[iDC] Agency (was Re: THE ANTI WEB 2.0 MANIFESTO)

R Labossiere admin at klooj.net
Tue May 8 03:09:19 EDT 2007

You are right Michel; we don't share the same framework... I should have been more clear... I am working in, and interested in agency theory in relation to, the visual arts... which is not a p2p environment, nor virtual particularly at all, but because my milieu is creative, and driven largely by volunteerism, I feel the questions around distribution of creativity are similar...

however, if I've strayed too far off-list, pls let me know and we can discontinue this thread

Part of the reason I think there is common cause here is that I share your conviction that virtual p2p is affecting physical processes; we see it all around us... there is increasing integration of virtual apparatus into physical processes and with that integration art is produced more quickly, becomes known to more people more quickly, and changes faster. And there is also a change in "the weather"... the 'zeit geist' - ways of thinking and attitudes today favour mobility, portability, transience, fluidity, immediacy, responsiveness, reflexiveness, reactivity, engagement.

With respect to your ideas about efficiency, there is also common ground. In the visual arts, we certainly find abundance, sometimes more imagined than actual, but still, cultural production is a kind of surplus productivity -- and it is also driven by "passion capital" (a great term btw).

For me the key para. of your post is, interestingly, the caveat, bracketed:
> (But it comes at a price. While it is collectively sustainable (as long as the passion capital 
> of those who leave the project can be replaced by newcomers), it is not individually 
> sustainable. This key problem requires social institutional solutons).

Exactly so for the vast majority of artists, even the most successful, who drift in and out of studio-based production while "making a living" from teaching, commercial art or other forms of employment, and/or are subsidized by family members. The art world is constantly fed by younger artists, to the point that we have practically created a cultish status here in Canada around what is called the "emerging" artist; no one asking what exactly they emerge "as" or "into" afterwards.

I too suspect that the solution is institutional and social and that is, for me, the reason for the agency enquiry.

For example, we do find some institutional relief to this "unsustainability" here in Canada where we have a fairly well-developed (though always inadequate) system of multi-level state funding for the arts. The network of institutions that provide support includes, state arts funding agencies that provide personal grants to artists and to artist-run alternative spaces, public galleries, public museums, public art fairs and even some business-type subsidies to private galleries. All these institutions have social aspects; they act in agent-like ways, or, if you will, act sometimes more like principals, engaging artists like agents to represent their institutional programs.

With respect to your last para. aren't questions of leadership and heirarchies moot if the first problem, of basic sustainability can't be answered? Otherwise, you have communities that develop flatter, more inclusive, political processes but which finally can't serve the very people who are creating them because those people have to move on.

If political effectiveness is to be realized as a result of p2p networks, don't they have to become financially rewarding?

Finally, I don't know whether to bring it up here, now, but I do have one more nagging question, terrible to leave it to the end like this, and perhaps stray even futher afield, but...

Lately I'm feeling like there is another dark side to "passion capital." Whether in YouTube or Second Life or just filesharing, one creates at the same time that one consumes. I write here because it entertains me to do so as much as I feel I am also being productive. So I have misgivings, that something about p2p is equivalent to hobbies like scrapbooking or model railroading or collecting Barbis? We don't consider those to be particuarly creative, nor do we think of them politically despite the fact that they all have rather large user groups who develop consensus about standards and likely share many of the same values. Yet, we tend to accept these more simply as kinds of surplus activity pursued without concern for compensation by people who can afford the time and the materials.

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Michel Bauwens 
  To: idc at mailman.thing.net 
  Sent: Monday, May 07, 2007 9:41 AM
  Subject: Re: [iDC] Agency (was Re: THE ANTI WEB 2.0 MANIFESTO)

  Hi Robert,

  We may not share the same framework of reference, so I'll be just rambling on.

  (first, in case I haven't mentioned it before, for a rapid overview of the p2p meme, there is now a 4-minute videa at 
  http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/what-is-peer-to-peer-4-min-version-of-michel-bauwens-video-interview-featuring-cc-licensed-music/2007/05/04 )

  I will start with some arguments as why agency is indeed so efficient in the p2p model, and conclude with a short paragraph as to why the principal-agent logic does in fact not apply in distributed models. 

  I am of the opinion that, in certain circumstances, which have to to with either an abundance of resources (true in the immaterial sphere), or a distribution of resources (i.e. slicing it up in so many small pieces that the supply becomes a matter of sovereign individual choices which can create a semblance of abundance, i.e. an infinity of choices even in a finite environment) - thus when these conditions are met, that the economic and political productivity is essentially higher, and almost inevitable creates asymmetric competition that will make the distributed network stronger than its centralized or decentralized rivals. 

