I’m reading one of those great Very Short Introductions to… from Oxford University Press at the moment about Anarchism. I cannot recommend it highly enough as a thought-provoking bridge between political theory and changes the internet is creating for business and society.
For example, it's fascinating to learn that at the core of anarchist thinking about healthcare, education, business etc is the notion of small, self-organising communities with little or no central control. Compare this to how the internet operates and a number of parallels become clear.
Tellingly, the author – noted British anarchist Colin Ward – writes:
“anarchist concepts will be continually reinvented or rediscovered, in fields never envisaged by the propagandists of the past, as people in so many areas of human activity search for alternatives to the crudities and injustices of both free-market capitalism and bureaucratic managerial socialism.”
Building on this drive for an alternative perspective for organisational theory, Ward outlines what he believes would be the four defining pillers for an anarchist theory of organizations:
I find this mind blowing. Every single one of these fits almost perfectly the different types of organising taking place on the internet.
- Voluntary – read Benkler’s Wealth of Networks: the idea of people giving their time and expertise for free or on a voluntary basis is revolutionisng production – both of knowledge and physical goods.
- Functional – slightly more vague, but suffice to say that while design is important to an extent, good functionality and usability are key to the success of internet tools. Take for example the basic simplicity of sites like of Wikipedia and del.icio.us – they might not be pretty but they do the job successfully.
- Temporary – While this may seem an odd choice of criteria at first fi you clarify what Ward means then it makes perfect sense. Rather than meaning short-lived, Ward uses the term to indicate a willingness to change; to be shaped by the ends of the user or community. This is a key proponent of web 2.0 tools. All ‘social’ websites by their definition are open to the requirements of the community.
- Small - again this criteria needs further clarification. As Ward suggests in the quotation about, the ideas of anarchists are perpetually being re-shaped to meet current social, political and economical conditions. Ward specifies small as a key criteria as he talks only of the offline world where anarchist initaitves need to remain small in order to be sustainable. The internet reduces all barriers to scalability and supports many small-scale communities or one large one.
So what does this all mean for us as digital strategists...? I haven’t yet worked that out (and would welcome any suggestions) but ultimately I think this starts to offer us ways of applying established political (anarchist) theories to the online world.
Perhaps we can even use this information to guide our clients more successfully through the social and business changes they are experiencing. Maybe not mention that it is based on anarchist theory, eh?