This is the third in a series about five missing posts from years gone by. It continues my retrospective effort to revisit the prospects for those posts, and to convey some of the interesting materials I had collected for them. See the first in this series for context and explanation.
Perhaps a highlight of this post is a reaffirmation of the overlaps between P2P theory and TIMN, as I found them a few years ago.
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What this post — “Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 2 of 3) … vis à vis TIMN” — was going to say
In 2010, I began a series of similarly-titled posts about the future of the state vis à vis TIMN. The first was on Philip Bobbitt’s concept of the “market state,” the second on Phillip Blond’s “civic state.” The third was a three-parter about Michel Bauwens’ concept of the “partner state” and other aspects of his P2P (peer-to-peer network) theory.
In 2011 I posted Parts 1 and 3 about Bauwens’ concept. Part 1 outlined his partner-state concept and the broader P2P theory in which he nests it, describing what P2P networks are like as a form of organization and what other forms his vision entails. Part 3 examined P2P as a theory about social evolution, and concluded with a comparison to TIMN, noting similarities as well as differences.
The middle part in that series — Part 2 — is still missing, though I put up a faux post as a place-holder. Part 2 was to be about P2P theory’s “tri-modal” architecture, including its vision about the empowerment of civil society, the rise of the commons as a new (third) sector, and P2P as a new (third) mode of governance.
One reason for not completing it was that I felt swamped by the voluminous reading I faced in order to feel sure I understood his articulation of P2P theory and was selecting the best quotes from his myriad writings. I’m sorry to say that’s still the case. Even so, I can convey a better sense of what Part 2 was going to cover according to my old draft notes, as follows.
According to Bauwens, P2P dynamics will transform the nature of states, markets, and civil societies. Of course, many theorists now accept that information-age network forms of organization will have extensive transforming effects. But Bauwens has advanced a new view as to how this may transpire — a view, I say again, that is broadly in harmony with TIMN.
According to the draft I still have, Part 2 was going to focus on three linked forecasts that pervade Bauwens’ writings about P2P theory and his partner-state concept:
- While P2P will alter all sectors of society, it will empower civil society more than state and market actors — obliging the latter to heed the views of civil-society actors more than ever before. (TIMN says so as well.)
- On behalf of civil society, P2P will favor the rise of a new (third) sector — the commons sector — alongside and ultimately above the old public (first) and private (second) sectors. (TIMN augurs the rise of a new sector as well, but I haven’t tied it to the commons.)
- Via the commons sector, P2P will create a new “third” mode of production, property, and governance — one that calls for doing, holding, and managing things “in common” rather than via history’s “first” (public /state) or its “second” (private /market) modes. (This resembles TIMN in regard to governance; but the +N mode is not so preoccupied with production and property matters, or with political economy.)
Evidently, I was going to discuss each of the bulleted points in the missing post, at length and with extensive quotes that I never fully sorted out. So, what I offer here for this update is a partial selection of notes and quotes. Again, I’m not sure I’ve selected the best quotes from that period, but it would be too daunting a task to do better at this time. (Let me know via email if I err in my selection or interpretation.)
• Empowerment of civil society:
In P2P theory, as in TIMN, the rise of new network forms of organization, propelled by the new information technologies, will strengthen civil-society actors, far more than state and market actors. As this alters relations among the three sectors — the state, private enterprise, and civil society — the former two will become evermore beholden and responsive to civil society. According to Bauwens,
“It is customary to divide society into three sectors, and what we want to show is how the new peer to peer dynamic unleashed by networked infrastructures, changes the inter-relationship between these three sectors.” (source)
“Yes, peer to peer practices are a sign of the rebirth, and the coming to prominence, of civil society as the primary actor of social life. … Peer production is the mode of production, governance and property arising out of civil society, and it has to be clearly distinguished, from the private or public alternatives.” (source)In P2P, much as in TIMN, civil society is defined in ways that do not include state or market actors. This differs from traditional definitions of civil society that enfold almost everything civil that is outside the state, including political parties and private businesses. Not so in the definition that P2P (or TIMN) favors. To insist on this, Bauwens would even prefer the term “civic society” over civil society. He would also like to move beyond the widespread tendency to characterize civil-society actors in negative terms, as being “non-governmental” or “non-profit” — he’d rather define them positively, as “for-benefit” associations.
