A Commons-Based Peer To Peer Path to Post-Capitalism: An Interview with Michel Bauwens
The interview presented here is an effort to expose critical geographers to the work of Michel Bauwens and the P2P Foundation he co-founded in 2006 (https://p2pfoundation.net). Bauwens and his associates have long been promoting the idea of an emerging “commons-based peer production” economy (CBPP), which is posited as a nascent mode of production that could eventually supplant capitalism as we know it. More precisely, the P2P Foundation theorises and supports a technologically enabled socio-economic turn, rooted in the productive and liberating potential of a collaboratively shared and managed material and digital commons, in which extractive, capitalist social relations and rationales are replaced by cooperative, generative ones (see Bauwens et al. 2019).
While the work of Bauwens and the P2P Foundation has made inroads in some academic, media, and government circles in continental Europe, it has gone largely unnoticed in the field of human geography (for exceptions, see Gerhardt 2019; Lynch 2019). Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that the CBPP framework embraced by Bauwens does not fit squarely within any single academic discursive current. Yet it could be argued that the CBPP analysis has value precisely because it does not cling to given analytical boundaries, rather it combines aspects of various approaches to offer a compelling vision for a transition out of capitalism. The P2P Foundation is also worth noting because they combine their analysis with hands-on approaches and efforts that seek to support CBPP endeavours and policies around the world. The combination of analysis, vision, and action is refreshing and something critical geography could potentially learn from.
Academically, the commons-based peer to peer production presented by Bauwens is framed in contradistinction to a systemic capitalism; the Marxian concept of “mode of production” is embraced and the need to create a macro economy that moves beyond “exchange value” in favour of “use value” is espoused. In this way Bauwens’ focus may be critiqued for being too capitalocentric. At the same time, however, Bauwens and the P2P Foundation are adamant about the existence of economic spaces and processes that fall outside of the realm of a rigid, overarching capitalist system. Indeed, in line with diverse economy and anarchist approaches, CBPP efforts are seen largely as intentional, prefigurative initiatives that transcend capitalism.