Introduction: The Wealth of Networks seminar

by Henry Farrell on May 30, 2006

Yochai Benkler’s “The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom”: is a very exciting book. It captures an important set of developments – how new information technologies make it easier for individuals to collaborate in producing cultural content, knowledge, and other information goods. It draws links across apparently disparate subject areas to present a theory of how these technologies are reshaping opportunities for social action. Finally, it presents a highly attractive vision of what society might be like if we allow these technologies to flourish, as well as the political obstacles which may prevent these technologies from reaching their full potential. If you’re interested in debates on Creative Commons, on Wikipedia, on net neutrality, or any of a whole host of other issues, this is an essential starting point.

We’ve put together a seminar on the book, which we hope will help spur discussion around it in the blogosphere. This is an important debate. In a (long overdue) departure from previous seminars that I and others have organized at CT, we hope to include other blogs more directly in the discussion than in the past. We’ll do this by borrowing an idea from Will Wilkinson, and using this post to link to blogs which we think make substantial contributions to this set of arguments (nb that my definition of substantial is necessarily an idiosyncratic one). The material from this seminar is also available under a Creative Commons license (the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License) for others to re-use and add to in creative ways. The seminar is available both as a “PDF”: and as an “.rtf”: file for easier reading and re-use.

The contributions are in the order that they are mentioned in Benkler’s response. “Henry Farrell”: argues that not only formal institutions but also informal norms are necessary for these technologies to enable proper collaboration. “Dan Hunter”: celebrates the book, but worries that it covers too many topics, and that it’s written in language that non-academic readers may have difficulty in understanding. “John Quiggin”: examines the underlying motivations behind the production of common resources, and suggests that Benkler’s arguments point to major flaws in innovation policy. “Eszter Hargittai”: suggests that inequalities in the ability to participate may mean that these new technologies won’t do as much to flatten social hierarchies as they might seem to. “Jack Balkin”: claims that Benkler’s book isn’t so much about new modes of cooperation replacing market mechanisms, as existing side-by-side with them. “Siva Vaidhyanathan”: argues that Benkler’s book is guilty of a soft form of technological determinism, which overemphasizes the positive consequences of new technologies and implicitly discounts the less positive. Finally, “Yochai Benkler”: responds to all of the above.

As with previous seminars, please don’t comment on this introductory post, except to point out formatting glitches etc that need to be taken care of. If you have general responses, you should leave them in the comments section of Benkler’s post. If you have specific responses to individual posts, of course leave them in the comments sections for those posts. Finally, if you wish to link to this seminar from your own blog, please link to the introductory post (as this links in turn to all the contributions).

{ 6 trackbacks }

Info/Law » Crooked Timber on Benkler’s “The Wealth of Networks”
05.30.06 at 1:52 pm » Crooked Timber on Benkler
05.31.06 at 12:15 pm » Wealth of Networks Seminar
05.31.06 at 7:26 pm
Darwiniana » Wealth of Networks
05.31.06 at 7:38 pm
Basement Tapes » The Wealth of Networks Online Seminar
06.03.06 at 6:26 am » P2P Surveillance vs. the Whiggishness of Networks
06.12.06 at 8:27 pm



Dan Goodman 05.30.06 at 12:05 pm

The link to the .rtf file needs repair.


Henry 05.30.06 at 12:28 pm

Thanks – sorted.


Dæn 05.30.06 at 3:16 pm

So far, none of the outgoing links work for me—URIs in both Henry’s and Eszter’s pieces are prefaced by the seminar’s web address and are thus invalidated.


hellekin 05.30.06 at 11:18 pm

The PDF shows a repetition of the first paragraph on page 5.


Skapusniak 05.31.06 at 7:59 am

Not a formatting glitch as such, but the way you’ve organised the posts causes me horrible cognitive dissonance.

On a blog I expect read the next post in a sequence by moving *up the page toward the top* rather than downward toward the bottom. That’s my deeply ingrained habit.

That you’ve organised things with this post as the most recent, whilst also being the one I’m supposed to read first, and with the subsequent posts going *down* the page in the reverse of the expected order, is something objectively trivial that is frankly doing my head to a quite ridiculous degree.

Can we have the next blog-seminar in proper blog-order please? Thanks.


Henry 05.31.06 at 11:57 am

Daen – I dunno what’s causing this problem for you – it doesn’t happen for me with either Firefox or IE. Hellekin – thanks. Skapusniak – the current system of ordering works better for me when you have a series of tightly connected posts published simultaneously – but if there is a general consensus on this, am happy to change.


Dæn 05.31.06 at 12:09 pm

Sorry, I think I may have been unclear in my previous comment–Henry, please check this section in your piece:

Two possible factors that might precipitate this change are money and invasion. First, money. Via Michael Froomkin, this argument by Edward Leamer seems worth exploring.

It contains two broken links. Eszter appears to have fixed hers.

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