As I come across interesting posts on other blogs contributing to the discussion of Benkler’s book, I’ll add links and potted summaries to this post.
First, Brayden King at Organizational Theory about the blinders that network theorists wear:
All of this talk about the new forms of social production is very reminiscent of the excited discussion about “network forms of organization” that have been going on in org. theory for more than a decade. In fact, Quiggin’s comment summarizes much of what Woody Powell argues in his 1990 article “Neither Market Nor Hierarchy: Network Forms of Organization.” In that article Powell enthusiastically portrays another new form of economic production, which he also sees as distinct from the market-hierarchy dichotomy. … My irritation, if I have one, is that both Powell and the new Internet network folks seem obsessed about the technology without really theorizing the form of social action. … As Eszter notes, the networks of the web overlap with existing social structures, like class hierarchies. … The open source movement perhaps hasn’t flattened hierarchies as much as we’d like to think; rather, it’s just created new outlets for their expression. This all leads us to the question, what’s so new about these new networks of social production?
Second, James Wimberly at The Reality-Based Community on the history of cooperative production.
The theme is that new information technologies are reshaping opportunities for cooperation in cultural production and other forms of social action, but face obstacles in achieving them. It’s good stuff, but I miss the grand historical perspective. So let’s have a go, in the new spirit of wiki amateurism. Are we seeing a cultural revolution? No, reversion to the mean. … In pre-modern societies, hunter-gatherer or agricultural, most cultural production is cooperative. … Just as our consumption of oil is a historical blip in the long run (the “Hubbard pimple”), so, culturally speaking was the industrial society of the last two centuries. In the 19th century, industrial workers had negligible leisure and lost many (but not all) habits of self-entertainment. In the 20th, as workers regained leisure, it was overwhelmingly filled by the consumption of goods produced by professionals: sporting events, newspapers, magazines, genre fiction, film, recorded music, and TV. For anyone brought up like ourselves in this world, the reinvention of cooperative cultural production through new technology looks like a revolution. It is, but in the Platonic not the Marxian sense. What we are seeing now, I suggest, is a move back towards the long-run historical norm.