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= Business-empowered communities: they are not companies linked to a community, but transnational communities that have acquired enterprises in order to gain continuity in time and robustness (archived)

(this is our entry about the concept, see also the book on the topic: Phyles: Economic Democracy in the Network Century by David de Ugarte)


David de Ugarte:

"A phyle is a confederation — which is to say, a network with no higher structure — of conversational communities with their own companies, which share a series of common funds in a transnational space: basically, “social security” and mutual economic support systems." ( (archived))

Steve Herrick:

"A phyle is a global network of businesses that are autonomous but strongly identified with each other. Several of them are described in their other writings. By definition, though, a single organization cannot be a phyle, because it's not (yet) connected to any other. One of the primary markers of the phyle is that it is the primary source of identity for its members."


David de Ugarte:

"they are not companies linked to a community, but transnational communities that have acquired enterprises in order to gain continuity in time and robustness. They are phyles.

Phyles may function democratically and be cooperative-based, as in the case of the Indianos, or else they may have a small-business structure and even a religiously inspired ideology, as in the case of the Murides. But they share two key elements: they possess a transnational identity, and they subordinate their companies to personal and community needs.

Phyles are “order attractors” in a domain which states cannot reach conceptually and in areas that states increasingly leave in the dark: phyles invest in social cohesion, sometimes even creating infrastructures, providing grants and training, and having their own NGOs. Transnational thinking allows them to access the new globalised business before anyone else. A phyle’s investment portfolio may range from renewable energies to PMCs, from free software initiatives to credit cooperatives. Their bet is based on two ideas. First: transnational is more powerful than international. Second: in a global market the community is more resilient than the “classic” capitalist company.

Winning a bet in the cyberpunk and postmodern world we live in nowadays amounts to nothing but resisting and thriving. In order to do so, one must truly belong in this world, truly love its frontiers. Phyles are the children of its explorers: of free software, virtual communities, cyberactivism, and the globalisation of the small." (

Concept Background

Etymology and history of term by Wikipedia:

"Phyle (Greek φυλή phulē, "clan, race, people", derived from ancient Greek φύεσθαι "to descend, to originate") is an ancient Greek term for clan or tribe. They were usually ruled by a basileus. Some of them can be classified by their geographic location: the Geleontes, the Argadeis, the Hopletes, and the Agikoreis, in Ionia ; the Hylleans, the Pamphyles, the Dymanes, in the Dorian region.

The best-attested new system was that created by Cleisthenes for Attica in or just after 508 BC. The landscape was regarded as comprising three zones: urban, coastal and inland. Each zone was split into ten sections called trittyes ('thirdings'), to each of which were assigned between one and ten of the 139 existing settlements, villages or town-quarters, which were henceforth called demoi." (


In Phyles, Community precedes Enterprise

David de Ugarte:

"Recognition and hierarchy do not go well together.

Forced cohesion tends to dissolve in a world where nothing is easier than jumping from one network to another own, than identifying with and plunging within an alternative context. Netocrat companies tend towards horizontality and the almost complete lack of hierarchies, as these are counterproductive when it comes to attaining the kind of incentives which motivate netocrats. For this reasons, Juan Urrutia proposes differentiating them from entrepreneurs and seeing them as we see scientists. They intend to make a living, but that is not their final goal.

What they really want is recognition and the possibility of continued learning.

In the midterm, netocrats feel more comfortable with the idea of living in an economically autonomous business community than creating communities around companies whose deep structure will still follow the industrial and hierarchical logic of the old world.

Those business-empowered communities are what are known as phyles. To begin with, all that is common to them all is the idea of the pre-eminence of communities." (

Phyles are Transnational

"A phyle is not a subset of the imaginary national identity. As a political space, if something defines its frontiers, it is the languages in which the internal debate takes place. There are no Spanish, Cameroonian, or Chinese phyles. There are phyles working in Latin, Bantu, or Chinese languages, but the frontiers of the community are not determined by belonging to a nationality or a state." (

Phyles are marked by Abundance Logic

David de Ugarte:

"Abundance logic is a seminal concept introduced by Juan Urrutia in 2002 as the basis on which to understand what was then known as the "new economy".

The classic example is the comparison between newspapers and the blogosphere. In a newspaper, with a limited paper surface, publishing one more line in an article entails suppressing a line somewhere else as in a zero-sum game. By contrast, in the blogosphere, a space where the social cost of an extra post is zero, any blogger's publishing his or her information does not decrease anyone else's publication possibilities. The marginal cost is zero. The need to collectively decide what is published and what is not simply disappears. As opposed to scarcity logic, which generates the need for democratic decision, abundant logic opens the door to pluriarchy.

