1. Workings of design in (post-)Fordism

In this section, I conceptualise design labour as the first and foremost an instance of value creation, and as a precondition for the subsequent valorisation stages of design knowledge and design artefacts that will be investigated in the following chapters. I introduce this as a term that is distinct from design practices (denoting a lens of cultural-anthropological analysis) and design processes (which has discipline-specific methodological undertones). In contrast, design labour is to be understood squarely in the field of political economy, emphasising the economic valorisation and social organisation of design as part of a broader context. By adopting a labour point of view, it is possible to make space for the conceptualisation of design between the general overview of practices and the close observation of processes. In fact, this partially overlapping and slightly differentiated concept is necessary to identify the genealogies, continuities and transformations of what exactly becomes valorised and what remains hidden from view depending on the context. Many theorists have shown an interest in the labour conditions of design-related professions. Marxist architectural historian Tafuri is unambiguous about the subordination of the discipline to the economy, claiming that it is impossible to have any social benefits under capitalism (Deamer xxx). Haug was another early critic of commodity aesthetics, describing designers as the “handmaidens” of capitalism, alongside those involved in media and advertising (Clarke 77). Beyond these unequivocal statements, design labour merits closer inspection to explore what margin of negotiation exists for designers to function outside market relations.

Designers occupy a niche (or rather, an intersection) that it is halfway between an artist and an inventor; neither the activity of the artisan, nor the one of the engineer (Margolin). While it cannot be described as repetitive, manual labour (as in low-skilled physical work), it is also not a purely mental activity either, involving the crafting of physical models usually as prototypes (Sennett). Designing involves working with matter, signs and people, and necessitates thinking, making and caring simultaneously (Cross, Design Thinking). While specialised design occupations have traditionally been conceived as part of the managerial class, the field increasingly appears to transgress the established boundaries of the disciplinary, economic and cultural spheres, making the activity of designing a multicoloured-collar job (Manzini). Design labour is a strange, untameable beast; a process of trial-and-error, speculation and unquantifiable results that comes with a degree of resistance to the productivist logic. It is a rather peculiar business, being situated both inside and outside the commodity-machine, preserving an edge that escapes the extraction of surplus-value. Design labour resembles an exemplary liberal profession, in which creative, artistic or conceptual activities form a holistic, non-alienated and socialised work. At the same time, by inhabiting a cross-disciplinary intellectual sphere and by providing concrete economic benefits, designers are highly integrated into the commodity-machine, occupying a strategic place in a world that is thoroughly designed. That said, how do we make sense of these ambiguities, and where is design labour posited in relation to the rest of the economy?

As a starting point, some foundational definitions of labour can be found in Marxist theory. Labour implies (predominantly manual, physical) work toward the transformation of nature, and is carried out in order to obtain use-value. As an economic category, labour-power is what the worker sells to the capitalist to earn a wage, making it a commodity carrying an exchange-value. The labour theory of value conceives labour as the primary factor in value creation, where value is usually measured in relation to the time spent at labour. The classical division of labour among manual and mental specialisations is drawn along class lines, with the lower classes destined to work in unskilled manufacturing jobs and higher classes occupying executive, managerial positions. While subservient to capital accumulation, labour remains an obstacle, a site of friction, conflict and negotiation. This makes labour a site of possibilities, and an ineluctable point of departure for any alternative form of social organisation and economic valorisation. These definitions apply to design labour only in a very general sense, disregarding many of its specificities and complexities. To begin with, designers do not directly transform nature, but rather devise ways to do so in an indirect, mediated way. Design labour cannot be confined to a rational process, since creativity, improvisation and instincts are an intrinsic part of designing. It is nonetheless possible to valorise design labour under the conditions of wage labour, by remunerating designers for the time spent developing a project. This is the case of designers working for permanent in-house design departments within companies, as well as those working for specialised independent firms that provide design consultancy services. This form of “designing-by-the-hour” employment has the advantage of bringing a steady income to the designer, as well as having relatively well-defined working hours (Deamer 72). However, creativity does not flow evenly during “working hours” the way productivity is imposed on a sweatshop worker, and attempts to subject design labour to pressure (i.e. delivery times, intensified productivity, market performance) may even be counterproductive. Without the right conditions, dull, unoriginal outcomes may emerge rather than innovative or competitive ones. Placing design labour entirely in the service of capital eclipses its socially beneficial qualities, delivering only what is to be valorised by the market (Tombesi in Deamer 82-100).

