Comparison of Four Quadriform Theories of Social Change

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Author David Ronfeldt examines how 3 quadriform approaches to societal organization and social change corresponds to his own approach, i.e. TIMN, Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks



TIMN is not the only theoretical framework about past, present, and future societal evolution that is built atop four cardinal elements (forms, modes) with the fourth anticipating the rise of a new sector in the decades ahead.

Three others in contention (actually, it’s TIMN that is trying to vie, for the others are already quite well-known).

They’re from:

  • Kate Raworth, a British “renegade economist” based at Oxford — her analysis revolves around four “means of provisioning”.
  • Michel Bauwens, a Belgium-born activist-theorist who heads The P2P Foundation and lives mostly in Thailand and Belgium — his theory sits atop four “relational modalities”.
  • Kojin Karatani, a Japanese Marxist philosopher and literary theorist who has taught at various Japanese and American universities — his framework depends on four “modes of exchange”.

What’s striking is that, working separately, we have all come up with similar frameworks, and we’ve done so without knowing about each other’s frameworks at the time (though Raworth cited Bauwens’ a bit). My first publication on TIMN was in 1996, Bauwens’ on P2P theory in 2005, Karatani’s on “modes of exchange” in 2014, and Raworth’s on “doughnut economics” in 2017.

The similarities begin with the fact that all our frameworks rest on four forms of organization and/or interaction. The four that each of us identify, though differently conceived, match up remarkably well. Moreover, we all argue that the four are always present, always necessary, in any society, and that societies vary according to how the four forms are combined and which one dominates at the time.

Furthermore, the three of us most interested in social evolution across the ages — Bauwens, Karatani, and myself — all argue that our respective sets of forms have existed since ancient times

The next sections review Raworth’s, Bauwens’, and Karatani’s frameworks — in that order, so as to proceed from the least sweeping and abstract of the three, to the most. Then I turn to pointing out TIMN’s comparative advantages for theory and practice.

One advantage I’d mention right now: TIMN is not based on or committed to any ideology.

It allows for the endurance of conservative as well as progressive views along a new quadriformist political spectrum. The other three frameworks belong, to varying degrees, on the Left, even aspiring to a final future triumph of the Left over the Right. So far, to my disappointment, I’ve found no theorists on the Right who are pondering the future via anything like a quadriform framework.


Summary of the Proposed Theories


In Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (2017), Kate Raworth lays out her concept of the “embedded economy” and shows that “it is typically made up of four realms of provisioning: the household, the market, the commons and the state”. All four are important — indeed, she “wouldn’t want to live in a society whose economy lacked any of the four … because each one has distinctive qualities and much of their value arises through their interactions. In other words, they work best when they work together.” (p. 67)

Elaboration: In her view, enterprises will increasingly depend on their ability to connect to all four realms. But only the state and market realms have received full recognition in mainstream economics; the household and commons realms remain sorely neglected. So she urges that all four realms be recognized and attended to in ways that develop a better balance among them. This will help achieve the overall goal — to shift from an extractive to a regenerative economy.

The future of the “commons sector” figures prominently in her framework. Much like other pro-commons theorists, she defines commons as shareable resources that are collaboratively managed. And she distinguishes among natural, cultural, and digital commons — the “global knowledge commons” being one of her keen interests. Thus, instead of people continuing to opt just for “market and state solutions alone,” she urges learning to “harness the power of the commons” in order to redistribute wealth and wellbeing more fairly and productively (p. 140).

She reterates Peter Barnes’s call, in his Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons (2006), to create a commons sector in which an array of “Commons Trusts” govern access to and usage of natural and other commons resources (p. 170).

Comparison to TIMN: While Raworth’s approach is less sweeping than the others discussed here, it parallels TIMN quite well. Her four economic realms correspond to TIMN’s four sectors. Moreover, she aims for all four to receive equal attention, and for their relations to be kept in balance — a key TIMN principle — in part by strengthening the weaker two, households and commons. Yet, she is quite conventional in describing the future compositionof the commons sector, leaving it unclear as to what exactly it may contain, other than what usually gets listed by commons advocates. Moreover, while she doesn’t offer an evolutionary framework like TIMN and the other two reviewed here, she indicates that a proper recognition and development of all four realms could induce “the social and environmental transformation for which so many of us have been waiting” (Monbiot, 2017).



As elaborated by Michel Bauwens and his colleagues, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) theory is primarily about the rise of information-age peer-to-peer networks and their potential for transforming myriad aspects of society in the decades ahead. Yet it is also a theory of social evolution (past, present, and future). For these purposes, the P2P framework is based on four relational modalities identified by Alan Page Fiske (1992, 2005) which posits that all social relationships reduce to four elementary modes of interaction: Equality Matching, Authority Ranking, Market Pricing, and Communal Shareholding (see image). Fiske meant them as psychological constructs; Bauwens has adapted and elevated them to become sociological constructs that enable an evolutionary analysis.

Elaboration: From an evolutionary perspective, societies have developed their capacities for organization and activity in mostly the above order, according to Bauwens. Centuries ago, early bands and tribes coalesced around reciprocal gift-giving that reflected Equality Matching. Later, states (and the public sector) took shape around Authority Ranking. Then capitalism (and the private sector) emerged, based on Market Pricing. Only now is the fourth mode — Communal Sharing — coming into its own, potentially on a grand scale. This mode, also known as the P2P mode, is central to the P2P vision of the future, whereby a P2P-based commons sector will emerge from civil society, and commons-centric social, economic, and political systems will ultimately transform all of society.

