Notes for session#10 of
Topic: Commoners’ actions against digital colonialism - Openness and limitation in digital stacks
Discussion starter: Nathan Schneider (Media Enterprise Design Lab, University of Boulder, Colorado)
NOTE: For ease of reading, this comment has been extracted as a pdf: Nextcloud
One main aim of
commons.hour is to help meet.coop frame and evolve its own self-description as a coop-commons organisation, embodied in a members’ Handbook and in a Constitution Here we offer some starting points from two articles by Nathan Schneider, which lead into meet.coop’s own descriptions of principles, protocols and social relations, in the Handbook.
Nathan’s two articles are:
The Tyranny of Openness - What Happened to Peer Production? referred to as
Governable Stacks against Digital Colonialism referred to as
First, the coop-commons. We adopt a model of commoning as a collective, transformative, activist practice, presented by influential commons researchers David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, in Free, fair and alive - The resurgent power of the commons. See: The coop-commons and the meet.coop handbook
In responding to Nathan’s themes in his two papers, we identify below some content in each of the three core areas of the Handbook, and offer these as background to the discussion in session#10, with particular reference to how meet.coop means to work and evolve. There are six subheads.
- 1 A stack of spaces, a stack of commons
- 2 Contribution economy, dual power
- 3 Practices of transformation, altered social relations
- 4 New infrastructures and institutions
- 5 Stewarding - Privileges and obligations in a commons
- 6 Contribution economy - Recognition and value(ing)
NOTE: At the time of posting, a number of the Handbook pages linked from this note are placeholders, to be added in due course.
1 A stack of spaces, a stack of commons
“A stack might enumerate all that enables one to use a social media service, for instance: the server farms, the corporation that owns them, its investors, the software the servers run on, the secret algorithms that analyze one’s data, the mobile device, its accelerometer sending biometric data to the server farm, the network provider, the agreements that allow a government to access the intermediary signals, and so on.” [
"Stacks are cyborg assemblages of inter-operating machines, in symbiosis with human relationships” [Jasbir Puar, quoted in
meet.coop provisions a stack of digitally mediated spaces, which we regard in exactly this way. They are spaces-for-practice, by organisers in the coop-commons economy and in global civil society, under particular social relations of production. The spaces, and the stack as a whole, are stewarded as commons of collaborative means, through the familiar organisational form of a cooperative.
The social relations (protocols, privileges, obligations) that govern practice in meet.cop constitute this stack of spaces as a commons that differs in significant ways from the famed peer-to-peer commons of open-source software (see section 3 below: Practices of transformation, altered social relations).
See: Spaces - A stack of digitally mediated spaces , Social relations , The coop-commons and the meet.coop handbook
2 Contribution economy, dual power
“Of particular usefulness are longstanding feminist concerns around making hidden economies explicit . . .” [
“If peer production is to displace the firm as the dominant mode of organizing production, it should have the capacity to offer a parallel economy . . . "[
Internally, meet.coop is conducted as a particular kind of ‘parallel’ or altered economy: not an economy of ownership and property, or wage labour under managerial supervision, or market exchange, but an economy of contributions in a commons. Contributions are of three kinds: primarily, work (hours), and secondarily, contributions in-kind (material resources of various kinds - eg access to platforms or servers) and monetary contributions (members’ subscriptions).
Contributions are recognised in various ways, and valued in appropriate ways - including the valuing of care work (which is underlined in feminist economics) and of contributions in commons, under commons stewardship. This range of contributions is a framework for different modes of membership participation in meet.coop. See: Contribution economy, https://forum.meet.coop/t/membership-participation-in-the-meet-coop-commons/1180 .
This economy is inescapably in contact with, in exchange with, and in contradiction with, the dominant economy of capital, commodity production and exchange, wage labour, consumerist dependence, corporate and state power, and individualised appropriation of means. These are social relations of colonial-capitalism. As a community of practice under other, radically altered, social relations, the meet.coop commons constitutes - however tentatively - a practice of dual power. See Social relations , Dual power .
