Essays

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Part two of this list is continued here

The following list are must-read essays for anyone trying to understand the various aspects of the emerging peer to peer paradigm.


Paul S. Adler and Charles Heckscher: Towards Collaborative Community

Essay: Paul S. Adler and Charles Heckscher. Towards Collaborative Community / (Book: The Corporation as a Collaborative Community)

URL = http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~padler/research/01-Heckscher-chap01%20copy-1.pdf

This is an absolutely remarkable essay that charts the history of community within the capitalist form, from the earliest community oriented paternalism (the 'Gemeinshaft' model described by Tonnies), to the bureaucratic ('Gesellshaft') model described by Weber and Durkheim, culminating in the emergence of collaborative community, existing in tension and contradiction within the hierarchical and market environment of for-profit companies.


Ernesto Arias (et al.) on Transcending the Individual Human Mind through Collaborative Design

Key essay to understand the shift to relationality as the main ontological paradigm.

"The power of the unaided, individual mind is highly overrated: the Renaissance scholar no longer exists. Although creative individuals are often thought of as working in isolation, the role of interaction and collaboration with other individuals is critical [Engelbart, 1995]. Creative activity grows out of the relationship between an individual and the world of his or her work, and from the ties between an individual and other human beings. The predominant activity in designing complex systems is that participants teach and instruct each other [Greenbaum & Kyng, 1991]. Because complex problems require more knowledge than any single person possesses, it is necessary that all involved stakeholders participate, communicate, and collaborate with each other."

URL = http://l3d.cs.colorado.edu/~gerhard/papers/tochi2000.pdf


Adam Arvidsson on the Crisis of Value and the Ethical Economy

This is a very important essay, the first one to my knowledge to directly deal with the crisis of value that results from the emergence of generalized social innovation and peer production. Or in other words: more and more use value is created, but only a small part of it can be monetized. This creates an imbalance in society, where companies are profiting from social innovation, but there is no return mechanism to fund it properly.

The Dornbirn Manifesto by Michel Bauwens is a restatement with some additional remarks, some of which have already been incorporated in this second version of the essay. Both were published around June 2007.

Read it here: The Crisis of Value and the Ethical Economy

Yaneer Bar-Yam on Complexity, Hierarchy, and Networks

Essay which explains why rising complexity requires hierarchies to be changed by distributed forms of mutual control, i.e. distributed networks and peer to peer dynamics.

Source: COMPLEXITY RISING: FROM HUMAN BEINGS TO HUMAN CIVILIZATION, A COMPLEXITY PROFILE. Yaneer Bar-Yam

URL = http://necsi.org/projects/yaneer/Civilization.html

See our article on Hierarchy for selected key excerpts.


Richard Barbrook on the 'High-tech Gift Economy'

The High-tech Gift Economy

URL = http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue3_12/barbrook/

This is a seminal essay that was often discussed during the first phase of the dotcom era. Abstract from First Monday: "During the Sixties, the New Left created a new form of radical politics: anarcho-communism. Above all, the Situationists and similar groups believed that the tribal gift economy proved that individuals could successfully live together without needing either the state or the market. From May 1968 to the late Nineties, this utopian vision of anarcho-communism has inspired community media and DIY culture activists. Within the universities, the gift economy already was the primary method of socialising labour. From its earliest days, the technical structure and social mores of the Net has ignored intellectual property. Although the system has expanded far beyond the university, the self-interest of Net users perpetuates this hi-tech gift economy. As an everyday activity, users circulate free information as e-mail, on listservs, in newsgroups, within on-line conferences and through Web sites. As shown by the Apache and Linux programs, the hi-tech gift economy is even at the forefront of software development. Contrary to the purist vision of the New Left, anarcho-communism on the Net can only exist in a compromised form. Money-commodity and gift relations are not just in conflict with each other, but also co-exist in symbiosis. The 'New Economy' of cyberspace is an advanced form of social democracy."


Yochai Benkler on Peer Production

Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm.

