An Introduction to peer-to-peer – May 8th

Workshop and public lecture, Sunday, May 8th 2011, Central Hotel, Dublin, afternoon and evening.

Wikipedia and Linux are impressive examples of intellectual labour created on and through the internet but they don’t fit conventional economic theory as the people who developed and refined them did not charge for their work and there is no charge for their use. No corporation organised their creation and claimed ownership rights. Are these examples of a new type of economy which has a lot further to go? Will open source product design underpin a new type of creative economy in which some things will be available in abundance mostly for free? Are we witnessing the birth of a digital commons where intellectual property rights like copyright and patents are standing in the way of human progress? Theorist Michel Bauwens and the P2P foundation believes so. In his view we are entering an economic era as profoundly different as feudalism was from the Roman Empire, and industrial capitalism was from feudalism. But is the future he envisages compatible with the ecological limits that humanity is encountering in almost every field?

14.00 – 17.00 Workshop on peer-to-peer with Michel Bauwens.
Attendance will be limited to 15. Admission 10 euro.
Booking essential. More information from

19.00 – 21.00 Public lecture on peer-to-peer with Michel Bauwens followed by discussion

Stephen Butler of Feasta writes: One of the most interesting – and many would say hopeful – novelties of recent decades has been the growth of the political movement for an intellectual commons. It started first among software developers as a result of the lack of openness and the corporate control of the software they made and the tools they used to make it. The free and open source software (FOSS) movement developed to build a technical infrastructure and body of knowledge that was governed by intellectual property licenses that made it accessible to all and adaptable by anyone who wished to change it. This software that resulted runs much of the internet and the more complex electronic devices that we use today. The more general Creative Commons movement grew alongside FOSS to cover the rights of those who wished to make their writing, music and artwork part of a commons, giving people who encountered it specific rights to reproduce, re-use and adapt their work.

At the same time as this was happening, the structure of corporations and organisations was loosening. They were moving from explicitly hierarchical forms to a more horizontal shape where teams interacted, formed and reformed in a different configuration, at times at dizzying speed. The topology of parts of these organisations (usually the ones based on intellectual labour) began to change from a top-down tree to something more like a horizontal network.

The Peer-to-Peer movement (P2) argues that the model of the Free Software movement, with its goal of extending the common wealth and pragmatic approach to democratic and consensus-building decision-making, can be applied to many other spheres of life where the existing models of ownership and control are patently ceasing to work. These spheres include, for example, mutual finance, hardware and appropriate technology sharing, science and the arts.

Some of principles of the P2P movement include:

  • All useful intellectual work should be openly available under a licence
  • All such common endeavours should entail explicit and open rules of government or self-organisation
  • The principle of the common should be extended into whatever area of life where the current structures are failing.

There are many issues arising from this vision that are open to discussion:

  • Is it valid to extend from one particular milieu (FOSS) to a more general movement for intellectual commons?
  • Is any of this going to be possible should a rapid collapse of supply chains occur due to fossil fuel energy and material shortage?
  • Does the P2P model have a vital part to play in a time of rapid change?
  • How are people to be rewarded for their efforts in the P2P paradigm?

Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation is giving a workshop and a public lecture for Feasta during his visit to Ireland. The workshop, which will take place between 2pm and 5pm at the Central Hotel, is better suited to those who already have some knowledge of his work and ideas. The lecture, which begins at 7pm at the Central Hotel, is designed for people with very little prior knowledge. Booking a workshop place is essential as numbers will be limited to facilitate detailed discussion. Book via Admission is 10 euro. Booking is not required for the lecture and admission is 5 euro.

Michel describes the content of his lecture and workshop as follows:

“Digital Networks, Peer to Peer Societies, and the Collapse of Industrial Civilisation”

It is becoming increasingly clear that the world is not just facing a temporary crisis typical for the end of a capitalist wave (1873, 1929, 2008), but that this temporary crisis intersects with a growing crisis of our civilisational model itself, and the a real and profound ‘phase transition’ has to be on the agenda of thinking and acting people. What can we learn from previous transitions, such as the end of the Roman Empire and the end of feudalism? The P2P hypothesis claims that enough seeds of a new civilisational logic is already at work and functioning, to begin to decipher the outine of the emerging logic of replacement. A key issue in the coming transition is the role of digital networks and the peer to peer associations that they engender. Are they part of the collapsing industrial civilisation, a distraction, or rather, as the P2P Foundation collective would argue, an essential building block of the new political economy and successor civilisation? The workshop will also look at more direct applications of peer to peer practice, as related to the 2008 meltdown and the austerity wave that has hit Europe. What is it that we can do, “right now”?”

Michel Bauwens was one of the internet pioneers in his home country of Belgium, where he created two startups (e-Com and KyberCo) respectively involved in the fields of intranet/extranet and interactive marketing. He was also the eBusiness Strategy Director for the country’s leading telecommunications company Belgacom as well as European Director of Thought Leadership for the worldwide webconsultancy USWeb/CKS-MarchFIRST. Prior to his involment in the internet he was information analyst, and knowledge manager for BP. Along the way, he has taught post-graduate MBA courses, been editor in chief of a magazine (Wave), co-produced a 3-hour TV documentary (TechnoCalyps), and co-edited two French-language volumes on the anthropology of digital society. In 2003, he moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is surrounded by 60% of the world population in a 1,500 miles radius, and started the Foundation for P2P Alternatives to research, document and promote such practices as peer production and peer governance. He is part of the handful of experts worldwide to study P2P processes, but uniquely combines it with a wide-ranging experience in the business world.


The Peer to Peer Foundation
Creative Commons

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