3 Practices of transformation, altered social relations
“Of particular usefulness are longstanding feminist concerns around . . . critiquing the ethical content embedded in claims of ethical neutrality.” [
“If peer production is to displace the firm as the dominant mode of organizing production, it should have the capacity to offer . . . a parallel ethics." [
Contribution economy (which embraces feminist economics) and practices of stewarding in commons (which is intrinsically a collective, trans-generational, fair-sharing mode) both constitute a de facto ‘parallel ethics’. Rather than being engaged as a matter of ‘values’ however, in meet.coop we regard these as matters of practical protocol, and we assemble the protocols in the Handbook under its three main headings: Political economy (provisioning the commons), Social relations (Enjoying the commons) and Assemblies and deliberations (Stewarding the commons).
This is an aware, collectivist and transformative-oppositional, departure from the foundational libertarian-individualist mode of FLOSS (free libre open-source software). Under the flag of ‘freedom’, FLOSS - and more promnently, ‘open source’ - permits any ethic or aesthetic in the practices that enjoy its commons of code❇︎, so long as the code remains in common.
︎ Including the ‘ethics’ of Microsoft for example, which took ownership of gitHub in 2018 for $75bn .
As Nathan argues in
tyranny, the ‘tyranny of openness’ in FLOSS needs to be displaced in the world of libre software - and thus specifically, in meet.coop - by systems of privileges and obligations, under protocols, that defend and cultivate the meet.coop commons (that is, the stack of spaces provisioned by meet.coop) and govern legitimate participation in the commons.
See: Protocols & principles, Privileges & obligations,, Membership - Participation in the meet.coop commons
A commons is constituted through provisioning, stewarding and enjoying . . and enjoying (aka mobilising, using, deploying) the commons comes under rules too, just as do provisioning and stewarding. This is not ‘free to do whatever you like’, or ‘free to exploit without making a contribution’; it is ‘free to cultivate, respect, amplify, safeguard, celebrate and enjoy what is held in the commons’.
See: Altered social relations, Commoning - The resurgent power of the commons.
4 New infrastructures and institutions - ‘Parallel ethics’
“Projecting and initiating struggles that involve people at the grassroots in assuming the responsibility for creating new values, truths, infrastructures, and institutions that are necessary to build and govern a new society.” [Grace Lee Boggs, quoted in
Practice in the meet.coop commons approaches the matter of new institutions (oppositional institutions, dual power) via an interpretation of design justice, through which the commoned spaces of meet.coop are constructed, maintained and mobilised. The design justice framing is built on two perspectives.
- On one hand, a recognition that our community of contributors and users is diverse and genuinely, necessarily plural. We observe and engage three ‘sectors’ of community. Only one of these - ‘toolstack’ - is close to the community of FLOSS; and then it differs because it is primarily concerned with formaciòn - the cultivation of movement capability - rather than with ‘code that runs’. See: Beyond the fragments - Three sectors of community`
- On the other hand, a historical recognition of multiple forms of commitment that are continually present, and need supporting, in organisers in the mutual sector aka global civil society. We observe Seven Rs of mutual sector commitment. See: Seven Rs of mutual sector commitment, Altered social relations.
Design justice is part of a ‘parallel ethics’ too: a system of altered social relations in the governance of design and infrastructure. See: Design justice in digital space.
Aware of inbuilt dynamics of fragmentation and silo-ing across cultural, political and economic formations, we adopt a commitment to facilitate collaboration, through the mobilising of our platform spaces, media spaces and venue spaces, in collaboration beyond the fragments . And in organising practices in our spaces we draw on oppositional forms of collective know-how and capability that have emerged over two or three hundred years of ‘modern’ existence, in the face of deepening hegemonic forces of capitalism, environmental extraction, and supremacies of all kinds, including anthropocentrism, racism, fundamentalisms and patriarchy.
We regard these oppositional forms as tools for conviviality, and see ourselves mobilising of these tools in a practice of formación. See: Formación - Tools for conviviality
Formación: the cultivating of skilful, well-equipped formations of organisers, capable of organising the transformative coop-commons economy, under radically altered social relations of dual power.
Perhaps more decisively than some of the other elements in design justice, because it directly builds counter-organisational capability and dual power, the commitment to formaciòn is part of a ‘parallel ethics’. Tools for conviviality are altered social relations in the field of culture, evolving historically through people’s struggles against capital, patriarchy, racism, colonial extraction and violence, environmental extraction and violence, and other modes of supremacy and elite hegemony. See: Altered social relations.
