Relational Model Typology - Fiske

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The foundational manuscript on P2P theory,uses the relational model used by anthropologist Alan Page Fiske, to conclude that the peer to peer relational dynamic is a form on 'non-reciprocal' or generalized exchange. In Fiske's model, it is called Communal Shareholding.

The implication is that Peer Production does not function as a Gift Economy (which corresponds to Fiske's category called Equality Matching), as is often mistakenly claimed.


here's the background to the theory, reprinted from

For Alan Page Fiske, see (relational models), (bio)

"According to Fiske, there are four basic types of inter-subjective dynamics, valid across time and space, in his own words: "People use just four fundamental models for organizing most aspects of sociality most of the time in all cultures. These models are:

  • Communal Sharing
  • Authority Ranking
  • Equality Matching
  • Market Pricing

Communal Sharing (CS) is a relationship in which people treat some dyad or group as equivalent and undifferentiated with respect to the social domain in question. Examples are people using a commons (CS with respect to utilization of the particular resource), people intensely in love (CS with respect to their social selves), people who "ask not for whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for thee" (CS with respect to shared suffering and common well-being), or people who kill any member of an enemy group indiscriminately in retaliation for an attack (CS with respect to collective responsibility).

In Authority Ranking (AR) people have asymmetric positions in a linear hierarchy in which subordinates defer, respect, and (perhaps) obey, while superiors take precedence and take pastoral responsibility for subordinates. Examples are:

  • military hierarchies (AR in decisions, control, and many other matters)
  • ancestor worship (AR in offerings of filial piety and expectations of protection and enforcement of norms)
  • monotheistic religious moralities (AR for the definition of right and wrong by commandments or will of God)
  • social status systems such as class or ethnic rankings (AR with respect to social value of identities), and rankings such as sports team standings (AR with respect to prestige).

AR relationships are based on perceptions of legitimate asymmetries, not coercive power; they are not inherently exploitative (although they may involve power or cause harm).

In Equality Matching (EM) relationships people keep track of the balance or difference among participants and know what would be required to restore balance. Common manifestations are:

  • turn-taking
  • one-person one-vote elections
  • equal share distributions
  • and vengeance based on an-eye-for-an-eye, a-tooth-for-a-tooth

Examples include:

  1. sports and games (EM with respect to the rules, procedures, equipment and terrain)
  2. baby-sitting co-ops (EM with respect to the exchange of child care)
  3. and restitution in-kind (EM with respect to righting a wrong).

Market Pricing relationships are oriented to socially meaningful ratios or rates such as prices, wages, interest, rents, tithes, or cost-benefit analyses. Money need not be the medium, and Market Pricing relationships need not be selfish, competitive, maximizing, or materialistic -- any of the four models may exhibit any of these features. Market Pricing relationships are not necessarily individualistic; a family may be the CS or AR unit running a business that operates in an MP mode with respect to other enterprises.

Examples are:

  1. property that can be bought, sold, or treated as investment capital (land or objects as MP)
  2. marriages organized contractually or implicitly in terms of costs and benefits to the partners
  3. prostitution (sex as MP)
  4. bureaucratic cost-effectiveness standards (resource allocation as MP)
  5. utilitarian judgments about the greatest good for the greatest number, or standards of equity in judging entitlements in proportion to contributions (two forms of morality as MP)
  6. considerations of "spending time" efficiently, and estimates of expected kill ratios (aggression as MP)."


Interpretation by Michel Bauwens

Every type of society or civilization is a mixture of these four modes, but it can plausibly be argued that one mode is always dominant and imprints the other subservient modes. Historically, the first dominant mode was kinship or lineage based reciprocity, the so-called tribal gift economies.