URL = http://www.yale.edu/yalelj/112/BenklerWEB.pdf

Also at http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.html

This essay explains "why the Peer Production mode has” systematic advantages over markets and managerial hierarchies when the object of production is information or culture, and where the capital investment necessary for production-computers and communications capabilities-is widely distributed instead of concentrated.

In particular, this mode of production is better than firms and markets for two reasons. First, it is better at identifying and assigning human capital to information and cultural production processes. In this regard, peer-production has an advantage in what I call "information opportunity cost." That is, it loses less information about who the best person for a given job might be than do either of the other two organizational modes.

Second, there are substantial increasing returns to allow very larger clusters of potential contributors to interact with very large clusters of information resources in search of new projects and collaboration enterprises. Removing property and contract as the organizing principles of collaboration substantially reduces transaction costs involved in allowing these large clusters of potential contributors to review and select which resources to work on, for which projects, and with which collaborators."


The Political Economy of the Commons

URL = http://www.upgrade-cepis.org/issues/2003/3/up4-3Benkler.pdf

The concept of Information Commons is defined by Yochai Benchler in "The Political Economy of Commons", in Upgrade, juin 2003, vol. IV, n° 3


Sharing Nicely: On Shareable Goods and the Emergence of Sharing as a Modality of Economic Production.

URL = http://www.yalelawjournal.org/pdf/114-2/Benkler_FINAL_YLJ114-2.pdf

"The paper offers a framework to explain large scale effective practices of sharing private, excludable goods. It starts with case studies of distributed computing and carpooling as motivating problems. It then suggests a definition for “shareable goods" as goods that are lumpy and mid-grained in size, and explains why goods with these characteristics will have systematic overcapacity relative to the requirements of their owners. The paper then uses comparative transaction costs analysis, focused on information characteristics in particular, combined with an analysis of diversity of motivations, to suggest when social sharing will be better than secondary markets to reallocate this overcapacity to non-owners who require the functionality. The paper concludes with broader observations about the role of sharing as a modality of economic production as compared to markets and hierarchies (whether states or firms), with a particular emphasis on sharing practices among individuals who are strangers or weakly related, its relationship to technological change, and some implications for contemporary policy choices regarding wireless regulation, intellectual property, and communications network design." (http://www.yalelawjournal.org/pdf/114-2/Benkler_FINAL_YLJ114-2.pdf )


Freedom in the Commons: Towards a Political Economy of Information

URL = http://www.law.duke.edu/shell/cite.pl?52+Duke+L.+J.+1245/

"None of this is to say that nonmarket and decentralized production will completely displace firms and markets. That is not the point. The point is that the networked information economy makes it possible for nonmarket and decentralized models of production to increase their presence alongside the more traditional models, causing some displacement, but increasing the diversity of ways of organizing production rather than replacing one with the other.This diversity of ways of organizing production and consumption, in turn, opens a range of new opportunities for pursuing core political values of liberal societies -- democracy, individual freedom, and social justice." (http://www.law.duke.edu/shell/cite.pl?52+Duke+L.+J.+1245/)


James Boyle, on the Public Domain and the Second Enclosure movement

The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain

URL = http://www.law.duke.edu/pd/papers/boyle.pdf


The Opposite of Property

URL = http://www.law.duke.edu/boylesite/foreword.pdf


George Caffentzis: On the Antagonistic Usage of the Commons Concept

Article: A Tale of Two Conferences: Globalization, the Crisis of Neoliberalism and Question of the Commons. By George Caffentzis

URL = http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/papers/caffentzis.htm

A history of the political usage of the concept of the Commons which distinguishes reformist and radical usage.

Summary and excerpts in our entry: Antagonistic Usage of the Commons Concept


Kevin Carson, on expanding peer production to the physical domain

Kevin Carson: Industrial Policy: New Wine in Old Bottles

URL = http://c4ss.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/industrialpolicycarson0109.pdf

Very good essay arguing for a new 'Neotechnic', decentralized format of production, largely based on the principles of peer production, and why relocalizing the economy makes a lot of sense.

