What is p2p ?
P2P is a contentious term, that is used by different communities, people and interests.
The aim of this short text is to be explicit about the sense in which it is used in P2P Theory and in the context of the work of the P2P Foundation.
P2P is first of all a relational dynamic, in which agents (people or computers) can connect to each other directly, without having to ask permission of any intermediaries, and therefore also can self-organize form the bottom up. P2P in this context is thus essentially a particular 'network structure'.
In the very broad sense, p2p could thus be applied to any of the four relational forms identified by Alan Page Fiske in his Structures of Social Life, i.e. Equality Matching (the gift economy), Authority Ranking (hierarchies and ranking mechanisms), Market Pricing and finally what he calls Communal Shareholding.
It is in this sense that one could talk of 'distributed marketplaces' as being 'peer to peer', in the sense that any market player could connect with any other marketplayer. It is in this context very often abused. First of all because nearly all existing markets are essentially unequal, and capitalist markets in particular have an in-built tendency towards monopoly. Many so-called 'p2p marketplaces' are characterised by strong intermediary platforms which control the connection algorythms and do not allow direct contact. Other so-called p2p markets like Bitcoin have an extremely dense monopoly in mining and property. Because of the inequality of property, in market systems, there are never truly peers.
More fundamentally in the context of the more narrow definition we will be proposing, in markets they are only two players which turn to an exchange of equal value; there is a theoretic win-win, but nothing more.
This is why at the P2P Foundation we use the concept of p2p in the more narrow sense, linked specfically to what Fiske calls 'communal shareholding'. This is the case where 'agents' can freely interact with each other, can self-organize, BUT also create a shared resource through their interaction, which is available equally to all players, and to which all players can 'equipotentially' contribute. In communal shareholding, the potential win-win of market exchange, is in the context of create a shared good, ie. the third win, and for the benefit of society, i.e. a common good (the fourth win).
Here is where 'peer production' comes in. This is a process whereby all peers can equipotentially contribute (i.e. offer their own particular capacities which fit the common project) to a commons; in a necessarily participatory process, and producing a common output which can be used by all (the commons).
Thus we now have a mode of production in which contributions (not labor), create a common good (not a commodity).
The specific thesis of the P2P Foundation is that the internet is an affordance for peer production, and that such peer production is 'hyperproductive' compared to capitalist market-oriented production. What is occuring is that more and more of such common pools of knowledge, code and design are being created, which fall themselves outside of the market, but create markets around them. The question becomes then whether this emerging peer production should be subsumed under the capitalist market, so that the accumulation of the commons serves capital accumulation; or whether there is a post-capitalist potential of using ethical market dynamics, subsumed under the commons. In this scenario, commoners create their own market vehicles, create an income, which services for their own self-reproduction and thus also of that of the commons in which they are participating. In this scenario, cooperative accumulation serves the commons.
In any case, the commons are now becoming a core function within a new form of capitalism, which we call netarchical capitalism, but could also become the core function in a post-capitalist economy and civilisation.
From this perspective then, distributed marketplaces are not truly peer to peer. Distributed markets are per definition bound to unequal property ownership; are generally controlled by intermediating monopolistic platforms; and do not consciously create shared resources nor a common good.
“True” peer to peer relations, that are commons oriented, do create shared resources and a common good, by intention and structure.
However, it is possible to imagine 'ethical marketplaces' that are commons-friendly, as explained above.
(Published on 31/12/2014 on his Facebook Page)