The Journal of Peer Production - New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change
reviews (Reproducing Wealth Without Money) image

Review A

Reviewer: Luke Heemsbergen

1) Is the subject matter relevant?

The subject matter is relevant and will be appreciated by readers of the journal and beyond as there are key insights and critiques to the fissure between emancipatory technology/mobilisation within an envelope of research that succinctly ties together the current and industrialising ages. 3D printing is topical, the theoretical frameworks utilised will be familiar to the readership, and together this open s fresh approaches to understanding how decentralised making, hacking, and engineering do politics.

2) Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations of bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

One observation and suggestion. After the Lyon split, The author situates the argument from a critical structural perspective summarising Layton, Veblen, etc., which makes for an insightful paper. However, the treatment of 20th Century engineers’ ethical motivations might be more explicitly included as they seem glossed over: their own bureaucratic / professional ethics are not explicated in the critique. Or put another way, with the commendable deep historical assessment carried out, it seems odd to not more clearly comment on the early 20th Century industrial political moves by engineers that acknowledged their role within bureaucratic structures and markets in concert with the betterment of society, and THEN build the case for social Darwinism.

As an example, the author states “Although the ideas of the engineers were never developed into a single, coherent doctrine, certain ideas recurred over and over”, and then jumps straight to Darwinism.

Why not mention the enlightened scientism found in the codified ethics imparted by (none other than) Rudyard Kipling at the request of University of Toronto Engineer Haultain after the Quebec Bridge collapses in Canada (1922)? Was this ceremony of obligation a reminder to engineers that their ethical framework of technological betterment, bureaucracy, and market could be, and indeed needed to be, itself symbiotic? The semi-secret ritual (Calling of an Engineer) gives a sense of noblesse oblige techno-progressivism that may be of interest, as would its ascendant “Order of the Engineer” in America, for examples for the reader. In these examples the “the supreme test of the soundness of an engineering solution was” something more than just the market. Regardless, how would Kipling’s economy compare to the Second International?

As very minor concern, The POEC centric literature on music file sharing is a bit out of date, and provides a somewhat ideologically constrained view. To update this bracketing/scope move, the author might want to add: or similar.

3) Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s mean of validating assumptions or making judgements?

If the author aims to explain his work as social science (via the claim it comes from a social scientist), the methods of the inquiry (interviewing) should be explained with more rigour. Basic design questions like whether these interviews were semi structured, how the sampling was carried out (A simple snowball or did the author attempt a representative or some purposeful sample within the rep-rap universe?), For what purpose? With what encountered limits? And how all this (processes, assumptions, interactions) affected his conclusions, should be addressed.

On this note, the author argues that “social scientists like myself tend to side with” popular mobilisation, while being critical of “technological development as a means for promoting social change”. This statement needs to be situated as it currently reads to over generalise the social sciences. STS scholars might be sympathetic to these views. But social scientists tracking, for instance, poverty and health over time, would ‘tend to side’ with positivist research where technology is determined to indeed be a variable that creates public good outcomes (penicillin onward…). I’m not suggesting adding postivist hymn to the paper. Instead the author should either situate his claim or lessen its scope to STS and related critical disciplines within social science/humanities.

The author states “From early on, objections were made about the second name in the phrase “Darwinian Marxism”. This should be qualified, cited, and exampled. Later, Marx’s comments apparently from Eighteenth bruaire…need to be cited.

4) Is the article well written?

The article is well organised, cogently written, but possibly long (see below). There are, however, numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes that need to be edited out.

Note that the term ‘machine park’ might be a vestige of phrase from another language (German – Maschinenpark?), and is unknown to me in the english language (nor is it found in the OED). The author may want to remove it and supplant a clearer meaning for readers (i.e machinery?).

5) Are there portions of the article that you recommend to be shortened, excised or expanded?

Currently the historical review of engineering is 2000 words, while the ‘Engineering ideology meets cyber-politics’ section is only 1300. Based on the abstract and intro section, this could be rebalanced (Depending on word length requirements I’d suggest shortening the former to be in line with the latter).

For instance, the Saint-Simon section is an interesting historical context from which the revolution split to technical and the social were made visible, however this could be condensed to a few forthright sentences (before Lyon) at no loss to the argument.

Finally, the Author writes “As a former dean at MIT, the historian Rosalind Williams is well situated for reflecting over this crisis. From the ever-more evanescent engineering curriculum taught at MIT, she sees a loss of identity of the profession as a whole. One reason is the disappearance of the institutional settings within which lifelong engineering careers used to unfold. Granted, precarious labour demand is a condition that the students at MIT share with many other classes of workers. The engineering students distinguish themselves, however, in having so fully internalised this condition of working life. William is concerned that the entrepreneurial outlook has erroded the public commitments which were part and parcel of the old identity of the engineering profession (Williams, 2003).”

This section could be expanded to more explicitly address its dissonance to the previous argument made against bureaucracy. The author could show the reader more clearly why concern has moved from bureaucracy to entrepreneurialism (the opposite of corporate bureaucracy). That is to say, what differentiates digital and industrial engineers? centralised and decentralised economic logics? etc.

The next paragraph (1960s-70s) could be removed. The symbiosis arguments could be removed if word count continues to be a problem.

Review B

Reviewer: Dale Leorke

1) Is the subject matter relevant?

The subject matter is highly relevant to the journal special issue’s theme, and is situated effectively within broader discussions of peer production and digital culture.

2) Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations of bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

The topic is approached with a strong theoretical grounding and draws on an impressive knowledge of p2p, hacking counter-cultures and digital labour. The discussion of the ‘rep-rap’ project is grounded in current debates over the potential for peer production to establish an alternative market system to that of capitalist production, while also drawing on a wider history of technological change and progressivist engineering ideals. At times the article is a little too reliant on historical analysis, however, and could be brought back to the broader question of how p2p might challenge current hierarchies of production. While the former approach is the focus of the article, the analysis would feel more illuminating with a stronger take on the consequences of the project for the current p2p debate.

3) Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s mean of validating assumptions or making judgements?

While the article states the research is based on 2 years of interviews and fieldwork research, the article seems to rely predominantly on the project’s initiator for the main claims about its potential value; other interviews are seldom referred to throughout the piece. This is fine given the scope of the research, but perhaps other perspectives could be given more weight, or a short line or two included outlining other findings from the fieldwork research & interviews?

Further, the article focuses on the claims made by the project and its team, but could also address how realistic/achievable these are. Given the article title’s provocative reference to the printing technology ‘changing the world’, the author tends to take the claims at face value, rather than providing a more sceptical analysis outside the theoretical realm of debate.

4) Is the article well written?

The article is generally well written and comprehensible, although it tends to follow a discursive, thematic structure rather than a clear, focussed analysis of the project and its historical lineages. While precise, the writing lacks a coherent flow from one idea to the next and could be written with a more general scholarly readership in mind.

5) Are there portions of the article that you recommend to be shortened, excised or expanded?

The introductory anecdote is somewhat estoric to open with and makes it difficult to initially grasp the focus of the article upon first reading it. Perhaps the anecdote could be more clearly explained to the reader who is not familiar with the historical background and more seamlessly used to introduce the topic.

The conclusion would benefit from an analysis of the author’s perspective on what likely impact the ‘rep-rap’ project is likely to have on current debates over peer production and in particular the claims made about its potential to be a self-generating tool for disrupting conventional models of production. Is this just hype or a material and social possibility? How can these claims be evaluated/critically analysed?