In this historical progression, each modality first emerges in “seed form”; then its “new logic” takes hold and spreads so far and wide that it becomes the “dominant mode”. The older modes continue to play roles, for they too are essential to society — but they are modified by the rise of the new mode. Meanwhile, during phase transitions, “hybrids” appear that combine actors from the older dominant mode of organization with actors representing the emerging mode, in ways that benefit all partners to the hybrid, but that also help subvert the old order and generate the new one.

Accordingly, the market mode has dominated our era, in the form of capitalism. Bauwens and colleagues await a new era when the P2P mode grows strong enough “to supersede capitalism and to embed market structures in a higher ethical superstructure that acknowledges the common good.” During the phase transition, they expect “netarchical capitalists” to combine with P2P commoners to form “innovative alliances between break-away segments from the old system and adaptive segments from the emergent one.”

To my reading, P2P theory and its implications for the future seem mostly about economics, for Bauwens and colleagues have viewed the P2P mode as a “mode of production” that favors “commons-based peer production”. What their vision mostly identifies are implications for business and other enterprises, for sustainable production by “ethical entrepreneurs”, for collective ownership, management, and labor, for the usage of all sorts of natural, cultural, and digital resources, etc., often in Marxist terms. As for what will be the content of the new commons sector, it appears to include virtually any undertaking subjected to “commoning” — making that sector potentially almost boundless (or so I gather).

Bauwens and colleagues expect the P2P form to be the final form in the series. The commons sector will then be at the center of society, with all residual state, market, and other activities taking direction from it. This will spell the triumph of the communal-sharing principles that used to characterize nomadic bands in ancient times, even before tribes coalesced around gift-sharing principles. It will culminate a long, mostly Marxist vision of what society should be like for the good of people.

Comparison to TIMN: P2P theory is more consonant with Karatani’s theory (see next section) than with TIMN, but the parallels between P2P and TIMN are profound. In both, social evolution is a function of four key forms, and P2P’s four correspond pretty well to TIMN’s — but with some disparities. P2P’s hierarchy-ranking and market-pricing modalities match TIMN’s Institutions and Markets forms just fine. But Bauwens aligns Fiske’s Equality Matching modality with TIMN’s Tribes, and his Communal Sharing with TIMN’s Networks form. I regard this as questionable if not partly incorrect — a first disparity. For P2P’s Equality Matching modality is about equal-status peer-group behavior, as seen in reciprocal gift-giving, as well as in feuding and revenge, per Fiske’s definition. That fits with aspects of TIMN’s Tribes form, but that’s not all that kinship tribes are about — they are also characterized by the Communal Sharing modality, which P2P theory reserves mainly for the future (thus correlating it to TIMN’s Networks form). I’m not sure how to rectify this disparity, but it does not invalidate the overall correspondence between our basic approaches to cardinal forms.

A second disparity concerns the historical matter of domination by one mode over another(s). P2P insists that social evolution advances through a progression of dominant modes, finally culminating with the dominance of the pro-commons P2P mode. TIMN recognizes that this may occur, but its design prefers that that no single form dominate as societies advance.

The more any single form comes to dominate — be it the tribal, institutional, market, or network form — the more likely is a society’s evolution to become unbalanced and distorted. However, I have deduced from TIMN that monoform (T-only) systems get superseded by biform (T+I) systems, then these by triform (T+I+M) systems, and next by quadriform (T+I+M+N) systems.

A kind of domination dynamic is embedded in there, but for now I’m supposing that a comprehensive multi-form approach to analysis will prove more correct. Indeed, TIMN can handle analyzing the widespread persistence of societies where the Tribes form remains so strong, via political clans, gangs, and related cultural dynamics, that it corrupts and constrains the development of proper of Institutions, Markets, and Networks. P2P theory, as far as I know, has said little about this frequent occurrence.

A third disparity concerns the nature of a future commons sector. As discussed above, P2P’s vision is of a largely economic, very expansive commons sector, one that is fundamentally geared to superseding capitalism and dominating the residual state and market sectors. By comparison, TIMN implies a commons sector that will be distinct, bounded, and specialized — as much so as TIMN’s tribal, state, and market sectors are from each other. TIMN’s view is that a +N sector will seek to address and solve problems that the triform system has created but is no longer suited to fixing well. Best I can tell right now, it will be a commons sector (or “social sector”) that assembles a variety of currently-dispersed efforts to find new ways to address and resolve America’s most complex social problems — notably, health, education, welfare, the environment, and related types of insurance. If so, these activities will eventually migrate out of the long-existing +I public and +M private sectors and coalesce into a new +N commons sector, It will operate differently from the other twt sectors, probably as a set of nonprofits, cooperatives, trusts, platforms, and other associations committed to serving the common good, separate from but in cooperation with the existing household (T), public (+I), and private (+M) sectors. This new sector will be about the “assurances” (not “entitlements”) that an advanced quadriform society can and should warrant for the wellbeing and progress of its people. This is quite (but not entirely) different from the P2P vision.

There may be an easy explanation for this third disparity — a kind of fourth disparity. P2P and TIMN both suppose that transition phases, from one form or system to the next, will give rise to hybrids. Thus, for TIMN, chiefdoms bridged the transition from tribe-centric to statecentric societies; then, centuries later, mercantilism and statist enterprises bridged the transition to market-centric capitalist systems. P2P’s emphasis on transitional alliances among netarchical capitalists, ethical entrepreneurs, and commoners fits this hybridization dynamic — but then P2P theory seems to extend this hybrid it into the “dominant mode” phase. TIMN expects a similar transitional hybridization, but then, as quadriformism matures, a refinement if not a break as a distinct specialized commons sector takes shape that leaves less space for those transitional hybrids.

