Yochai Benkler speaks at the iCommons

Yochai Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks has made a remarkable impact in the short time since it was published. Larry Lessig hailed it as probably the most important book of the decade. Benkler’s keynote at the iCommons Summit in Dubrovnik was therefore awaited with considerable anticipation by many of us who know his work.

I covered his keynote address at the iCommons Summit: In a densely argued paper, Benkler persuaded Commoners that where we are – the Commons movement – is not a passing fashion but a basic reality and part of a transitional trend in social, economic and political affairs. In the traditional media, where massive investment is required to obtain a voice, power is centralised in the hands of the large corporations, making it all to easy for the voices of ordinary citizens to be silenced.

But mass dissemination of information is now possible through decentralised peer-to-peer and collaborative networks, creating space for effective resistance by ordinary citizens against attempts to force silence through censorship or to bury corruption.

The importance of Benkler’s argument is that he takes the debate about collaborative modes of knowledge production deeper than the cultural context in which these issues are usually set, arguing that the Commons poses a fundamental challenge to the accepted proprietary theories of how economics and politics work. The growth of non-proprietary, collaborative ways of working offers opportunities for addressing human welfare and development, away from the power dynamics of big business and political hegemonies.

Read on in the iCommons blog, where I report that what emerged in Benkler’s talk was, first of all, an analysis of the ethical dimesnions of the Commons and, secondly, a dense bu fascinating account of how peer production and his picture of a world in which the tensions between the proprietary and non-proprietary modes of production could lead to the development of a
new version of the political economy.

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