The political economy of peer production: Adam Arvidsson and the Ethical Economy

By samrose, published at 19 November 2007 - 6:01pm, last updated 10 years 3 weeks ago.

I've just returned from Nottingham, UK., where I participated in the first-ever academic workshop on p2p concepts, a conference/workshop on "the political economies of peer production".

I plan on giving a review of each presentation in blog postings here. This first post is about Adam Arvidsson's amazing, and thought provoking presentation on what he is calling the "Ethical Economy".

(I am reviewing Adam's presentation first, because my notes ended up being most complete on his. I plan on reviewing all other presentations here as well, once I have a chance to reconstruct and map them).

This review will be in my words, and mostly paraphrased, but I'll do my best to stay faithful to the vision that Adam was communicating.

Adam's idea about an "ethical economy" is basically a new human-centric economy, that is emerging out of materialistic economy that has dominated the world for over a century now.

Adam's compelling arguments include:

  • That "talent" is not what is valuable. This is a flaw, and problem in the theories of people such as Richard Florida, who believe that the presence of creative people will spur economic growth and activity. Adam Arvidsson instead argues that it is the creation of creative industries which package, brand and sell content, that spur economic growth.
  • That states, and mega-corporations are adapting, and will adapt to play a supportive role in the emergence of "ethical economies", as their old roles of being leading/controlling entities are obsoleted
  • That the only areas of sustainable growth for the future of capitalism are in immaterial production
  • That emerging value is contingent on the production, and growth of community (instead of the production and growth of material wealth). Value is no longer compressed into "price" (my words -S.R.). Ethics are now taken into equal consideration, because they are needed to sustain community, which is the emerging root of "value" (my paraphrasings S.R.).

Many people in the conference responded to ask, basically "how will we make a living in this new economy", if value is no longer centered on materialistic gain. Indeed, this is the problem we all face, but it is also simultaneously the opportunity that is currently wide open, and wating, for people to build out new types of wealth.

I've created a dialogue map, that attempts to show Adam's key points, and conceptual connections between them. I made this dialogue map while Adam gave his presentation. One interesting thing to note is that all arguments point toward the building, support, and sustaining of community as the answer to the questions that the ethical economy raises ("Value is contingent on the construction/sutainence/producing of community in the ethical economy. Communities depend on ethics for cohesion/sustainability").

(click on image above to see map full size).