“I think we can adapt two changes to the concept, so that it retains its value, as I think we need a concept that describes what does not belong … to the collective state nor to private profit maximisation, but describes activities that directly benefit the common good. The first is to use the concept of civiC, rather than civil society, as this clearly links it with equal citizenship and popular sovereignty.
“The second change is that we have to imperatively exclude activities for private gain from the realm of civic society.” (source)From such considerations, he lays out “the triarchy” as he sees it today: the state and its public sector, the market and its private sector, and civil society as harbinger of a coming commons sector:
“This then gives us the triarchy:
“1) of the state, as representative institution (at least in democracies), that is formally in charge of the overall collective good, though of course in reality we know that it carries out this function for the benefit of ruling oligarchies, which means this function must be reclaimed (and transformed) in the interest of the citizens.
“2) that of the private sector, which contains profit-maximising enterprises only concerned with their own private advancement, and therefore, not acting as citizens; these activities need to be transformed, so that they can no longer ignore positive and negative social externalities.
“3) civic society then, is reserved for all those individual and collective entities which act directly from a perspective of the common good, through self-action and self-expression instead of representation (which distinguishes it from the state), and this can include market actions, on the very important condition that these are subsumed under the common good, i.e. undertaken by mission-oriented entities, for which the market activity is a means to an end, and not an end in itself or a means for profit maximisation.” (source)It’s advisable to always keep “the triarchy” in mind when thinking about P2P; for it remains constantly significant in one form or another.
• Rise of the commons as a new (third) sector
P2P theory, much like TIMN, claims that, as new network forms take hold, a new sector will emerge from civil society that is distinct from the established public and private sectors. But whereas TIMN still has a wait-and-see stance about this inchoate prospect, P2P theory is sure that the new sector will be about the commons — it will be a commons sector constructed by “commoners” who believe in “commonism.” It will enable civil society to counter-balance state and market actors, and it is needed because today’s public and private sectors do not operate adequately in the public interest or for the common good.
“We need to strengthen the commons as a distinct sphere of activity beyond the state and the market, in a manner that complements both.” (source)Bauwens often discusses what resources and activities should belong in and to the commons. I was going to describe that in this post back in 2011. But I’ll skip over it now, since I did a 2012 post about the rise of the concept of the commons (here).
However, it is important to note a few key points he makes about how/where the commons fits into the bigger vision he has in mind. In short, the commons sector should sit at the center of a new P2P-oriented society — with for-profit and for-benefit enterprises ringed around the commons:
“At the P2P Foundation, our central concept is peer to peer, i.e. the ability to freely associate with others around the creation of common value. More specifically, we call this, according to the structural anthropology of Alan Page Fiske, communal shareholding, i.e. the non-reciprocal exchange of an individual with a totality. It is [a] totality that we call the commons. …
“Peer production gives us an advance picture of how a commons-oriented society would look like. At its core is a commons and a community contributing to it, either voluntarily, or as paid entrepreneurial employees. It does this through collaborative platforms using open standards. Around the commons emerges enterprises that create added value to operate on the marketplace, but also help the maintenance and the expansion of the commons they rely on. A third partner are the for-benefit associations that maintain the infrastructure of cooperation. Public authorities could play a role if they wanted to support existing commons or the creation of new commons, for the value they bring to society.” (source)
“In the new social arrangement of the successor civilization, the central institution becomes the Commons, which protects vital resources for the next generations, and can rent out its usage to market-based entities. At the core of the new system of peer production is a commons, a community and a collaborative platform, surrounded by an entrepreneurial ecology, and managed through a new type of for-benefit foundations, which protects, sustains and expands the necessary infrastructure of cooperation.” (source)While my focus is on Bauwens’ partner-state concept, the rise of the commons is more central to and important for P2P theory than is the partner state. A P2P society would be organized around a commons sector, more than around a partner state; and such a state would be an expression of the commons. In a metaphorical sense, I’d say, the commons corresponds to the heart and soul of P2P theory; the partner state to aspects of its governing mentality and nervous system. At least the state continues to exist, performing positive functions in P2P theory, in contrast to Left theories that seek its veritable elimination.