Though I disagree with the political conclusions of Kevin Carson (abolishing almost all state intervention), I strongly recommend this well-researched essay which tackles nearly all the issues we're concerned with at the P2P Foundation (note from Michel Bauwens)


Predrag Cicovacki, on the metaphysics of co-evolution and transdisciplinary methodology

URL = http://www.integralleadershipreview.com/archives/2009-10/2009-10-06-article-cicovaki.php

An important take on the integral 'transdisciplinary' method which is crucial to the full understanding of P2P phenomena.

Essay: Transdisciplinarity As An Interactive Method: A Critical Reflection On The Three Pillars Of Transdisciplinarity. Predrag Cicovacki. Integral Leadership Review. Volume IX, No. 5 - October 2009


Julia Cohen, on copyright law and sharing

Copyright, Commodification and Culture: Locating the Public Domain,"

URL = http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=663652

Comment by David Bollier of the On The Commons weblog: "Georgetown law professor Julie E. Cohen has a path-breaking law review article on copyright law’s failure to recognize the “centrality of borrowing, collaboration and environment to creative practice of all sorts." Cohen’s paper, “Copyright, Commodification and Culture: Locating the Public Domain," calls for "a sociology of creative practice" and analyzes why the “public domain," as traditionally understood in the law, fails to recognize the actual dynamics of creativity.

Cohen writes: "Although economic modeling can contribute to the understanding of markets for creative goods,…. by itself it cannot provide adequate theoretical foundation for understanding the dynamics that drive the development of artistic culture, and therefore it cannot provide adequate theoretical foundations for copyright policy….Creativity and creative practice are social phenomena that are both broader than and antecedent to the institutions with which both economics and more broadly political economy are concerned…. If copyright law is to recognize a right of creative access to the cultural landscape, it is precisely this right that must be limited, yet that is precisely what copyright law increasingly refuses to do. Instead, conventional wisdom holds that any curtailment of derivative rights would reduce “incentives" to invest in works of mass culture."

"Attention to the social parameters of creative practice suggests that the common in culture is not a separate place, but a distributed property of social space. The legally constituted common should both mirror and express this disaggregation. The paper offers a different organizing metaphor for the relationship between the public and the proprietary that matches the theory and practice of creativity more accurately: The common in culture is the cultural landscape within which creative practice takes place." (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=663652)

More articles by Julie Cohen at http://www.law.georgetown.edu/faculty/jec/publications.html


Mark Cooper on a Policy for Collaborative Production

The Political Economy of Collaborative Production in the Digital Information Age Journal on Law and High Technology (2006)

URL = http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/system/files/From+Wifi+to+Wikis+and+Open+Source.pdf

What kind of information infrastructures do we need for more widespread collaborative production to occur, and how do we achieve such policies? This essay has also remarkable good explanations of the various types of property and goods that we are dealing with.

Mariarosa Dalla Costa on the Commons of Land and Food

Mariarosa Dalla Costa has written 3 interrelated essays on Land as Commons and Food as Common and Community:

  1. Reruralizing the World. PDF, on land as commons
  2. Mariarosa Dalla Costa: Two Baskets for Change. PDF: 8 policy measures
  3. Mariarosa Dalla Costa: Food as Common and Community. PDF: on food as common and how it is related to five other commons.

Massimo De Angelis on The Production of the Commons and the Explosion of the Middle Class.

Very important essay outlining a political strategy of Commoning, and how to deal with Middle Class subjectivity.

URL = http://www.taller-commons.com/downloads/angelis.pdf


Paul de Armond, on netwar in political protest

Netwar in the Emerald City, at http://nwcitizen.com/publicgood/reports/wto/

Legendary account of the new swarming tactics employed by the alterglobalist protesters in the Seattle anti-WTO protests.


Erik Douglas, on peer governance and democracy

Erik Douglas. Peer to Peer and the Four Pillars of Democracy

Examines the inter-relationship between peer governance and representative democracy.


