Productive Negation

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* Issue #1 of the Journal of Peer Production


"refers to the role of peer production as a “work of the negative”. That is to say, as a critical force in capitalist society."


Mathieu O’Neil:

the negative”. That is to say, as a critical force in capitalist society. This theme is featured in three peer reviewed articles. In “Authority in Peer Production: The Emergence of Governance in the FreeBSD Project ”, George Dafermos deals with a key concern in peer production studies, namely the question of authority in an anti-authoritarian environment. Focusing on the transformation of the FreeBSD Project’s governance structure over fifteen years of development, he tracks the evolution of leadership from the informal rule of a self-selected group of veteran developers to the democratic authority of an elected group that is revocable and bound to formal rules. The second article, “Why Free Software Is Not the Antonym of Commercial Software: Two Case Studies from Corporate and Volunteer Based Projects ” by Stefano De Paoli, Vincenzo D’Andrea and Maurizio Teli challenges the opposition between “commercial software” and Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS). By examining FLOSS discursive practices, the authors aim to uncover the interactional function of the term “free software” in order to provoke a reflection on how such terminology is used in FLOSS academic literature. Not surprisingly, this article generated some spirited responses from reviewers, which the authors in turn responded to. Finally in “Caring About the Plumbing: On the Importance of Architectures in Social Studies of (Peer-to-Peer) Technology ”, Francesca Musiani uses a sociology of science approach to reflect on applications of P2P networks to search engines, social networks, video streaming and other Internet-based services. The article seeks to show how the Internet’s current trajectories of innovation increasingly lead to particular forms of architectural distribution and decentralisation impacting specific procedures, practices and uses.

The invited comments and debate sections of the inaugural issue present contributions by some of the leading voices in the field of peer production theory. They are thus imbued with a clearly engaged or activist flavour. In his invited comment, “Peer to Peer Production as the Alternative to Capitalism: A New Communist Horizon”, Jakob Rigi suggests that the combination of the GPL license with the Linux mode of cooperation represents the gist of the P2P mode of production, which coincides with the general principles of advanced form of communism, as described by Marx. Similarly in “Beyond Digital Plenty: Building Blocks for Physical Peer Production”, Christian Siefkes argues that firm- and market-based capitalist production’s inherent traits make them unable to produce plenty for everyone, in contrast to commons-based peer production. Further, the potential of peer production extends far beyond the digital sphere into the sphere of physical production.

In the first part of the debate section, “Peer Production and Societal Transformation. Ten Patterns Developed by the Oekonux Project”, Stefan Meretz, one of the main voices within Oekonux, argues that if Oekonux’s description of peer production as the “germ form of a new mode of production beyond capitalism” is accurate, then new epistemological patterns are required to analyse it. He presents ten patterns intended to overcome traditional oppositional or “leftist” patterns of analysis. The first response to Meretz’s piece, Maurizio Teli’s “Peer Production and Societal Transformation: A Practice-Based Perspective”, argues that a practice-oriented approach to peer production can avoid reductionism to economic organization as the unique driver in the shift between different modes of production. In the second debate response, “A Note on Evaluation Processes for Social Phenomena with Ambitious Claims”, Toni Prug argues that peer production advocates make overly optimistic claims regarding the potential of peer production to concretely impact social relations and modes of production. This argument is also made by another prominent advocate of peer production, Michel Bauwens, the founder of the P2P Foundation. In his comment, “From the Theory of Peer Production to the Production of Peer Production Theory”, Bauwens presents the ideological positioning of various intellectual groupings and individuals within the “left field” of peer to peer theory production, such as Yochai Benkler’s liberal approach, the mutualist “venture communism” of Dmytri Kleiner, Oekonux’s “germ form” theory, and Massimo De Angelis and George Caffentzis’ focus on the anti-capitalist common.

Finally, we present in this inaugural issue of the Journal of Peer Production the first English-language translation of an article by French writer and activist Jean Zin. His comment, “Changing the System of Production”, was initially destined to an environmental-activist audience, which explains his justifications of the use of digital technology. Zin’s approach can be described as a combination of systems theory and attention to concrete detail. He suggests that an increasingly large free public goods and services sector should cohabit in a plural economy with remunerated autonomous work, employment in cooperatives, and the wage-earning of the commercial sector. Zin sees peer production as an important component of a relocalised alternative system of production and distribution alongside a guaranteed income for all, local currencies and co-operative municipal institutions. The insistence on the local is paramount, as networks can be distinguished from municipal groups to the extent that people cannot choose who their neighbours are, which forces them to engage in politics (hence also the distinction between local and free currencies). The challenge faced by this model lies in its uneasy fit with the complexity of contemporary mega-cities." (