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An agents's ability to control another agent, determine a process or control a resource. It is different from influence.

It is important to realize that the p2p movement erodes or tries to eliminate instituted relations of power and to destroy hubs. In other words, p2p is essentially about doing things together based on value-based relations, not on power-based relations.

Soft power is observed in p2p networks and in some cases it is seen as a destructive power dynamic.

It can also be argued that instituted power relations are displaced, they are moved in the architectural process of the network. If we take for example the Bitcopin network, we see power dynamics between groups of stakeholders such as miners, programmers, service providers and users. The power dynamic between these stakeholders is crystallized within the protocol of the Bitcoin network as in block size for example (see debates on the Bitcoin block size and the resulting forks of the network).

Definition of power

Wikipedia definition of power

Instituted power

From Multitude Manifesto

Institutional power is one’s ability to affect someone else's life, granted by formal rules within an organization, or in society at large. It is the power of a policeman to arrest you, and the power of a judge to put you in prison. It is the power of your boss to hire or to fire you from your job. Assuming that the rules have a rational basis and are based on sound ethical considerations, the exercise of formal power is usually framed, but that doesn’t eliminate the abuse of power, which is the exercise of someone’s will beyond the provisions of the instituted power relation. Rage, nepotism, physical and psychological abuse, are all symptoms of abuse of instituted power. An abuse of power can be exercised through the application of unfair rules, through a voluntary misinterpretation of rules, through malicious manipulation of facts (or evidence) to construe an apparent violation of rules, or even through the non application of existing rules (ignoring the rules).

OVNs are organizations that try to eliminate instituted power relations through the creation of permissionless collaboration spaces that are regulated through formal protocols, which constitute (economic) games. People are in our out of the game based on how well they play the game, not based on someone's will that decides who should be in our out of the game. When it comes to planning and allocation of time on tasks, OVNs rely less on planning and more on stigmergy.

Power in the network society

The emerging network society creates new forms of network-based organizations, not possible in a pre-network world. As Castells (1996) argued, network organizations may have a ‘telos’, values and ideological direction. As such ‘networks’ are not only value free systems of pragmatic exchange (e.g. eBay), but as well normatively constituted. In similar fashion, Kellener (2005) coined the term ‘techo-politics’ to express the emerging political nature of network actors. Earlier, Arguilla and Rondfeldt (1999) used the term ‘noo-politik’ to describe a new type of power dynamic in the age of networks . ‘Noo’ is drawn from the idea of a noosphere, the domain of a global conversation, or more hyperbolically ‘global consciousness’, thus implying a political struggle for popular global consciousness.
While networks are normatively charged inter-spaces, pre-network forms (e.g. Tribes, Institutions, Markets) are persistent structural features of human organization. As such, they too will partake in the network form, but very much on their own terms (Ronfeldt, 1996). Tribal forms use the network form to strengthen traditional identities in the face of globalized hybridity. Institutions use the network form to maintain their cultural hegemonies of governance and power. Markets use the network form to de-territorialize and open global market opportunities, production and consumption. Yet while, as Rondfeldt argues, Tribes, Institutions, and Markets will use the network form to their advantage, the network form is also fundamentally disruptive in respect these previous forms.
One supposition here is thus: in the early development of the network era, persistent human structures (Tribes, Institutions, Markets) will co-opt network potentials and win out. Examples include Al-Qaeda’s early successes, China’s lockdown of political organization on the internet, Nike’s global factory. As the network era matures, incumbents fight ever more pitched battles, protecting pharmaceutical’s IP, buying out and destroying rival social networking platforms, jailing cyber activists. Early modes of co-optation are ‘vectoralist’ in nature, as the corporate-state power structure imposes the idea of property and control on immaterial intellectual resources (processes, designs, genetics, pharmaceuticals, art, etc.), which are in themselves not scarce, but extensively reproducible (Wark, 2004). This creates a division between the owners (vectoralists) and producers (hackers) in a class hierarchy based on artificially created scarcities. More recent modes of co-optation, following Michel Bauwens’ argument, see a shift from vectoralist capital to what he terms ‘netarchical capital’, what amounts to deriving surplus value from participatory platforms - via the commodification of everyday relationships. As he writes: "Netarchical capitalism is a hypothesis about the emergence of a new segment of the capitalist class, which is no longer dependent on the ownership of intellectual property rights (hypothesis of cognitive capitalism), nor on the control of the media vectors (hypothesis of MacKenzie Wark in his book The Hacker’s Manifesto), but rather on the development and control of participatory platforms."
Yet as the network era continues to evolve, developments empower civil society as the realm capable of mobilizing network potentials with greatest efficacy. Identities take a post-institutional turn. Political institutions are tamed by ‘sousveillance’ (the broad social network surveils the organization) from citizen networks; production and exchange of everyday needs shifts toward p2p enterprises. To rephrase Marx, the question now becomes, in our futures, who controls the means of relationality?