“The state will still exist, but will have a radically different nature. Much of its functions will have been taken over by commons institutions, but since these institutions care primarily about their commons, and not the general common good, we will still need public authorities that are the guarantor of the system as a whole, and can regulate the various commons, and protect the commoners against possible abuses. So in our scenario, the state does not disappear, but is transformed, though it may greatly diminish in scope, and with its remaining functions thoroughly democratized and based on citizen participation.
“In our vision, it is civil-society based peer production, through the Commons, which is the guarantor of value creation by the private sector, and the role of the state, as Partner State, is to enable and empower the creation of common value. The new peer to peer state then, though some may see that as a contradiction in terms, is a state which is subsumed under the Commons, just as it is now under the private sector. Such a peer to peer state, if we are correct, will have a much more modest role than the state under a classic state society, with many of its functions taken over by civil society associations, interlinked in processes of global governance.” (source)Bauwens’ view is from the Left, but he insists that P2P theory is not classic Leftism. Indeed, P2P “commonism” differs from communism and socialism, in that it does not seek to create a classless or stateless society, and it opposes totalitarianisms of all types. In this vision, states and markets still exist, but in newly limited ways.
“Peer to peer is therefore not a continuation of the socialist/communist tradition, but a re-elaboration of emancipatory practice and theory under new historical and social conditions. …
“It is around the issue of the commons that the differences with the previous emancipatory tradition comes to the fore. …
“Peer to peer and the commons are about the direct value creation through civil society, and are about new forms of governance and property that apply directly to civil society groups creating this value. ...
The commons, not the state, becomes the core institution of the new political economy. Both digital and material commons have their own institutional formats, the latter managed by democratically governed trusts. …
“The p2p/commons approach does neither abolish the state nor makes it the sole proprietor in charge of central planning, but limits the role of the state as a institution for the meta-governance of the common good, looking at the equilibrium between public functions, the commons and civil society, and private entrepreneurs. The new Partner State becomes the guarantor of the new commons-based peer production, until that time as it can hypothetically ‘whither away’ as more and more of its functions are taken over by an increasingly egalitarian and autonomous civil society.” (source)The rise and defense of the commons is so crucial a development that Bauwens wants it to become the uniting theme for social movements around the world. He deems it a more important and effective theme for threading diverse movements together than are themes like globalization and the environment. It’s the best way to achieve an historic phase transition in the nature of social evolution.
“This is what the grand alliance of the commons is about: recognizing the joint interest of these grand social movements in the resilience, sustainability and thrivability of natural and human commons. The creation of this grand alliance is the task of 21st century politics.” (source)
“[F]or the p2p phase transition to occur, i.e. for the common or commons to be the core of social organisation, no amount of tinkering will be sufficient, but rather it will be a transformation that goes at the heart of the philosophical turn that Europe took to go into modernity and capitalism.” (source)At the time I originally meant to write this post, Bauwens and his colleagues (e.g., David Bollier) were already doing a lot to promote the commons, notably via The P2P Foundation and the Commons Strategies Group. Other organizations — e.g., On the Commons, Shareable — were also growing and helping to spread P2P concepts. Apart from them, the concept of the commons was also gaining some mainstream momentum through the writings of scholars that Bauwens and his colleagues often referenced, notably Yochai Benkler and Elinor Ostrom.
