Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Michael Bauwen’s “The Political Economy of Peer Production” provides the theoretical framework for peer-to-peer (P2P) processes as a "new human dynamic in a global moment where political, economic and social systems are transforming themselves into distributed networks." The P2P conceptual framework enables third modes of production, governance, and property with potential to “overhaul” existing modes of political economy.  P2P is specific to processes of distributed frameworks that are designed to “increase the most widespread participation by equipotential participants.”  

Bauwen states that P2P produces use-value for a community of users/participants, rather than market exchange-value, as a third mode of production; this is accomplished through free cooperation of producers with access to what Bauwen describes as distributed capital.  P2P is governed by producers themselves, a third mode of governance that does not operate within a corporate hierarchy or by market allocation. Further, P2P creates a third mode of ownership by making use-value open or accessible on a universal basis via new common property regimes.  Here, P2P involves neither market pricing nor managerial command to make decisions on allocation services, rather, it aims to mobilize full participation and reciprocity.  

In order for P2P to exist and operate, there are several infrastructure components needed.  P2P requires technical infrastructure that “enables distributed access to ‘fixed’ capital.” According to Bauwen, computers are an example of this kind of infrastructure, as they facilitate internet use (as a point to point network controlled through distributed governance rather than a dominion of private and state entities) that can circumvent use of obligatory hubs. This technological infrastructure sets the need for “alternative information and communication systems which allow for autonomous communication between cooperating agents.” The web enables “universal autonomous production, dissemination, and ‘consumption’ of written material” that can be distributed without traditional intermediaries of publishing/broadcasting.  Bauwen notes that this aspect is not guaranteed and can potentially be mediated via new forms of intermediaries.  In order for autonomous global cooperation to exist, P2P depends on software infrastructure such as collaborative blogs and wiki’s that create trust and social capital to produce use-value without intermediaries.  P2P is protected from private appropriation via legal infrastructure, for example, the GPL (General Public License) “prohibits the appropriation of software code.” These legal infrastructures protect common use-value and spread through viral activity–although Bauwen notes that this is only in the case of projects that adapt source codes in public domain.

What I find particularly interesting in Bauwen presentation of the P2P conceptual structure is his illustration of its cultural properties as a consideration of the ontology of mass intellectuality–a way of feeling and being–in addition to its epistemology and axiology.  In this way, P2P exists as a multidimensional, autonomous, and dynamic being of cooperative individualism.  Bauwen also explains the inter-subjective relational mode of P2P, following a non-”a priori selection to participation,” wherein participants’ skill and “capacity to cooperate is verified in the process of cooperation itself.” In other words, participation is based on a value of trust and doing, rather than based on the presentation of qualifications/credentials of traditional peer models.  The axiology of P2P is conceptualized through its “holoptic” versus “panoptic” or hierarchical design.  Here, holopticism exists in the horizontal, open access to information and the vertical dimension of the whole of the project’s “aims, metrics and documentation.” As a communication model, feedback/knowledge is systemically mobilized within the protocol of the cooperative system itself.  

I found that Bauwen's articulation of P2P echoed our recent class discussions regarding corporate crowd-surfing of mass intellectuality, through which we all participate as unpaid laborers in the profiting of corporate entities (such as consumer review participation on Amazon); Bauwens defines this kind of strategy as ”netarchical capitalism;” in this mode, capitalism becomes systemically dependent on P2P as a mode of “cognitive capital” that is marked by “the primacy of intellectual assets over time.” Bauwens claims that in order for P2P to expand into the larger social domain, a universal basic income–”the independence of work and salary”– would need to be implemented.  I’m interested in his proposition of universal basic income as a structure that enables human potential and addresses poverty and quality of living under conditions of neoliberal governance.  Additionally, he presents this model as a possibility for transcending the limits of the global for-profit political economy. At the same time, given my limits in understanding the detailed schematics and operation of our existing telecom/internet dynamics, I question whether it is actually possible for P2P to exist. Can IP protocols, software coding, etc. operate freely from corporate surveillance or panopticism? I think he notes that adapting IP sources is one way to accomplish this, in addition to circumventing internet hubs, but is there actually full protection of P2P processes? Additionally, don’t corporate entities own internet/digital/telecom capital that is required for P2P infrastructure?