Dimensions of power

To be completed - see Multitude Manifesto

Framework for ability to exercise power

Exercising power is an action. We need to analyze action to understand how the exercise of power is expressed.

Four phase model of action

  1. Propose: delineate the options on the table
  2. Decide: select the preferred option
  3. Execute: put the selected option into action
  4. Evaluate: analyze the impact of the executed action

Power relations and information

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Power and economy

With respect to the economic axis the question that emerges is whether the network economy devolves toward p2p producing communities, or whether this network economy is incorporated into large-scale centralized corporations (netarchical capital or platform capitalism). If network economic power shifts toward a meshwork of networked communities and individuals (both local and trans-local), we can call this a citizen driven p2p economy. If network economic power is ensconced into large networked multinational corporations, we can call this netarchical capitalism. In this polarity, major corporations, like Google and Facebook, co-opt the potentials of the emerging p2p and sharing economies, and provide the infrastructure and networks for sharing and exchange, though suppressing and squashing its diversity and autonomy, while extracting surplus value from such platforms

Source: The Futures of Power in the Network Era, Jose M. Ramos, Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Power and politics

With respect to the political axis (vertical in diagram 1 above) the question that arises with the emergence of network politics is whether surveillance technologies, soft power and network control tilt in the favor of government, or alternatively tilt in the favor of citizens. If existing forces for surveillance and social control have their way, governments will increasingly collect large amounts of data on the lives of the average citizen. When a person becomes of interest to the state they can be surveilled and monitored, and effectively tamed. This condition would be one in which citizens lose their capacity for privacy, while government is increasingly shrouded in secrecy. If citizen movements for transparency and accountability have their way, then the inner workings of government are pried open for all to see, government transparency becomes the norm, and the citizenry tame government. Importantly, in this polarity, individuals retain certain rights to privacy.
The crisis of the State also includes 3 major contradictions: 1) ultimate authority, 2) legitimate governance and 3) the management of the commons. The first contradiction concerns ultimate authority. Over the last century the nation state has assigned to itself the status of ultimate authority. Today the nation state is in crisis in part because it neither has the capacity to address many global / interstate challenges, but importantly its design often prevents it from acting outside of national interests. Meanwhile, a variety of citizens group, some local and others transnational have assumed moral stances that are transnational / global in character. This process is seeing the transfer of ultimate authority from the state to transnational citizen groups. Historically, the development of the state after the treatise of Westphalia saw the gradual erosion of all competing forms of ultimate authority, (the church or other groups). Empires had accommodated overlapping systems of authority, in particular the ultimate moral authority of religious elites. Through the 19th and 20th centuries, as the state developed, alternative or competing systems of ultimate cultural authority were sidelined or dissolved. Nationalism as ideology represented a marriage of cultural authority / allegiance with the states instrumental power. Today we inherit a system where the state assumes itself as the ultimate moral authority along side its status as the primary holder of instrumental political power. This emerging contradiction concerns how transnational civic organizations challenge and attempt to displace the state as the ultimate moral authority, as these citizens take a planetary view inclusive of many or all nations, e.g. in the area of climate mitigation, human rights, transparency, etc. To be clear, however, the challenge to state authority is not a general challenge to its authority - the majority of its law making process. The general authority of states is vast. This change merely displaces the state as the ultimate authority, a status it had accrued over the past century. The key gap then is between the transnational citizen organizations’ status as new ultimate moral authorities and their lack of instrumental capacities to enact change. While the state increasingly loses its status as ultimate authority, it retains vast instrumental political capabilities. The second contradiction concerns the crisis in the democratic process or legitimate governance. Notwithstanding the increasingly plutocratic mode of policy making in the West through neo-liberalization (USA + Eurozone), access to information, the capacity for citizen group to engage with the complexities of the policy making process, renders existing systems of democratic representations antiquated (Dator, 2007). Increasing citizen engagement and desire for devolved localized governance or direct / participatory democracy runs counter to the increasing closure of the political process. The third contradiction relates to the State’s limitations in the governance and management of shared Commons. The State’s role in protecting ecological commons (oceans, rivers, beaches, ground water, etc.) and building social commons (roads, services, libraries, etc.) is perpetually constrained by virtue of the need to satisfy powerful State-producing interests (industries, investors, military, voters, media, etc.). The outcome of this power brokering process creates winners and losers, as the State ‘closes ranks’ with these interests, rather than producing policy geared toward common interests. This is especially acute today, where transnational capital dictates much national policy, whose investors are abstracted from those concretely affected by such policies (as per the second contradiction of capitalism). Communities are forced to develop parallel systems of governance outside the state system which can achieve adequate levels of social and intergenerational enfranchisement (Bollier and Helfrich, 2012).

Reference: The Futures of Power in the Network Era, Jose M. Ramos, Queensland University of Technology, Australia

External links

See also