Michel Bauwens: “Makerspaces are the nurseries of collaborative models”
Published 3 April 2015 by Camille Bosqué
In his recently published book “Saving the World”, theorist and founder of the P2P Foundation Michel Bauwens defends his optimistic vision of the peer-to-peer model, on the brink of revolutionizing production and society. Makery asked him what the maker movement has to contribute.
Are fablabs and other makerspaces fertile ground for the future emergence of a peer-to-peer model capable of “saving the world”?
The emergence of democratic networks, which will soon allow 3 billion humans to contact each other “without permission”, to communicate, to organize themselves, but especially to create value together, was a primary condition to create a collaborative culture on a “global scale”. Through citizen productivity, it will be able to overtake the biggest state institutions and corporations. But virtual connections alone are not enough to change the world. We need physical anchors, proximity. Makerspaces and other coworking spaces are the nurseries for this new collaborative culture and new production models. The most important are obviously the “open source third spaces”… This formula, this conceptual innovation originated in France, if I’m not mistaken!
As long as people who are active in these spaces go beyond simply collaborating and contribute to shared resources, truly producing together, they are part of this same transition. The basic principle of this new production mode is that what is light is global, what is heavy is local. So we must see these new spaces as prototyping spaces for relocalized production. Barcelona’s project to relocalize 50% of its industrial and agricultural production in 2050 by applying this very policy of prototyping shows that this scenario is already being taken seriously. But still more attention must be given to more collaborative modes of governance and property.
Do you have other examples of how some of the projects that came out of these shared fabrication spaces could incarnate “generative production models”?
I can’t say exactly which projects came specifically out of fablabs or makerspaces, but there are many generic examples of things coproduced in these spaces. Arduino ecology, for instance—producing motherboards in open design—is probably the most developed, with a number of small businesses producing objects based on these circuit boards.
Open source cars such as Wikispeed and Tabby are also important, inasmuch as the automobile is an emblematic industrial object. Ecologically speaking, we could also criticize automobile production itself, but they are still prototypes. Local Motors in Detroit is another hybrid co-creation model that works quite well.
In another field, Wikihouse is developing an ecosystem for buildings in marginalized communities. There is also a multitude of open and semi-open projects in agriculture, with enormous progress toward sustainability, such as in open permaculture. For example, AtelierPaysan in France allows eco-farmers to design and produce their own tools. Now there are a number of rural fablabs, such as the Otelo network in Austria, and green fablabs, such as WeCreate in Cloughjordan, Ireland. Most fablabs are probably still very busy with geek production, which we could criticize, but first it’s about creating the culture and organizing skills with the means available, i.e. the real culture of the majority of participants.
The Arduino of automobiles, Tabby (open source vehicule OSV):
You give the example of Tabby, developed by OSVehicle, which targets Do-It-Yourselfers but also small automobile makers in emerging countries. What is the role of these countries in the transition to the post-capitalist economy that you describe?
It’s hard to predict, as adopting these technologies depends not only on objective needs and realities but also on mentalities and cultures. Traditionally, great (r)evolutions emerge from peripheral nations rather than the center, which is completely weighed down by the dominant institutions. The bourgeois revolution, if you recall, happened not in Spain or in Portugal but in England and Holland, and the socialist revolutions took place in Russia and China… So it’s natural to believe that the real revolution of redistributed industries will occur outside of Western countries and Europe.
But distributed infrastructures and the cognitive working class are much more present in the West. China, with its very strong Shanzhai economy, which consists of reappropriating designs and redistributing them in the corporate commons, does so with a more gregarious mindset, which disregards the values of sharing and open culture, ignores sustainability, etc. On the other hand, the peer-to-peer that effectively exists in Africa is almost entirely confined within the informal economy or in the prototyping models of makers.
We’re still a long way from an industrial revolution, which is much more present in the West, such as in Barcelona’s fabcity. It will be a while before we see these models proliferating in the South… But if a fringe of young people gets into it, it can go fast.
Once the spark is lit, the South will surely overtake the West, as legitimation systems are much weaker and the need for change much stronger. Unfortunately, for now Asia’s middle classes are obsessed with copying our old models, which are already obsolete and harmful to the planet.
You write that “systems of work, production, capital and knowledge much be completely rethought” within a hypothetical sphere of “cooperative accumulation” between the spheres of “common accumulation” and “capital accumulation” (p.39). This implies production based on ultralocalized demand, outside of any mass production. This brings us to another question raised by the example of OSVehicle, which concerns the standards and reliability of projects produced via P2P…
We need a production model that is open, sustainable and solidary. Open, because we must absolutely share solutions to the biospheric crisis. Production must be sustainable through a circular open source economy, design that fights the planned obsolescence of the market, the sharing economy and financing without annuity. Production must be localized and on-demand, to avoid permanent overproduction and creating infinite demand. Production must be solidary, because we must create a real economy around these commons and be able to reinvest.
In terms of standards, I don’t think that we should abandon the regulating State, but perhaps review which regulations are in fact designed to promote centralization and which standards are really necessary to protect the ecology, workers and citizen consumers. But this external pressure is not enough. We also need open licenses, charters that state our values, solidary statuses, peer-to-peer certifications, and above all, transparency by default—open logistics and accountability in ethical entrepreneurial coalitions that co-create commons.
We must be willing to show and have nothing to hide, in a spirit of coopetition rather than competition. See how Enspiral, a socio-entrepreneurial coalition in New Zealand that produced the democratic governance software Loomio, already operates transparently internally! All this creates internalized standards that will have less need for external pressures. Note that I’m not saying that entrepreneurs should be responsible for this self-governance, but rather common communities in their entirety.
Presentation of Loomio, software for “making collective decisions”:
What kinds of difficulties should be expected by those who work in the third spaces of fabrication and who advocate developing and spreading the peer-to-peer modes of conception and organization that are associated with them? What future pitfalls should they avoid to set off on the right foot?
The big challenge is moving on from the phase of creating a new culture and more geeky prototyping to a truly renewed industrial model. This means conceiving the new mode for creating value as open, sustainable, solidary and its own ecosystem. Initiatives such as the Mutual Aid Network in Madison, FairCoop coalition in Barcelona and the encommuns.org project in Lille are going in this direction. They are part of this ecosystemic thinking and practice, which joins other very important aspects—public policy and modes of financing.
Of course, these aspects do not have easy solutions, but we should already be working on them. For example, ethical banks such as Triodos do not always invest in open industry, because even there patents condition their loans. Merging the open channel, the sustainable channel and the solidary channel will take time, and therefore lots of work and good will in the years to come.
“Sauver le monde, Vers une société post-capitaliste avec le peer-to-peer”, Michel Bauwens, with the collaboration of Jean Lievens, 267 pages, éd. Les Liens qui libèrent, 20€, 2015.