As a follow-up to Stefan, Christina, Christian and particularly Michel's
reaction to the Fourth Oekonux Conference, here are some thoughts on what
could be done. Like them I was truly inspired by the conference, the
people and the sense of community and common purpose. This does not happen
very often, in fact it hasn’t happened for a long time, which is why I was
quite passionate and talked too much probably. So, here goes…
My feeling is: the Conference brought together a wealth of resources and
expertise. To take some obvious examples, Michel's P2P Foundation has an
amazing range of material; apart from the mailing list, the Oekonux site
itself has numerous links and content; Christian's writings articulate a
convincing view of how a peer production economy would operate. And all
the people presenting on different forms of P2P hardware production are
giving us hope.
Most importantly, I think the notion that peer production is a "germ form"
is powerful: the successful alternative to capitalism is happening _now_
in free software and hardware, in grassroots projects. And, it actually
works better than proprietary products. It is more robust and better
value. Yes, capitalism recuperates the process, uses it to sell other
stuff, but (to be optimistic for a minute) that is because we are in a
phase of transition. Realistically, peer production answers a deep human
need for cooperation, it is here to stay.
The question is: what to do with all this? The theories are there.
Concrete examples, large and small, are there. In my view, now the theory
and examples have not only to be linked (that is being done, of course),
but to be more widely disseminated. There was actually a discussion in
Oekonux a little while ago about how to move Oekonux from theory-building
to a second phase, to an "Oekonux 2.0", as it were.
This is all the more important now, in the context of widespread
questioning of the benefits of the market economy which are being brought
about by the financial crisis (as Raoul pointed out at the Conference and
Michel wrote in his summary). Personally, I'm not really interested in
theoretical discussions about peer production: I think others in/around
Oekonux have been doing this for a while, they have got it covered, I
broadly agree with them (maybe apart from the question of the
technocratic/technological expertise needed to control complex technical
systems and the power this expertise brings), and don’t really feel I can
contribute much original thinking. What I'm interested in doing is finding
and implementing practical ways to make the "peer production as germ form"
message known to more people, and hopefully adopted by more people in a
meaningful way. So I have been thinking of several things that could be
done to communicate the theory.
I am going to be provocative and use the language of advertising: there
are different audiences which could be targeted so that this "product"
(peer production, free software / economy, whatever) spreads and is
adopted. It's really important to recognise that though our _reasons_ are
true and good, they will often be defeated by the _emotions_ mobilised by
mass culture. So we have to use "emotional" media as well.
The first is a book gathering the diversity of theories and examples. If,
as was suggested at the Conference it is an academic volume for libraries
(hardback) which is also distributed online freely, that is "ideologically
sound" in that it limits commercialisation, but may restrict diffusion a
little, by not reaching people in bookstores, or media people &
journalists who only look at paperbacks with fancy covers. That's fine,
but may not reach beyond those who are already interested, or aware. It is
however an important base to refer to.
There should be a short text which summarises the principles of peer
production in simple language, something that is fun, that shows how peer
production is a great way to live on an individual level (like it or not,
we live in an individualistic society: making people feel guilty or
appealing to their sense of justice does not necessarily win them over;
making them feel good and hopeful does). Something that fits on an A4 page
in medium-big letters.
Along with graphics / visuals? Same consideration as above.
There may be some artists out there who would be interested in
collaborating with a peer production perspective – but this may be
"preaching to the converted" (or the trendy) in this case.
This was mentioned as a possibility. Some might suggest the situationist
approach of "reappropriating" existing mass comics and slapping some new
The problems with that approach are that it's been done a lot, and there's
always the risk of being shut down by the copyright police. So I think we
would need to do them ourselves. If there is a great artist out there who
has the time and energy to draw proper comics, that would be wonderful. If
that does not happen we might have to stick to something simple. This
style for example:
It can be done on a computer I think, and is effective. To me, it looks
The question this raises in turn is: what do these media refer to? Why are
we competing for people's attention? In other words, what will people find
when they look up the link to the source of these media? I have to be
honest now. I think that:
-the Oekonux website is centered around the mailing list, which is often
-the introduction is spread over many pages;
-and from what I have seen, most if not all the texts are by Stefan.
So, in a sense, there is a kind of discrepancy between the Oekonux site,
which apart from the mailing list, is really quite personal, and the
conference which is quite collective, an "interlocking of networks" as
Michel said. That is not a problem, just an observation, and in any case
from talking to Stefan I believe he is happy for the project to grow in
ways he agrees with. I also understand that he has been doing this for a
long time and wants to "have a life".
So I would just make two suggestions:
1) On the front page, replace this text:
"In Project Oekonux different people with different opinions and different
methods study the economic and political forms of Free Software. An
important question is, whether the principles of the development of Free
Software may be the foundation of a new economy which may be the base for
a new society."
Instead, have a longer and more explicit text, for example emphasising the
main characteristics of peer production (open, free, cooperative, robust,
efficient, non-violent, fun, non-corporate, spreading like wildfire,
non-monetary, etc etc) and explain that Oekonux is a online hub for peer
production theory and practice.
2) Have a clearer links page, in English, which features some links to the
sites of the people in the conference. Sections could include theory of
peer production, actual usable free software (Open Office etc), hardware
projects (Marcin, etc). This would take some work, no doubt. This raises
the question: is the maintainer willing to open up the site a little? And:
who would do it? I don’t know. But I think if there is a going to be a
push to publicise Oekonux, which I am happy to help with, then these
questions need to be addressed also.
Well, this is just to get the ball rolling. If anyone is interested, let's
talk. But where? I had a look at the Oekonux English discussion list and
it seems very theory-oriented. Do the people on that list want to discuss
coordination of comix also? It would be good to have some guidance /
opinion about this point. I will repost there if that is seen as a good
All the best,
Michel Bauwens wrote:
This was my own little report, see below, did anyone see any others?
Here is mine (to be continued):
|-------- Dr. Christian Siefkes --------- christian siefkes.net---------
| Homepage: http://www.siefkes.net/ | Blog:
| Better Bayesian Analysis: | Peer Production Everywhere:
| http://bart-project.com/ | http://peerconomy.org/wiki/
|------------------------------------------ OpenPGP Key ID: 0x346452D8 --
I've never seen a child who didn't want to build something out of blocks,
or learn something new, or try the next task. And the only reason why
adults aren't like that is, I suppose, that they have been sent to school
and other oppressive institutions, which have driven that out of them.
-- Noam Chomsky (The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature)
Mathieu O'Neil, Ph.D
Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute
The Australian National University
Room 4101, Coombs Building (9)
ACT 0200 - Australia
E-mail: mathieu.oneil anu.edu.au
Tel: (61) 2 61 25 38 00