Of course, not all design labour fits this Fordist framework, as recent decades have witnessed a generalised drive towards precarious and flexible forms of employment. In this post-Fordist economy, independent work has also been on the rise in the creative sector (Leighton and Duncan). Designers are increasingly working as freelancers, depending on more or less reliable commissions from commercial clients, as well as exhibitions or fairs that may increase their visibility. Designers are expected to compete with each other in their respective categories, with multinationals with internal design departments competing among themselves; design consultancies seeking to attract more prestigious clients; and freelancers striving for broader recognition, with some degree of collaboration between like-minded designers. As the working hours of freelancers are much less strictly defined, the distinction between occupation and job is becoming increasingly blurred. By leaving control over production to the self-employed, self-exploited designer, the client effectively ceases to valorise labour, rewarding the resulting blueprint on the condition that the results satisfy the market objectives of the client. This may appear somewhat paradoxical, considering that the work of designers is a gift that keeps on giving, being a precondition for the subsequent generation of further value from the design blueprint and artefact. Designers may aspire to social purposes, may induce affective responses and may ultimately shape individual behaviours and social relations. However, at the end of the day, it is output that matters, in that they are expected to come up with a working, understandable and replicable model that can be reproduced in numbers. If the designer does not deliver patentable or profitable results in a given timeframe, then the work is considered a (market) failure. This is how design, just like other creative practices, is disciplined and put at the service of commodity production, and since the labour process cannot be entirely mastered, the commodity regimes do not valorise it independently from the outcome of that labour. The process and product are subjected to differential treatment in the sense that the value of the service (designing) is abstracted when the product (the design) is sold. When the relationship between the designer and the client is one in which the ownership of the design is traded, the designer surrenders all rights of the project, except its authorship.[1]

None of these conditions are unique to designers, and so it would be more fitting to contextualise contemporary design labour as part of the so-called “new” economy, theorised with increased attention given to the economic functions of intellectual, immaterial or cognitive labour (Moulier-Boutang), knowledge production and creative industries (Hartley; Raunig et al.). Hardt and Negri define immaterial labour as that which produces “an immaterial good, such as a service, a cultural product, knowledge, or communication” (Empire 290), which is a definition that fits the work of designers perfectly. Lazzarato specifies the various skills needed as “intellectual skills, as regards the cultural-informational content; manual skills for the ability to combine creativity, imagination, and technical and manual labour; and entrepreneurial skills in the management of social relations” (136). In contrast, in a scathing critique of the post-workerist focus on immateriality, Haug rejects the designation, and dismisses the historical relevance or strategic importance of cognitive labour (Haug and Fracchia). They may be indeed problematic terms (considering the industrial, Fordist economies have not disappeared, but have only been displaced and reconfigured globally), but it is nonetheless striking that none of the archetypical characteristics of the new economy are particularly new developments. As described in the introduction, design labour carried such features since its inception as part of industrialisation. At the very least, what was once a peculiarity of design labour has become increasingly generalised throughout the economy; and what was once an exception to predominant labour formation has now become the new norm. I would even argue that, in the light of the turn towards post-Fordism, design labour has become a somewhat overlooked forerunner of the new modes of production. It is worth noting how exceptional a role design has twice played in catalysing the reorganisation of the economy; first, being instrumental in the generalisation of industrial production, and then second, as a blueprint for the generalisation of post-industrial labour formation. This gives us another reason to pay attention to the specificities, as well as the ongoing transformations, of design labour. If design labour has been instrumental in shaping the economy before, then it may also be involved in future transformations of labour, and the emergent modalities of design labour could be the forerunners of future labour relations.

