Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #3: TIMN’s advantages over three parallel theories (Raworth, Bauwens, Karatani)

For a theoretical framework to be worthy of a political manifesto, it must offer something new and better than alternative frameworks. TIMN can do that, by proclaiming quadriformism.

I suppose a manifesto should also mention those alternatives — but not at length. Yet, a good comparative analysis should exist somewhere for back-up purposes. This note starts to serve as that back-up analysis.

For indeed, TIMN is not the only theoretical framework about past, present, and future societal evolution that is built atop four cardinal elements, with the fourth anticipating the emergence of a new sector in the decades ahead. Three others are vying for attention (actually, it’s TIMN trying to vie, for the others are already rather well-known). They’re from:
  • Kate Raworth, a British “renegade economist” based at Oxford — her analysis is based on four “means of provisioning”.
  • Michel Bauwens, a Belgium-born social activist-theorist who heads the P2P Foundation, lives mostly in Thailand and Belgium — his theory sits atop four “relational modalities”.
  • Kojin Karatani, a Japanese Marxist philosopher and literary theorist who has taught at various Japanese and American universities — his framework depends on four “modes of exchange”.

What’s striking is that, working separately, we have all come up with similar frameworks, and we’ve done so at different times without knowing about each other’s frameworks at the time (though Raworth had some knowledge of Bauwens’ views). My first publication on TIMN was in 1996, Bauwens’ on P2P in 2005, Karatani’s on “modes of exchange” in 2014, and Raworth’s on “doughnut economics” in 2017. The similarities begin with the fact that all our frameworks rest on four fundamental forms of organization and/or interaction. The four that each of us identify, though differently conceived, match up impressively. Moreover, we all argue that our four are always present, always necessary, in any society, and that societies vary according to how the four forms are combined and which one dominates at the time.

Furthermore, the three of us most interested in social evolution across the ages — Bauwens, Karatani, and myself — all argue that our respective sets of forms have existed since ancient times, and that each form has grown most powerful in a particular era, thus coming to define the nature of societies in that era. Indeed, the evolutionary progressions each of us identifies correlate very well, despite some disparities. Moreover, in looking ahead, three of us — Bauwens, Raworth, and more qualifiedly, myself — explicitly foresee that a commons sector will arise alongside the established public and private sectors, vastly transforming the design of societies. Karatani is less explicit about the emergence of a commons sector, but his vision of future transformations implies something similar.

Another parallel to notice: The four-form frameworks that Bauwens, Karatani, and I advance may seem simple at first, perhaps too simple — but actually they enable plenty of complexity. To varying degrees, we each recognize that our respective forms (or modes) are both material and ideational in nature. That each embodies different standards about how people should behave and society should function. That each enables people to do something — to address some problem — better than they could by using another form. And that each form has bright and dark sides, making each useful for doing ill as well as good. Furthermore, we all recognize that the forms co-exist, interact, and vary in strength over time, making for great variations in how the forms may be combined and emphasized in particular societies. All of which amounts to plenty of complexity; these are not simplistic frameworks. Which is why I groaned inwardly when, years ago, a friendly contact who was genuinely interested in TIMN and its potential, nonetheless quipped, “Of course, you can’t sum all of human history in four letters.” More about these matters later.

In the next posts, I will review Raworth’s, Bauwens’, and Karatani’s frameworks — in that order because it proceeds from the least sweeping and abstract of the three, to the most. Then I turn to pointing out TIMN’s comparative advantages for theory and practice.

One advantage I’d mention right now: TIMN is not based on or committed to any ideology. It leaves room for the endurance of conservative as well as progressive positions along a new quadriformist spectrum. The other three frameworks all belong, to varying degrees, on the Left, even aspiring to a final future triumph of the Left over the Right. So far, to my disappointment, I’ve found no theorists on the Right who are pondering the future within anything like a quadriform framework.


David Ronfeldt, Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks — A Framework About Societal Evolution, RAND, P-7967, 1996.

Michel Bauwens, P2P and Human Evolution: Peer to peer as the premise of a new mode of civilization, draft book manuscript, 2005.

Kojin Karatani, The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange, Duke University Press, 2014

Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017.