Commons-Based Production Infrastructure

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Christian Siefkes:

"Peer production is thus radically different from the "normal," market- and firm-based mode of production that dominates our society. Production is mainly for benefit instead of profit; and people voluntarily cooperate as peers rather than being part of hierarchical employer/employee or client/contractor relationships.

Another thing that's different is the way in which people relate to nature and to the products of their activities. Under capitalism, ideas, products, and natural resources are usually treated as Property. Property means the legal right to exclude or include others from using a good, allowing the owner to use, sell, or monetize their property at will.

Peer production is primarily based on Commons, therefore Benkler (2006) talks about Commons-Based Peer Production. Commons are goods which are jointly developed and maintained by a community and which are shared according to community-defined rules (cf. Ostrom 1990). Water, air, forests, and land were managed as commons in many societies. Free software and open content are a kind of commons that everybody is allowed to use, improve and share. But the relation between peer production and commons is not one-sided: Peer production is not only based on commons, it also creates new ones and maintains the existing ones, as the examples of free software, open content, and Open Hardware (blueprints and descriptions of physical items that everyone can use to produce, utilize, and maintain these items) show. All these projects contribute to a knowledge commons that can be used, shared, and improved by everybody.

Peer production cannot just produce knowledge, it can also produce infrastructure and physical goods. For example, Community Wireless Networks have formed in many cities; they allow everyone in their neighborhood free network access. Many of these projects are organized as Mesh Networks: all participating computers will actively transfer data, removing the need for privileged servers. Such self-organized, decentralized networks can create a shared infrastructure for Internet and telephony (cf. Rowe 2010, 2011); similar networks might supply people with energy or water. Community projects organizing access to water as a commons exist in South America (cf. De Angelis 2010).

Open facilities for the production of material goods are emerging as well.

Hackerspaces and Fab Labs are typically run by volunteers; they often have computer-controlled machines--including milling machines and fabbers ("3D Printers")--which allow the largely automatized production of individual items or small series. If possible, the utilized machines are open hardware, meaning that their blueprints can be freely used and improved by everyone. Another goal is the creation of machines that can produce machines that are at least as powerful as the original ones, thus allowing Fab Labs to produce the equipment for further Fab Labs. In this way, commons-based peer production is starting to create the tools that will allow it to spread even further, at the same time starting to supply people with what they need to live." (


Paper: The Emergence of Benefit-Driven Production. Christian Siefkes.