The key relational aspect was 'belonging'. Gifts created obligations and relations beyond the next of kin, creating a wider field of exchange. Agricultural or feudal-type societies were dominated by authority ranking, that is, they were based on allegiance. Finally, it is clear that the capitalist economy is dominated by market pricing. (

Interpretation by David Ronfeldt

"my take on fiske is different from your own. you equate the tribal form with equality-matching, but i equate it to his communal-sharing form. you think his communal-sharing form matches p2p nicely. in my view, none of his forms match the network form the way i'd like. here's what i say there:

- "One psychologist (Fiske, 1993) posits that all social relationships reduce to four forms of interaction: communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, and market pricing. People develop their capacities for social interaction in that order, from infancy through early childhood. The sharing, ranking, and pricing forms correspond to the tribal, hierarchical, and market forms, respectively. The equality-matching form, which is mainly about equal-status peer-group behavior, does not correspond to any single form; it has some attributes that fit under network form, but other attributes (e.g., reciprocity, feuding, revenge) fit better under the tribal form."

- the url for this (including for .pdf download) is: (Social Forms, 2006)

a deeper issue here is whether the tribal and the network forms are all that different. i think they are. and i'd like them to be so. i write several pages about this. but as i note, if it turns out that the new network form is an upgraded version of the old tribal form, then the timn framework should be converted into a three-form framework, and what will come next later in spiral fashion is an upgraded version of the hierarchical form."

Clarification by Alan Fiske

" Although I’m not an expert on economic anthropology, I think it’s clear that it’s crucial to distinguish between two types of ‘tribal’ societies: First there are subsistence hunting and gathering societies, which have little or no stored surplus. Although it’s a big generalization, the dominant principle for production and exchange in these foraging communities is usually CS; they are often strongly anti-AR. Second, there are a few hunting and gathering societies with stored surpluses and there are agriculture-based socities, in which AR is prominent (institutionalized and more or less heridtary chiefs and then kings) and there are varying degrees of EM. In socities based predominantly on pastoralism, communities are much more fluid, but AR is also prominent. MP also very gradually emerges in agricultural societies, but pastoral societies are often resistent and opposed to MP. EM seems to become more dominant at a much later stage, with the rise of manufacturing, perhaps. Meanwhile, MP continues to expand right up to the present, but the mix gets complex!

The best overview of these stages (although it doesn’t use RMT) is Allen Johnson and Timothy Earle, 2000, The Evolution of Human Societies: From Foraging Group to Agrarian State, Second Edition. It’s not elegantly written or tightly reasoned, but I believe they’ve got the facts right." (email, January 2009)

How the temporal succession of the intersubjective modalities is linked to emergent complexity of human societies

Matthew McNatt:

"Fiske's schema seems modal to me, however, in that each aspect "transcends and includes" the former, in such a way that there are inevitably gains *and* losses.

For instance:

  • Communal Sharing emerges as intersubjectivity does, with animate multi-cellular organisms. (This is why Communal Sharing carries forward a sense of an ideal past, which is perpetuated through ritual re-enactment.)
  • Authority Ranking emerges as organisms cope with loss of shared attention: Whose breach of shared attention is most important to follow? (This is why Authority Ranking carries forward temporal precedence; there is a serial ordering of events.)
  • Equality Matching emerges as organisms coordinate attention through meaningful gestures and dances and perceive affordances of objects in their environments. (This is why Equality Matching carries forward oscillatory movements with cycles of reciprocal exchange, turn taking, and playful pauses.)
  • Market Pricing emerges as human communities grow beyond what we are capable of tracking in informal networks of trust, allowing us to close off what would otherwise have been expectations of reciprocity. This is why Market Pricing carries forward a deliberate response to scarcity and, correspondingly, an emphasis on efficiency and proportionality: it develops—as David Graeber documented—not because barter was inefficient, but because our communities outstripped what we could cognitively track.

Human cultural development, I think, recapitulates the above evolutionary development in the natural world, which—as a basic trajectory—was likely followed by modes in which the following blossomed:

• Co-Construction / Societal Potentials • Personal Identity / Individual Mastery

As I was looking for correspondences to these, the two additional ways of organizing society I suggested were conspicuous to me by their absence—again, not as categories, but as modes of being / ways of meaningfully interacting, which "transcend and include" prior ways of acting."


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