• P2P as a new (third) mode of governance
As I noted at the beginning of this post, P2P is supposed to generate a new “third” mode of production, property, and governance — one that calls for doing, holding, and managing things “in common” rather than via history’s “first” (public /state) or its “second” (private /market) modes.
In general, Bauwens is keen on replacing the established binary distinctions — e.g., public vs. private, hierarchy vs. market, state vs. market, government vs. business — with new trifold distinctions more in keeping with the information age. His view is thus very much in keeping with emerging views (including TIMN) that networks be recognized alongside hierarchies and markets as the most basic forms of organization.
There are growing literatures on this which I have covered in other posts (especially here). For Bauwens, a key reference point to mention is Bob Jessop’s work on “metagovernance” as it involves the orchestration of governing by using all three forms.
In Bauwens’ vision, P2P dynamics, by strengthening civil society and fostering a commons sector, will serve to consolidate the new (third) mode of governance, as well as those new (third) modes of property and production:
“The key characteristic of our new technological infrastructure, i.e. distributed networks, is that they allow individuals to freely engage and relate to each other around common projects. This has a multitude of important effects. By dramatically lowering the thresholds of participation in such common projects, a much wider range of motivations, instead of just monetary ones, have become productive. …
“In short, we now have commons-based peer production as a third mode of production, self-organization of such peer projects as a third mode of peer governance, and peer property as new mode of protecting that common from private appropriation. …
“ … Peer production is the mode of production, governance and property arising out of civil society, and it has to be clearly distinguished, from the private or public alternatives. Peer production is not state production, peer governance is neither bureaucracy nor representative democracy, and peer property is inclusive common property, not collective public property. The key concern of peer governance is to eliminate permission seeking, to abolish credentialism, to avoid democratic negotiation where possible, to forego market pricing but most of all: to avoid the emergence of a collective individual which arises out of the community, crystallizes, and then turns against it or appropriates the common resources to its own benefit.” (source)Accordingly, Bauwens expects the commons sector (and associated Trusts) to become as much a factor as the public and private sectors; peer (P2P) governance as much an option as the standard hierarchy and market options; and civil (or civic) society actors as much a factor as government and market actors. In this view, the old public-private and hierarchy-market distinctions have become false dichotomies that lie behind much of the gridlock and artificiality that characterize today’s societies. Development of the commons is the best way to re-affirm equity and justice on behalf of civil society.
This way of thinking about peer production, peer property, and peer governance — all three — as features of the commons sector is essential to the P2P paradigm. But the peer-governance part is of most interest for this post. Frankly, I have difficulty grasping exactly what it is and how it would work, though in outline terms it seems in harmony with the +N part of TIMN (but with elements of the T form appearing at times too).
It’s clear, at least conceptually, that peer governance is supposed to provide a way for people to “govern themselves and deal with their conflicts in participatory ways” across all areas of society (source). It means direct, bottom-up, freely motivated, distributed, “permissionless” participation to address an issue (apparently, by whoever shows up and gains recognition?):
“Peer to peer social processes are bottom-up processes whereby agents in a distributed network can freely engage in common pursuits, without external coercion, i.e. permissionlessly undertake actions and relations. This requires not just ‘decentralized’ systems, but ‘distributed’ systems, through which individuals can cooperate.
“Similarly, peer governance could be said to be post-democratic, because it is a form of governance that does not rely on representation, but where participants directly co-decide; and because it is not limited to the political field, but can be used in any social field.” (source)From a governmental standpoint, it’s also clear that “peer governance is neither bureaucracy nor representative democracy” (source). Moreover, Bauwens aims for a future when “peer governance transcends both the authority of the market and the state” and, borrowing a catchy phrase, there will be a politics of “less government, less market, more commons” (source).
