Bauwens has worked as an internet consultant, information analyst for the United States Information Agency, information manager for British Petroleum (where he created one of the first virtual information centers), and is former editor-in-chief of the first European digital convergence magazine Wave.
With Frank Theys, Bauwens is the co-creator of a 3 hour documentary TechnoCalyps. He taught and co-edited two French language anthologies on the Anthropology of Digital Society. Bauwens is the author of a number of on-line essays, including a seminal thesis Peer to Peer and Human Evolution. He is editor of P2P News.
He now lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he created the Foundation for P2P Alternatives. He has taught courses on the anthropology of digital society to postgraduate students at ICHEC/St. Louis in Brussels, Belgium and a related course at Payap University and Chiang Mai University in Thailand.
OB: Let's start by introducing the 3 processes which characterise and distinguish your conceptual framework 'p2p theory'.
Bauwens: Peer to peer is the relational dynamic at work in distributed networks. Key to distributed networks is the absence of external or hierarchical coercion, leaving agents free to choose what they do and their relations.
These networks are becoming the key infrastructure for technologies such as email, the web and so forth as well as a key organizational format. It gives rise to three fundamental processes.
The first occurs when people produce something in common. This is called peer production and you can see it in projects such as Linux or Wikipedia. It is a kind of 'passionate production', based on voluntary self-selection, free cooperation, and it results in products that are free to use. Since there is no obligatory hierarchy, no wage dependence; since the resources are not allocated through market mechanisms, and since there are no prices, it can be called a third mode of production.
The process of free cooperation itself, in terms of how these projects are managed, can be called peer governance. Again it is neither a state nor corporate bureaucracy, nor it is based on political representation, so it can be called a third mode of governance.
We can also identify the new form of peer property, which guards against the private appropriation of the common work. This is not a form of state owned, public property, nor is it private exclusionary property owned by a corporation. Rather it is a form of distribution that allows – indeed encourages - anybody to use it, provided they respect the common origin, and put improvements or changes under the same format.
These three processes give rise to three important paradigms:
OB: OpenBusiness documents and analyses business models that allow peer-producers to make money. Can you locate the OB project in the context of 'p2p theory'?
Bauwens: I really like the OpenBusiness initiative, which relates closely to my own interests. However, much of what I see as non-reciprocal peer production does not need to be monetized. That it operates outside the market is a unique quality, in terms of what it brings to our world.
Keeping in mind the 'crowding out' effects of introducing for-profit logics in the for-benefit environment, peer projects have to be extremely careful in the use of funding. We have seen that extreme care is needed in case of the direct financing of production.
The crowding out effect is less problematic where sharing is unintended or just icing on the cake however, and there revenue-sharing might be the equitable thing to do. However, most of the value is received by the very fact of giving (reputation, knowledge, relationships) which is why it does not seem high on the priority of the contributors to sites like YouTube etc.
Although we should resist the temptation to 'marketize' everything, this new use-value creates the possibility for derivative services, and this is where the OpenBusiness initiative comes in, to examine in more detail how the two worlds intersect.
OpenBusiness would benefit from increased formalization, typologies, models so that the community are presented with a clearer view of the choices.
OB: How is the role of project manager / facilitator fulfilled in an instance of 'distributed leadership'?
Bauwens: Projects and sub-projects appear to need a dedicated leadership. Someone has to have a vision of the project, an interest in its going forward, gently pushing the willingness of people to contribute.
Of course, different projects use different kinds of such leadership. At the P2P Foundation I, half jokingly, use the term of Chief (p)Leader to describe a person who gains the respect of the other co-operators through his engagement with the project. Since it is all based on volunteering, there is no command structure, only motivation, hence the 'pleading'. Next to this "benevolent dictator" model, some other projects use majority voting, or a rolling roster of voluntary leaders who take turns (I think this is the case for Perl).
OB: You discuss holoptism and non-hierarchical participation in your writing. Can you summarise these practices and point to successful examples in both the public and private sector?
Bauwens: Holoptism contrasts with hierarchical panoptism, where information flows so that only the elite has a total vision of what is happening. By contrast, in peer production, holoptic transparency is inscribed in the very way the technological tools are designed. Every line of code in free software, or line of text in a wiki, can be attributed, and there is extensive version control. This ensures transparency within these projects.
In classic hierarchical, or semi-hierarchical environments this would also require cultural and behavioural adaptation. An example of this is when extensive verbal communication between few is not recorded in the system, acting as an exclusionary filter for everyone else.
OB: Who are the 'netarchists', and where do they fit into your theories?
Bauwens: The concept of netarchists helps to explain the logic of rule in our mixed capitalist / participatory society. The rule of the industrial owners has been left behind long ago and the locus of power is shifting.
The basis of both cognitive and vectoral capitalism is being undermined by the new peer to peer practices. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain the artificial scarcities on which monopoly rents are based, and producers of content no longer have to pass through the classical vectors of the mass media age.
These are being replaced by the creators of participatory platforms, the Web 2.0 type of companies, in other words, the netarchists. Their role is double. As enablers of participatory platforms, they support and enhance p2p developments, but as private companies, they seek to monetize it. Advertisers pay them for their aggregation function.
For peer producers, it is easy now to create use value, but still rather more difficult to monetize it and to make a living from those creations. The emergence of netarchists is creating a whole new set of issues of equity and distribution of value. For example, with companies like YouTube producers are asked to sign away rights to their creations though it seems they recently changed this practice. Even still it is obviously no longer necessary to rely on strong protection of IP rights to build a business.
OB: What are your hopes for extension of P2P beyond the immaterial sphere?
Bauwens: There are good reasons to suggest p2p is only appropriate for immaterial production: the abundance and / or distribution aspects that are necessary to have distributed networks are primarily present in software and knowledge creation. Yet any production process has a design phase, and that design phase is an immaterial process that is similar to knowledge creation. Hypothetically, many manufacturing processes could have a first phase as peer production, perhaps an open source car, that would then be produced subsequently by market forces. We can also already see that sharing involves physical products: think of file-sharing as using physical computers, of car-pooling, or the bottom-up telco network creation of Skype. These are also user-created capital pools, as are Prosper and Zopa as P2P lending sites. We'll see more of this kind of crowdfunding in the future.
The general question then becomes: how can we distribute financial and physical resources more, so as to enable more P2P alternatives? The answer is both technological and political, as a lot of concentration is maintained through political and economic power. So this is the first part of my answer: to the degree that we can distribute material resources and inputs, we enable more P2P.
Another pathway is the intelligent combination of physical objects, logical objects and digital data. Take Bookcrossings: you have a physical book, to which you attach a logical object (it can be used by all), and you give it a digital identifier. This is why there is now a successful white bicycle program in German , because before, such a combination was impossible, and the cycles got stolen. So we have the possibility, through Semapedia-type tools , to create a lot of innovative commons solutions. Peter Barnes, in his new book on Capitalism 3.0, explains how we could create many such common trusts, based on the principle, one citizen, one share, and vote; and how they could better protect our environmental resources than either the state or the private market.
My vision of the future is that we'll have a core of non-reciprocal peer production, surrounded by a re-invigorated gift-based service and traditional economy; a peer-informed marketplace no longer solely based on extortion and power relationships; and peer-informed 'multi-stakeholder' forms of governance. In the traditional civil society - market - state, the core effecting the most pull, will be civil society, the autonomous production.
Coming from OPENBUSINESS