I wish my discussion here were not so long-winded. But the parallels between TIMN and P2P run deeper and wider than TIMN’s parallels to Raworth’s and Karatani’s frameworks. P2P thus strikes me as more important to delineate and discuss. Besides, I’ve read many more writings by Bauwens and colleagues than by the other two.



In The Structure of World History (2014), Kojin Karatani fields his innovative idea to switch “from modes of production to modes of exchange” as a way “to rethink the history of social formations” from a Marxist perspective. Accordingly, “There are four types of mode of exchange: mode A, which consists of the reciprocity of the gift; mode B, which consists of ruling and protection; mode C, which consists of commodity exchange; and mode D, which transcends the other three.” He further observes that “These four types coexist in all social formations. They differ only on which of the modes is dominant” (2014, pp. ix-x).

Elaboration: Karatani’s framework leads to a familiar evolutionary progression: Mode A characterized the rise of fixed-settlement agricultural communities, as their clans and tribes turned to reciprocal gift exchanges (including through arranged marriages) to assure mutual respect, solidarity, and security, both within and between settlements. These settlements were preceded historically by nomadic bands that depended on communal pooling and sharing to survive — not as “gift exchange” but rather as “pure gift” that Karatani denotes “nomadism U” and equates to Marx’s idea of “primitive communism”. What happens with the formation of fixed settlements, however, is that exchange principles take hold for the first time. Thus, “reciprocity is not so much a principle of community as it is a principle for forming larger, stratified communities” (2014, p. 5).

Centuries later, Mode B would take hold with the rise of the state, as it provided people with protection in exchange for obedience. As the state form grew, Mode B gained became even more manifest in centralized bureaucracies, public works, and codifications of law. As Karatani notes, the state arose originally through its power to plunder and redistribute; this endures in the modern era through the state’s power of taxation. Next, still more centuries later, Mode C became foremost, as commodity exchange became the key dynamic behind the development of the market system and capitalism — the realms of money, credit, trade, and class relations.

These three modes enable Karatani, drawing on Hegel and Kant as well as Marx, to propose shifting from Capital to Capital-Nation-State as the object of inquiry, the real force in society. Marxism has traditionally identified Capital as the decisive force, claiming that the material base of a society, i.e., its economic base and mode of production, determines its ideational superstructure, i.e., culture, politics, and religion — in Marx’s view, state and nation belong to this ideational superstructure. However, Karatani sees that the modes of exchange he identifies are all both material and ideational in nature, and that they operate with relative autonomy from each other. Indeed, “ideational superstructures such as religion are not just passively determined by the economic base, but rather have the power to actively alter the latter” (2017, p. 2). Thus, while Capital expresses Mode C, the Nation and the State express the enduring power of Modes A and B, respectively — and they are all knotted together. Hence, it’s the capital-nation-state as a triplex system that defines the modern era, not simply the Capital of traditional Marxism, nor the nation-state of common parlance. In light of this, once capitalism ends, then, contrary to traditional Marxism, the state won’t wither away, neither will the nation. Instead, they will be transformed and transcended through the rise of Mode D.

Mode D is difficult to describe (for me anyway). According to Karatani, Mode D will prevail in the future — as a future mode of exchange that partly spells a return of the spirit of gift exchange (Mode A), but even more so, a return to the older spirit of nomadism’s U form and its emphasis on pooling and sharing, before exchange became a requisite principle: “Mode of exchange D is not simply the restoration of mode A — it is not, that is, the restoration of community. Mode of exchange D, as the restoration of A in a higher dimension, is in fact only possible with the negation of A. D is, in sum, the restoration of nomadic society. Yet this too does not appear as the result of human desire or intention, but rather emerges as a duty issued by God or heaven or as a regulative idea. In concrete terms, D arrives in the form of universal religion, which negates religions grounded in magic or reciprocity.” (2014, pp. xi-xii)

“Strictly speaking, D is not one of the modes of exchange. It is a drive that seeks to negate and sublate ‘exchange’ (whether of mode A, B, or C). It appears in the form of an ideational/religious power. Nonetheless, it is deeply connected to the economic base — that is, to exchange. It is precisely for this reason that D is able to oppose the various powers that arise from A, B, and C. It is not some imaginary being created through human desire or intention; to the contrary, it possesses its own ‘power’ of compulsion over humans.” (2017, p. 21)

“Mode D is not the return of mode A; it is the return of U.” (2017, p. 25)

Karatani affirms that, while Modes A, B, and C have their own religious aspects, Mode D is “undoubtedly religious in nature” (2017, p. 21). Indeed, its best early manifestations “are found in the communistic groups that existed in the earliest stages of universal religions such as Christianity and Buddhism” (2014, p. 8). He mentions “heretical movements” in particular, such as Thomas Muntzer’s. Hence, Karatani forecasts that Mode D will likely arrive in the form of a universal religion.

Yet, partly because the effects of Mode D seem so uncertain and unclear, he sometimes refers to the social formation it may generate simply as “X” or else as “associationism.” One book reviewer (Gemma Masson) characterized Mode D “as an amalgamation of the best parts of what has gone before” — interesting, but I haven’t been able to confirm that’s Karatani’s belief.

What Karatani does proclaim is that Mode D will result finally in the arrival of communism. Marx said that future communism would restore the bygone pooling, sharing, and gifting — “primitive communism” — that Marx associated with ancient clans and tribes living in fixed settlements. Karatani corrects Marx’s original view by associating primitive communism instead with the even older nomadic bands, then heralds its return “in a higher dimension” represented by Mode D.

But Marxism and communism are not Karatani’s only reference points for Mode D. He is even more insistent that the rise of this final Mode would mark the end of the capital-nationstate and realize Kant’s hopes for a global “federation of nations”, a “world republic”, “the kingdom of ends”, and “perpetual peace.” Mode D is thus set to become a globally integrative mode.

