Of Penguins and Power

by Yochai Benkler on September 25, 2017

In Why Coase’s Penguin didn’t fly, Henry follows up his response to Cory’s Walkaway by claiming that peer production failed, and arguing that the reason I failed to predict its failure is that I ignored the role of power in my analysis.

Tl;dr: evidence on the success/failure of peer production is much less clear than that, but is not my issue here.  Coase’s Penguin and Sharing Nicely were pieces aimed to be internal to mainstream economics to establish the feasibility of social sharing and cooperation as a major modality of production within certain technological conditions; conditions that obtain now.  It was not a claim about the necessary success of such practices.  Those two economist-oriented papers were embedded in a line of work that put power and struggle over whether this feasible set of practices would in fact come to pass at the center of my analysis.  Power in social relations, and how it shapes and is shaped by battles over technical (open/closed), institutional (commons/property), ideological (cooperation/competition//homo economicus/homo socialis), and organizational (peer production & social production vs. hierarchies/markets) systems has been the central subject of my work.  The detailed support for this claim is unfortunately highly self-referential, trying to keep myself honest that I am not merely engaged in ex-post self-justification.  Apologies. [click to continue…]