Lastly, Bauwen contributes a significant portion of the piece to acknowledging P2P’s interdependency with capitalism as part of its design politics; regarding individual participants’ dependency on market income, he offers the idea of universal based income as an address to the issue.  I’m curious to learn how students read/interpreted Bauwen's  articulation of the P2P theoretical infra/structure.  Does anyone think the proposition is too utopian or idealistic to actually work or be realized? Also, am I overlooking the larger self-interest/politics/agenda embedded in the P2P argument?

Nerd Herds and the Splinternet

Some thoughts on the reading "The Stakes of Information Law and Policy" by Benkler:
In part 8 and 9 of this chapter, Benkler starts discussing democratic discourse and participation in a "network information economy," that allows "loosely affiliated individuals across the network to fill some of the basic and central functions of the mass media. We are seeing the rise of non-market, distributed, and collaborative investigative journalism, critical commentary, and platforms for political mobilization and organization." As I read the section I started thinking about legal scholar Cass Sunstein and his assertion that the cornucopia of resources from which an individual can receive their news, information, and critical commentary can actually encourage extremism, rather than democratic collaboration. Because there are so many options, a person will gravitate toward the media resources (mass media or peer produced) that most aligns with their own opinions, thus the extremism. I think this was called "cyberbalkanization" or the "splinternet." When I think about my own Internet usage, there are whole "neighborhoods" of the Internet that I don't see or get exposed to, and by extension the opinions and critical commentary of the individuals who populate those "neighborhoods." What do other people think?
Also had some thoughts about part 10 of that same chapter. Here Benkler argues that the network information environment allows people to critique culture in a much more powerful and informed way than before.  Rather than simply sitting back and consuming mass media, he argues, network information environments like the Internet allow for more diverse creative enterprises from individuals. Individuals can basically "talk back" to mass media, comment, create and collaborate. I agree that things like the Internet have permitted an explosion of "talking back," but I would disagree that individuals did not "engage in personal and collective expression through existing cultural forms" before the Internet. Even before the Internet, people have been both consuming mass media and culture and in turn engaging in a process of remix, personal mythmaking, collaboration and creative regurgitation. I'm thinking specifically of fandom participation and communities. Anyway...see you in class!

Comment Posted for Li Westerlund

Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Chapter 12 Conclusion: The Stakes of Information Law and Policy
Yochai Benkler focuses on the tension between proprietary market-based models of innovation in the context of communications in complex societies. Noting that theories of growth and innovation assume dominance of industrial models, he connects this concept to modern societies’ mass media and industrial information economy and suggests that it separates production from consumption. He challenges the concept he attributes to policy makers and their advisers toward the end of the twentieth century; that property in information and innovation equals property in tangible objects, making such ownership a necessity for growth and productivity. The exclusionary proprietary models he refers to are those that exist based on the intellectual property system, which includes patents, trademarks, copyrights and, even though not mentioned, trade secrets.     
Based on an assertion that the arts and sciences are replete with voluntarism and actions oriented primarily toward social-psychological motivations rather than market appropriation, Benkler challenges the effectiveness the intellectual property system for driving innovation. Despite the unfortunate absence of an explicit clarification of which industry this statement refers to, the content and sentiment of the chapter indicate that his discussion centers on the software and so-called high tech industry.
The example of software patents is interesting for several reasons. This particular field is plagued with non-practicing entities (“NPEs” or “trolls”) owning patents, which they often assert against an entire industry based on clever strategies to make a business on monetary settlements before trial and judgment. The present situation in this particular industry seems to make many in-house patent counsels waking up in the middle of the night from nightmares, seeing trolls everywhere around them. Despite the common media and scholarly rhetoric, however, this so-called troll problem pertains predominantly to the software and high-tech industry. This fact sometimes even creates tension when new legislation indiscriminately affecting all industries is being proposed without regard to how other industries (and innovation) might be harmed.
Another thought-provoking aspect is that in other countries, including European countries, software inventions are formally not patentable based on an explicit exclusion from patentability in the patent law. Europe has also generally rejected what is often referred to as “business method patents,” which are not considered to have “technical character” under European patent law and, thus, are not patentable. In the patent context, much of what Benkler highlights as particularly problematic in this chapter appears to relate to the two types of subject matters. There is no obvious and clear cut solution for creating a better system to address the basic concerns, but one approach to consider that deserves analysis and discussion is to adopt the European approach. Nevertheless, politically and ideologically many influential actors will find difficulties with the idea of differentiating between industries when it comes to patent protection. Furthermore, adopting the European approach would not come easily since that would challenge the notion that the US patent system is the best in the world and, by inference, needs not be improved.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Guerrilla Gardening...the ladies love it *wink*