The challenge faced by design practitioners is how to develop ways of valorising their design labour independently of their productive output, and how to liberate their design knowledge from the exclusive control of the client. In this sense, the autonomy of the designer depends on recognising that the creation of value in the design process is independent of the market valorisation of its outcome. In doing so, design labour can effectively take part in the “autonomy of the productive synergies of immaterial labor” hypothesised by Lazzarato (138). In the next section, I take a closer look at the new configurations that transcend the established post-Fordist organisation and provide grounds for the emergence of commoning in design labour, exploring the challenges that arise when designing is no longer dictated by the market or valorisable as a commodity.

[1]     While wage labour and freelancing are presented here as two major approaches to the valorisation and organisation of design labour, a third, relatively rare form also exists, being the collection of royalties per unit manufactured or sold. From a political economy angle, it is a privileged position of the rentier that not many designers can successfully negotiate with manufacturers.

2. The rise of amateurs, participants and co-creators

Having presented the conceptual outlines of design labour, now I can direct my attention to more recent trends. Professional titles and economic functions have defined the boundaries of design labour, while interactions with makers and users have been confined to the conventional, linear value chain of commodities, although these boundaries are becoming more porous in both directions. On one side, there has been decades of evolution towards principles that are more inclusive of end users, multiple stakeholders and communities, who now participate both creatively (providing input and feedback to design processes) and politically (participating in design-related decision-making that affects them). On the other side, most notably with the emergence of new communication channels, amateurism has been gaining visibility and accessibility, revealing the countless of ways design is practised without being a full-time profession, but more as a daily practice and reproductive work. Design labour has become a contested terrain in which the encounters of actors operating outside the marketplace give rise to more complex roles and subjectivities. If the definition of design labour is to be extended to include non-commodified forms, then several types of design-related activities must be considered. In architectural theory, non-professional design is usually described as vernacular, covering local, traditional and indigenous practices (Asquith and Vellinga). While this definition of the vernacular applies to any design practice, the kind of “twenty-first-century vernacular” I am interested in is highly dependent on, and perhaps inconceivable without, the globalised economy, communication infrastructure and cultural trends of the last decade. In this section, the relevance of such transformations is scrutinised in order to establish whether the shifting roles of the designer (and the emergence of new designing subjectivities) constitutes evidence for commoning in design labour.

Even though only professional designers are thought to pursue design as an economic activity, design cannot be thought of solely as a job, being equally an occupation and an everyday practice (Lupton; Levine and Heimerl). These aspects remain distinct from the professional work through their lack of visibility, recognition and remuneration, and yet they produce (use) value when the marketplace cannot fulfil needs or desires. This means that a sizeable proportion of design labour actually takes place outside the capitalist economy, and can be considered part of reproductive work, as theorised by feminist scholars. Federici observes that “capitalist accumulation is structurally dependent on the free appropriation of immense quantities of labor and resources (...), like the unpaid domestic work that women have provided, upon which employers have relied for the reproduction of the workforce” (105). Practices such as crafts, DIY and amateurism may be dismissed as hobbies, pastimes or leisure activities outside economic production, but they are still an effective part of social reproduction and need to be (re)valorised as such (Gibson-Graham). In the wake of these insights of feminist economics, there has been increasing interest in and exposure to amateurism. Amateurism implies practices without a specialised, “certified” design formation, carried out in informal settings or through non-remunerated arrangements; and (perhaps most relevant to this research) DIY/craft/maker practices that are documented and diffused thanks to information technologies (Beegan and Atkinson). DIY is defined as the antithesis of professional design, being “a more democratic design process of self-driven, self-directed amateur design and production activity carried out more closely to the end-user of the goods created” (Atkinson). For the purposes of this chapter, I distinguish between designing for DIY and improvised bricolage or self-made practices, in which the former involves developing and circulating blueprints for others, while the latter is motivated mainly by the possibility of showcasing a finished object, usually as a source of pride or inspiration. What was previously an unsubstantiated claim that “everybody is a designer” is now evidenced by blogs or platforms that offer tutorials, how-to guides and step-by-step instructions of how to do virtually everything. More than being a glorified shop window for every individual hobbyist or craftsperson to sell their products, online platforms enable the replication of designs without ever encountering a third party for the manufacture, marketing and delivery of products.

