The collaborative economy and Robin Hood: Political experimentations without political visions?

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The collaborative economy is at the heart of contemporary capitalism. It relies massively on digital infrastructures and their necessary standards.

For some managers, it is the ideal setting for the experimentation of disruptive business models and global strategies. It enables rapid breakthrough for some young startups which become standards themselves in amazing time spans.

Beyond the sphere of management, global digital infrastructures enable disruptive political innovations for communities and social movements. The how and the why of these new kinds of social and political breakthroughs is the subject of numerous studies, e.g. in the field of management and organization studies, sociology, media studies or economics. More than ever, activism has become a connected exercise.

But beyond such emergent attempts, it seems that some major political ideas are tested at a global scale. Friedrich Hayek’s invitation to introduce multiple and competing currencies in the same national context have started. Numerous virtual (competing) currencies, beyond the control of all central banks and most political powers, are now available. Hayek would have never dreamt of such an experimentation. Is it leading to any massive movement away from the servitude of usual currencies and national banks? It does not seem so. Does it enable new, alternative and sometimes frightening initiatives (such as the Darknet and some illegal commercial exchanges in anonymized area of the web). For sure.

Karl Marx has dreamt of new systems without private properties, with infrastructures and territories which would all be common goods. He did not have time to explain the modalities of the emergence of his utopia (beyond violent revolutions). But today, collaborative commons pervade the web, in particular with open source communities. And most hacker spaces seem to share this culture of openness. With what Anderson calls the “third revolution”, we all own (or should soon) our own means of production*. But all citizens, all cities, all countries cannot benefit the same way from this “revolution” which may (paradoxically) strengthen inequalities.

Beyond Hayek’s and Marx’s theories and expectations, the entire web and digital sphere have become amazing spaces of experimentation. Political experimentations. But this raises a major problem. Contemporary digital infrastructures are close to the forests of the Middle Age, which were non-rights, non-regulated areas. As retold by Michel Serres in several of his conferences and writings, Robin Hood is etymologically the one wearing a ‘robe’ (i.e. telling the law) in a space where no laws apply (the forest). Middle Age forests were places for robbers and outlaws, places to hide far from the castle and emergent cities. Contemporary digital infrastructures are thus middle age forests. And as suggested by Serres, they can be regulated only from the inside, by their own Robin Hood. This requires a political vision. Clearly, Hayek and Marx had very different views of societies. Ongoing experimentations about virtual currencies and open goods do not lead nor are they managed in a way that leads to the same destination. Politicians themselves cannot tell vision (Serres insists on the idea that it can only be told legitimately from the inside), but they can favor forums and invite debate. Most of all, academics themselves, which I often regard as part of the consciousness of society, can also help to do this.

To be continued…


* see this conference entitled “From Maker Movement to Industrial Revolution” by Chris Anderson (

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