Michel Bauwens: Interview on Empowering Citizens with ICT

P2P / Panarchy
Michel Bauwens

Book: RedVolution: El poder del ciudadano conectado. Empodera.org

This book contains both Spanish and English-language essays and interviews.

This is the text we contributed, based on an email interview.

Interview with Michel Bauwens

Tell us a little about you

I’m the founder of the P2P Foundation, a global research collaborative on the collaborative economy and especially, peer production, governance and property, i.e. anything that is related to peer to peer dynamics and the commons as the modality of creating value, through the mutualization of either knowledge or tangible resources. Our motto’s are, ‘together we know everything’, ‘together we have everything’… We create a knowledge commons on the topic, have a nonprofit foundation to manage and fund our infrastructure where possible (p2pfoundation.net), and a p2p coop to found ourselves as individuals. Our coop is modeled as a phyle, a community-oriented enterprise, which sustains our engagement with our commons1. I live in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, with my Thai wife, 2 children and an extended family, which includes 24 cats and five different altars (buddhist, ganesh, protective spirits, forefathers, and more), even though I’m guided a secular spirituality myself.

What is empowerment for you?

We honour the principle of equipotentiality, i.e. to design social systems that harmonize individual and collective interest, and let anyone contribute to the commons of their choice, and make a living from it. There is always something in which you are better than another person, and which you can most usefully contribute to a common project which creates value for humanity. I believe that self-actualisation always has a ‘horizontal’ component, it’s not something that you do on our own, but in alignment with others. Each of us can realize ourselves through our connection with others, and the best way is to follow the emergent self-unfolding of a person who has to freedom of his own pursuits, yet can find a collective context in which this pursuit is a gift to others.

What do you consider as the most important contribution of ICT to empower citizenship and why?

The key to the role of ICT is the horizontal socialization that it implies. It naturally induces sharing and cooperation which belies the myth of an exclusively ‘rational self-interested economic human’. Thus we engage in value creation and bring that experiences back to the rest of our live. As we learn autonomy-in-cooperation through our online engagements, and produce complex social artifacts in the process, we naturally start questions why human institutions do not allow it. This autonomous production value, and the birth of new institutions around value-creating communities, leads to engaged citizenship as a natural byproduct. It’s not a technical issue, it’s a socio-technical issue, a social practice that is facilitated through ICT.

Could you tell us, briefly, some experience (which you know or you’ve lived) that it is for you a clear example of the importance of empowering citizenship through ITC?

Once you start voluntarily contributing as a peer, it becomes clear that both shared intellectual property and participatory processes of governance become a necessity. Why would you contribute to a project that can be privatized and taken away, or if you have no say on what happens with your contributions. At the P2P Foundation, we peer produce knowledge about peer production and practice what we preach. In the center is a community of contributors, our infrastructure is managed by a democratic Foundation, and we have a coop with the explicit by-laws that we exist to support the commons and the community.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to become empowered through ICT? Where to begin?

My advice is to ask yourself the following questions:

1. what am I passionate about?

2. what can I contribute to the world to make it better?

3. what am I good at?

The convergence of these 3 answers should give you an idea of what it is you should be creating in this world… and either start or follow a project that is doing just that… that experience of creating a community for the common good is citizen empowerment…

An expression or phrase that summarize for you the essence of citizen empowerment through ICT.
The ability to unfold the best capacities for a happy life and productive contribution to society, with the courage to demand a voice in co-determining your own future and that of every human being, as your freedom is co-dependent of those of others.”