One remarkable example in which digital networks have been harnessed for a novel design practice is HomeMade Modern by Ben Uyeda [see fig. 4]. Trained as an architect in the United States, Uyeda abandoned his professional sustainable design practice when he realised that it catered only to the wealthiest, while leaving many at the mercy of big corporations selling cheap and unsustainable products. Neither brokering a deal with mass manufacturers nor establishing his own small production, he makes instructional YouTube videos on how to self-produce low-cost furniture with high-modern aesthetics, or “affordable alternatives to pricey designer home goods and cheap, plastic and particle-board junk” (HomeMade Modern). Working alone or together with his partner, Uyeda’s videos have attracted a large following, and his designs have been mass replicated, and yet he does this without ever competing with IKEA by short-circuiting its hyper-efficient production chain. Lacking the means to invest time and money into the prototyping, manufacturing, shipping and marketing of consumer goods, HomeMade Modern instead makes use of existing infrastructure by outsourcing marketing to social media, logistics to home improvement stores and labour to end-users. He claims that he “can have an idea on a Thursday, sketch it on a Friday, build and film it on a Saturday, edit the video on Sunday, and by Monday it has reached tens of thousands of people” (Uyeda). Rather than working for design firms or private clients, being a one-person designer-communicator seems to be more enjoyable as well as creatively more gratifying. The website states: “In its purest form design is about communication —not packaging, branding and customizing.” Such a rewarding practice may generate both recognition and income for Uyeda, but it is certainly not possible for everyone to achieve the same level of success. To begin with, the most visible source of income for HomeMade Modern appears to be the sponsorship deals with hardware brands and stores. The website summarises this business model by referring to the company as a “design firm that produces media content and generates revenue from carefully selected sponsorship partners”. The presence of these partners shows that corporations are not entirely absent from the circuit, but are seemingly subordinated to the interests of the designer. He maintains control over the process while remaining a one-person enterprise, which offers some insight into the kind of occupations that can be pursued outside the domains of trade, craft or hobbies.

The internet not only facilitates the sharing of designs (which will be further investigated in the next chapter), but also opens up possibilities for collaborative designing principles that bring together professionals, amateurs and users alike. Despite the interactive tools at his disposal, Uyeda’s practice remains nonetheless limited in the sense that he seems to design primarily for himself, and others are merely meant to follow his instructions. It is still a conventionally one-way, mass-media attempt to “democratise” design, disconnected from pressing problems or special needs. Thackara is unequivocal about the hypocrisy of “designing emergency shelters for poor black people from the comfort of a Soho design studio” (Chapman and Gant xvii). In other words, co-designing with people who are going to live with the results of that design is fundamental. Since the 1970s, most notably in the Scandinavian context, innovative experiments have been carried out in which non-designers have been included in various stages of the design process and in a multiplicity of roles (Erlhoff and Marshall 291). Social design, participatory design, collaborative design, transformation design, user-centred design, co-creation and meta-design are only a few of the ever-expanding range of labels, methodologies and theories adopted to describe processes that seek more or less active involvement of multiple stakeholders (Fuad-Luke 146-156). These practices have been analysed and widely celebrated for their identification of legitimate, effective and beneficial ways of involving impacted communities, citizens, workers, experts, investors, consumers, users, repair and recycling specialists in the process, who may be consulted to include diverse forms of expertise, to identify needs and preferences, to generate user experience scenarios, to adapt generic models to specific audiences, to evaluate proposed solutions or to synthesise conflicting interests. If so much can be “outsourced” to non-designers, it could be argued that the designer is altogether redundant, and no longer has any core function. In fact, these developments do not erode the centrality of the designer at all: “designing with, rather than for, a community of users does not mean allowing them to design for themselves. The designer is still at the centre of the process, but working more inclusively” (Chick and Micklethwaite 47).