In such a universe, every collective or hierarchical decision on what to publish or not can only be conceived as an artificial generation of scarcity, a decrease in diversity, and an impoverishment for all.

For a generation and a professional domain whose work tools work under such a logic, even economic democracy must be seen as a lesser evil, a truce with reality in those social spaces – such as business – where scarcity still prevails. In that way, innovators in the domain of social networks or Internet design rediscover traditions as old as cooperatives from a new perspective." (

Phyles are marked by interconnection

David de Ugarte:

"Industrial-age business was based on specialisation. The magic words were scale, expertise, and so on. By contrast, phyles are based on interconnection and innovation. We know that innovation increases when there are more interconnections in a network, making it more distributed. And phyles are communities which generate value by commercialising it through businesses. The distance between both worlds is that between classic capitalism and the coming capitalism described by Juan Urrutia.

In the former, all innovation would generate a temporary monopoly, sometimes even a stable industry. There was time. Specialising was the best way to improve within a product paradigm, to become more efficient. This was an engineers' world.

In the coming capitalism, on the other hand, past profits tend to dissipate, as speed and ease of copy are so high that the only way to maintain a certain advantage over competitors is to allow oneself to be seized by change, to continually innovate, and thus, when many agents behave like this, to complete markets, to make in turn a world where past profits dissipate even more quickly."

Deliberation creates community and constitutes the 'politics' of the phyle

David de Ugarte:

"deliberation follows abundance logic and produces diversity, not homogeneity. In a phyle, everything is deliberated in common, without expecting or needing consensus on most things. Common decisions are only made with regard to what is scarce, basically economic matters. And given that what is scarce constitutes natural grounds for conflict, it requires an even more documented and powerful deliberation.

Deliberation is a sign and a materialisation of that taste for being together among those who share an identity which we call fraternity, and which delimits a community.

One does not deliberate in order not to have to decide: one deliberates to reduce the scope of democratic decision – and thus of the weight of the economic in management – to a minimum, keeping the margins of individual decision as broad as possible, encouraging diversity, and, at the same time, encouraging cohesion. It is this equilibrium that we call "politics" in phyles."


A short definition of phyles

David de Ugarte:

"So, that is what we call phyle: not a community of enterprises nor a community of people working in some enterprises, but a community who owns democratic enterprises for ensuring everyone's well-being and provided autonomy to our most appreciated good: our common conversation as way of developing knowledge."

Phyles are Transnational by nature

David de Ugarte:

"One of the most important characteristics of phyles is their transnational nature. Phyles don't think, or are thought, from the nation or from the state.

The We in a phyle has no national adjectives. The cohesion born within the fraternity of a community and, even further within it, from the equality of the demos ignores the dividing lines between imaginary national communities.

If there is something a full member of a phyle is very clear about, it is the phyle demos and its origins, which lie not in any nation but in the free interaction among a group of specific people, in a real community, in a material process of knowledge generation. A knowledge that is closer, more tangible, practical and identificatory than any national imaginary which might want to absorb it.

Whereas nations are what we invented to understand the material origin of our lives in the intangible and distant world of the emergence of national markets and early capitalism, phyles explain it all over again in the specific terms of the real community, of the people we know by their names and surnames and whom we come into contact with, even if only virtually. Whereas nations turned us into the product of a national spirit, the democracy of phyles makes us the main characters in a History that is no longer a parody of classical theogonies (deified nations, heroic leaders), but a little Bible for domestic use, the tale of the origins of a tribe that decided to be its own tutelary deity. From the constructs which are the product of nations we move on to a world of phyle creators and protagonists.

Whereas nations represented the world as a jigsaw made up of many flat pieces, each one in its own colour, phyles narrate it as a series of alliances, routes and journeys through time which leave a sediment of consensual, open knowledge.

Phyle business and strategy are not thought of in national terms. To do so would be to align ourselves with the point of view of the taxman, whose final accountability lies with the accounts of a territorial state. A phyle represents itself as a single common metabolism in a world in which the flow of information and knowledge makes it possible to locate the centre whenever it is most efficient in minimal time. It is not a question of exporting to and fro, it is about materialising production itself at different times and places, in each of the passagia the Neo-Venetian year. It is not a matter of consolidating the accounts of an internationalised activity. It is about quartering, for tax purposes, the operation of a single economic metabolism into accounts which are taxable by each state.

From this point of view, a phyle is transnational even if its trade does not go beyond the frontier of a single state at one point, and even if at that point all members of its demos have the same passport. The national limit is, in any case, just a mere conjuncture. There are no implicit genealogies, there is no historical We prior to the specific will of one's own adhesion and integration. There is no intermediate imaginary between the hyperproductive tribe – living in the pluriarchic fraternity of permanent deliberation – and the generic empathy towards the human."