Throughout, Karatani maintains that the four modes of exchange always co-exist and work together in relation to each other, inasmuch as each mode “produces its own unique form of power” (2014. p. 14). He clarifies that, while societies vary mainly according to which mode is dominant, they also vary within that frame according to the relative strengths and details — both material and ideational — of the other modes in the mix at the time. For these modes "do not exist independent of one another. Social formations are produced as assemblages of all of them. Accordingly, it is impossible to take up any one of them in isolation; one has to consider each together with the other modes of exchange” (2017, p. 14). He goes on to observe that, “Accordingly, the history of social formations should be seen in terms of hybrid forms that include multiple modes of exchange. But the various modes of exchange themselves also undergo transformations within the transformations of social formations. The first social formation arises with clan society, in which mode A is dominant. Even at this stage, however, the germs of modes B and C are present, albeit to a barely noticeable degree. In state society, mode B becomes dominant, but this does not mean that mode A disappeared. It persists in the form of the agricultural community that submits to state rule. … [Later,] together with the establishment of a global market, mode C undergoes an explosive expansion. At this time, the modern social formation comes into being.” (2017, p. 14-15)

This leads to yet another significant observation: “Viewed in this way, it becomes clear that we need to see transformations in social forms not simply along the temporal axis, but also along the spatial axis” (2017, p. 15). Accordingly, the progression across the ages in dominance from Mode A, to B, to C, and ultimately to D is also a progression in territorial expansion — from localized “mini world systems” built by clans and tribes (à la mode A), to world empires built by states (à la mode B), to the modern world-economy system built by the rise of capital-nation-states (à la mode C), and onward next to a world republic grounded on a universal religion (à la mode D). Each mode of exchange facilitates a greater expansion of organized relationships.

There’s undoubtedly more that I should learn and heed about Karatani’s framework. But I’ve not read his entire book, only the first sections. That’s all I can handle right now. And it seems adequate for my immediate purposes.

Comparison to TIMN: What remarkable parallels to TIMN! With even more to P2P. We all seem to be moving in similar directions, but on different wavelengths. I find that quite reassuring.

Karatani’s four modes of exchange match TIMN’s four forms of organization pretty well (but see below). Other features of his framework — notably, that each mode has both material and ideational properties, that all four modes have existed since societies first took shape, that all societies contain mixes and combinations of all four modes, that societies vary according to which mode dominates when, that societies also vary according to the strength of the other modes, that the rise of a new/next mode modified the natures of the other modes, and that an historical progression can be identified from ancient through modern times — are embedded in TIMN as well. That makes for quite an overlap in framework design and system dynamics.

The similarities and disparities between our two frameworks are much like those I discerned between P2P and TIMN (see prior section). The best correspondence is between Karatani’s Modes B and C vis à vis TIMN’s Institutions and Markets forms. The correspondence between his Mode A and my Tribes form is pretty good as well. But my Tribes form is broader — in particular, its emphasis on kinship dynamics embraces the communalism he associates with nomadic bands (what he terms “U”) as well as the gift exchanges that define Mode A’s dominance in fixed settlements.

Even so, I appreciate his finding that Mode A endures in the formation of nations — that’s consistent with TIMN theory about how the tribal form endures through mutations across the ages. However, I’m dubious that Mode A, as he currently defines it, offers the best explanation for the rise of spirited nationalisms in the past, or the mean reversions to political tribalism we see in today’s world. What’s happened to communal kinship-like dynamics provides a better explanation than gift-exchange dynamics — that’s what I presently deduce from TIMN. In any case, Karatani’s capital-nation-state concept (reflecting Modes C, A, and B, respectively) aligns very well with TIMN’s concept of triform (T+I+M) societies — they’re both good concepts for capturing an essence of the modern era.

The biggest disparity is between his Mode D and TIMN’s Networks form. We’re both uncertain, indeed rather vague, about the exact future nature of our respective mode/form. He says the result will be “X” or “associationism” if not communism. It will suffuse and “sublate” all other modes and activities. It will also be the final form. My understanding of TIMN does not accord much with that. What I identify as the information-age networks form (+N) may be somewhat like associationism. Yet, TIMN’s dynamics indicate that, as a new form grows and spreads, it generates a distinct sector of activity. Best known for decades, if not centuries, are the public sector (from +I) and the private sector (from +M). My current sense is that +N will generate a new commons sector; P2P theory has long expressed a similar expectation. In contrast, Karatani never considers that Modes A, B, C, or D may generate a distinct sector, and I find no mention of a commons sector in his future vision. So, our frameworks are disparate on that score, organizationally. In contrast, Bauwens and other P2P theorists seem so attracted to Karatani’s vision that they identify more closely with it, philosophically.

What I find most engaging about Mode D is Karatani’s emphasis on X’s likely religious nature. He points out that all the Modes have religious properties, though none so much as D. This fits with TIMN (as well as P2P theory). I have long noted, but never fully elaborated, that each of TIMN’s forms has religious consequences: the T form in ancient pagan religions, the +I form in hierarchical Catholicism and the Papacy, the +M form in competitive varieties of Protestantism — plus a future implication that +N may favor the rise of a new interfaith approach, perhaps drawing largely on Buddhism. Bauwens has a rather similar but more detailed analysis of how various religions have expressed P2P’s four relational modalities. Beyond that, it occurs to me that Karatani’s vision for Mode D and outcome X resembles the partly-spiritual concept of the “noosphere” — globe-circling realm of the mind — fielded by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Edouard Le Roy, and Vladimir Vernadsky decades ago. It’s still a significant concept about the future (see Ronfeldt, 2018, cited below), and I should think it would interest Karatani.

