Place: Medialab Prado · Plaza de las Letras, C/ Alameda, 15 Madrid
Roundtable about The Gift Practices and P2P , moderated by Antonio Lafuente. Participants: Margarita Padilla and Susana Narotzky, as part of the activities of the Seminar of the 4th Inclusiva-net Meeting: P2P Networks and Processes (July 6 - 10, 2009).
Gift economies are not surplus or abundance economies; they have nothing to do with exchanges of surplus or inexhaustible goods outside the market. Firstly, because the majority of what circulates is hybrid in nature and therefore, the perfect gift exists only in anthropologists’ imaginations. Secondly, because over half of economic transactions take place outside the marketplace, if we count public activity, affectionate and domestic work, payment in kind, and altruistic gifts. Last but not least, because people want to share their ideas, give of their time, and exchange their goods. Studies have measured these contributions against world GDP and assigned an economic weight of up to 9% to the heterogeneous world of giving. This recent rebirth of interest in P2P and/or non-mercantile exchanges can be considered from a variety of viewpoints. Based on the core notion of gift technologies, this presentation aims to examine a variety of innovative social and technological devices that sustain the open flow of goods that expand the Commons.
Ten years ago now, in 1999, young Shawn Fanning wrote a little program to share music with his friends via the Internet… it was to become Napster, no less. This clever invention that enabled file sharing without uploading the files to a central computer was not only a prodigious technical innovation, but also showed certain features of P2P networks: people wanted to share; they wanted to do so with no prior technical knowledge; they wanted to share something as “incidental” as music; and so-called “garage” innovations could take on academic or industrial innovations… Ten years later, all of these factors continue to be at issue, only now they are entangled with Web 2.0 practices, which sometimes clarify and sometimes obscure the philosophy of P2P networks.
An economist schooled in the workings of the capitalist system— or, better yet, of the crumbling capitalism of the early 21st century—would be unwilling to admit, despite indisputable facts confirming it, that the economic practice of capitalism had a specific historical origin and its expiration date may be coming quite soon. That awareness would come from having read Polanyi. If that model economist had, for some reason, some familiarity with economic anthropology, he or she would certainly be willing to admit, at least, that various economic practices other than capitalism do exist, arranged along a diachronic axis throughout history as well as along a synchronic axis throughout today’s world that shows the cultural diversity of the same practices. It would be sufficient to have read, to give one of the abundant examples literature offers, one of the few bestsellers among books on anthropology: Argonauts of the Western Pacific. It is even possible that this prototypical cultured and well-informed economist would know about what sociologists call different types of capital; that is, different ways that various cultures in the world, diachronically or synchronically, have accumulated a type of flow or cash not necessarily coinciding with the strictly monetary capital that current economist tend to identify as the only prevailing and still legitimate type of capital. A look around the world and through anthropological literature shows us that the logic of the accumulation of various types of capital used by cultures now and in the past (symbolic, educational, cultural, and economic) is based on the particular logic of each type and its exchange value—the possibility of converting one type of capital into another— depends on the community’s acceptance of that agreement. In numerous cultures, for example, strictly material capital took on value only when it was converted into symbolic capital. A member of such a culture who attempted to prevail over the others solely through a demonstration of his or her material wealth would not have received the slightest attention from his or her peer group. To obtain even a minimal amount of recognition and support from his or her peers, that person aspiring to rule or simply stand out above others would have had to convert his or her material capital into symbolic capital, perhaps even using all that material capital to obtain the symbolic credit given by the community in exchange for it. Having read Pierre Bourdieu and The Social Structures of the Economy would have been a great help. Perhaps he or she would have finally understood that our current economic practices, clearly in decline, are merely one of many possible economic practices and, therefore, that no specific economic practice should ever be confused with the broad, all-encompassing science of the economy of practices. Wikipedia and its organizational logic is a contemporary example of digital potlatch, of a contribution of a considerable flow of time and knowledge whose only return is recognition of the community, something that happened to a large extent in the genesis of the scientific field, which has been perverted today, due to multiple causes.