The guerrilla gardening website was a little bit offputting for me, honestly. First of all the language employed by the site itself. Join a "cell," interact with other "troops." I couldn't decide whether an essentially pacifist endeavor appropriating the language of war was inspired or totally misguided. When I hear "guerrilla," "troop," and "cell," what comes to mind is not an organization that has an online shop selling lavender pillows and coats, with an accompanying Facebook page. 

The "Troop Digs" page that included pictures and testimonials from the “troops” was unintentionally hilarious, as it seemed chock-full of pictures of white, seemingly well-off people from developed countries who are "saving the world." (Or picking up ladies, as implied by one glowing testimonial). A couple of women wrote in horrified language of how they were mistaken for being homeless as they snuck in under the cover of the night to plant some flowers. Of course, I'm assuming these testimonials were chosen from a larger group, which brings into question what the GG organizers are going for, and who this is being aimed at...

After looking at the site I thought about what Dale had said in a previous class, that even if the design is offputting, simplistic and privileged, does it actually inspire more legitimate and effective change than a depressing Op-ed. I tried to think about this website in those terms, and I still don't see how the kind of activities these people are doing would be very effective. Planting flowers everywhere? Yeah, it makes things pretty, but… I can't help it overwhelming feeling this is privileged people who are assuaging their guilt in ways that don't really make lasting change.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Another Comment Posted for Li Westerlund -- C'mon the Rest of You, Step Up

Stewart Brand “How slums can save the planet” Prospect Magazine (Feb. 2010)

