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Parallel visions of peer

production
Phoebe Moore and Athina Karatzogianni

The ‘parallel visions’ proposed by the contributing authors to this issue are
intended to challenge the dominant themes of capitalist organisation and
production through an in-depth look at peer-to-peer production and the
development of software and sharing – a movement which, the authors
argue, is based on new visions for value systems, ethics and governance. We
have organised their contributions into sections based on the relevant aspects
of these economies in order to look into the politics of how these networks are
governed, the likelihood of new avenues for worker organisation, and the
possibilities for entirely new models of economies that can be classified out-
side the hegemony of contemporary neoliberal capitalism.

T
his special issue engages with the work of academics and
practitioners working in the areas of new media, politics, the
global political economy, business, international copyright law,
information technology and computer science, digital media,
sociology and cybercultural movements, as well as with the new
forms of organisations and discussions emerging in organisational-
theory-related fields. The peer-to-peer politico–economic model of
production is currently having a great impact on business, media and
global politics to the extent that social-democratic movements have
taken notice of the potential of the new technoscape for social
change, just as governments are engaging more and more with the
financial benefits, challenges and threats of these informal
communities and skills-development environments. Specifically, and
relating to the title of this issue, the peer-to-peer model is about
passionate production. One of the most relevant examples of peer-
to-peer production is constituted by the open-source
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Capital & Class 97

(www.opensource.prg) and free software movements (www.fsf.org).


These forms of egoless programming facilitate and enable
communities to build on each other’s code, software and applications
with remarkable results that can be used freely and improved upon
by anyone. The networked environment through which these
communities operate enables the development of technology that
competes with that of multinational corporations like Microsoft.
Distributed using a powerful, simple organisational model, free
software facilitates local economies, harnessing innovation and
allocating scarce resources in a sustainable fashion.

New economies of production?

A range of new economies can be theorised through the lens of


peer-to-peer production networks, which are becoming
increasingly influential in their defiance of the status quo in market
based economies. In his piece ‘The ethical economy’, Adam
Arvidsson notes a new economy that has been taking an ‘ethical’
dimension, in particular in the realm of informational capitalism,
and looks into the way in which resistance to capital emerges from
new forms of cooperation within capitalist organisation,
provocatively asking, who decides whether ethics can exist within
capitalism? Arvidsson looks at Marx’s concept of the ‘general
intellect’, or the idea that as capitalism develops, cooperation
expands simultaneously with the expansion of capitalism in the
subsumption of everyday lives, and cooperation becomes a source
of value in itself. This shared sense of value could lead to the re-
politicisation of capitalism.
In the subsequent piece, ‘Knowledge-based society, peer
production and the common good’, Cosma Orsi looks at the new
economy of reciprocity in his account of its alternative approach
to production and distribution. Beyond merely accepting the logic
of having to correct market failures, as a liberal egalitarian welfare
model proposes, Orsi claims that the primary aim of the political
economy of reciprocity is to bring the notions of mutual
cooperation for the common good back into the very heart of
economic rationality. Orsi calls for a model of development
according to which a more fundamental role should be given to
civil society, rather than its being geared around the market–state
pair. Such a model entails the existence of a market economy
within which profit-oriented enterprises operate; a non-market
economy, within which governmental agencies have the mandate to
fairly redistribute both social power and material resources; and
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Introduction

finally, an economic domain of reciprocal solidarity which is social


and associative. Apparently, in order to implement such an
approach to wealth creation, it will be necessary that political,
social and economic institutions should not assign the prius logico
to utilitarian economic rationality. Rather, they should endorse a
model of development for which concepts such as economic
efficiency, profit and competitiveness would cease to be the sole
guiding stars of economic activity.

Organisation and labour struggle?