A couple more comparisons to TIMN: Karatani shows how each mode in turn enables larger empire-building — from clan-based mini systems based on Mode A, through a global republic and universal religion based on Mode D. That observation overlaps with TIMN. I’ve observed, but don’t recall where I may have mentioned, that each form in the TIMN progression enables more expansive loose-knit systems to be built, from local to global levels in ways similar to Karatani’s layout of stages. Bauwens has observed this as well, based on his framework.

Furthermore, TIMN provides a reason for this: The rise and spread of each TIMN form is enabled by a different information and communications technology revolution. The rise of the tribal form depended on a symbolic revolution: the emergence of language and early writing (runes, glyphs), enabling the storytelling that is central to tribal cultures. The rise of the hierarchical institutional form — as in the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, the absolutist states, their vast administrative structures — rested on a mechanical revolution: the development of formal writing and printing, first penned script and later the printing press. This was important not only for keeping records and issuing commands, but also for inscribing laws that chiefdoms and states could apply to growing populations who were not kinfolk and often not well-known to each other. Next, the rise of the market form and its far-flung business enterprises was sped by the electrical technologies of the 19th century: the telegraph, telephone, and radio. Today’s spread of the network form extends from the digital revolution and its technologies, notably the Internet, fax machines, and cellular telephones, which are especially empowering for civil-society associations around the world and across political spectrums. I should add that each successive information and communications technology revolution also modifies each of the older forms.

P2P theory likewise recognizes the importance of this technology for the rise of each of its relational modalities, in ways rather parallel to TIMN. Karatani seems not to recognize this. I’ve not read all the way through his book, but browsing it deliberately for mentions of such technology and its effects on modes of exchange, I find nothing. This, in my view, is a significant shortcoming of his analysis.

In closing, an exhortation: Until Karatani appeared, Bauwens and I were alone in proposing quadriform frameworks about social evolution that have implications for the future. Now there are three of us — four if Raworth or someone else (George Monbiot?) adds more evolutionary theory to her doughnut-economics framework. Even though there are significant differences among our frameworks, and even though readers may prefer one over another, my grander point is that we are all quadriformists. We hope our readers will become one too. It’s a way to break free and move beyond the aging gridlocked ever-more-tribalized triform frameworks that are presently failing us.


Kojin Karatani, The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange, Duke University Press, 2014.

Kojin Karatani, “An Introduction to Modes of Exchange,” unpublished draft article, 2017. David Ronfeldt, In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes — The First and Forever Form, RAND, WR-433, 2007.

David Ronfeldt, “Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: draft of Section I for new paper,” Materials for Two Theories Blog, July 8, 2018. Plus various reviews and summaries of Karatani’s book.


This paper (chapter?) began with my noting that TIMN (1996) was initially alone in offering a quadriform framework about past, present, and future social evolution, along with a forecast that the next stage may bring the emergence of a network-based sector. By now, there are three other quadriform frameworks about social evolution that are similarly oriented to the future: those by Bauwens (2005-present), Karatani (2014), and Raworth (2017). Above, I reviewed and compared each to TIMN. Now I turn to TIMN’s advantages for theory and practice.

A brief preamble and a reminder about TIMN: Lamentably, TIMN is far from finished as a framework, and it’s an overreach to call it a theory, though I do so anyways because of its potential. Moreover, unlike the three other frameworks, there is no book on TIMN. And much as there should be a book, there probably won’t be a complete one — I’m now too limited to prepare it. The same goes for the research enterprise I once hoped to undertake in order to develop indicators and methodologies, indeed a full model, for assessing a society’s — any society’s — status and prospects in TIMN terms. But at least I have a set of publications and blog posts to back up my points (see bibliography at end).

Okay, that’s enough self-effacing preamble. Let’s get to work.

According to my review of history and theory (1996, 2007, 2009), four cardinal forms of organization — and evidently only four — lie behind the governance and evolution of all societies across the ages:

  • The tribal form (T) was the first to emerge and mature, beginning thousands of years ago. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging — the basic elements of culture, as manifested still today in matters ranging from nationalism to fan clubs.
  • The institutional form (I) was the second to emerge. Emphasizing hierarchy, it led to the development of the state and the military, as epitomized initially by the Roman Empire, not to mention the Catholic papacy and other corporate enterprises.
  • The market form (M), the third form of organization to take hold, enables people to excel at openly competitive, free, and fair economic exchanges. Although present in ancient times, it did not gain sway until the 19th century, at first mainly in England.
  • The network form (N), the fourth to mature, serves to connect dispersed groups and individuals so that they may coordinate and act conjointly. Enabled by the digital information-technology revolution, this form is only now coming into its own, so far strengthening civil society more than other realms.

Here's a table about this (but it's at least ten years old and in need of revision and updating):

TIMN sits atop this quadriform foundation. I could elaborate on how this leads to identifying an evolutionary progression across the ages from monoform (T-only), to biform (T+I), to triform (T+I+M), and hopefully next to quadriform (T+I+M+N) societies. I could also list the system dynamics I’ve identified that are common to all TIMN phase transitions. Not to mention much more (see sources cited below). But presumably no primer is needed here, for it can be found in the preceding chapters.

A comparison of the four frameworks: This chapter’s purpose is to offer a comparative overview of TIMN’s advantages for theory and practice vis à vis the other three quadriform frameworks. So let’s move straight into that.

