Academic journal article Capital & Class

Knowledge-Based Society, Peer Production and the Common Good

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Knowledge-Based Society, Peer Production and the Common Good

Article excerpt

The emergence of peer-to-peer production

One of the main proponents of the peer-to-peer mode of production, Michel Bauwens, describes it as

   a form of human network-based organization, or more precisely,
   a distributed network that rests upon the tree participation
   of equipotent partners, who are engaged in the production
   of common resources without recourse to monetary
   compensation as a key motivating factor. It creates a
   Commons, rather than a market or a state and, to allocate
   resources, relies on social relations (eventually expressed
   through software algorithms) rather than pricing mechanisms
   or managerial commands.

Bauwens argues that this emerging 'third mode of production' is aimed at producing use rather than exchange values. Its allocation of resources is not dependent 'on market pricing nor on managerial command, hut on peer governance models implicit or explicit in such projects'. Finally, it is not motivated by a for-profit ethos, but by 'a for-benefit ethos and it enables production without manufacturer' (Bauwens, 2007). It is his belief that peer production may develop exponentially to become the predominant form of production, eventually replacing the capitalist system.

But although peer-to-peer production is gaining momentum, in order for it to flourish and for Bauwens's expectations to become reality, a far more cohesive and fair social environment than the one that characterises contemporary European societies will be necessary. It seems unlikely that Bauwens's vision can be fulfilled given the time and resources required to ensure the success of common projects, and given the endemic lack of resources that compels most ordinary people to devote the majority of their time and efforts to market rather than non-market activities. Indeed in tile real world, most people are constrained by the necessity to create a livelihood with which to support themselves and their family, and it is only the wealthy who are unshackled from such financial constraints. If the latter can dedicate their time to profitable and/or creative activities, the former must dedicate most of their time to productive work within the formal labour market (Degnbol-Martinussen, 1999: 311; Jordan, 1989: 197-212).

Accordingly, the purpose of this article is to investigate what societal conditions might help the establishment of such an emerging mode of production. In doing so, first the context within which such a new model is emerging--namely, the neoliberal knowledge-based-societies--is described and its shortcomings unveiled; and second, arguments are provided for the moral legitimation of an alternative societal vision, including two structural policies likely to facilitate its establishment and further development.

The neoliberal knowledge-based society

The information-technology revolution (ITR) has expanded well beyond the high-tech sector. It has shaken the very foundations of the previous industrial and occupational structures, redefining the rules of entrepreneurship and competition. Although knowledge and its diffusion has for centuries been the key driver of economic development, today knowledge-based firms gain competitive advantages through their ability to use, process, analyse and share powerful information and communication technologies at an unprecedented scale and speed.

In order to establish an economy that relies primarily on the use of ideas rather than on physical abilities, and on the application of technology rather than on the transformation of raw materials, neoliberals have promoted a formidable re-engineering process of the previously established productive paradigm (Offe, 1985; Lash & Urry, 1994; Harvey, 1989). In order to meet the needs of the post-Fordist accumulation regime, organisational changes such as forms of subcontracting and/or outsourcing, 'just-in-time' production and the like have been introduced (Lash & Urry, 1994: 56). …

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