Peer Production - Immanence vs. Transcendence

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Michel Bauwens uses these concepts in the following context. To what degree does peer production challenges the current political economy (its transcendent aspects), and to what degree can it be recuperated, or does it strengthen, the current system of cognitive capitalism.


This is a vast debate, with here a contribution by Yochai Benkler, who argues that peer production does not challenge the market system:

Yochai Benkler on the conditions for peer production to arise

Summary by Brian Holmes: "Benkler identifies four attributes of the networked information economy that favor commons-based peer production. First, information must be freely available an inexhaustible raw material for products which, in their turn, will become inexhaustible raw materials for further productions. Second, potential collaborators must be able to easily identify the specific project that inspires them to contribute their creativity and labor. Third, the cost of production equipment must be low, as is now the case for things like computers and related media devices. Fourth, it must be possible to broadly distribute the results, for instance, over a telecommunications net. Under these conditions, quite complex tasks can be imagined, divided into small modules, and thrown out into the public realm where individuals will self-identify their competency to meet any given challenge. The only remaining requirement for large-scale production of cultural and informational goods is to be able to perform quality checks and integrate all the individual modules with relatively low effort into a completed whole - but these tasks, it turns out, can often be done on a distributed basis as well. The fact that all of this is possible, and actually happening today, allows Benkler to contradict Ronald Coase's classic theory, which identifies the firm, with its hierarchical command structure, and the market, functioning through the individual's quest for the lowest price, as the only two viable ways to organize human production. In other words, in the cultural and informational domain there is an alternative mode of production, functioning outside the norms of the state-capitalist economy as we know it, but without any rhetorical need to proclaim a clean break or an absolute division between them." (

Yochai Benkler on peer production and markets:

“Q: Does peer production challenge the market system as a whole?

A: I don't see a risk of that. At the end of the day, people have to put food on the table, and food won't be produced in this way. Cars won't be produced in this way. Buildings won't be produced in this way. Even novels won't be produced in this way. There's a subcategory of things that can be produced in relatively fine-grained, modular units that are amenable to this production. It so happens that a lot of the most valuable products of the Information Economy can be produced this way: software, most information, most knowledge, a lot of computation, a lot of storage, a lot of connectivity. And that's quite significant. But it's not a threat to business as a broad category." (

The General Public License as an ‘ideal capitalist tool’

“The GPL is one of the most exciting, innovative capitalist tools ever created. The GPL breaks down walls between vendors and customers while enabling strong competitive differentiation. Unlike the BSD, which strikes me as serving an ever-narrowing slice of the development community that shares code simply for the sake of sharing, the GPL takes a hardheaded look at software development (and human nature) and works to maximize choice, control and a free market. From its inception, the IT business has depended on intellectual property. This dependence is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, Section I, Article 8, which establishes copyright/patent to "secur[e] for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." This limited monopoly grant has enabled software companies to create exceptional, customer-focused products without inordinate fear that competitors will freely clone their innovations for sale as their own. No other open source license has done more than the GPL to make open source commercially viable. By emulating the traditional copyright format, the GPL facilitates commercial involvement in open source communities, which is important for expediting the spread and depth of open source software. Free market open source, thanks to the GPL." (Matt Asay is director of Novell's Linux Business Office, Network World,

Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of SUN, on the benefits of open sourcing software

“Now, I've heard from a few stockholders saying, "What? Sharing? Free Software? What's up with that! Go make some money!" And so I thought I'd put down, once and for all, why we're committed to sharing, to open source, open standards, and eradicating the digital divide. Ready?

Because we're going to make more money. How? It's trivially simple. Why do carriers give handsets away for free? Because they make money on the subscription necessary to receive the handset. Why do banks give away free checking, or free credit cards? Because they acquire new customers. Why do Google and Yahoo! give away free search? Because there's a fortune in the end result. So why on earth would we give our OS away for free? Because it'll ensure those without the economic wherewithal to pay for it will still consider using it. Companies that suffered from piracy a decade ago now know the lesson well - piracy is a good thing so long as the pirates are folks who could never afford your products. So stop calling them pirates, call them users. Free software has no pirates. As I've said forever, there's value in volume, even if you're not paid for it. Do I worry about enterprises or corporate customers taking OpenSolaris and not acquiring a subscription to someone's (hopefully our) service contract? No, not in the least. Do you really think a hospital, or an air traffic control authority or a Minister from an African nation would run their institution on unsupported software? No. No way. Are we guaranteed to get that business? Nope. But we are guaranteed the opportunity will be greater than if we kept Solaris locked up. And I'd rather get 20% of a business that's planetary in scope, than 100% of a business with 17 customers. Like I said, there's value in volume. (And I haven't even touched upon the impact of open sourcing on innovation.) To prove the point, the Minister this morning was joined by the head of a bank headquartered in his country. His customers are increasingly coming to him via the network. He clearly recognized that a world in which the development and digital divides have been eradicated is a world in which he grows more customers, transaction volumes and business opportunities. And we both recognized that as the divides are eradicated, he'd find himself... ...buying more infrastructure to support his business. (Just so happened he was a Sun customer - and given that it is Q4, I will admit to giving him a brief update on chip multi-threading and storage containers.) Sharing is good for our business. Free software is good for our business. Anyone who believes in preserving the old model of software distribution is, at a certain level, fighting gravity. The most popular credit cards are the free ones. The most popular handsets, search engines, and checking accounts are the free ones. Just like the most popular operating systems will be, in the long run, the... Free ones. And as I've consistently said, and as you'll soon see, there's a lot of value in volume. (