  • All four frameworks have quadriform designs: mine is based on four forms of organization, Bauwens’ on four relational modalities, Karatani’s on four modes of exchange, and Raworth’s on four means of provisioning. I’ve already discussed how well each of theirs matches TIMN’s. The parallels are striking, despite the disparities I noted in preceding sections. The strongest parallels and overlaps are between Bauwens’ and Karatani’s frameworks, partly because of their shared Marxism.
  • All four frameworks regard their respective forms/modes quite similarly: Each form/mode has both material and ideational properties. All were evident in ancient times, when societies first took shape. Societies since then have always contained mixes of all four forms. Societies vary according to which form is dominant, and when. Societies also vary according to the relative strength and influence of the other forms at the time. A form’s rise to dominance modifies the nature and roles of the other forms, and their interactions often create interim hybrids. Historical progressions can be identified as to which form/mode becomes dominant, and when, from ancient through modern times. The advanced societies are presently on the cusp of the rise of each framework’s respective fourth form/mode.
  • All four frameworks (Raworth’s less so) recognize clans and tribes as comprising early types of societies, with each of us associating their formation with a particular form/mode, but not entirely agreeing as to which one. Also, we all recognize that the form/mode that best explains the formation of the earliest societies then endures across the ages, manifesting itself in new ways, notably as nationalism. TIMN is more attentive to this than are the other frameworks.
  • All four frameworks recognize that the state will remain a crucial institution in the future. It first took shape in ancient times around a particular form/mode — pretty much the same one in all four frameworks — which is then modified as the next form/mode rises to dominance later on. Three of us foresee a new kind of state arising in the far future — a cybercratic nexus state in my view, a partner state in Bauwens’ view, and a global republic in Karatani’s view.
  • All four frameworks imply that state and society are excessively subject to capitalist forces, and should become less so in the future. TIMN is not anti-state or anti-market; it requires the persistence of states and markets in the future, albeit much modified. TIMN does, however, distinguish between its +M market form and capitalism, and further research and analysis would surely show that many aspects of late-modern capitalism contradict, indeed corrode, the best principles of the market form. TIMN’s grounding for its +M form is Adam Smith. In contrast, Bauwens’ and Karatani’s frameworks are deeply anti-capitalist. Their grounding is Karl Marx. Yet, their frameworks, like TIMN, recognize that the market form will persist in some capacity, but to a lesser degree and more narrowly.
  • All four frameworks imply that civil society should become stronger as the fourth form arises, and that this will generate a new sector. Three frameworks — Raworth’s, Bauwens’, and mine — do so by anticipating, even advocating, the development of a pro-commons sector (though we vary as to its presumed scope). Two — Bauwens’ and mine — explicitly link its emergence to the spread of network forms of organization — though my +N and Bauwens’ P2P are not identical concepts. Karatani’s framework implies strengthening civil society, but he never refers to the creation of a commons sector, and it’s not clear to what extent Mode D is a network-related concept.
  • All four frameworks are about future social evolution; indeed, three — Bauwens’, Karatani’s and mine — amount to theories about past, present, and future social evolution. While none of us are entirely sure what the rise of the next form/mode will bring, all our frameworks mean “the end of history” is wrong. After the fall of the Soviet Union (an empire of biform societies), the sense of triumph in the United States and other triform democracies inspired an optimistic belief in the “end of history” model (Fukuyama, 1989, 1992). It claimed that “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” But matters are not evolving that way. The “end of history” is a trifomist model — offered at the moment of its greatest power and success, but also unknowingly on the eve of its looming obsolescence. For this model did not recognize a fourth form of organization and evolution would arise — what we variously term +N, P2P, and Mode D. In all our frameworks, the rise of this form — its technologies, its organizational dynamics, its behavioral and philosophical implications — is in its early disruptive phases, and it remains unclear what it will mean in the decades ahead. But it certainly means that “history” is nowhere near its “end”, moreover that something other than “liberal democracy” will result.
  • All four frameworks imply the future emergence of new political ideologies, in accordance with the rise of a fourth form/mode. I identify TIMN with quadriformism; Bauwens, his P2P theory with commonism (similarly, Raworth); and Karatani, his exchange-mode theory with a kind of communism that may be deeply religious. Raworth’s progressivism overlaps a lot with Bauwens’ more radical commonism, but not with Karatani’s future vision. However, Bauwens’ and Karatani’s visions overlap profoundly. TIMN stands apart — its ideological stance is more about recognizing the significance of all four forms together, i.e., quadriformism, than about specifying future political isms that may issue on the Left or Right.
  • Three frameworks — the most theoretical ones: Bauwens’, Karatani’s, and my own — show that the rise of a new/next form affects religious expressions. Karatani is the most emphatic about this, arguing that all four modes in his framework have religious properties, but none so much as Mode D and its implication that “X” will be religious in nature. This fits with TIMN and P2P theory as well. I have long noted, though never in full, that each TIMN form is associated with new religious expressions: the T form with ancient pagan religions, +I with hierarchical Catholicism and the Papacy, +M with competitive varieties of Protestantism — and a future +N may favor the rise of new ecumenical approaches, perhaps drawing on Buddhism. Bauwens has a rather similar but more detailed analysis about how various religions have expressed his framework’s four relational modalities. Beyond that, he and I have mused that the fourth form, be it +N or P2P, may better enable the world to generate a “noosphere” — the partly-spiritual concept of a globe-circling realm of the mind, fielded by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Edouard Le Roy, and Vladimir Vernadsky decades ago (see Ronfeldt, 2018). Indeed, Karatani’s vision for Mode D and outcome X seem to reflect the concept of the “noosphere”, though he never mentions it.
  • Bauwens’, Karatani’s, and Raworth’s frameworks are limited to four forms or modes; and Bauwens and Karatani foresee their fourth modes reaching back to synthesize with the first, as though completing a circle. TIMN is defined by four forms as well (though it does not bend back like theirs). However, I sense a distant possibility of a fifth form. Each form’s rise is tied to the arrival of a new information and communications revolution, with each such revolution enabling information and communications to flow radically farther and faster than ever before. Have those revolutions come to an end? Is the digital revolution the last? I doubt it. Indeed, a biologically-based revolution may eventually occur that makes mental telepathy possible to a degree, first from bio-technology implants and ultimately from biological evolution. But that would be a long time from now, beyond today’s horizons. Thus, quadriform frameworks should suffice for an aeon, but I wanted to point out this speculative possibility, which TIMN leaves open.

