Editorial Notes: Mass peer activism.
Peer production means that people work together collaboratively and transparently to create a public good. This work often requires the creation of new institutions and rules. One of the aims of Critical Studies in Peer Production is to challenge the current self-reinforcing paradigm where academic journals that ‘reject more attract more’, so that ‘avoiding faults becomes more important than new ideas’ (Whitworth and Friedman, 2009). Through mechanisms such as the discussion of journal policy on publicly archived lists, community vetting of proposals, signaling of published articles by referees, and publication of submission drafts and referee reports, Critical Studies in Peer Production aims to make the peer review process more inclusive whilst guaranteeing the scientific excellence of the journal. The process is not set in stone and it is not perfect; but it is a start, and has one great advantage over the dominant model: it is free.
The Peer reviewed section of this inaugural issue of Critical Studies in Peer Production examines two emblematic examples of commons-based and oriented peer production, Swedish file-sharing and Wikipedia. Never before has a technologically-advanced country become equated with a practice which directly contradicts central aspects of capitalist regulation. Never before have so many people collaborated across borders to produce a free knowledge repository. The question is, what is the political import of these projects? Andersson and O’Neil argue that the activities of participants in peer production projects represent a kind of infra-politics or ‘subactivism’ which eschews traditional formats and mobilisations: in one case individualism is being re-articulated to the state, in the other a holistic critique rejects separated expertise and justice. The papers also embrace a common methodological stance, tracking the actions, justifications and legitimations of participants.
The question of the political impacts of peer production, of ‘peer activism’ is pursued in the Debate section. Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is most closely associated to the writings of Bruno Latour and Michel Callon. The papers emerged out of discussions at the Virtec conference at the University of Hull in March 2010. Söderberg, Tkacz and O’Neil argue in favour of various alternatives to domination: from Hegelian Marxism, to Actor-Network Theory, to Post-Critical Sociology, what is the most productive means of mapping and contesting power, particularly in anti-authoritarian projects? Exchanges such as these can be uncomfortable, but at least they are attempting to be genuinely agonistic, by engaging in critical debate where both parties fully recognise, understand and question each other’s position.
Finally this inaugural issue of the Critical Studies inPeer Production features Reports by Niesyto & Tkacz and Dobusch & Thorne, the organisers of two conferences which took place in 2010: Critical Point of View and the 3rd Free Culture Research Conference. Too often academic conferences end up only as another notch on a publication list; not enough time is spent assessing, and documenting, what has been learnt in theoretical and organisational terms. Were goals met? What could have been done differently? These questions matter, and we thank the respondents for taking this reflective exercise seriously. We also wish to thank the authors, programmers, reviewers and participants in our debates who helped advance this project.
Whitworth, B. & R. Friedman (2009) “Reinventing academic publishing online. Part I: Rigor, relevance and practice”, First Monday 14(8).