How Alternative Platforms Combine Open Source with the Defense of Collective Property

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* Article: Alternative Platforms and Societal Horizon : Characterisation and Strategies for Development. By Guillaume Compain, Philippe Eynaud, Lionel Maurel, and Corinne Vercher-Chaptal, June 2019


Communication to the SASE 31st Annual Meeting ; Fathomless Futures: Algorithmic and Imagined; 27- 28 June 2019 - The New School - New York City


Michel Bauwens:

"This is a very important study, the first I believe that systematically looks at how platform coops combine elements of the open source movement (sharing knowledge), with those of the cooperative movement (protecting cooperative property. It highlights the emergent practices of Open Cooperativism, a key strategic concept of the P2P Foundation."

Contextual Citation

"Whereas some cooperative platforms have a strictly defined membership, as does the ridesharing platform Ridygo, or address in priority a category of actors, as for example delivery people on the bike delivery platform, Coopcycle, most of the platforms we studied actually bring about a convergence between the collective ownership approach linked to platform cooperativism, and the logic of open resource-sharing like that of digital commons. These convergences materialise in the mutualisation of resources among different entities on the same platform or among several platforms, and in the will of some platforms to root their action in the general interest."


"The sharing economy harbours a diversity of stories and practices that make this notion somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, some powerful platform-companies, designed to capture, process and control increasing volumes of data in the hope of generating high profits, claim to belong to the sharing economy. On the other hand, we find sharing platforms that aim to escape purely commercial principles and place sharing and solidarity at the heart of their development models. A qualitative study carried out in France with a sample of nine platforms belonging to this second type brought to light two findings. Firstly, the alternatives studied are characterised by a dynamic of “re-embedding” on at least one of the three fictitious commodities identified by Polanyi (labour, money and land). Secondly, they aim to go beyond the classical opposition between the open strategy of the digital commons and the more closed approach based on collective ownership found in platform cooperativism. They manage to overcome this opposition through mutualistic practices and alliances, and multi-stakeholder governance built around the general interest. In doing so, sharing platforms are inventing the outlines of a possible renewal of public action and laying the foundations for an organised response to the challenges of the social and ecological transition. "


"The empirical study draws on nine cases of sharing platforms. The study sample was compiled in collaboration with the association, La Coop des Communs, which partnered our study. Created in 2016, La Coop des Communs comprises commons and EES practitioners, as well as researchers and public actors. Its goal is to help build an ecosystem conducive to the emergence of commons. “Allies, Commons and ESSs can constitute, not residual solutions, but real pillars for sustainable development in a pluralist vision of the economy” (La Coop des Communs, 2018). La Coop des Communs is organised into work groups, including the Plateformes en Communs group. This took shape around digital platforms open to sharing practices in order to “bring together a set of emerging or existing actors who share these values, within an open community” and “build a mutualised toolbox aimed at operationality, and enable the appropriation of the new peer-to-peer possibilities offered by digital technology” (La Coop des Communs, 2018). The group’s objective is to create, run and equip the platform community in line with a code of ethics based on five principles: inclusive governance, equitable sharing of value, data ethics, production of commons, and cooperation among members. By cross-comparing several sampling criteria (including diversity of the development levels of the platform’s activity and the sectors of activity), the team selected nine sharing platforms." (


The Substantive Economy

Lionel Maurel et al.:

"While the field of alternatives to platform-companies is not homogeneous, it nonetheless manifests some common principles of openness, sharing and reciprocity. If these principles are to be fully grasped in the field and explained, a conceptual framework that allows the economy to be viewed more broadly than through a purely market-based prism seems to be necessary . This conceptual framework is furnished by the substantive economy approach developed by Polanyi.

It is to Karl Polanyi that we owe the concept of “substantive economy”. For Polanyi, the market is not the only form that permits the circulation of economic goods and services. In his view, the importance of the market in our societies tends to mask other forms that co-exist with it: reciprocity, redistribution, and the household. He proposes the concept of “substantive economy” to show that, historically, the economy has its roots in humans’ dependence on nature and their fellow humans. From this, he deduces the need for people to manage this dependence to ensure their survival. The meaning of “substantive” thus derives from the “man's dependence for his living upon nature and his fellows” (Polanyi, 2011).

Polanyi posits that there has been a deliberate will over the course of history to gradually commodify three factors of production – labour, money and land. This transformation appears as a sine qua non for the emergence of a “self-regulating” market (Postel & Sobel, 2010), as the market needs to put a price on raw materials, the number of hours worked and productive assets financed by credit. The market economy thus needs these “fictitious commodities” in order to establish its hegemony and ensure its endless expansion. For Polanyi, this transformation is a priori inconceivable. Labour, money and land are not commodities. Never have these factors been produced to be sold. As such, the process of the great transformation and commodification observed by Polanyi is reversible. If disembeddedness means freeing market forces by breaking the resistance to labour protection, the fight against financial speculation and the protection of nature, re-embeddedness is achieved through consideration for workers, their protection and emancipation, the use of social money (non-speculative by nature) and through the all-important concern to preserve natural resources and ecological balances. It is thus possible to differentiate those economic actors who contribute to disembeddedness from those who contribute to re-embeddedness. This distinction can be made by observing actors’ practices with regard to these three commodities"