Key Concepts

Our “Key Concepts” section contains a glossary of the most commonly used P2P/Commons terms. We present them here in order of appearance in the Primer’s short texts.

Peak Hierarchy

Peak Hierarchy is a phrase (and a nod to “Peak Oil”) referencing a tipping point in the balance between hierarchical relations, decentralized relations (including representative democracy), and distributed ‘peer to peer’ relations. Michel Bauwens: “This is the meaning of Peak Hierarchy: horizontality is starting to trump verticality, it is becoming more competitive to be distributed, than to be (de)centralized. The two combined forces of Peak Oil and Peak Hierarchy are going to dramatically change the world we will live in. It’s time to prepare ourselves (for) the new logic of our coming political economy and civilization.”


From 1776 to 1825, the English Parliament passed more than 4,000 Acts that served to appropriate common lands from commoners, chiefly to the benefit of politically connected landowners. These enclosures of the commons seized about 25 percent of all cultivated acreage in England, according to historian Raymond Williams, and concentrated ownership in a small minority of the population. These “lawful” enclosures also dispossessed millions of citizens, eradicated traditional ways of life, and forcibly introduced the new economy of industrialization, featuring occupational specialties and large-scale production. Nowadays we use the term “enclosure” to denounce heinous acts such as the ongoing privatization of intellectual property, the expropriation and massive land grabs occurring in Africa and other continents, the imposition of digital rights management, the patenting of seeds and the human genome, and more. This modern tendency towards enclosures and turning relationships into services and commons into commodities, has been described by Commons scholar David Bollier as “The great invisible tragedy of our time”.

Commons-Based Peer Production

In commons-based peer production, contributors create shared value through open contributory systems, govern their common work through participatory practices, and create shared resources that can, in turn, be used in new iterations. This cycle of open input, participatory process and commons-oriented output is a cycle of accumulation of the commons, in contrast to a capital accumulation.

Extractive vs. Generative Entrepreneurship

Extractive entrepreneurs seek to maximize profits, usually without sufficient re-investment in the maintenance of the productive communities. An example is Facebook, which does not share any profits with the co-creating communities they depend on for their value creation and realization. Plus, extractive enterprises may free-ride on a great many social or public infrastructures (e.g. roads as in the case of Uber). Uber and AirBnB tax exchanges, but do not directly contribute to the creation of transportation or hospitality infrastructure. These entities do develop services that take advantage of unused resources, but they operate in an extractive way, and create competitive, rather than sharing, mentalities. For example, it’s not uncommon for participants in this system to construct new buildings for rent, in an effort to maximize profits.

On the other hand, generative entrepreneurs create added value around these communities and commons that they co-produce and upon which they are co-dependent. In the best of cases, the community of entrepreneurs are actually the same group of people as the productive community. The contributors build their own vehicles to create livelihoods while producing the commons, and re-invest surplus in their own well-being and the overall commons system they co-produce.

Meta Economic Networks

From community-oriented business to business-enhanced communities, meta economic networks are affinity-based networks combining new forms of labor with supportive and commons-generating solidarity structures. Imagine a confederated system combining mutual credit systems, childcare coops, a community bank, fresh produce distribution centers, education and legal advice, and more. Some notable examples of people working together on socially oriented projects include the Catalonian Integral Cooperative or CIC (Catalonia, Spain), The Mutual Aid Network, (Madison, Wisconsin USA, now expanding transnationally) and Enspiral (New Zealand, now being replicated elsewhere).

Open supply chains

What decision-making is for planning, and pricing is for the market, mutual coordination is for the commons. In a circular economy, the output of one production process is used as an input for another. Closed value chains won’t help us achieve a sustainable circular economy; neither will non-transparent negotiations for any form of cooperation. But through open supply chains, entrepreneurial coalitions that are interdependent with a collaborative commons can create ecosystems of collaboration. Here, production processes become transparent, and every participant can adapt his or her behaviour based on the knowledge openly available in the network.

In short, we must distinguish between commons-centric models that work for rival resources and those that work for non-rivalrous resources, and create hybrid combinations for each particular case.