This section looks at the people involved in peer-to-peer and open-


source software. George Dafermos and Johan Soderberg, in their
piece ‘The hacker movement as a continuation of labour struggle’,
make an inquiry into peer production based on large free/open-
source software projects such as GNU/Linux, Apache, Mozilla and
FreeBSD. Not only are free software developers producing
computer technology, but in the process they are also constructing
an alternative model for labour organisation. The authors argue
that this practice has the potential to abolish the theoretical as well
as the historical basis of alienated work.
Steffen Boehm and Chris Land capture this argument in ‘No
measure for culture? Value in the new economy’ through an
exploration of the articulation of the value of investment in
culture and the arts, through a critical discourse analysis of policy
documents, reports and commentary since . They argue that, in
this period, discourses around the value of culture have moved
from a focus on the direct economic contributions of the culture
industries to their indirect economic benefits. Indirect benefits are
discussed under three main headings: creativity and innovation,
employability, and social inclusion. These in turn are analysed in
terms of three forms of capital: human, social and cultural. The
paper concludes with an analysis of this discursive shift through
the lens of an autonomist Marxist concern with the labour of
social reproduction.
In the final article of the section, Phoebe Moore and Paul A.
Taylor look at the potential for open source to become an
alternative arena for production — one that overcomes values
inherent in post-Fordist capitalism, in particular those that
proselytise individual self-improvement as being linked to
employability and learning. In their piece, ‘Exploitation of the self
in community-based software production: Workers’ freedoms or
firm foundations?’, Moore and Taylor ask whether the specific
ingredients of peer-to-peer production lead to worker organisation
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in ways that challenge dominant paradigms of capital. Using a


series of interviews with programmers, they demonstrate that
peer-to-peer production does not overcome the restrictive
elements of capitalism, such as competition and exploitation of
the surplus value of labour, since although many peer-to-peer
programmers participate in peer-to-peer communities for no
remuneration at all, they may do so for the sake of re-entry into the
labour market as employed programmers, often within the
mainstream monopoly, Microsoft.

Social change

In his paper ‘Class and capital in peer production’, Michael


Bauwens engages with the meaning of peer-to-peer for social
change, new life practices and post-capitalist/post-democratic
politics in relation to the emerging ethical economy. Following a
review of the basic concepts, Bauwens addresses the political
implications of peer production, in particular in terms of class and
what it means in terms of social change strategies. Can the forces
associated with the new life and economic practices of peer
production, governance and property be the motor of a change
towards a post-capitalist, post-democratic and post-ownership-
based form of political economy and human civilisation? The essay
also examines how the emerging ethical economy of esteem is
related to monetisation strategies, thereby creating a crisis of value.
In ‘Cyberconflict at the edge of chaos: Cryptohierarchies and
self-organisation in the open-source movement’, Athina
Karatzogianni and George Michaelides argue that open source and
peer-to-peer technologies, by encouraging personalised free access
and the production of news, information and more software for the
user, citizen and consumer, are creating the impression that another
direct, networked, empowered and democratic society is possible.
Nevertheless, despite significant efforts and progress towards
proprietary systems, the claims for the revolutionary potential of
these practices that have been made in the broader global political
landscape by political theorists and activists alike, ought to be
looked at more soberly. This paper examines open source and peer-
to-peer environments, looking at issues of cryptohierarchies,
conflict, control and group polarisation in an effort to understand
whether equality, direct participation, decentralisation and
autonomy are part of the actual everyday life of these
communities, or just part of their organisational philosophies.
In the same vein, in ‘A definition and criticism of
cybercommunism’, Tere Vadén and Juha Suoranta discuss the
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Introduction

conditions of restraint and freedom in open-source communities


and provide empirical examples to support their thesis that new
ethics or modes of knowledge production have initiated but also
reasserted the very old-fashioned trends of profit-making and the
colonialisation of knowledge. Whether celebrators of flux or
prophets of cybercommunism, hackers still need to eat, and they
need electricity for their machines of immaterial labour. If we
analyse the current trends in some of the crown jewels of the
free/open-source movement, such as GNU/Linux development
and Wikipedia, we quickly notice that not only is a new ethics or
mode of knowledge production initiated but also very old-
fashioned trends of profit-making and the colonialisation of
knowledge are reasserted. Consequently, for a more full definition
and a more precise critique of cybercommunism, we need to pay
attention to the various levels of freedom with which self-
organising knowledge is conditioned.

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