Saturday, 2 April 2011

Self organising

Good discussion on practical and theoretical aspects of co-operation and self-management in the economy last night - the second in the series Self organising, hosted by Valeria Graziano from the Micropolitics Research Group. Valeria told me she had once resolved never to get involved in anything with an all-male speaking panel, and probably regretted her decision to break with the principle yesterday. I was fairly competitive and mouthy, perhaps due to feeling a bit nervous at speaking in an academic environment for the first time in thirty years. Neither, I suspect, was she impressed by my two-cans-of-lager observations about the different capabilities and behaviours of men and women working in collectives. Time to check out my notes from Patriarchy 101.

A lot of the night's discussion revolved around the co-operative potential of the free software and the hacking community, with contributions from Toni Prug (Hack the State, gComm(o)ns), Debian and Ubuntu veteran Matt Zimmerman, and Marcel Mars. I was struck by the parallels between the current wave of activism around software-based technologies, and the viral growth of print-based hacktivism in the 70s and 80s, when community and activist publishing networks sprang up in their hundreds, as it became possible for anyone to get their hands on a basic press and learn how to use it in an afternoon. People can now create a clunky and hard-to-use website as easily as they could produce a badly designed and printed newspaper in 1977.

The hacktivists have detourned intellectual property law in a partially-successful attempt to protect creative commons and free software. In doing so, they used the law in a way it wasn't really designed to be used. You could say the same of the UK co-operative movement, which has used strategies for incorporation (the Industrial and Provident society model in particular) to invert the legal privileges normally reserved for owners, shareholders, creditors and directors, and create frameworks for solidarity and mutual protection (limited liability)  for workers, consumers, tenants and other groups of exploited subjects. And there are clear parallels between the codes and rules drawn up by free software activists, to govern their own relationships and create a platform for a different kind of working culture, and the co-operative movement's codes of values and principles - both remarkably sucessful 'soft' technologies which are standing the test of time as a basis for self-organisation and self-management in the economy.