The role of the co-designer can potentially be empowering for recipient communities, but conversely, it may also instrumentalise people only to extract the relevant insights from them (“focus groups” to better target products to consumers). The interchangeability of those who design, decide or realise indicate an increased complexity in terms of attribution, responsibility and the rewarding of design practices. Those who were described in the 1980s as “prosumers” (Toffler), meaning people who consume the goods they produce, or more recently as “produsers”, defined as “the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement” (Bruns and Schmidt), all surpass the artificial separation of production and consumption. The politics of participation remains ambiguous, in that these practices can valorise and elevate the problem-solving capabilities of non-designers as much as they can function as a form of exploitation of free labour, in the same vein as the non-remunerated value creation practised on social media platforms. For Terranova, the abundant availability of such labour “does not exist as a free-floating postindustrial utopia but in full, mutually constituting interaction with late capitalism” (Network Culture 84), hence their cohabitation is not necessarily conducive to autonomous or emancipatory practices. Nevertheless, she later notes that “if the wealth generated by free labor is social, so should be the mode of its return” ('Free Labour' 53), indicating that such a creation of value can serve as the basis for the reproduction of the common instead of its private capture.

This overview of the evolving roles and definitions of designers is not meant to resolve any of the tensions mentioned above, but rather to give more nuance to the previously clear-cut definition to design labour by doing justice to the fuzziness of actual practices. Designers are becoming less and less creative as professionals in a studio, and more similar to social workers in the field. However, it would be too simplistic to conclude that the discipline is becoming spontaneously more collaborative (or inclusive, or democratic) than ever, as if anything, these mutations are integral to post-Fordist labour itself (Holert). What is perhaps surprisingly missing from all of these approaches is the most obvious partner for a designer with which to collaborate: other designers. Pasquinelli warns that “cooperation is structurally difficult among creative workers, where a prestige economy operates (...), and where new ideas have to confront each other, often involving their creators in a fight” (Lovink and Rossiter 80). McRobbie reminds that cultural work “has been subjected to such intensive individualization that the idea of a common cause has for many years been all but lost” (15). This existential separation among the designers themselves, their isolation and atomisation, and their lack of collective decision-making processes merits interrogation. The collaboration of like-minded peers, regardless of whether they are professional or amateur practitioners, would arguably be the most appropriate framework for a commons-based valorisation of design labour. In the next section, I explore the affinities between collaborative design principles and peer-to-peer theories, which suggest new possibilities for designer-to-designer collaboration.

3. Free association of self-organised peers

The previous sections have detailed the dissolving boundaries between professionals and amateurs, and the participatory tendencies in design labour that defy hierarchical organisation. In this section, I argue that emerging practices are best understood through the lens of peer designing. Some preliminary definitions and discussions of peer production are necessary before studying its impact on design labour. Peer (as in “peer review”) is a familiar notion in the academic context, denoting an equal footing and reciprocity, being a relational principle that is distinct from and opposite to both hierarchical authority and market transaction. Just as the open-ended, egalitarian and universal collaboration between peer researchers has been a building block for the development of science, a similar logic has been a critical feature of the networked communication protocols that evolved into the Web. More recently, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) has moved beyond the realm of information technologies to become the general term for the horizontal, decentralised, distributed and transparent organisation of humans, machines or their cyborg combinations. It is now applicable to many social practices, principles or platforms, from file sharing to car sharing, which gave rise to the so-called “sharing economy”. It is an absolute misnomer, since these commercial platforms are “instead driving a harsher form of capitalism: deregulation, new forms of entitled consumerism, and a new world of precarious work” (Slee 163). While P2P protocols can undoubtedly be co-opted to serve the market mechanisms, they can also potentially short-circuit those same market mechanisms. Indeed, the relational basis of P2P makes it applicable to a vast and fuzzy range of activities, where ambiguities and contradictions abound. Bauwens embraces this complexity wholeheartedly:

Peer-to-peer technology is the basic infrastructure of cognitive capitalism; it is a third mode of production not based on either profit or hierarchy; it is a new mode of distribution such as in the file-sharing networks; it is a new mode of organizing and conceiving cooperative relationships, expressed in a wide variety of social and political movements; it is a new way of feeling and thinking about the world. (Bauwens, 'Peer-to-Peer' 166)

A concept with such civilizational paradigm-changing aspirations is arguably unstable in its definition, and is wide open to (mis)interpretation. In a more narrow sense, Bauwens distinguishes between three P2P processes, namely Peer Production, Peer Governance and Peer Property. While these defining features are intricately intertwined, most emphasis appears to be given to production, since it implies value creation. The commons and commoning are in fact recurrent also in other definitions of Peer Production, and the term was originally coined by Benkler as “commons-based peer production”. Silke Helfrich, in turn conceptualises this mode of production in slightly different terms. Instead of commons-based (where the commons are conceived as a resource), she proposes the term “commons-creating peer economy”, which emphasises the social process of commoning. This makes the commons both the input and the output of peer production, making P2P and commons inseparable as the process and product of commoning. Peer production potentially resolves the paradox observed by André Gorz – in contrast to the commodity-machine in which “we produce nothing of what we consume and consume nothing of what we produce” ('Exit' 10), commoners can simultaneously be producers and consumers of the same commons.

