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June 2, 2005

Announcement: book in progress on "Peer to Peer Theory"

Michel Bauwens is doing some interesting work that relates to Extreme Democracy; we asked him to write about it so we could post pointers here. Here's Michel's open letter:

Dear friends:

For the past two years, I have been working and researching on a book-in-progress, which is definitely related to the work done here under the concept of Extreme Democracy.

Peer to peer theory starts from the observation that one of the dominant forms of organisation today are distributed networks. They are distinguishable from centralized and decentralized networks in that their hubs, which may or may not exist, are not obligatory. To these networks correspond both a dominant network sociality, well described by Andreas Wittel, but also a counter-movement (just as the factory movement created the labour movement and its alternative practices) in the form of the peer to peer ethos. Recognising 'establishment networks' from those 'counter-networks' can be done by examining the relationship between hierarchy-centralisation and participation. In the former, such as the interlocking board memberships of CEO's, the network serves only to further inequality, but on the internet and the read-write Web for example, the elements of centralization promote wider participation. In this manuscript, I describe the emergence of P2P networks across the various fields, and offer a typology of their common characteristics as a new institutional form, which differs from markets, as well as from the gift economy. I also attempt to explain 'why' it is emerging, and how it fits in a broader view of human evolution. It is both an objective fact, but carries with it important ethical transformations which point to the possibility of civilisational forms which could be dominated by these new forms of wider partcipation.

See at http://www.networkcultures.org/weblog/archives/P2P_essay.pdf for an early draft, but if you're really interested, ask me for the latest Word version by email. You may want to check the newsletter archive at http://integralvisioning.org/index.php?topic=p2p , for a record of recent p2p developments.

I really appreciated Extreme Democracy, especially some essays, but at the same time, I hoped for a theoretization of a new form of democracy, something like the 'absolute democracy' concept of Negri in Multitudes, and did not really find it.

As I'm writing on peer to peer theory, I have the same unresolved difficulty still in how majority-based democracy, corrupted as it is today, and the affinity-based peer to peer networks and commons, can and will function together. However, the essay formulates some ideas of how a P2P Commons would fit in a society that functions around the rules of natural capitalism (market without capitalism, and characterized by 'steady-state-economics' or a through-put economy), and the gift economy. It seems clear to me that the current form of biosphere-destroying economy is not sustainable in the long run.

Michel Bauwens

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at June 2, 2005 8:25 AM


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