Business Week on peer production in business

"Now, let's get down to business. Despite the anti-corporate nature of peer power, companies are starting to dive in. Eli Lilly's InnoCentive, for instance, set up a network of 83,000 scientists around the world to help the likes of Procter & Gamble and Boeing (BA ) tackle research problems they couldn't solve internally. Actually, you needn't be a scientist, so sign up and give it a shot. Other corporations are trying to tap the wisdom of crowds with so-called prediction markets. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ) and others have set up experimental markets in which they corral people to buy and sell virtual stock in, say, one of a range of profit forecasts -- and their picks often prove more accurate than official forecasts. ( )

Innocentive is at

Quote on digitalization as 'total automation', by Jan Soderbergh

"The state of total automation hinted at by Ernest Mandel would be reached when fixed capital, without any injection of living labour, spit out an infinite volume of goods at instant speed. It is hard to imagine a machine with such dimensions, less than visualising futurist gadgets or (just slightly more down-to-earth) nanotechnology fancies. And yet, it is reality in most forms of cultural and immaterial production. That is what is meant by saying, that information can be copied infinitely without injecting additional living labour.Digitalisation of immaterial labour has leapfrogged capitalism to the endpoint of total automation. There is hardly any value-adding labour taking place in this form of production. One click is all labour it takes to duplicate immaterial goods. The main input of living labour is instead at the start-up of the production process. In other words, in the innovation of it. This is where we find immaterial labour. All forms of labour that can be objectified in digits are subject to infinite reproducibility. It is the Pyrrhic victory of capital. The end destination of capital's long quest to disband living labour by perfecting the techniques of separating and storing human creativity in systematised, codified knowledge. However, like Phoenix, living labour returns with a vengeance." (

Externalisation of business processes through prosumers

"Si IKEA, Easyjet, DELL, Swissquote et bien d'autres ont attribué de facto aux consommateurs une participation dans le processus de production, aujourd'hui essentiellement dans la phase de finition des produits, alors on comprend que la chaîne de la valeur est en pleine restructuration. En effet, en s'immisçant dans la chaîne, le consommateur participe pleinement au processus de fabrication, du moins il en est l'élément clé puisque sans son intervention, il n'y aurait pas de produit fini. Lorsque IKEA confie le "dernier kilomètre" du transport et le 'montage' du meuble à son client, il y a, en quelque sorte, un transfert car il a 'outsourcé' une partie de sa production. Grâce à ce mode de faire, IKEA s'est délesté de deux processus coûteux celui de la livraison et du montage. Il peut dès lors accorder un rabais à sa clientèle, tant il a augmenté sa productivité externalisée. C'est la clé de lecture centrale de ces nouveaux procédés.

Easyjet, DELL et Swissquote déjà cités ne procèdent pas différemment. Il est aussi évident que tous ces produits qui ont été façonnés par l'active participation du consommateur, ne peuvent plus être vendus autrement. Ainsi, la chaîne de la création de la valeur en est profondément affectée et ceci pour toujours. C'est sous cet angle-là, qu'il faut approcher l'économie directe. " (

Mutual Imbrication of Creative Communities and Businesses

Franz Nahrada summarises:

1) Why Businesses Need the Support of Creative Communities

  • saving productive resources in delivery and implementation of products (the Do it Yourself gain)
  • spreading the word (classical example Apple: every user is an evangelist)
  • providing mutual support and documentation
  • taking over the complex task of product development

2) Why Creative Communities Need the Support of Business

  1. Creation and Choice of Infrastructures and Tools
  1. Reliability of Services
  1. Doing repetitive things that are no fun
  1. Keeping track and record activities
  1. Storing and Keeping Availability of Results


Class Structure and Peer Production

Definition and comment on the vectoral class, by Mackenzie Wark

"Information, like land or capital, becomes a form of property monopolised by a class of vectoralists, so named because they control the vectors along which information is abstracted, just as capitalists control the material means with which goods are produced, and pastoralists the land with which food is produced. Information circulated within working class culture as a social property belonging to all. But when information in turn becomes a form of private property, workers are dispossessed of it, and must buy their own culture back from its owners, the vectoralist class. The whole of time, time itself, becomes a commodified experience. Vectoralists try to break capital's monopoly on the production process, and subordinate the production of goods to the circulation of information. The leading corporations divest themselves of their productive capacity, as this is no longer a source of power. Their power lies in monopolising intellectual property - patents and brands - and the means of reproducing their value - the vectors of communication. The privatisation of information becomes the dominant, rather than a subsidiary, aspect of commodified life. As private property advances from land to capital to information, property itself becomes more abstract. As capital frees land from its spatial fixity, information as property frees capital from its fixity in a particular object. … Information, once it becomes a form of property, develops beyond a mere support for capital - it becomes the basis of a form of accumulation in its own right… The vectoral class comes into its own once it is in possession of powerful technologies for vectoralising information. The vectoral class may commodify information stocks, flows, or vectors themselves. A stock of information is an archive, a body of information maintained through time that has enduring value. A flow of information is the capacity to extract information of temporary value out of events and to distribute it widely and quickly. A vector is the means of achieving either the temporal distribution of a stock, or the spatial distribution of a flow of information. Vectoral power is generally sought through the ownership of all three aspects." (

An interview with the McKenzie Wark, at