Accepted Paper:

Pe(e)rformativity: Narratives of social change in Commons-based peer production  


Bruno Chies

Paper short abstract:

Performativity theory is almost exclusively concerned with markets. Can theories on commons governance also be performative? Are they necessarily antagonistic to how markets are organized? This paper rehearses some answers by considering the theories and practices advocated by the P2P Foundation.

Paper long abstract:

Performativity theory has contributed significantly to our understanding of the role played by theories, models and technologies in creating and shaping markets. Proponents of the theory have also recognized that the calculative agencies and behaviors in the neoclassical models (assuming a homo economicus) can be resisted or contested by actors that wish to make a market perform other values. Despite this talk about performativity as politics, the focus has so far been almost exclusively on markets. There are barely any studies of this type concerned with other forms of economic coordination, such as commons governance. Is it possible that other models are able to perform other economic practices? And if so, what are the significant differences and how do they relate to markets?

This paper suggests some preliminary answers by examining - based on fieldwork, interviews and online documentation - the case of the P2P Foundation, a global community of researchers and activists studying and advocating the idea of peer production, characterized by collaboration and free sharing of knowledge and information (ie, as a commons). In this case, by making the switch from competition to cooperation and from private to shared ownership, (reformed) markets are viewed as a way to support the co-production of the informational commons, therefore inverting the relation of markets predating the commons. But the ability to accomplish that, as this paper shall argue, does not rely exclusively on mobilizing and recreating actor-networks, but also on a strong social theory and narrative of social change.

Panel T018
Markets versus commons? What relationships? What roles for STS?