Commons Based Peer Production in the Information Economy

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

* Essay: Commons Based Peer Production in the Information Economy. By Adam Arvidsson and: Alessandro Caliandro Alberto Cossu Maitrayee Deka Alessandro Gandini Vincenzo Luise Brigida Orria Guido Anselmi.



This is a high-level analysis of the three-year EU-funded P2P Value study of 300+ peer production communities, by a 8-organizations consortium of research organizations, amongst which featured the P2P Foundation.

Key insights are:

  • CBPP is part of a broader transformation in the information economy whereby collaboration and common knowledge have come to play an ever more important part in value creation. This development has roots that go back to the industrial revolution in the 19th century and it has been greatly accelerated by the diffusion of digital media. CBPP or CBPP like modes of production have become a core component to the contemporary information economy as a whole.
  • CBPP occurs in highly particular kinds of communities. They are not kept together by frequent interaction or a tight web of social relations. Instead they are kept together by sharing a common imaginary that posits a transformative potential on the part of the particular practice to which these communities are dedicated.
  • Contributions to this potential through technical skills and/or virtuous conduct is rewarded with reputation. Reputation is the form of that exchange value takes in CBPP communities, it is the 'fictious commodity' typical to CBPP.
  • Reputation is also the most important value form that structures transactions between CBPP and other institutional logics, such as that of markets, capitalism and the state.
  • The value of reputation lies in its ability to give a proximate measure to risk.
  • The fact that value is principally related to risk means that CBPP communities operate a value logic that mirror that of financial markets.
  • Most CBPP communities envision commons based markets as alternatives to capitalism. Such commons-based markets build on the construction of imaginaries that are able to transform insecurity into risk in ways that mirror communitarian principles.


From the start of the essay, by Adam Arvidsson et al.:

"The publication of Yochlai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks in 2006 introduced the notion of Commons based peer production (CBPP) to the theoretical vocabulary of the social sciences. Similar issues had been debated for some time, mainly within the disciplines of computer science and management, and within the mainly non-academic debates that constituted what Richard Barbrook and Andrew Cameron (1996) called the ‘Californian Ideology’ of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, hackers and computer enthusiasts (for an overview see Turner, 2010, Romele and Severo, 2016). However, Benkler’s work, along with the contemporary writings of Michel Bauwens (2005), gave a coherent definition to the phenomenon and placed it within the tradition of mainstream social theory. Benkler makes explicit the implicit suggestion already current within exponents of the ‘Calfornian ideology’, that CBPP should be understood as a new mode of production, alternative to markets and networks, which is emerging in digital environments. Departing form the perspective of transaction cost economics Benkler suggests the most important determinant of this development is the ability of digital media to greatly reduce the transaction costs involved in large-scale collaboration among strangers. These new forms of productive collaboration are marked by three central features:

First, decentralization: in CBPP “the authority to act resides with individual agents faced with opportunities for action, rather than in the hands of a central organizer, like the manager of a firm or a bureaucrat” (Benkler and Nissenbaum, 2006:400). (In Michel Bauwens’ (2005) words CBPP communities are self organized ‘adhocracies’: organizational structures and hierarchies emerges as a consequence of practice and members invest significant time and energy in developing organizational forms and governance systems as they go along.)

Second, “a frequent use of common resources and public goods” (Benkler & Nissenbaum, ibid.). CBPP communities are commons based: they make use of shared resources, mostly immaterial as in the case of Open Software or other knowledge commons, but sometimes also material resources as in the case of Fab Labs, where machinery and other resources are shared among members, or within the ‘Sharing Economy’ more generally (Benkler, 2004). Within most communities, what members make out of such common resources is itself made common, put back into the commons pool, as when a line of open source code is deposited back into a common archive. The common nature of such wealth is sometimes extended beyond particular communities, as when Creative Commons licenses make it publicly available, in whole or in part.

Third, CBPP is marked by the prevalence of non-monetary motivations. Here Benkler makes two apparently contradictory points. On the one hand he suggests that participants in CBPP are driven by a plurality of diverse motivations. This is because declining transaction costs and easy connectivity have made it so that enough interested talent will somehow find its way. There is no need to posit any common driver for participation in order to explain the functioning and sustainability of initiatives like Wikipedia or Seti@Home. At other times Benkler suggests that there is indeed such a a common driver for participation. This common driver consists in the ‘common decency’ manifested in the kinds of social sharing that goes on, and that has gone on for a long time in the ordinary social relations that make up everyday life. CBPP is simply a technologically enabled extension of the forms of ‘social sharing’ that have been a feature of human life throughout history. They have been extended into the domain of high-tech digital production. That is, ‘sharing nicely’ has become a feature not just of neighborly relations, but also of ‘creative labor’ more generally (Benkler, 2004)." (