Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #3 cont.: Michel Bauwens on four relational modalities

As elaborated by Michel Bauwens and his colleagues, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) theory is primarily about the rise of information-age peer-to-peer networks and their potential for transforming myriad aspects of society in the decades ahead. Yet it is also a theory of social evolution (past, present, and future). For these purposes, the P2P framework is based on four relational modalities identified by Alan Page Fiske (1992, 2005) which posits that all social relationships reduce to four elementary modes of interaction: Equality Matching, Authority Ranking, Market Pricing, and Communal Shareholding (see image). Fiske meant them as psychological constructs; Bauwens has adapted and elevated them to become sociological constructs that enable an evolutionary analysis.

Elaboration: From an evolutionary perspective, societies have developed their capacities for organization and activity in mostly the above order, according to Bauwens. Centuries ago, early bands and tribes coalesced around reciprocal gift-giving that reflected Equality Matching. Later, states (and the public sector) took shape around Authority Ranking. Then capitalism (and the private sector) emerged, based on Market Pricing. Only now is the fourth mode — Communal Sharing — coming into its own, potentially on a grand scale. This mode, also known as the P2P mode, is central to the P2P vision of the future, whereby a P2P-based commons sector will emerge from civil society, and commons-centric social, economic, and political systems will ultimately transform all of society.

In this historical progression, each modality first emerges in “seed form”; then its “new logic” takes hold and spreads so far and wide that it becomes the “dominant mode”. The older modes continue to play roles, for they too are essential to society — but they are modified by the rise of the new mode. Meanwhile, during phase transitions, “hybrids” appear that combine actors from the older dominant mode of organization with actors representing the emerging mode, in ways that benefit all partners to the hybrid, but that also help subvert the old order and generate the new one.

Accordingly, the market mode has dominated our era, in the form of capitalism. Bauwens and colleagues await a new era when the P2P mode grows strong enough “to supersede capitalism and to embed market structures in a higher ethical superstructure that acknowledges the common good.” During the phase transition, they expect “netarchical capitalists” to combine with P2P commoners to form “innovative alliances between break-away segments from the old system and adaptive segments from the emergent one.”

To my reading, P2P theory and its implications for the future seem mostly about economics, for Bauwens and colleagues have viewed the P2P mode as a “mode of production” that favors “commons-based peer production”. What their vision mostly identifies are implications for business and other enterprises, for sustainable production by “ethical entrepreneurs”, for collective ownership, management, and labor, for the usage of all sorts of natural, cultural, and digital resources, etc., often in Marxist terms. As for what will be the content of the new commons sector, it appears to include virtually any undertaking subjected to “commoning” — making that sector potentially almost boundless (or so I gather).

Bauwens and colleagues expect the P2P form to be the final form in the series. The commons sector will then be at the center of society, with all residual state, market, and other activities taking direction from it. This will spell the triumph of the communal-sharing principles that used to characterize nomadic bands in ancient times, even before tribes coalesced around gift-sharing principles. It will culminate a long, mostly Marxist vision of what society should be like for the good of people.

Comparison to TIMN: P2P theory is more consonant with Karatani’s theory (see next post) than with TIMN, but the parallels between P2P and TIMN are profound. In both, social evolution is a function of four key forms, and P2P’s four correspond pretty well to TIMN’s — but with some disparities. P2P’s hierarchy-ranking and market-pricing modalities match TIMN’s Institutions and Markets forms just fine. But Bauwens aligns Fiske’s Equality Matching modality with TIMN’s Tribes, and his Communal Sharing with TIMN’s Networks form. I regard this as questionable if not partly incorrect — a first disparity. For P2P’s Equality Matching modality is about equal-status peer-group behavior, as seen in reciprocal gift-giving, as well as in feuding and revenge, per Fiske’s definition. That fits with aspects of TIMN’s Tribes form, but that’s not all that kinship tribes are about — they are also characterized by the Communal Sharing modality, which P2P theory reserves mainly for the future (thus correlating it to TIMN’s Networks form). I’m not sure how to rectify this disparity, but it does not invalidate the overall correspondence between our basic approaches to cardinal forms.

