms of civilization were slow, local/regional, exclusive, optional and unconscious. Today, we are faced by the need to undertake a GT in our dominant form of civilization that, in contrast, must be fast (by any historic standard), scalable to the whole planet, inclusive of all 7.4 billion of us, recognized as required and conscious. This last requirement also implies that today we must not only be conscious about change at every scale, but must develop a capacity for meta-consciousness about change at every scale.”

  • Ruben Nelson of Foresight Canada [4] [5]

What exactly are we trying to do at the P2P Foundation with theory?

1. Meta-theory as humanity’s vocabulary of self-transformation, a quote of R. Brandom chosen by Zak Stein:

"[With] self-consciousness comes the possibility of transforming ourselves by adopting new vocabularies, redescribing, and so reconstructing our selves and discursive institutions. While all of us are in some sense consumers of such new vocabularies, it is the special calling of some to produce them. And among those producers some take the construction of unique, potentially transformative vocabularies as the project by commitment to which they understand and define themselves. Among that group, some seek to produce those new vocabularies precisely by trying to understated the phenomena of sapience, normativity, conceptuality, reason, freedom, expression, self-consciousness, self-constitution, and historical transformation by subversive, empowering vocabularies. Those are the philosophers. They are charged neither with simply understanding human nature (human history), nor with simply changing it, but with changing it by understanding it."

—Robert B. Brandom (2009, p. 150) [6]

2. The need for maps: Theorizing at the edge of history

"If we are going to take a step in the transition from civilization to planetization, we will need a map. Each of us carries within, an image of space and time, and this cognitive map tells us who we are, where we come from, and where we are going…. [This map is] an imaging of personal values and cultural forms…. A culture provides an individual with a mapping of time and space, but as the culture goes through a period of change and stressful transformation, the [map] becomes distorted. In periods of intense cultural distortion, the [map] becomes so changed as to be almost obliterated. Then the individual becomes lost, profoundly lost in the ontological sense of not knowing who or what he is, where he comes from, and where he is going. For some this can be a moment of terror, for others, a time of release. In a moment of silence in which the old forms fall away, there comes a new receptivity, a new centering inward, and in an instant there flashes onto the screen of consciousness a new re-visioning of the [map]. There in the receptive silences of meditation the new possibilities of time and space announce themselves, possibilities that lie beyond the descriptions of the old institutions of the old culture. This is the prophetic moment, the annunciation of a new myth, and the beginning of a new culture."

— Thompson (1977 p.14) [7]

Key Resources

Key Articles

Michel Bauwens



  • Ten Peer_Production_Patterns. Stefan Meretz. Comment by Michel Bauwens: A word of caution. The text by Stefan Meretz is useful to understand the post-capitalist patterns that are inherent in peer production, however, it also abstracts from its embeddedness in present society and the way these aspects are instrumentalized by the present society and economic system, and create hybrid mechanisms of mutual adaptation. It also skirts around the central question of the self-reproduction of the means of production (however, see pattern 10 on the Germ Theory of change.
  • A strategy for the commons in the context of social transformation: Massimo de Angelis, Crises, Movements and Commons. Borderlands e-journal, VOLUME 11 NUMBER 2, 2012. [10]

By Vasilis Kostakis

Some co-authored with Michel Bauwens:

1) Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy

2) From the Communism of Capital to Capital for the Commons: Towards an Open Co-operativism

3) The Parody of the Commons

4) Peer Governance and Wikipedia

Key Thinkers

See: Sources of P2P Theory


  • P2P Theory is rooted in Integral Theory and integral/integrative approaches; and could be said to be a left-integral approach. Closest would be the work of Jean Gebser and Ken Wilber (we use his AQAL schematic for heuristic purposes), though we reject the neoconservative turn made by Wilber. Joe Corbett's article reflect a similar approach. Other authors to reference would be Sohail Inatullah and his work on world historians, Sorokin, Aurobindo and many others.
  • While P2P is not anarchist, as we advocate a Partner State approach, it is not closed to the investigations of Kevin Carson, a left market-libertarian, into the potential of distributed manufacturing. Similarly, there could be said to be a family resssemblance with traditions like Distributionism, rooted in the Catholic tradition. The social doctrine of the Catholic Church, with its insistence that both market and state are at the service of civil society, and its fourfold value system of personhood, solidarity, common good and subsidiarity, is very close to the generic approach and social model.

Pages in category "P2P Theory"

The following 200 pages are in this category, out of 1,473 total.

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