Stephen Downes on P2P epistemology

Introduction to Connective Knowledge, by Stephen Dowes

URL = http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=33034

This is a marvellous non-technical introduction to participative epistemology. It ends with a critique of the naturalistic conceptions of the Power Law, which states that networks inevitably become unequal, counterposing Knowing Networks as a counter-example.

"First, diversity. Did the process involve the widest possible spectrum of points of view? Did people who interpret the matter one way, and from one set of background assumptions, interact with with people who approach the matter from a different perspective?

Second, and related, autonomy. Were the individual knowers contributing to the interaction of their own accord, according to their own knowledge, values and decisions, or were they acting at the behest of some external agency seeking to magnify a certain point of view through quantity rather than reason and reflection?

Third, interactivity. Is the knowledge being producted the product of an interaction between the members, or is it a (mere) aggregation of the members' perspectives? A different type of knowledge is produced one way as opposed to the other. Just as the human mind does not determine what is seen in front of it by merely counting pixels, nor either does a process intended to create public knowledge.

Fourth, and again related, openness. Is there a mechanism that allows a given perspective to be entered into the system, to be heard and interacted with by others?"


Nick Dyer-Witheford on the Circulation of the Common

URL = http://www.geocities.com/immateriallabour/withefordpaper2006.html

" Marx deemed the cellular form of capitalism to be the commodity, a good produced for exchange between private owners. His model of the circulation of capital traced the metamorphosis of the commodity into money, which commands the acquisition of further resources to be transformed into more commodities. The theorists of autonomist Marxism demonstrated how this circulation of capital is also a circulation of struggles, meeting resistances at every point. But although this concept proved important for understanding the multiplicity of contemporary anti-capital, it says very little about the kind of society towards which these struggles move, a point on which the autonomist tradition has mainly been mute. Today, new theorizations about multitude and biopolitics should to reconsider this silence. I suggest that the cellular form of communism is the common, a good produced to be shared in association. The circuit of the common traces how shared resources generate forms of social cooperation—associations-- that coordinate the conversion of further resources into expanded commons. On the basis of the circuit of capital, Marx identified different kinds of capital—mercantile, industrial and financial—unfolding at different historical moments yet together contributing to an overall societal subsumption. By analogy, we should recognise differing moments in the circulation of the common. These include terrestrial commons (the customary sharing of natural resources in traditional societies); planner commons (for example, command socialism and the liberal democratic welfare state); and networked commons, (the free associations open source software, peer-to-peer networks, grid computing and the numerous other socializations of technoscience). Capital today operates as a systemic unity of mercantile, industrial and financial moments, but the commanding point in its contemporary, neoliberal, phase is financial capital. A twenty-first century communism can, again by analogy, be envisioned as a complex unity of terrestrial, state and networked commons, but the strategic and enabling point in this ensemble is the networked commons. These must however, also be seen in their dependency on, and even potential contradiction, with the other commons sectors. The concept of a complex, composite communism based on the circulation between multiple but commons forms is opens possibilities for new combinations of convivial custom, planetary planning and autonomous association. What follows expand on these cryptic observations." (http://www.geocities.com/immateriallabour/withefordpaper2006.html)

Jo Freeman, on the dark side of Peer Governance

URL = http://www.spunk.org/texts/consensu/sp000760.txt

The alterglobalisation’s mode of functioning took a large part of its inspiration from the experience of feminist and civic action groups of the sixties and seventies. What they discovered was that structureless anti-authoritarian modes actually lead to hidden power distributions, so that it is important to have open and transparent procedures that can insure a flexible and wide distribution of power. The following comes from a seminal essay on the subject:

Source: 'The Tyranny of Structurelessness', by Jo Freeman, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 1970

"Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a 'structureless' group. Any group of people of whatever nature coming together for any length of time, for any purpose, will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible, it may vary over time, it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities and intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals with different talents, predispositions and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate 'structurelessness' and that is not the nature of a human group."