A second disparity concerns the historical matter of domination by one mode over another(s). P2P insists that social evolution advances through a progression of dominant modes, finally culminating with the dominance of the pro-commons P2P mode. TIMN recognizes that this may occur, but its design prefers that that no single form dominate as societies advance. The more any single form comes to dominate — be it the tribal, institutional, market, or network form — the more likely is a society’s evolution to become unbalanced and distorted. However, I have deduced from TIMN that monoform (T-only) systems get superseded by biform (T+I) systems, then these by triform (T+I+M) systems, and next by quadriform (T+I+M+N) systems. A kind of domination dynamic is embedded in there, but for now I’m supposing that a comprehensive multi-form approach to analysis will prove more correct. Indeed, TIMN can handle analyzing the widespread persistence of societies where the Tribes form remains so strong, via political clans, gangs, and related cultural dynamics, that it corrupts and constrains the development of proper of Institutions, Markets, and Networks. P2P theory, as far as I know, has said little about this frequent occurrence.

A third disparity concerns the nature of a future commons sector. As discussed above, P2P’s vision is of a largely economic, very expansive commons sector, one that is fundamentally geared to superseding capitalism and dominating the residual state and market sectors. By comparison, TIMN implies a commons sector that will be distinct, bounded, and specialized — as much so as TIMN’s tribal, state, and market sectors are from each other. TIMN’s view is that a +N sector will seek to address and solve problems that the triform system has created but is no longer suited to fixing well. Best I can tell right now, it will be a commons sector (or “social sector”) that assembles a variety of currently-dispersed efforts to find new ways to address and resolve America’s most complex social problems — notably, health, education, welfare, the environment, and related types of insurance. If so, these activities will eventually migrate out of the long-existing +I public and +M private sectors and coalesce into a new +N commons sector, It will operate differently from the other twt sectors, probably as a set of non-profits, cooperatives, trusts, platforms, and other associations committed to serving the common good, separate from but in cooperation with the existing household (T), public (+I), and private (+M) sectors. This new sector will be about the “assurances” (not “entitlements”) that an advanced quadriform society can and should warrant for the wellbeing and progress of its people. This is quite (but not entirely) different from the P2P vision.

There may be an easy explanation for this third disparity — a kind of fourth disparity. P2P and TIMN both suppose that transition phases, from one form or system to the next, will give rise to hybrids. Thus, for TIMN, chiefdoms bridged the transition from tribe-centric to state-centric societies; then, centuries later, mercantilism and statist enterprises bridged the transition to market-centric capitalist systems. P2P’s emphasis on transitional alliances among netarchical capitalists, ethical entrepreneurs, and commoners fits this hybridization dynamic — but then P2P theory seems to extend this hybrid it into the “dominant mode” phase. TIMN expects a similar transitional hybridization, but then, as quadriformism matures, a refinement if not a break as a distinct specialized commons sector takes shape that leaves less space for those transitional hybrids.

I wish my discussion here were not so long-winded. But the parallels between TIMN and P2P run deeper and wider than TIMN’s parallels to Raworth’s and Karatani’s frameworks. P2P thus strikes me as more important to delineate and discuss. Besides, I’ve read many more writings by Bauwens and colleagues than by the other two.


Michel Bauwens, “The new triarchy: the commons, enterprise, the state,” P2P Foundation Blog, August 25, 2010.

Michel Bauwens & Jose Ramos, “Re-Imagining the Left Through an Ecology of the Commons: Toward A Post-Capitalist Commons Transition,” P2P Foundation Wiki, draft, January 2018.

Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis, Stacco Troncoso, Ann Marie Utratel, Commons Transition and P2P: a primer, The Transnational Institute, 2017.

Michel Bauwens & Vasilis Kostakis, "A Manifesto for Post-Capitalist Transition: P2P and Human Evolution," Draft, 2016 (forthcoming, much revised, as M. Bauwens, V. Kostakis, & A. Pazaitis, Peer to Peer: The Commons Manifesto, London, UK: Westminster University Press, 2018).

Alan Paige Fiske, “The four elementary forms of sociality: Framework for a unified theory of social relations”, Psychological Review, 1992, Vol. 99, No. 4, pp. 689-723.

Alan Paige Fiske & Nick Haslam, “The Four Basic Social Bonds: Structures for Coordinating Interaction,” in M. W. Baldwin (ed.), Interpersonal Cognition, Guilford Press, 2005, pp. 267-298.

David Ronfeldt, “Updates about missing posts (3rd of 5): “Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 2 of 3) … vis à vis TIMN,” Materials for Two Theories Blog, April 3, 2014.

David Ronfeldt, “Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 3 of 3) … vis à vis TIMN,” Materials for Two Theories Blog, October 19, 2011.

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