[ox-en] Re: Material peer production (Part 0: Traits of Peer Production)
- From: Christian Siefkes <christian siefkes.net>
- Date: Sun, 20 Jan 2008 12:40:35 +0100
Hi Michael, hi all,
Michael Bauwens wrote:
of course, not in the material field, but in my interpretation,
non-reciprocal peer production is by definition impossible in
physical production, except for the open design phase
What is crucial here: peer to peer is characterized by the non-reciprocal
logic of communal shareholding, as described in the relational grammar of
Alan Page Fiske:free contributions, free availability
Well, if you make unconditional "free availability" of the produced goods a
condition of peer production, then, as you say yourself, material peer
production is by definition impossible. A project producing software can
make the produced software freely available to everyone who wants it, since
doing so doesn't cause them any additional cost. The same holds for a
project producing bicycle designs. But a project producing actual bicycles
will hardly be able to do so (even if it was willing to try): sooner or
later they would run out of resources, or the people assembling the
bicycles whose loose interest and stop producing even more bicycles for
So, with this definition, peer production is only possibly for goods that
can be freely copied -- peer production could only be extended to material
production if the material goods themselves could somehow be copied freely.
Thus, your only hope for material peer production are "personal
fabricators" (fabbers) that promise to make material goods as easily
reproducible as information. But, while the developments in this area are
interesting, it would still require a huge technological breakthrough to
turn this hope into a reality -- not only would personal fabricators need
to become _extremely_ versatile to produce all (or most) material goods,
they would also need to somehow become freely available to everyone and the
required resources would need to somehow become freely available too.
Otherwise, there still wouldn't be material peer production that satisfies
the "free availability" criterion, and those who aren't wealthy enough to
obtain a fabber and the required resources would still be out of luck.
But is this really the only way? Yochai Benkler, who has coined term "peer
production", uses it in a way that doesn't quite match your definition. For
example, Benkler also considers peer-to-peer distribution networks such as
BitTorrent examples of peer production (though in this case "peer
distribution" might be the more appropriate term). But BitTorrent is not
based on non-reciprocal, unconditional free availability -- instead, you
are expected to contribute your part to the overall goal (efficiently
distributing files): the more bandwidth you provide for upload (allowing
others to get the files they want), the more bandwidth you'll get for
download (allowing yourself to get the files you want).
Benkler also considers distributed computing projects such as
<http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/> SETI home or
<http://folding.stanford.edu/> Folding home as peer production efforts.
While any results of such projects are indeed free, they are probably of
little direct use to your typical participant. Hence, what matters here
seems to be less the free availability of output, but rather the
cooperation for solving a common problem or pursuing a common goal (which
might be scientific, humanitarian, or fun).
What else, then, do these different kinds of peer production efforts have
A first point that is important is that Benkler makes it quite clear that
he considers peer production as a third mode of production that is
fundamentally different from both "market production" and "planned
production" (or "firm production") . Markets are based on equivalent
exchange (buying and selling), while both capitalist firms and the
so-called "socialist" planned economies (such as the Soviet Union) rely on
hierarchies and organized planning to distribute tasks and resources. If
you produce something for selling it on the market, or if your production
follows some hierarchical planning process, you are not peer-producing --
Dmytri's proposal is out.
But a negative definition is hardly enough. What positive traits do the
different forms of peer production have in common? I think there are at
1. Peer production is based on _contributions_ (not on exchange). Peer
projects have a common goal (produce a software, share content, discover
extra-terrestrials, whatever...) and every participant _contributes_ to
this goal in some way or other. People contribute to a project because
they want it to succeed, not because they need or want to make money --
it is _use value_, not _exchange value_, that motivates participants.
Sometimes contributions are tied to benefits (as in the case of
BitTorrent), sometimes they are not (as in the case of free software),
but in any case the effort required to reach the common goal is shared
among those who care enough to contribute. That's why I also use the
term "effort sharing" to refer to this mode of production.
2. Peer production is based on _commons_ and _possession_ (not on
property). Benkler talks about "commons-based peer production" to
emphasis the important role of the _commons_ (goods and resources
without owners who can control how they can be used). Generally, commons
such as free software and open knowledge play an important role as input
or output (or both) of peer projects.
Where things are not commons, they generally matter as _possession_
(something that can be used), not as _property_ (something that can be
sold). In current peer projects, resources such as computing power and
Internet access are typically privately owned, but they are used and
shared for reaching the goals of the projects, they aren't employed for
financial gain. And, as noted above, participation in peer projects is
motivated by use value, not by exchange value -- goods are produced to
be _used_ (as commons or possession), not be be _sold_ (as property).
3. Peer production is based on _free cooperation_ (not on coercion or
command). Nobody can _order_ others to do something, and nobody is
forced to obey others. This does not mean that there are no structures
-- on the contrary, usually there are maintainers or admins who can
decide, for example, which contributions to accept and which to refuse.
But nobody can compel others to do anything they do not want to do.
Moreover, you are never forced to accept the existing structures as they
are. If participants of a project are unhappy about some aspects of the
project they can try to convince the others to change them. If that
fails, they can still _fork_ the project: they can break away from the
others and do their own thing. This absence of coercion and command is
probably the reason why Benkler talks about cooperation among equals,
If we want to extend peer production to material production, it is these
traits we have to preserve. In my book,
<http://www.peerconomy.org/wiki/Main_Page> "From Exchange to
Contributions", I discuss in detail how this can be done. I'll try to give
a short overview on this mailing list. Still, the topic is too complex for
a single mail, so there will be three more mails to follow, one for each of
the three traits.
|-------- Dr. Christian Siefkes --------- christian siefkes.net ----------
| Homepage: http://www.siefkes.net/ | Blog: http://www.keimform.de/
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