On the Socio-Political Potentialities of Experimental Productive Alternatives

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* Article: On the socio-political potentialities of experimental productive alternatives. Yannick Rumpala. Paper to be presented at the inter-disciplinary workshop on “Political Action, Resilience and Solidarity” (18th-19th September 2014, King’s College London).

URL = http://yannickrumpala.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/on-the-socio-political-potentialities-of-experimental-productive-alternatives/

Two cases studied: "The RepRap 3D printer and open-source hardware developed on contributory bases, and local initiatives in food production, such as “Incredible Edible”


"“Peer to peer” practices are commonly thought of in reference to exchange and sharing of computer files, but they also overlap with other domains. Indeed, they appear to be in expansion in other areas and, in certain cases, pertain to political intent. For example, they currently serve as the basis for initiatives in the field of transportation (carpooling), energy production (in the form of collaborative projects) and food production (from seed sharing to product sharing).

These practices may bring about renewed modalities of coordination and cooperation between many actors, without necessarily being confined to informal registers. Different types of work are developping without the search for financial compensation, and without hierarchical or salary relations. They allow for new forms of production which seem to persist over time and for which denomination attempts have begun to be proposed. While being more oriented towards changes in the information economy that followed the development of the Internet, Yochai Benkler (2002 ; 2006), for example, refers to a new model of “commons-based peer production”.

This form has mainly been studied for immaterial products, such as free software, collaborative encyclopedias, etc, but rarely for more material productions. Therefore, considering their emancipatory appearances, this contribution aims at exploring the potentialities, especially in terms of relation to work, that peer production can have on more material aspects of human activities. This new model may in fact be another way of looking at needs and how to satisfy them, in this case without any monetary medium and appropriation. These productions are not intended to be placed on the market. With these practices, it is the very meaning of work that could change.

Some writers, as the philosopher Bernard Stiegler (2011), announce and describe the emergence of an “economy of contribution.” Bernard Stiegler also pinpoints a “deproletarianization” to try to report a “new organization of work and a new economy of work.” If this “commons-based peer production” can actually be considered to contain such potentialities, it seems useful to test such a hypothesis by studying it in a more sociological context, as regards both its ins and outs, particularly in a period of “economic crisis.”

A mode of production can be characterized by its inputs and outputs (what is necessary for its operation and what it is able to achieve). Three complementary angles can thus be taken to analyze these potentialities more precisely: the modalities of personal engagement and frameworks of relations, the conditions of coordination and organization, and the outputs as a support for (local) resilience.

What is indeed interesting is to understand the ways by which subjectivities can invest in this “commons-based peer production.” Related activities seem more likely to give the feeling that the work thus accomplished has a social purpose and may receive recognition. To what extent can these material practices then change the relationship to work, production and consumption? These activities also contribute to reconfiguring exchange relations and can be a way to renegotiate more practically the networks into which everyday life fits.

But the convergence of these activities and the organization of these relationships are not straightforward. How are such coordinations possible, especially if they are to be maintained over time? In this form of production, collective assemblages seem volatile and if they are based on an organization, the latter is rather flexible (but not as devoid of effectiveness). Community dynamics can play an important role. In keeping with this idea, how can we talk of division of labor? What are the devices that can help stabilize forms of organization?

Moreover, the outputs of these activities appear to be more difficult to qualify with the usual categories. To what extent can these non-conventional forms of work contribute to the emergence of a mode of production with new or original features? How do these initiatives contribute to making new resources available, which could be considered socially and ecologically valuable? One can wonder wether this production method can become sustainable and lasting, particularly with regard to the availability of potential contributors.

This study is based on an exploration of two types of peer-to-peer collaborations: those which have begun to help build projects of machines and equipment, such as the RepRap 3D printer and open-source hardware developed on contributory bases, and local initiatives in food production, such as “Incredible Edible”, an idea which originally started in 2008 in the town of Todmorden, North of England, to transform available public spaces into areas for growing food products and put them into open access."