I’ve noticed additional similarities and differences among the four frameworks, but the above should suffice for now.

TIMN’s comparative advantages for theory and practice: Some of TIMN’s advantages are about the handling of specific forms. Others are about TIMN as a framework favoring a quadriform view for assessing policy and strategy matters.

  • Of the four frameworks, TIMN is the most attentive to the significance and persistence of the T/tribal (i.e., kinship) form across the ages, in all its manifestations, both positive and negative. On the bright side, TIMN affirms that, to evolve properly, societies continue to need strong healthy families and communities, along with modern “fictive kinship” manifestations that may range from fan clubs to patriotic displays that foster mutual identity and solidarity — they give a society coherence. On the dark side, TIMN shows that the tribal form may persist in clannish ways that foment political and economic corruption, making it difficult for the later forms to take hold properly. TIMN also accounts for mean-spirited reversions to tribalism that may occur when people lose faith in their political institutions and economic systems, as in today’s America. The other frameworks are not as suited to illuminating and explaining this range of positive and negative matters. Indeed, TIMN’s design can handle analyzing the widespread persistence of societies in which the Tribes form remains so strong, via political clans, gangs, cronies, and related cultural dynamics, that it corrupts and constrains the proper evolution of Institutions, Markets, and Networks. The other quadriform frameworks are not as well suited to illuminating this.
  • TIMN’s second form — hierarchical institutions (+I) — receives similar strong treatments in the other frameworks as well. But TIMN has two noteworthy advantages: explaining systemic corruption, and explaining liberal democracy. According to TIMN, systemic corruption occurs largely when principles (and principals) from clannish elements of the tribal form intrude into the institutional form, exploiting and suborning it so much that government institutions can’t develop properly. The results may include collusion, gangsterism, and cronyism that affects not only the +I form but also the +M/market form. As for liberal democracy, it arises when +M market principles enter the arenas of +I political institutions, leading to requirements that they respond not just to hierarchy but also to representation. As Charles Lindblom observed: “Not all market-oriented systems are democratic, but every democratic system is also a marketoriented system.” Hallmarks of the spread of +M principles into government include competitive political parties and elected legislatures. This is why triform societies provide the archetypes of liberal democracy.
  • TIMN distinguishes between the market form (+M) as an essential form for the advancement of societies, and capitalism as a way of implementing the market form. The other quadriform frameworks are not as clear about this distinction between the market form and capitalism; indeed, many writers tend to conflate the two. Capitalism should work well — and often has — but it may also become distorted and turn bad. This is why TIMN is pro-market but not necessarily pro-capitalist; for capitalist practices may turn out to contradict the ideal +M principles. Indeed, what's happened in our society is that capitalism has become less and less a proper application of the market system as viewed in +M terms.
  • TIMN implies the future emergence of a more distinct commons sector than do the other frameworks. For now, this +N sector remains inchoate, barely noticeable, rather in keeping with William Gibson’s famous saying that “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Best I can tell, it will be a “commons sector” (or “social sector” or “civil sector” or “people sector”) that assembles a variety of currently-dispersed efforts to find ways to address and resolve America’s largest, most complex social problems — notably, health, education, welfare, the environment, and related types of insurance. These are the very social problems that have become evermore complicated and urgent because of America’s success as a triform system; and our existing public and private sectors keep proving unable to resolve them.

If so, these entities and activities will migrate (and be migrated) out of the public and private sectors and coalesce into a networked (+N) commons sector. It will operate differently from the other sectors, probably as a realm of non-profits, cooperatives, collectives, collaboratives, trusts, platforms, and other networked associations. It will be committed to serving the common good, separate from but in cooperation with the old household (T), public (+I), and private (+M) sectors. It will be subject to, and protected by, an array of new laws, rules, and regulations that are different from those pertaining to the other sectors. This new sector will focus on the “assurances” (not “entitlements”) that advanced quadriform societies should warrant for the wellbeing and progress of their citizens. By comparison, Raworth’s concept of a commons sector lacks specificity, and Bauwens’ is mighty sweeping and unbounded, while Karatani appears not to think in terms of sectors — as I explained earlier.