Phyles and Coops

Las Indias, on their own project as an example:

"the main question is that the phyle is a distributed network of people formed from transnational deliberative process who develop an identity alternative to national identity and then build up an Economy for themselves.

So, Indiano's phyle have coops (where we work), have associations, it takes part in foundations, have shares in limited companies and even in corporations... The only subject of property is the phyle as itself.

We could close tomorrow every company and invest the money in shares, and the phyle will still exist and be healthy. Coops, companies, associations, etc. are indeed different economic tools for us. Is the transnational community what is important.

For understanding the phyle is easy to imagine us as a «micro-country without territory» without the concept of «abroad» but with a kind of local economy.

The workers coop movement is international (national clusters, local identity etc.) but some few big coop groups (Mondragon) are becoming increasingly transnational (suffering a lot of ideological problems in the process btw).

Even we took part these year in the «National» Worker Cooperative Conference 2010 in USA [1] and we are members of both Spanish and Basque worker coop's federation and we will associate to Uruguayian coop federation this year too, the fact is that the kind of problems of these territorial coops federations have is not very close to ours (the majority of them legal and state-centered, linked to a certain dependance of subsidies and public contracts, etc.)

We share more worries with Mondragon (intelligence, travel security, visas, need for transnational infrastructures, need for coordinating commercial and local development investments...).

So, we have very good relations with the intl coop movement in Spanish, Basque, Aymara and Portuguese languages. We have funded coops in four countries, from los Andes to the Cantabric Sea, and we work now with Mondragon in the development of the first transnational platform of intelligence and diplomacy services for cooperatives (but not only cooperatives). It will be officially funded in three weeks in Arrasate (the town known before as Mondragon." (p2presearch mailing list November 2010)

P2P Guilds instead of Phyles?

Extracted from Guilding the Lilly, Poor Richard's Almanack 2.0:

"Various authors have suggested the concept of “phyles” or “tribes” for characterizing horizontal organizational structures in p2p culture. See for example the Las Indias cooperative movement. (

I am not opposed to these, and in the end it is important for peer groups to self-identify with the descriptions they prefer; but I think I prefer the idea of confederated GUILDS and LEAGUES, and perhaps I can make an argument for these terms that will be persuasive to some.

A guild can function just as envisioned for a phyle (from Greek phulē — tribe, clan) but does not carry the same connotation as a tribe, clan, or phyle of having a primary basis in familial kinship, nor the historical reputation (in certain cases) of rebellion against central authority. The subtle but important difference is that a guild is all about practical know-how and about taking care of business– not about ideology or revolution (eh, at least on the surface…).

Typically a guild (German: Gilde) is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. In the most general sense a guild is simply an organization of persons (peers) with related interests, goals, etc., especially one formed for mutual aid or protection. Historically guilds were any of various medieval associations, as of merchants or artisans, organized to maintain standards and to protect the interests of their members.

“The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society. They often depended on grants of letters patent by a monarch or other authority to enforce the flow of trade to their self-employed members, and to retain ownership of tools and the supply of materials. A lasting legacy of traditional guilds are the guildhalls constructed and used as meeting places.

An important result of the guild framework was the emergence of universities at Bologna, Paris, and Oxford around the year 1200; they originated as guilds of students as at Bologna, or of masters as at Paris.” (Wikipedia)

One point on which I think guilds differ from Las Indias’ conception of phyles (“In Phyles, Community precedes Enterprise” -David Uguarte) is that for guilds, community and enterprise are two sides of one coin. I think this fits well with p2p culture while also being relatively non-confrontational with mainstream corporate/capitalist norms. The ability of guilds and leagues (such as the League of Women Voters) to present a relatively “normal” outward face, may have occasional tactical advantages.

According to Phil Jones,

“One issue people have with the traditional Guild is that Guilds are demarcated by profession. They aren’t a grouping that implies a multidisciplinary team. Guilds are great for teaching, accrediting and providing a retirement policy but aren’t self-sufficient or “closed” economic loops.”

Guilds, phyles, tribes, etc. . . .each has extensive variation and we can pick and choose features of one or all and remix to suit our purposes. However, I think that overall, p2p relations have more to do with behavior and knowledge than with kinship. Guilds in the form of trade unions and academic institutions also have a rich history of confederation across multiple disciplines and locations, making the guild, IMO, a more appropriate basic raw material to further hack, improvise, and remix.

