Evolution of Modes of Exchange in the Context of P2P Theory

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Discussion

"Michel Bauwens:

Karatani, in The Structures of World History, makes a key argument that the key underlying structure is less the mode of production, than the ‘mode of exchange’. The mode of exchange point of view, allows him to talk about the Capital-Nation-State nexus, instead of believing that state and nation are epiphenomena (superstructures). For example, this shift in the understanding of structures and their evolution, helps to explain the contradictory nature of capitalism, by stressing the innovation in the field of exchange, based on the invention of neutral exchange and mutual interest, above the naked exploitation of the labor condition, and its continued hierarchical subordination.


Karatani distinguishes four ‘modes 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.


The transcend and include aspect of Mode D helps to see how it is:

Related to the nomadic condition which is entirely about communal shareholding Related to the gift economy aspect of the clan societies Related to the distributed aspect of the medieval structures Honours the advantages of the market and even capitalism Helps us disentangle mode of production and mode of exchange aspects of commons-based peer production


Kojin Karatani in his book, The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange. Duke University Press, 2014, makes an important theoretical innovation that echoes what we have done in P2P Theory in 2005-6.

In P2P Theory, we use the relational grammar of Alan Page Fiske, which are modes of allocation, i.e. modes of exchange, and what we claimed is that though all four modes exist in most societies at nearly all times, their relative dominance change over time. (modes do not have to evolve from one to the other, but if one part of the world does evolve that way, it forces the others to adapt).

Thus we have Equality Matching, the gift economy, in tribal societies, but we mentioned that Communal Shareholding was the likely primary mode in small groups; Then we have Authority Ranking in pre-capitalist class societies, Market Pricing under capitalism, and as we argued, Communal Shareholding is potentially slated to become dominant again due to all the changes we see around peer to peer technologies, relational dynamics and peer production. It is the very basic central claim of the work of the P2P Foundation, and what distinguishes us from many others which recognize p2p without recognizing its emerging centrality.


Karatani makes a similar move, by arguing that modes of production do not adequately explain changes in society, but modes of exchange do. He recognizes Mode A, pre-capitalist, pre-class tribal societies, Mode B, rule and protection, Mode C, capitalism, and Mode D a return to the reciprocity logic of Mode A, but which also transcends and includes features of all previous modes. This is very close to your own use of integral theory.

Nevertheless, Karatani’s approach solves and illuminates a number of issues.

First of all, he stresses the mistake by Marx of not seeing the difference between the nomadic structures, with the freedom to move and without accumulation of property but with pooling of resources, and the clan-based tribal societies, which use organized direct reciprocity, which binds people to their societies. Thus nomadic societies are in the ‘pure gift’ of pooling (i.e. the Communal Shareholding of Fiske) while the larger and sedentary tribal societies use Equality Matching. In this context, Fiske allows more clarity in distinguish both, than lumping them together in one simple Mode A.

There are a huge number of advantages in more clearly distinguishing the mode of production from the mode of exchange.

For example, in the evolutionary account of cooperation, derived from Edward Haskell, we stress the evolution from adversarial modes (pure class domination through coerced labor), to neutral modes (the markets), to synergistic modes (peer to peer). Obviously as a mode of production, capitalism is still a mode of pure class domination, based on the blackmail of selling one’s labor to a owner of capital, and being in a dependent and subordinated position. But when we look at the mode of exchange, it is impossible not to recognize this innovation and how this profoundly changes the subjectivity of participants, including workers, who must sell their own labor as commodity. It is much more easy to explain to some sceptical left audiences, who don’t want to hear anything remotely positive about markets and capitalism, when one can so usefully distinguish modes of exchange and modes of production, and how how it is actually the motivation from the former, which influences the behaviour in the latter. I think this is a great theoretical advance from Karatani, which we can use. It will also helps us to do the same for peer production itself, what are its ‘mode of production’ aspects, and what are its mode of exchange aspects ? Though I use Fiske’s allocation theory, I mostly talk about peer production as a mode of production, and I believe we can rethink this presentation by differentiating its various aspects.


Another great point from Karatani is that Mode D does not simply go back to Mode A, but actively transcends elements of all three preceding modes; this is crucial, and we have to systematize this insight.

For example,

Related to the nomadic condition which is entirely about communal shareholding Related to the gift economy aspect of the clan societies Related to the distributed aspect of the medieval structures


It is hard to miss that one of the essential features of peer to peer technologies is the ‘liberation from the limitations of time and space’, in other words, it enables and facilitates a universal nomadic existence. This does not mean that everyone will travel everywhere all the time, of course not, but that a ever larger number of people is not bound to their territory, which includes territory in the virtual sense, i.e. “organisation”, and this is now true both for immaterial and material production. As Karatani very precisely links the pooling of resources to the nomadic condition, this re-inforces our original argument about the return of Communal Shareholding as the core mechanism for allocation.

Communal Shareholding in the language of Karatani, is ‘pure gift’, i.e. without the direct reciprocity requirements of the gift economy. Yet, along with CS, we also see a strong revival of gift economy practices. In a pluralistic understanding of Mode D, this makes a lot more sense than in the expectation of a simple return to Communal Shareholding.

Similarly, when Douglas Rushkoff makes the point that the Renaissance which came out of the Middle Ages, looked to the centralization of the Roman Empire as its ideal, and undertook to recreate centralized structures for the next 400 years; but that the Digital Renaissance, looks at, and re-introduces, a lot of the practices and forms of ‘distributed’ and ‘local-oriented’ medieval times, this makes a lot more sense if we see Mode D in this integrative mode.

More importantly, it gives additional justification to our triarchical model of productive commons-organized civil society, cooperative marketspace, and enabling ‘partner’ state models (which we did not invent, but deduce from the actual institution-building of p2p communities all over the world). If Mode D is integrative, it makes a stronger argument that market dynamics AND advantages cannot just be denied and abolished, but can be used in a new context. Pooling based market forms, like Community-Supported Agriculture models, described and defended by Silke Helfrich for example, also make a lot more sense. But also the continued existence of the state.

Karatani says the capital-nation-state trinity is so strong, because each will always come to support when the other ones are threatened. He sees the return of Mode D as the realization of Kant’s dream of a world republic, the only model that avoid new world wars by regional blocs fighting for scarce resources.

P2P shows the key role that trans-local, trans-national productive communities, including the global ethical entrepreneurial coalitions that are emerging, can play in a trans-national scenario, as I don’t believe personally that a merely inter-national republic can work. Faced with the strength of that trinity, the focus on both the local-urban level, and the transnational level, makes a lot of sense as a transitional strategy, since the attempts to change the capitaist nation-state, seem so impossible today. Karatani makes the strong and in my view realistic point, that the community integrating functions of the nation are not likely to disappear, nor the redistribution functions of the state."