“We do not live in an era of change, but in a change of eras” is the way Jan Rotmans from the University Rotterdam describes the structural changes impacting our societies. This is also the phrase Michel Bauwens chose to open his latest book yet to be published in English which title is likely to be close to “Towards a post-capitalist society with the Peer-to-Peer”.
For thinkers like Jan Rotmans and Michel Bauwens this change of eras is akin to the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 19th century, and characterized by transitions in various fields. In a nutshell, our societies face 3 major tipping points:
- A change in social order from a central, hierarchically-controlled society to a horizontal, decentralized, and bottom-up working unit.
- A changing economic structure: where in the past large, bureaucratic organizations were necessary to produce cheap products, in the new digital economy it is possible to develop products and services locally on a small scale.
- A change in power relations: where once political influence and economies of scale determined access to resources, access to knowledge and information is now also accessible outside of political and social institutions.
Following this analysis, it is to gain further insights that we at blaqswans.org wanted to paint a big picture of the emerging post-capitalist paradigm, underpinned by peer-to-peer and collaborative dimensions. We started mapping various domains to go beyond the anecdotal evidence that such or such initiative is venturing into car-sharing or house swapping.
(click on the images for higher resolution)
We confirmed a few things as we drew this map:
- There is much more to this transition that the greenwashing offered by Uber and Airbnb, which are actually not peer-to-peer. This is precisely why we deliberately reused the shape of a honeycomb popularised by the “Collaborative Economy Honeycomb” infographic. It lists startup companies claiming to be part of that ‘sharing economy’, when many really are unbridled capitalism trying to further optimise the existing ‘selling economy’ – nothing wrong with selling but let’s not call it ‘sharing’ with the ethical claims usually attached to it.
- The intellectual work of theorising this new economy has now reached a critical mass that is too often overlooked by ‘mainstream’ economists, observers, and policy makers who treat it as fringe.
- Put together, the practical initiatives run at the grassroots level offer a credible sustainable alternative contradicting the eventual perception that the post-capitalist paradigm is a utopia dreamt up by isolated hippies. On the contrary, it is now possible to shop food regularly outside of mass retailers’ distribution networks, it is possible for a major French city like Grenoble, or Barcelona in Spain to be run by grassroots movements, and it is possible for farmers to produce in a biodynamic and commercially viable way to escape the vicious cycle of pesticides and high yields.
This map is very much work in progress and will be improved as we progress. We wanted to stop contemplating the problems of the current paradigm, and instead show how each of those issues has robust thinkers and influencers offering credible alternatives (we have chosen just a few to illustrate but there are obviously many more), and how those alternatives have started to be implemented to form a coherent system that will bring a post-capitalist society to life.
For this to be successful it will require a movement of movements, an alliance of separate movements, including a coalition of the global social and environmental justice movements, environmentalists, activists for the cancellation of debt, and so on. There is of course no guarantee of success. Every change requires a successful transition: that will be the challenge. But counting and mapping our troops is a first and necessary step to make this cause prevail.
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Lead image by Marlon Böhland