Michel Bauwens notes that “for lasindias, guilds can be phyles and are in fact the historical example for it .. the Venetian and Florentine guild councils, who originally ruled the cities, had international structures to support themselves, with halfway houses etc … The Hanseatic League is an interesting example. It never did have a constitution or formal membership as far as I know. Cities, guilds and towns just identified with it and co-operated in respect of matters of common interest, like suppressing piracy.”

Another interesting example is the Iroquois League:

- “The Iroquois League, historically the Iroquois Confederacy, is a group of Native Americans (in what is now the United States) and First Nations (in what is now Canada) that consists of six nations: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca and the Tuscarora. The Iroquois (also known as the Haudenosaunee or the “People of the Longhouse) have a representative government known as the Grand Council. The Grand Council is the oldest governmental institution still maintaining its original form in North America. The League has been functioning since prior to major European contact. Each tribe sends chiefs to act as representatives and make decisions for the whole nation.” (Wikipedia)

Anyway, I like many (if not all) of the characteristics of leagues and guilds, and I like the anachronistic romance of the words. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Justice League of America. . . these could become the League of Extraordinary Peers and the P2P Justice League. Steal This Film is a film series documenting the movement against intellectual property that was produced by The League of Noble Peers.

We could also have P2P Makers Guilds, P2P Designers Guilds, P2P Programmers Guilds, and P2P Privacy Guilds. Such guilds would not be organizational stovepipes. Peers could affirm their interests and expertise by membership in as many guilds as they may qualify for.

Interestingly, many players of computer and video games have become familiar with guilds and their popularity continues to increase. “In computer and video gaming, a … guild is an organized group of players that regularly play together in a particular (or various) multiplayer games. These games range from groups of a few friends to 1000-person organizations, with a broad range of structures, goals and members… Numerous [guilds] exist for nearly every online game available today” (Wikipedia) In some cases the guilds are internal to the game play and sometimes they are external. Some gaming guilds have their own web sites. I don’t know if these gaming guilders are learning good guilding habits or bad ones from the perspective of p2p culture. My distance from the gaming community has obscured this information from me.

In any case, such guilds and leagues as may be created in the service of p2p culture will be able to confederate in any number of flexible ways. So too can those peer groups who, despite my valiant efforts of persuasion, prefer to call themselves phyles, tribes, clans, pods, schools, gaggles, or ganfaloons…

In many cases peers will be able to join multiple guilds, leagues, phyles, etc. as appropriate to their interests and skills. In p2p culture most such groups, despite their other characteristics, will tend to be the peers of each other and will tend to practice the same cooperative individualism or cooperative autonomy that pertains amongst individual people peers. This will make a flexible and resilient network of peers and peer groups spanning local, regional, national and global topologies." (

A (mild) critique of the concept of "Phyle" as it applies to P2P networks

From --SRose 03:58, 13 January 2011 (UTC)

"Life, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species"

The real question for me: is it accurate that P2P co-op in a connected relationship with P2P Foundation fit into a hierarchical categorization like that?


Neal Gorenflo interviewed David de Ugarte at OuiShareFest 2014:


A community company is a business that organizes itself from and to give sustenance to, a community of people, whatever kind it may be: a family and it surroundings, a group of friends dispersed throughout the world or, a town.

A phyle is a transnational community or a network of communities that provide themselves with its own economic structure under the principle of economic democracy. That is, a phyle is somewhat wider — a network that can unite community companies, freelancers, small businesses, associations, etc. with the idea of creating real opportunities in a community or in a set of communities for their members to enter the market and earn economic autonomy.

What’s interesting is that while initially, we discovered that the experiences of the Direct Economy and virtual communities trend towards the birth of phyles, now that tendency has expanded to all manner of networks in the most diverse geographic and economic environments. From large Sufi groups like the Muridis — who come from Senegal — to Christian groups like the Focolare in Europe and Latin America, and from cooperative experiences after 15M in Spain — of which there are many, and the more interesting they are, the less publicity they get — to the new cooperativism in North America. There are proto-phyles of all of kinds giving economic sustenance to all manner of identities and communities.

My favorite? Obviously the Las Indias project, but I passionately follow other projects, such as the Aesyr phyle or the cooperative and transnational push the P2P Foundation is making.

But I’d like to also mention the literary models. I think they are significant. In the ’80s, Bruce Sterling presented us with “Chimera” and “Rhizome” in his novel “Islands in the Net” as a projection of the large-scale model of the Mondragon cooperative movement. In the ’90s, Neal Stephenson, with his “neo-Victorians” and “drumming” in “The Diamond Age” coined the term “phyle,” but kept situating himself in an imprecise future, though it was decomposed enough to feel familiar.