5 Stewarding - Privileges and obligations in a commons
“Evolution [beyond open source] means being open in new ways and more closed in others.” [
Above, we noted how the commons of digitally mediated spaces-for-practice in meet.coop differs from the commons of runnable code in FLOSS. The membership of the commons is fundamentally more diverse. The practice includes service to others outside the code/platforming sphere as well as ‘dogfooding’ by producers. The mobilising of the commons and participation in the commons comes under explicit collective stewardship, policing and defence, rather than being ‘free for all’ (policed merely by licensing, in the marketplace). Provisioning and value(ing) in the meet.coop commons constitutes a parallel (feminised) economics of contribution. The social relations of the commons constitute a parallel ethics and a practice of dual power. The meet.coop commons is open in new ways and more closed in other ways, than FLOSS.
See: Privileges and obligations, Altered social relations, Protocols & principles.
The organisational form that we adopt for meet.coop is the coop, so that stewarding of the commons is conducted via a General assembly of members (one member, one vote), with a Board of stewards acting as proxy for the Assembly between assemblies. Currently the coop is essentially a federation of workers’ coops (the Operational members of meet.coop) and the Board is composed mostly of appointees (from among User and Collaborator members). In the coming period we mean to evolve into a multistakeholder coop with a mostly-elected Board, via a formal Constitution. Between-times, the Standing assembly of operational members and the Board of stewards are the loci of stewarding. Membership - Participation in the meet.coop commons
We regard these explicit collective forms as being essential in a commons and in a coop, as distinct from the free enterprise, tacit elites (‘benign dictatorship’) and de-facto private ownership of FLOSS. Assemblies and deliberations.
In contrast with a conventional coop, the basis of meet.coop is not ownership (of shares, of material means) but contribution (in labour, in kind, in funding). Participation in assemblies and deliberations is based on contributions of various kinds of members, as is recognition (value(ing)) of contributions: from each according to their means, to each according to their needs, across three kinds of constituents in the broad community that we serve, and multiple enduring strands of commitment in the mutual sector.
See: Membership - Participation in the meet.coop commons, Contribution economy.
See: Beyond the fragments - Three sectors of community, Seven Rs of mutual sector commitment,
6 Contribution economy - Recognition and value(ing)
“Contributors create public commons while also receiving remuneration in proportion to the assessed value of their contributions. Contributors also hold governance rights within a project and have a say over its internal priorities and external partnerships.” [
Because meet.coop provisions platform spaces and depends on financial contributions, guaranteeing the stability and continuity of the platform service depends significantly on financial payments: by User members to the coop, and by the coop to operational members, as livelihood. In these ways, meet.coop differs from a FLOSS regime. FLOSS depends on privilege - a capacity for freely disposable skilled work hours (typically, white-male, global-North, graduate-level actors) - which meet.coop does not regard as either viable or acceptable. As a practice of transformative, dual power, meet.coop must have different social relations at its core.
The levels of fair-wage payments, and roles for which payment is required, come under the general stewardship of the commons: currently, the All-hands meeting (Standing assembly) and the Board of stewards; eventually, the General assembly and the Board as its proxy. Via these institutions, all contributors have a say over the priorities and partnerships of the coop, and the regime of value(ing) that is embodied in the protocols of the coop, and specifically, in its contribution economy and its practice of contribution accounting.
Gift work continues to be valuable and promoted in meet.coop (not least, in the Board of stewards). Sharing of material means (servers, platforms) and possibly payments of rent are part of the economy for in-kind contribution (and may be part of the relationship with Collaborator members). Contribution in the commons - known as ‘love work’ within the DisCO framework - is an intrinsic element of all contribution in meet.coop.
Although financial sustainability is pivotal, meet.coop is not primarily a workers’ coop or a social business, it is primarily a commons of digitally-mediated spaces, provisioned through fair-waged work and serving organiser-members in global civil society, the coop sector and the solidarity economy.
See: Value(ing), Contribution economy, Assemblies and deliberations.