Re: [ox-en] Re: Material peer production (Part 0: Traits of Peer Production)
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2008 10:51:11 +0200
Hi Christian and all!
StefanMz referred me to this thread so I'm hooking in here.
2 months (85 days) ago Christian Siefkes wrote:
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.
Why is free availability *by definition* impossible for material
goods? (Especially as there are material products which are freely
available - such as roads.)
I think you need to substract capitalist (i.e. alienated) logic from
the equation. What people can actually use is always limited. This
applies especially if you refer to possession. Only on capitalist
markets with it's built-in infinity of money (there is never an
"enough" for money while there is for everything else) free
availability automatically means depletion of resources which are made
for being used up. But if you substract money logic from this why
should there not be freely available material goods which just supply
the concrete needs?
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.
That's not completely true and I think this small difference is
important. So far there is no automatic process which makes a piece of
software available to the general public. So there is some effort
which must be taken to make it available. For instance you need to put
your project to SourceForge or set up your own web page.
So there is some effort taken even in Free Software projects to make
things publicly available. This fact must not be neglected.
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):
If the effort for a material project to make its products publicly
available is the same as for Free Software then I see no general
difference between a material project and a Free Software project.
What do you think?
later they would run out of resources,
Well, bicycles are a bad example because they are relatively
elaborated things and thus need a lot of outside resources.
I think it is not by chance that the GNU project started with
developing a compiler (gcc) an editor (Emacs) and necessary parts of
an operating system (like grep). Those things are the most basic
things you need to make a computer run (forgetting the BIOS for a
moment). For those you don't need much resources from outside.
or the people assembling the
bicycles whose loose interest and stop producing even more bicycles for
Why should they? I guess you answer is: Because it is a repetitive and
boring task. But machines are great at repetitive and boring task. Why
then not automate the human labor away? Again I can not see a general
point here why this should be fundamentally different from Free
Or take Wikipedia. The authors who write articles don't need to write
them - they already know what they write. So they are writing only for
others. Still they don't stop doing it. They are doing it only for a
common goal (creating the greatest encyclopedia mankind ever saw). No,
I don't think your point is valid in this generality.
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.
Or to put it differently: If the human effort needed to produce a copy
is marginal (for instance because machines are doing the very most
stuff) and readily available (for instance because those machines are
part of the general infrastructure anyway).
Thus, your only hope for material peer production are "personal
fabricators" (fabbers) that promise to make material goods as easily
reproducible as information.
No, they are not the only hope. Fabbers could be a building block in a
general infrastructure which provides this functionality.
Please note that in Free Software there are also massive server farms
which are not run by private persons. It's simply not true that Free
Software is based on PCs only.
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.
Neither of this. PCs are not freely available and still you count Free
Software as peer production - don't you.
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.
Which is the case for Free Software as well.
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).
Frankly I don't know whether this is really true and technically
enforced but if so this would lock out for instance persons who live
behind firewalls or simply in a network with NAT. I can not believe
BitTorrent is so dumb (but may be wrong).
Anyway I think this reciprocal thing is a legacy of P2P (when I use it
I use it in the narrow sense as a certain technology and the music /
video sharing scene based on this technology). In early P2P networks
such as Napster there were no such reciprocal thing. Only later when
P2P became a dangerous thing to do because of the music industry that
force to make things available became a fashion. Indeed IMHO that was
a result from the legal thing becoming a scarce resource - not the
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).
Yes. A common goal for which you are ready to take some effort. And
there are countless things out there for which people take some effort
to accomplish a goal. Some even give their lives for a common goal
(like soldiers and suicide bombers).
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 --
Hierarchy has a couple of meanings. If you mean non-voluntary by
hierarchy then I agree with you.
If you mean a mode of organizing a complex process then I disagree
with you. In fact I think for each complex process it is absolutely
necessary to have "overseers" on the one hand and "workers" on the
other. If you like you can see this being part of the division of
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.
So I'll respond to those mails.
Contact: projekt oekonux.de