Peer Production and Societal Transformation

The new journal Critical Studies in Peer Production (CSPP) invited me to submit a debate paper for the next issue on Free Software. In this paper I try to describe analytical patterns developed by the Oekonux Project since over ten years of research on Free Software and commons-based peer production. The paper being part of the next CSPP issue should be released in December 2011, but according to the release-early practices in Free Software, I will publish the patterns in a series of weekly blog posts. I will extensively use cross-linking between these pattern posts. First, most of the links will not work, since futures patterns still reside in the publishing queue, but more and more links will function as the referenced pattern posts appear — please have a litte patience. Now, let’s start with the abstract, introduction, credits, and literature.

Ten patterns developed by the Oekonux Project

[Italian version]


The Oekonux project seeks to establish a new basis for analyzing a new historical phenomenon: the emergence of peer production, starting with the creation of Free Software. If the initial hypotheses of Free Software being the germ form of a new mode of production beyond capitalism is valid, it would be necessary to develop new epistemological patterns to be able to analyze it adequately. This requires understanding and criticizing old analytical notions as historical products of the outlived capitalist way of producing our livelihood, including those which aim to be in opposition to capitalism. In this paper I present ten patterns which have emerged from the debates of the Oekonux Project. They demonstrate what it means to go beyond traditional affirmative and traditional oppositional or “leftist” patterns of analysis. Although taken from the debates in the Oekonux Project, these have never yet been presented in such a condensed way. Obviously not all patterns will be shared by all the participants of these debates, because in the end these are my personal conclusions drawn from over ten years of discussion.


In this text I will try to give some introduction to the main ideas which have been developed since the foundation of the Oekonux project in 1999. There is no fixed set of thoughts and personally I have my own perspective on Oekonux ideas.

Why is the Oekonux project so relevant for debates around commons-based peer production? There are two reasons. First, Oekonux developed many of the ideas many researchers are so familiar with many years before they reached a wider audience. Oekonux was founded as a project of reflection around Free Software, but from the beginning the question of generalizing observations about Free Software to other realms of immaterial as well as material goods was present. When Yochai Benkler (2006) coined the term commons-based peer production it only condensed a debate years old into a catchy notion, but the insights itself were not very new and sound very familiar to Oekonux participants. Consequently the term has been adopted by the Oekonux project.

Second, Oekonux participants have gone much further than others in questioning the accepted way of thinking. New theses have been developed which did not only reject traditional discourse patterns in computer sciences, sociology, and economics, but also in emancipatory political and theoretical approaches. Stefan Merten, the founder of Oekonux who comes from an anarchist-marxist background, provocatively rejects “leftist and other capitalist ideologies” (Merten 2011) for the analysis of peer production. This sounds quite post-modern, but was meant differently: All means of emancipation are going to be developed right in front of our eyes, but we also have to grasp them theoretically. Traditional leftist patterns are not able to do that, because they adhere to the given mode of production for whose analysis they are made.

This was an enormous provocation to many people, traditionalists on all sides. And there have been many cultural and political clashes within the project. But there also have been a core of people, who continuously drove the Oekonux approach further. In the following I try to describe some Oekonux patterns, which of course represent my interpretation of the Oekonux debate. When I use the past when talking about Oekonux, it is not because the project does no longer exists. It still exists, and the Critical Studies in Peer Production journal is not the only spin-off of the project, there have been many others, so that the focus decentralizes to diverse projects inspired by Oekonux.

In an interview with Joanne Richardson Stefan Merten (2001) described Oekonux as a project to evaluate Free Software with respect to its “potential for a different society beyond labor, money, exchange”. Here, he gives the keywords Oekonux thinking was built around. I will take and extend them to illustrate why and how the main ideas contradict traditional leftist thinking so much, especially when Oekonux started in 1999 (Merten 1999).

Pattern 1: Beyond Exchange

Pattern 2: Beyond Scarcity

Pattern 3: Beyond Commodity

Pattern 4: Beyond Money

Pattern 5: Beyond Labor

Pattern 6: Beyond Classes

Pattern 7: Beyond Exclusion

Pattern 8: Beyond Socialism

Pattern 9: Beyond Politics

Pattern 10: Germ Form



Special thanks to Stefan Merten and Mathieu O’Neil for editing support. Tomislav Knaffl gave valuable hints.


Benkler, Y. (2006), The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press, URL: (2011-10-10)

De Angelis, M. (2007), The Beginning of History. Value Struggles and Global Capital, London: Pluto Press.

Free Software Foundation (1996), The Free Software Definition, URL: (2011-10-10)

Goldhaber, M.H. (1997), The Attention Economy and the Net, in: First Monday, Vol. 2, No. 4, URL: (2011-10-10)

Holzkamp, K. (1983), Grundlegung der Psychologie, Frankfurt/Main, New York: Campus.

Marx, K., Engels, F. (1848), Manifesto of the Communist Party, URL: (2011-10-10)

Marx, K. (1875), Critique of the Gotha Programme, URL: (2011-10-10)

Meretz, S. (2012), The Structural Communality of the Commons, In: Bollier, D. et al. (2012), Self-Sustaining Abundance, to appear.

Merten, S. (1999), Willkommen bei ‘oekonux’, URL: (2011-10-10)

Merten, S. (2011), Leftist and other capitalist ideologies and peer production, URL: (2011-10-10)

Merten, S., Richardson, J. (2001), Free Software & GPL Society. Stefan Merten of Oekonux interviewed by Joanne Richardson, URL: (2011-10-10)

Nuss, S., Heinrich, M. (2002), Freie Software und Kapitalismus, in: Streifzüge 1/2002, URL: (2011-10-10)

Ostrom, E. (1990), Governing the Commons. The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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