Regardless of their interpretative differences, all of these scholars seek to describe new the forms of knowledge production and the immaterial labour that cannot be explained using preexisting terminology. Benkler defines peer production as “radically decentralized, collaborative, and nonproprietary; based on sharing resources and outputs among widely distributed, loosely connected individuals who cooperate with each other without relying on either market signals or managerial commands” (60). Instead of following orders in a chain of command, or engaging in an activity based on economic interest, peer producers appear to produce knowledge (and therefore value) on the basis of free association. Working neither with permission nor for compensation, networked peers cooperate voluntarily and work towards a common goal, often driven by a sense of purpose, recognition or simply use-value. “Each volunteer chooses the tasks she performs, the amount of time she devotes to the collective production, and the place and time of her productive activity” (Rigi, “Peer” 397). In the industrial logic of the division of labour, it is inconceivable that large, complex projects emerge spontaneously. Yet, peer production manages to distribute labour through self-managed and non-exploitative principles. In the natural sciences, the term “stigmergy” is used to refer to such forms of self-organisation (for instance, in social insects) that rely on an indirect, distributed coordination of actions, mediated by modifications to the environment. Kostakis and Bauwens adapt the notion to human systems, and argue that stigmergic collaborations are a crucial organisational principle for peer production (54), observable not only in software development, but applicable also to design labour:

This model can be generalised to all knowledge production. A person who works on a particular project or a design can put the work in progress online and invite others to cooperate in completing it. In this system, there is a distribution of labour, because, while the final product is a result of the total work of the community of contributors, participating individuals choose to work on different supplementary features of a common project. (Rigi, 'Peer' 409)

Based on these descriptions, the peer-to-peer organisation of labour stands in stark contrast to the competitive conditions associated with knowledge work. Peer production promises the means of commoning for immaterial labour, and the blueprint of “an ecology of production” (P. Moore 83). However, not every scholar is convinced that a paradigm shift as foundational as the industrial revolution is taking place so smoothly; and several concerns are worthy of mention here. While specific tasks are determined and executed by the peers themselves, the more important decisions and the general direction of a project are to be decided upon either collectively, or by a form of leadership. Sometimes they are even taken by a “benevolent dictator” (Raymond 101), a recurrent and almost normalised organisational feature in some open-source software projects – a far cry from the democratic control of commoning. There are doubts about whether peer production actually eliminates the need for bureaucracy and management, as it may in fact “involve a host of other forms of regulation that are less transparent than bureaucratic forms” (Kreiss et al. 250) that complement or extend preexisting forms of coercion and domination rather than abolishing them. In other words, decentralised protocols are not inherently more emancipatory than their precedents, unless fought for and built accordingly (Galloway). It remains to be seen through the case studies the extent to which product design projects reproduce these dynamics, considering that they may be less distributed and more immediate than software projects.

A prevalent and unresolved challenge to peer production is its inability to provide financial support for its contributors. Considering that peer producers work voluntarily, how are they supposed to earn a living in an economy that still runs on money? Without the means to sustain their livelihood through their voluntary practices alone, peer producers currently need to engage in other waged labour or other market-based practices. So far, time availability and alternative sources of income seem to be preconditions for the securing of the social reproduction of peer production. In other words, commons-producing practices are still subordinate or “parasitic” to market-based relations, and do not constitute an autonomous sphere of value creation (Pasquinelli 48). While there may be beneficial outcomes, they nonetheless remain as auxiliary contributions that are at the whim of peer producers, rather than being indispensable for social reproduction. However, the question of “how peer producers are paid” is not necessarily the right one in the first place. Considering how reproductive care labour isn’t economically valorised, and yet is absolutely essential, the claim for the valorisation of peer producers’ labour remains somewhat a secondary concern, and part of a larger, systemic contradiction. Perhaps a question more worth asking would be “where does the value created by peer producers actually go, and who benefits financially from that wealth? This is the primary line of suspicion and critique raised against the techno-optimism of what Pasquinelli calls “digitalism” (66), suggesting that the ethics of sharing and freedom are enough to generate positive outcomes in the coming paradigm of “social production”. Kleiner rejects the optimism of Benkler’s “wealth of networks” and describes the “poverty of networks” as “extracted economic rents, surplus value captured by way of forcing producers to accept less than the full product of their labor as their wage by denying them independent access to the means of production” (21).

