Production and Governance in Hackerspaces as Commons-Based Peer Production in the Physical Realm?

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Full reference: Kostakis, V., Niaros, V. & Giotitsas, C. (Forthcoming). Production and governance in hackerspaces: A manifestation of Commons-based peer production in the physical realm?. International Journal of Cultural Studies.

Summary

This article deals with the phenomenon of hackerspaces and sheds light on the relationship of their underlying values, organizational structures and productive processes to those of the online communities of Commons-based peer production projects. While hackerspaces adopt hybrid modes of governance, this paper attempts to identify patterns, trends and theory that can frame their production and governance mechanisms. Using a diverse amount of literature and case studies, it is argued that, in many cases, hackerspaces exemplify several aspects of peer production projects’ principles and governance mechanisms.

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The aim of this paper was to tentatively see whether, and to what extent, hackerspaces replicate governance structures and principles observed in online CBBP. Our answer is that hackerspaces, at least those examined here, could be considered as a manifestation of online CBPP into the physical realm but not a direct or a precise transfer due to the scarcity and the subsequent allocation problem of the material world. Although a single hackerspace’s projects can be very different from each other and much more different than the CBPP ones, we came to understand that most of the examined CBPP characteristics permeate the hackerspace phenomenon. Of course, it should be highlighted that CBPP projects differ from the projects run in hackerspace in the sense that the former, most of the times (e.g. Linux project), include thousands of specialized participants who operate in a relatively defined, concrete framework. Moreover, it is obvious that in both CBPP and hackerspaces, issues of independency and autonomy arise, as shown, when it comes for a monetary support from an outsider. Even if the ability of the hackerspace community to develop the norms required for CBPP models is arguably put under more stress, we noticed that there are many instances that seem to embrace several CBPP aspects through adopting hybrid modes of governance. These modes, at least for the discussed cases, share certain elements which exemplify CBPP governance mechanisms and characteristics, which are, after all, historically and essentially indistinguishable from the hacker ethic. Thus it can be stated that hackerspaces’ various hybrid modes of governance are actually an unfinished artifact that follows the constant reform of social norms within the community, as happens in CBPP (Kostakis, 2010).

Because of the perpetual transformation of hackerspaces and their diverse organizational structures, it seems wise to approach them on a case-by-case basis if we aim for a more detailed account of governance. What we tried to do here is to provide a bird’s-eye-view to the trends and norms of eight distinct hackerspaces which are not unrelated to those of CBPP communities. They share the same roots and can be considered as interrelated strands of an alternative mode of development and production, i.e., social production. Of course we should be aware of the fact that every hackerspace is unique. After all, as Altman says in a Noisebridge introductory video (2011), ‘it’s not easy to say what a hackerspace is exactly. You know it when you are in one, but they are all unique because people are so unique’.

Ιt would be interesting to note down that understanding the community forms of organizing can increase ‘the range of tools or solutions that society can bring to social problems’ (O’ Mahony and Ferraro, 2007: 1079). Hence, future research could focus on the role of hackerspaces and their impact on learning, social innovation and urbanism, i.e, how hackerspaces, as third places (see Oldenburg, 1997), could influence the design and development of the urban web and potentially offer opportunities for meaningful social interactions amongst citizens.

More Information

  • Hackerspaces whose members took part in this study: Noisebridge, Hackerspace.gr, Randomdata, Labitat, P-Space, Hackerspace 5w, Co-Up, Syn2cat, Metalab.

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