Positioning his article for the reader in the tranquil, if not the somewhat serene environment of a houseboat in the quiet town of Sausalito right north of San Francisco, Stewart Brand suggests that squatter cities that have emerged globally can teach us about future urban living. As an introduction, Brand illustratively sets the stage using the fact that the architect Peter Calthorpe gave up San Francisco, where he had tried and failed to organize neighbourhood communities, and moved to a houseboat in Sausalito. In fact, the author himself lives on one of the about 400 houseboats in this community, which apparently thrives in friendliness and peacefulness, everyone knowing each other and each other’s pets. The crucial elements of design that Calthorpe identified was the dock itself as well as the density of the community, which he concluded worked as a community because it was walkable. In 1985, he and several others founded a new urbanism in an article called “Redefining Cities” that was published in the Whole Earth Review, introducing the concept walkability. According to Brand, ever since, new urbanism became a focus in city planning, promoting high density, mixed use, walkability, mass transit, eclectic design and regionalism.   
In this context, it is obviously important to understand what a squatter city means. Thus, a common definition of squatting refers to people occupying abandoned or unoccupied areas of land, or buildings that the so called squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have lawful permission to use. Even if the people in the houseboat community of Sausalito own their houseboats or legally rent them, the fact that they do not own the water or the dock generally would make it qualify as a squatter community based on this understanding. However, the leap between the picturesque Sausalito houseboat community to enormous areas of slum like the Bangkok or Rio slums referred to later in the article, highlighting that most inhabitants have color TV, computer and microwave as if they reside in more than acceptable standards of living, is more than questionable. The inference being made that slum is a desired or a good place for those who live there can be read as ignorance at best. It even reminds of certain recent political rhetoric in this country, used in attempts to convince the general public that the poorest of our population have more than anyone needs and, therefore, is in no need for support. The structure of the article and the way Brand promotes what may be a real and valid point about urban living hidden in this text, romanticizes slum communities globally. Perhaps Brand has never visited any of these areas around the world he refers to because if he had, he would have seen the despair, the unhealthy, unemployed, starving people making up these unsanitary slum communities that in essence can qualify as disease incubators. He would also have seen the animals roaming around hungry, spreading disease, not to mention that in some places the residents will actually eat those cute little cats Brand suggest that squatter communities such as the cute one in Sausalito care for with such pride.      
Brand’s comment that the main ideas of how this new dominant force in city planning was derived from the houseboat community is rather confounding to anyone grown up elsewhere, for example in Europe since virtually every single European city was built based on such ideas. However, that is not to say that for this part of the world, those ideas were novelties. Brand does have good suggestions for healthier and more sustainable urban living, but in order to find them in the text, whether it was his intention or not, the article has to be read from a perspective of him providing a deliberately simplified analysis, written in cynical or perhaps sardonic rhetoric that is aimed at engaging the reader at some level through its contentious delivery. Or else, the substance of the article makes little sense.     

Reflections on Naomi Klein's Op-Ed, "Geoengineering: Testing The Waters"

I enjoyed this op-ed. Naomi Klein is an effective communicator. I get the idea she could hold a conversation, with another human being, in a line at Starbucks. I didn't get that feeling from some of the authors we've read. Klien opines on the disturbing effects of "geoengineering". For example, the idea that some nut, off the coast of B.C., can legally dump 120 tons of iron dust into the ocean and not get arrested. I light a cigarette on Bancroft, at the very least,  I'm getting a ticket, and possibly assaulted by some rogue, new age type. But dump 120 tons of iron dust into the ocean? Free pass, buddy, have a day. "The plan was to create an algae bloom that would sequester carbon and thereby combat climate change." For Klein, geoengineering is a movement/philosophy rooted in the idea that altering the natural world with unnatural, engineered interventions, is an effective way to counterbalance our consumptive habits. This philosophy is highly attractive. No change in behavior is necessary. We can continue our reliance on fossil fuels for transport and food production. Klein mentions Bill Gates has donated millions of dollars to several geoengineers. Geoengineering sounds sinister and frightening. One of my takeaways from this op-ed was her mention of (a) North American politicians avoiding this issue and (b) the idea that North America is leading the geoengineering "field" and will thereby (re)design the natural world, the majority of which, is not located in North America.    

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Week Four Readings Finalized

Chopped off a couple of things, fixed some broken links, added a couple of pieces/websites to explore. The blog needs more comments from you all. Don't put that off to the last moment, it defeats the purpose. Off the cuff reactions to readings, further thoughts on points emerging in discussions are all good points of departure for comment/conversation. Make some noise.

Monday, September 8, 2014

New Week

Li has posted some great material for folks to comment on, both looking back and looking forward. I hope everybody is enjoying the readings for this week. Also, I do believe we have a presentation coming up. Looking forward to hearing from you all. swak!d

Saturday, September 6, 2014


I finalized the assigned readings for our next meeting a little bit later than I intended. I'll always futz around with them as we proceed, but usually the syllabus should be firmed up over five days before the meeting. This week I was distracted a bit, so I wanted to be sure you were aware that I dropped a couple of pieces and added a couple of pieces. Hope you are all enjoying your weekends.