  In terms of cooperation, p2p's synergestic cooperation model (1+1>2) seems stronger than either neutral (the tit for tat exchange of capitalism) or adversarial (feudal and tributary models)

  In terms of game theory the four wins of p2p cooperation (win for the individuals involved, for the community, and for the world at large) will trump the individual-wins-only of capitalism, and the win-lose model of feudalism. 

  In terms of motivation, the peer production model simply eliminates the less efficient motivations, i.e. the extrinsic negative of adversarial models based on fear, and the intrinsic positive remunerations of the for-profit model. Unpaid passionale production only caters for the intrinsic positive motivation, which has been shown to be the most productive. 

  (But it comes at a price. While it is collectively sustainable (as long as the passion capital of those who leave the project can be replaced by newcomers), it is not individually sustainable. This key problem requires social institutional solutons). 

  I'm not sure what you mean by representation, but peer production is essentially non-representational, and can only be such because we can now globally coordinate micro-teams that stay under the Dunbar number limitation of hierarchical necessity. 

  Peer production is economically more productive for the above reasons, and is politically more productive because of this intrinsically higher participation, while it is more productive in terms of distribution of the wealth creation, through its commons-oriented licenses. 

  I used to think that the model of peer production would essentially emerge in the immaterial sphere, and in those cases where the design phase could be split from the capital-intensive physical production sphere. Von Hippel's work is very convincing in showing how widespread the model of built-only capitalism already is. 

  However, as I become more familiar with the advances in Rapid Manucturing (see http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Rapid_Manufacturing) and Desktop Manufacturing (see 
  http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Desktop_Manufacturing), I'm becoming increasingly convinced of the strong trend towards the distribution of physical capital. 

  If we couple this with the trend towards the  direct social production of money (i.e. the distribution of financial capital, see http://www.p2pfoundation.net/P2P_Exchange_Infrastructure_Projects ) and the distribution of energy (http://www.p2pfoundation.net/P2P_Energy_Grid); and how the two latter trends are interrelated (see http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/combining-distributed-energy-with-distributed-money/2007/05/06), then I believe we have very strong grounds to see a strong expansion of p2p-based modalities in the physical sphere. See also Kevin Carson's book manuscript about trends in decentralized production technology ( http://mutualist.blogspot.com/)

  I'm not suggesting that all these trends automatically lead to an egalitarian society, but I'm suggesting that these trends are very favourable to all those working on counter-institutions and new types of social relationships, and unprecedentally so. 

  How is this all evolving in terms of the principal-agent problem, especially when there is no principal and agent involved? (and indeed no asymmetric information 'in principle', though it may occur 'in practice' because of dysfunctions). As far as I can see, the nature of peer governance is that leadership becomes both invitational a priori, and one of arbitrage a posteriori, and the main problem is for leadership to become a bottleneck rather than a facilitator. I believe the essential logic of such emerging governance systems is the avoidance of the emergence of collective individuals. A recent example is the conflict at couchsurfing, and how it generates, not a forking, but an open movement to go beyond the core leadership as bottleneck, see 

  On 5/7/07, R Labossiere <admin at klooj.net> wrote:
    Thanks Sam for the summary of David Bollier's paper, which is itself a summary of his notes from an Aspen Institute round table. I remember the buzz around "push" vs. "pull" models -- the ever finer articulation of consumer demand that becomes determinative of production -- but hadn't thought about it lately, esp. in relation to social networks.

    More people creating more themselves and being more active in creative processes is a good thing, like education, lesbian moms and apple pie:) One problem, much discussed here and on other lists, is about effectiveness and exploitation; and that's where I'm thinking agency theory might be useful. 

    What I'm interested in is the link between creation and reception, between creator and audience, where are a number of agent-like tasks:

    a) contact and relationship building
    b) presentation and promotion
    c) value judgments
    d) aggregation of responses, and 
    e) publication of response results. 

    Agency theory has, in my very limited understanding of it, arisen to resolve problems between principals and agents due to incomplete and asymetric information, inefficiencies that stifle effective representation. (Bernard Roddy pointed out that the theory is 'burdened' by the business context where these issues tend to have critical economic consequences, but I don't see that as a reason to discount the theoretical apparatus as such: an "agent" that fails to build good networks, misrepresents the work or improperly values it, or who doesn't appropriately provide feedback or celebrate success needs to held accountable, whether we're talking about Chrysler or MySpace:)

    So the question that arises is whether in the p2p environment of the Web, agency is as efficient and effective as we tend to think it is.

    Speaking strictly from personal experience, within relatively small networks like this one, I feel represented and, in terms of the esteemed audience who I hope have read this far down in this post, it seems quite efficient.

    anyway, this is intended only to open discussion...

    Sam's summary of Bollier's paper:
    Bollier's original paper:
    The principal-agent problem on Wikipedia

    - Robert Labossiere

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