Bauwens also has much to say regarding how peer governance may shape the operation of a partner state. Much of it has to do with how the state will be embedded in P2P relationships (but that still leaves me wondering how decisions may actually be made at office and agency levels):
“How then will the state be molded by peer to peer? Peer governance is characterized by the relational paradigm. Rather than seeing itself as sovereign master, the state must be seen as embedded in relationships, and as in need of respecting these multiple relationships. This is probably best translated by the concept of multistakeholdership. We can probably expect that the nation-state, along with the newly emerging sub- and supraregional structures will continue to exist, but that their policies will be set through a dialogue with stakeholders. The key will be to disembed the state from its primary reliance of the private sector, and to make it beholden to civil society, i.e. the commons, so that it can act as a center of arbitrage. …
“But peer governance remains a clear alternative. If market allocation and corporate hierarchy are the governance model of the market, associated with private property; and if bureaucracy is associated with the state model of governance, then peer governance is clearly the alternative being forged by civil society. It will emerge in its pure form in P2P groups, but its associated values such as relationality (and transparency) will clearly force an adaptation of both market and the state. This is why we will say elsewhere in the text that one of the key goals of a P2P movement will be, or should be, ‘For a Commons-based Society with a reformed market and state’.” (source)One thing this means is that peer governance differs from traditional democracy, particularly representative democracy:
“It is important to distinguish the peer governance of a multitude of small but coordinated global groups, which choose non-representational processes in which participants co-decide on the projects, from representative democracy. The latter is a decentralized form of power-sharing based on elections and representatives. Since society is not a peer group with an a priori consensus, but rather a decentralized structure of competing groups, representative democracy cannot be replaced by peer governance.” (source)
Peer governance, then, should lead to a new kind of state — the partner state, as successor to the welfare state — that serves as a pro-commons arbiter within the new triarchy:
“The role of the state must evolve from the protector of dominant interests and arbiter between public regulation and privatized corporate modes (an eternal and improductive binary choice), towards being the arbiter between a triarchy of public regulation, private markets, and the direct social production of value. In the latter capacity, it must evolve from the welfare state model, to the partner state model, as involved in enabling and empowering the direct social creation of value. …
“The state becomes a at least neutral (or better yet: commons-favorable) arbiter, i.e. the meta-regulator of the 3 realms, and retreats from the binary state/privatisation dilemma to the triarchical choice for an optimal mix between government regulation, private market freedom, and autonomous civil society projects.” (source)• Wrap-up comment
The above conveys most of the notes and quotes from my old draft for this post. This may be all I can do to fill out the old Part-2 post. If I ever do more on these themes, it’ll surely be as a new separate post. And I may well do more, for Bauwens has done other very interesting writings back then, and since, that I’ve not fully explored so far for the sake of TIMN.
My old notes indicate one other matter I meant to cover in this missing post: Bauwens’ ideas about the future of competition and cooperation. I no longer know where I was going to fit it under the above headings, but it’s too significant to just leave out of this update, even though my Part 1 and 3 posts about Bauwens' work did discuss it a bit.
Basically, P2P theory and its implications — notably for the topics of this post: civil society, the commons, and peer governance — reflect a view of cooperation whereby P2P social values and organizational designs spread throughout society. In his own words, Bauwens looks forward to societies where people value sharing, solidarity, self-reliance, self-management, and voluntarism — where they believe in community, are not driven by power and profit, and have stakes in benefiting society.
In short, P2P theory anticipates the evolution of future societies in which cooperation is as important as competition, where “cooperative individualism” is valued (source), and where “out-competing may depend on out-cooperating” (source). The T and +N parts of TIMN are not much different in such regards, as further discussed in Part 3.
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Note: I slightly edited some quotes in spots to correct what appeared to be minor typos and orthographic slips in the original.
Note: I made an effort to see that notes and quotes I used in this post were not already used in the Part-1 and Part-3 posts about Bauwens’ partner-state concept. But I may have missed some overlaps.
Note: A few quotes refer to work by two of Bauwens’ favorite reference-points: Alan Fiske (on communal shareholding) and Bob Jessop (on metagovernance). I offer brief discussions of their frameworks in a separate post (here).