When these principles are applied, they ensure that whatever structures are developed by different movement groups will be controlled by and be responsible to the group. The group of people in positions of authority will be diffuse, flexible, open and temporary. They will not be in such an easy position to institutionalize their power because ultimate decisions will be made by the group at large. The group will have the power to determine who shall exercise authority within it." (http://www.spunk.org/texts/consensu/sp000760.txt )


Brett Frischmann, an economic theory for the Commons

Brett Frischmann, a professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law has published an essay, "An Economic Theory of Infrastructure and Commons Management, (89 Minnesota Law Review 4, April 2005). “a rigorous, clear-headed explanation of the economic and social benefits of commons-based infrastructures:

“The basic problem with relying on markets to allocate access to common assets, Frischmann explains, is that the market mechanism exhibits a bias for outputs that generate observable and appropriable returns at the expense of outputs that generate positive externalities [public benefits that cannot be captured by market players]. This is not surprising because the whole point of relying on property rights and the market is to enable private appropriation and discourage externalities. The problem with relying on the market is that potential positive externalities may remain unrealized if they cannot be easily valued and appropriated by those that produce them, even though society as a whole may be better off if those potential externalities were actually produced. “Positive externalities" are precisely those “goods" that benefit all of us, as commoners – clean air, access to information, an open Internet, functioning ecosystems. Yet neoclassical economics and the laws based on it generally discount or ignore these types of value; they assume that monetized forms of individual property are the only important types of value worth maximizing. By looking at “infrastructure" through the lens of the commons, however, we can begin to appreciate the positive, non-market externalities that a resource actually generates – and begin to design public policies to protect these benefits on their own merits." (Commentary from On the Commons blog, at http://onthecommons.org/node/613; original essay by Frischmann at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=704463; a bio on the author at http://www.luc.edu/law/faculty/frischmann.shtml)


Garreth Harding on The Tragedy of the Commons

URL = http://dieoff.org/page95.htm

Classic essay which argued that the Commons inevitably leads to abuse.


Magnus Marsdal on Socialist Individualism

Socialist Individualism. Essay by Magnus Marsdal.

URL = http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/marxind2.html

"socialism is defined as the democratic management of society’s vital resources (“the economy‿). Under Stalinism, undeniably the economy was subject to explicitly political governance, but no-one would ever label that political economy “democratic‿. It belongs at the far end of our axis, with meagre individual liberties. Now, notice how the nearest challenger of the Evil Empire in this respect is unrestrained capitalism! Market liberalism weakens the position of the working individual on the labour market as far as it can, and does pretty much the same with the political bodies of democracy. Under the welfare state there are substantial “socialist inroads‿ in the capitalist system. This partial protection from “the tyranny of the rich‿ strengthens the position of the individual.

When the historical advancement of democracy is seen like this, the current position of “the new movements‿—arguing that “another world is possible‿ and at the same time fiercely defending the existing welfare state arrangements—becomes less paradoxical. Neoliberalism is perceived as reactionary. The foes of the welfare state are truly “winding the clock backwards‿. Therefore we fight to defend what already exists. But there is something to fight for beyond the instable truce of the so-called mixed economy of Keynesian times. Therefore, we also fight for what does not yet exist."


Eben Moglen on Free Software and the Death of Proprietary Culture

The DotCommunist Manifesto

URL = http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/10/dot_communist.php

Classic statement for the freeing of copyright.


Introductory paragraph: "A specter is haunting multinational capitalism — the specter of free information. All the powers of "globalism" have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcize this specter: Microsoft and Disney, the World Trade Organization, the United States Congress and the European Commission. Where are the advocates of freedom in the new digital society who have not been decried as pirates, anarchists, communists? Have we not seen that many of those hurling the epithets were merely thieves in power, whose talk of "intellectual property" was nothing more than an attempt to retain unjustifiable privileges in a society irrevocably changing? But it is acknowledged by all the Powers of Globalism that the movement for freedom is itself a Power, and it is high time that we should publish our views in the face of the whole world, to meet this nursery tale of the Specter of Free Information with a Manifesto of our own."


Freeing the Mind: Free Software and the Death of Proprietary Culture

URL = http://old.law.columbia.edu/publications/maine-speech.html

What free software means for society and culture. A must-read.


This list is continued here