  • TIMN is not derived from or committed to any specific ideology. TIMN expects and allows for a broad future political spectrum, from Left to Right. It leaves room for the endurance of conservative and progressive orientations along a new quadriformist spectrum. In contrast, the other three frameworks clearly belong on the Left — Bauwens’ and Karatani’s even aspire to a final future triumph of the Left over the Right, in keeping with their Marxist orientations. To my disappointment, I’ve found no theorists or philosophers on the Right who are pondering the future within anything like a quadriform framework. They seem stuck in their triformist mindsets. Politicians and pundits on the Right may even react that the quadriformism I seek would jeopardize America’s traditions of capitalism and individualism. Rubbish nonsense — what they may not see yet is that creating a quadriform system should lead to stronger, healthier families and communities, a smaller, less burdened, less burdensome government, and a freer, fairer, more efficient market system — all key goals of most conservatives.
  • TIMN emphasizes looking at the overall combination of forms, whereas the other frameworks — Bauwens’ and Karatani’s in particular — stress looking at which single form is dominant. TIMN is more about limits and balances among its four forms; the other frameworks are more about the domination of one mode over the others. The latter insist that societies evolve over time through a progression of dominant modes, finally culminating with the dominance of a fourth mode — P2P in Bauwens’ case and Mode D in Karatani’s case. TIMN recognizes that progressive dominations occur, but its design prefers that that no single form dominate as societies advance. The more any single form comes to dominate — be it the tribal, institutional, market, or network form — the more likely is a society’s evolution to become unbalanced and distorted. According to TIMN, monoform (T-only) systems get superseded by biform (T+I) systems, then these by triform (T+I+M) systems, and next will be quadriform (T+I+M+N) systems. A kind of domination dynamic is embedded in there, but for now I’m supposing that a comprehensive multi-form approach to analysis will prove more correct.
  • TIMN could be operationalized as a methodology — a diagnostic tool — for identifying and assessing policy and strategy options. I doubt the other frameworks could be, or that their creators would want to. Developing TIMN for such purposes would require a large research project to determine key indicators for each form (both their bright and their darks sides), the status of system dynamics, etc., so as to assist policymakers and strategists with assessing particular situations. I hope to say more about this in the future; it’s an important matter, though refining such a methodology is not essential for articulating a quadriformist manifesto.
  • A final point: TIMN is the most suited of these quadriform frameworks to fashioning a new American political narrative. One that is forward-looking, hopeful, and full of opportunity. One that appeals to both conservatives and progressives who sense triformism isn’t working well any longer. I’ll have more to say about this is the future.

Coda: I’d say this comparison helps validate and commend TIMN. Yet none of this is to claim that TIMN is right and the other frameworks wrong. We are all more-or-less right, or at least on the right track. The parallels are more significant than the disparities. Of course, I believe TIMN is more right as a way to build theory and to come up with new policies and strategies. But my grander point is that we are all quadrifomists — the way to a better future. You should think about becoming one too.


David Ronfeldt, Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks — A Framework About Societal Evolution, RAND, P-7967, 1996.

David Ronfeldt, In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes — The First and Forever Form, RAND, WR-433, 2007.

David Ronfeldt, “Overview of social evolution (past, present, and future) in TIMN terms,” Materials for Two Theories Blog, February 25, 2009, at

David Ronfeldt, “Explaining social evolution: standard cause-and-effect vs. TIMN’s system dynamics,” Materials for Two Theories Blog, September 18, 2009, at

David Ronfeldt, “TIMN in 20 minutes: social evolution — past, present, and future,” YouTube Video, May 23, 2012, at

David Ronfeldt, “Organizational forms compared: my evolving TIMN table vs. other analysts’ tables — revised & expanded,” Materials for Two Theories Blog, May 12, 2016, at

David Ronfeldt & John Arquilla, The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik: Twenty Years After, draft, May 2018, at

David Ronfeldt & Danielle Varda, The Prospects for Cyberocracy (Revisited), December 2008, posted on Social Science Research Network, January 2009, and on OpenSIUC, June 2009.


While my focus started out being about “forms of organization”, I’ve tried to clarify that each of the four TIMN forms — tribes, (hierarchical) institutions, markets, and networks — is about much more than organization in a narrow sense. Here’s the longest clarification I’ve written so far:

“The development of each form has a long history. Early versions of all four were present in ancient times. But as deliberate, formal systems with philosophical portent, each has gained strength at a different rate and matured in a different epoch over the past 10,000 years. Tribes developed first (in the Neolithic era), hierarchical institutions next (notably, with the Roman Empire and then the absolutist states of the 16th century), and competitive markets later (as in England and the United States in the 18th century). Now, collaborative networks are on the rise as the next great form. Its cutting edge currently lies among activist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) associated with civil society. … “Each of the four forms, writ large, embodies a distinctive set of structures, processes, beliefs, and dynamics about how society should be organized — about who gets to achieve what, why, and how. Each involves different codes and standards about how people should treat each other. Each enables people to do something — to address some social problem — better than they could by using another form. Each attracts and energizes different kinds of actors and adherents. Each has different ideational and material bases. Each has both bright and dark sides, both strengths and weaknesses. And each can be gotten “right” or “wrong” in various ways, depending on circumstances. “Once a form is subscribed to by many actors, it becomes more than a mere form: It develops into a realm, even a system, of thought and behavior. Indeed, the rise of each form spells an ideational and structural revolution. Each is a generator of order, because each defines a set of interactions (or, transactions) that are attractive, powerful, and useful enough to create a distinct realm of activity, or at least its core. Each becomes the basis for a governance system that is self-regulating and, ultimately, selflimiting. And each tends to foster a different kind of worldview, for each orients people differently toward social space, time, and action. What is deemed rational — how a “rational actor” should behave — is different for each form; no single “utility function” suits them all. “Each form becomes associated with high ideals as well as new capabilities. Yet, all the forms are ethically neutral — as neutral as technologies — in that they have both bright and dark sides and can be used for good or ill. The tribal form, which should foster communal solidarity and mutual caring, may also breed a narrow, bitter clannishness that can justify anything from nepotism to murder in order to shield and strengthen a clan and its leaders. The hierarchical institutional form, which should lead to professional rule and regulation, may also be used to uphold corrupt, arbitrary dictators. The market form, which should bring free, fair, open exchanges, may also be distorted and rigged to allow unbridled piracy, speculation, and profiteering. And the network form, which can empower civil society actors to serve public interests, may also be used to strengthen “uncivil society” — say, by enabling terrorist groups and crime syndicates. So, it is not just the bright sides of each form that foster new values and actors; their dark sides may do so as well.” (from Ronfeldt, February 2009)

That still looks pretty good to me as a brief clarification."