Commons Based Reciprocity Licenses

Commons Based Reciprocity Licenses (or “CopyFair” licenses) provide for the free use and unimpeded commercialization of licensed material within the Commons while resisting its non-reciprocal appropriation by for-profit driven entities, unless those entities contribute to the Commons by way of licensing fees or other means.

Copyleft licenses allow anyone to re-use the knowledge commons they require, on the condition that changes and improvements are added back to that commons. This is a great advance, but should not be abstracted from the need for fairness. Physical production involves finding resources or raw materials and making payments to contributors. Extractive models benefit from the unfettered commercial exploitation of these commons. Therefore, while knowledge sharing should always be maintained, we should also demand reciprocity for the commercial exploitation of the commons. This would create a level playing field for the ethical economic entities that presently internalize social and environmental costs. The use of CopyFair licenses, which allow knowledge sharing while requesting reciprocity in exchange for the right of commercialization, would facilitate achieving this balance.

A first working example of a CopyFair license is the Peer Production License, in effect a fork of a Creative Commons Non-Commercial License which permits worker-owned cooperatives and other non-exploitative organizations to capitalise the licensed content, while denying this possibility to extractive corporations.

Prefigurative Politics

Prefigurative politics describe modes of social organization and actions coherent with the political goals of a group. This means “building the new world in the shell of the old”, as famously expressed by the constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It rejects vanguard, hierarchical politics in favour of self-organization, direct action, counter-institutions and participatory democracy. Many P2P and Commons project can be considered prefigurative of a better, post-capitalist future society.

Assemblies of the Commons

Assemblies of the Commons are local or affinity-based association of citizens and commoners, bringing together all those who contribute and maintain common goods, material or immaterial. It is based on a social charter outlining the shared values and practices. An Assembly of the Commons can formulate policy proposals that enhance civic infrastructures for the commons, address and influence authorities or self-organize toward meaningful actions. These can range from town and village, to bioregional, national or continental levels, and are closely connected to the Chambers of the Commons.

Policies and Law for the Commons

Historically, commons have had a problematic relationship with conventional law, which generally reflects the mindset and priorities of the sovereign (monarch, nation-state, corporation) and not the lived experiences and practices of commoners. Still, in grappling with political, economic and legal realities, commoners often find ways to secure control over their common wealth, livelihoods and modes of commoning. It is also what is spurring many commoners today to invent creative new types of policy and law – formal, social, technological – to protect their shared interests, assets and social relationships.


Vital solidarity mechanisms once embedded in the welfare state models are being dismantled. To close the gap left in their absence, people are reconstructing distributed solidarity mechanisms. Commonfare, or “welfare of the commons”, is a participatory form of welfare provision based on collaboration which enfranchises all of society, even those not tied to the labour market. Commonfare addresses the exclusionary, hierarchic and bureaucratic shortcomings of the welfare model by creating open-source, democratic, and multi-constituent social provision networks and practices. Labour Mutuals, freelancer coops and prefigurative solidarity networks are in the vanguard, but Commonfare mechanisms would ideally be financed by a Partner State.


A term coined by Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, pre-distribution focuses on market reforms to stimulate a more democratic distribution of economic power before government enforces redistributional strategies through taxes or benefits. While capitalism takes inequality as the cost of doing business and leaves its mitigation to an inefficient state, a commons approach builds in fairness from the start. The aim is to incorporate distributive actions in the generative enterprises and through their direct relation to the commons.


Transvestment, describes the transfer of value from one mode of production to another. In the case of P2P systems, this means from capitalism to the commons. Transvestment strategies such as capped returns, contributory accounting and co-budgeting can help commoners become financially sustainable and independent by creating economic “membranes” for value sovereignty. These are being developed and implemented by commons-oriented entrepreneurial networks such as Enspiral, Sensorica or L’Atelier Paysan.

Chamber of the Commons

In analogy with the well-known Chambers of Commerce which defend the interests of for-profit enterprise, the Chamber of the Commons complements the citizen politics-oriented Assemblies of the Commons by coordinating the needs of the emergent coalitions of generative, commons-friendly ethical enterprises within a territory. They can identify the convergent needs of Open Coops and commons enterprises and interface with territorial powers to express and obtain their infrastructural, policy and legal needs.