What do we have in this decade? Daniel Suárez in “Freedom TM” takes the leap to a world of virtual networks projected onto daily life using interactive glasses, which bring about alternative projects that seem tremendously close, if not present and known to us. The phyle, which started in literature as a cool fantasy of a great master of cyberpunk, today seems almost more like reporting than science fiction or a political utopia."


What I want and see as possible is a world with phyles, more than a world of phyles. Phyles are necessary vectors to expand this whole new economy without creating new regional differences, creating spaces of well-being and opportunities to skip over borders that are more and more damaging, both socially and economically.

Will OuiShare or Las Indias be necessary? Almost certainly.We must not fall into the individualist mystification that has sterilized the concept of the market and let it impoverish our view of the network.

The traditional Mediterranean market wasn’t just a place for buying and selling. It was also a space for political and social interaction and — this is too often forgotten — the place where teachers, poets, philosophers were found with their disciples and judges arbitrated conflicts. The market is not exclusively a monetary relationship, but above all, a social and cultural relationship based on exchange, but also on donation. There’s no market without a non-market setting, without “gratia et amore” and without “love of the Art,” since Art was technique and technology, but also the community of artisans itself.

In the same way, the network is not only the relationship that unites us with the knowledge commons through communities of purpose. The network is, above all, conversation, and therefore “clumps,” preferences, choices, networks of communities that people cross out of a desire to share and be with others. The network is made up of communities that are also spaces of affections. It’s not just a network of individuals who only relate to each other “for” something. Because of this, and because our capacity to emotionally link to others is limited by time and by our own inheritance as a species to relatively small groups, always there will be groups, clumps, real communities that are differentiated in the great space of the network." (


Phyles in Fiction

Kevin Carson:

"Back in the late ’90s, cyberpunk writer Neal Stephenson introduced the concept of “phyles” in The Diamond Age. Phyles filled the void left after encryped commerce and digital currencies had deprived the Westphalian nation-state of most of its revenues, and most of the world’s states were either substantially hollowed out or had collapsed altogether into Balkanized collections of city-states. The phyle was a distributed, non-geographically-based, global civil society, providing — much like the medieval guilds at the height of their vigor — a range of support platforms for its members: reputational rating systems and quality certification, cooperative buying and marketing, assorted benefits like health and unemployment insurance, legal and security services, encrypted currencies and virtual marketplaces, and so forth.

More recently, Bruce Sterling — in The Caryatids — described a post-state world divided between two distributed global civil societies: the Acquis and the Dispensation. Members of the Acquis were connected via electronic-neural linkages to a “sensorweb,” and were able to view the world with a virtual layer (tied to the physical world via GPS coordinates) superimposed on it, and with semantic tagging of objects to convey information.

David de Ugarte has developed Stephenson’s concept of phyles in terms of what he calls the neo-Venetian model. The Venetians maintained a sort of networked merchants’ guild headquartered in Venice, with Venetian enclaves rented in major Mediterranean port cities for habitation by Venetian merchants who happened to be there at any given time. The Venetians’ distributed society, much like Stephenson’s phyles, provided a range of support and governance services for its members. In Poul Anderson’s Kith stories, the Kith — a starfaring subspecies of homo sapiens which had diverged racially and developed a separate culture as a result of time dilation — maintained Kith enclaves in the spaceports of all the major worlds they visited. Individual Kith, who lived lifetimes of many thousands of years by subjective planetside standards, lived in houses in the Kith quarters leased by their families or tribes on the occasion of their return to a world after several decades or centuries of local time.


Daniel Suarez, who was closely associated with Robb in the process of writing his novels Daemon and Freedom, organized the Daemon’s darknet economy on essentially those lines. Holons, or diversified and largely self-sufficient local economies, were plugged into the darknet’s distributed platforms. But along with Robb’s model, Suarez threw in something that closely resembled Sterling’s sensorweb. “D-space” used the same kind of mapping architecture as massively-multiplayer online role-playing games — but with the D-space map superimposed as a virtual layer atop the real visual landscape. Anyone wearing visual uplink goggles, wired into the darknet, viewed the world with D-space superimposed on it. The D-space layer was tied to the physical world through GPS coordinates, individuals were tagged through their darknet interface. To anyone viewing the world with the D-space layer superimposed, other individuals had their darknet call-out floating over their head, along with their ranking level within the system and their reputational rating." (


  • The Murides of Senegal and their transnationalisation
  • The Indianos of Spain and their transnationalisation


We have been informed that some of the references may no longer be correct, due to changing and evolving URL's and locations. For updated source material, please contact David de Ugarte at [email protected]

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