By Christina Priavolou | Junior Research Fellow, Tallinn University of Technology Core Member, P2P Lab
Could technology help us tackle the unsustainable practices of the mass production paradigm? The starting points of this article are a problem and an untapped opportunity. The problem is the deep environmental as well as socio-economic crisis experienced worldwide. The crisis has been manifested in numerous environmental and social conflicts globally. At the same time, the conjunction of digital commons of knowledge, software and design with local manufacturing technologies, such as the three dimensional printing and computerized numerical control machines to low-tech and crafts, present an opportunity.
This opportunity is unveiled by commons-based peer production initiatives, from free/open-source software and Wikipedia to open-source buildings and small-scale agricultural machines. Such social processes promote open innovation and inaugurate new forms of human collaboration in relevance to specific needs. They are also becoming the new force behind the organization and function of novel forms of production, challenging the mainstream paradigm and engaging stakeholders from below.
The value creation through combining open designs with distributed means of making and desktop manufacturing technologies could lead to sustainable productive models. Toward this direction, concepts, such as the “design global, manufacture local” (DGML), have been developed. The theoretical framework of this production model describes the processes through which design is developed, shared and improved as a global digital commons, whereas the actual manufacturing takes place locally, often through shared infrastructures and with local biophysical conditions in mind.
The produced solutions are available as a digital commons and hold non-negligible potentialities for democratization and conviviality. People all over the world are able to adjust solutions and manufacture affordable ones in a distributed way. They illustrate that commons have been utilized in the global North and South, contesting the inequality of previous production models. Such commons-oriented projects design and produce open-source solutions in an attempt to challenge the mainstream economic paradigm by producing new infrastructural formations.
Numerous versions of such technologies have been designed in an ad-hoc, collaborative and bottom-up manner by communities for communities. They arguably provide robust, modular, reusable and easily maintainable solutions that have been facilitating cooperation and replication by others. For instance, the DGML model has been exemplified in a seed form by commons-oriented initiatives in the construction sector, such as the Hexayurt, the Open Source Ecology Microhouse and the WikiHouse. These building systems are developed globally and adapted locally with respect to the local conditions, needs and regulations.
Apart from the construction sector, similar attempts have taken place in the primary sector. For instance, P2P Lab aims to create awareness and promote a collaborative DGML model in agriculture. Agriculture is indeed a key activity in the peripheral and less-developed regions of the EU and a crucial productive sector in which ready-to-apply open source hardware and software solutions have already been produced. Localized and networked communities of practice in agriculture already exist, such as FarmHack and L’Atelier Paysan, while their developed solutions are tested, improved and customized to a local community in Tzoumerka. The latter is a mountainous region in Epirus (Greece) whose economy is mainly focused on the primary sector.
The ultimate goal of the DGML utilization in the two aforementioned sectors is to explore the peer-to-peer dynamics in technology, society and economy by addressing the following interrelated questions: first, what is the potential of a certain socio-technical system designed to produce digital commons?, and second, what is the conviviality potential of the technologies designed and manufactured by commons-oriented initiatives? In this way, the conditions under which these forms of cooperation could reposition co-design and manufacturing toward technological sovereignty should be identified.