In some cases, peer-produced value is captured by capitalist enterprises (Rigi, 'Coming Revolution' 393), making the commons serve the further accumulation of capital—the exact opposite of the intended effect. This is perhaps the most important critique of peer production – that it is simply not antagonistic to capital, but may be in fact a new cycle of its post-industrial reinvention. When the very proponents of peer production acknowledge that it is still at a subordinate stage to capitalist production, how is it possible to claim autonomy and to avoid being co-opted by capital? These risks are ultimately there for all postcapitalist projects – while they are never sufficient to stand up against capitalist forces by themselves, their hybrid, ambiguous states make them potentially far more adaptive and disruptive than complete exodus and isolation. In other words, the outcome of “who is going to co-opt who” is not determined in advance (Dyer-Witheford qtd. in Bollier 49). In this regard, there are then two possible trajectories that can be taken: either instrumentalising limited and strategic integration into certain market relations (for instance, to generate remuneration to sustain livelihoods), or striving to come up with non-commodified and socially necessary practices through which peer production becomes indispensable and worthy of support (Lund). Bauwens takes a somewhat ambivalent stance towards the two options, simultaneously endorsing both positions:

Peer production is both immanent and transcendent vis-à-vis capitalism (…). Peer production functions within the cycle of accumulation of capital but also within the new cycle of the creation and accumulation of the commons. (…) Workers associated with peer production have a natural interest to maintain and expand the commons of knowledge, code, and design, and under conditions of capital, the role of wage labor and capitalist investment contributes to the sustainability of both the commons and the commoners. (Bauwens, 'Thesis' 208)

Elsewhere, the challenge is formulated in a more explicit (and perhaps controversial) manner to counter the “communism of capital”, i.e., the free-riding of commons for accumulation purposes (Beverungen et al.), by generating “capital for the commons” (Bauwens and Kostakis 358). This can be achieved through the use of an “open cooperative” model (Conaty and Bollier) that is intended to provide the legal basis for combining the democratic tradition of cooperativism with the emergent practices of open and contributive accounting systems (Bauwens and Niaros 40). Still, reversing the current capitalist valorisation of peer production remains an ambiguous, complex and unpredictable project, and there are countless sectors beyond the cutting-edge of digital knowledge production that are yet to be remodelled. Rigi predicts that peer production “can overthrow capitalism only if the strategic means of production (land, major sources of energy and raw material, and major technical infrastructures) are transformed into commons” ('Peer Production' 398). In other words, in order to have any sort of meaningful impact, it first has to spill over from the digital to the physical realm. Rigi’s condition that reclaiming the means of production as commons is self-evident; and yet some of those means may be produced as commons rather than being declared as commons. This precondition implies that design practices, as an interface between the material and the immaterial, are situated precisely at the pioneering position where peer production expands into the industrial domains. Some diverse expressions of this desire will become apparent in the case studies presented in the next section and in the following chapters, where peer-designers employ diverse strategies to fulfil the challenges faced when commoning their labour.

II.B. Peers
Redesigning P2P production

I have so far clarified the affinities between commons and P2P scholarships, based on their manifestations in software development and other design labour. Providing a more extensive evaluation, this section investigates OpenStructures as a prime example of how peer production can be adapted to product design projects. An analysis of the modular domestic appliances made through OpenStructures reveals the challenges and limitations that are traceable in the tensions between the practices of designers and the discourse of the designers themselves, as expressed in publicly available media and in my conversations with designers.

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