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From Digitalisation to Crowdfunding Platforms: Fomenting the Cultural Commons

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Digitalisation has allowed various theoretical perspectives and empirical examples to emerge within both market and non-market realms. One of them is the so-called “crowdfunding”: an online tool widely used for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. Cultural commons, digital commons, private goods and projects with public good characteristics can all benefit from accessing the “crowd’s” support via money contribution and matchmaking supply and demand. This chapter argues that, due to its hybrid features, crowdfunding is overlooked as a tool that firstly promotes diversity, long-tail initiatives, “do-it-yourself” projects and creations of many sorts precisely because of its openness. By allowing that bottom-up solutions emerge without having to pass through traditional certifiers and gatekeepers, crowd-validation tools proportionate a fruitful environment for the “new commons” to thrive. The essay, hence, assumes a normative perspective by which social surpluses, positive externalities and increasing social welfare depend on users having access to digital infrastructures that convey diversity.

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  1. 1.

    The widely cited work of Anderson (2006) guides this assumption.

  2. 2.

    The equity crowdfunding (Ahlers et al. 2015) type is not cited here on purpose as profit-sharing schemes are better understood in comparison to typical investment behavior and traditional financing models (i.e., bank loans, venture capital and angel investment).

  3. 3.

    Numerous scholars had influence his thoughts with regard to critically interpreting the fetishism of images—an aspect already discussed in the work of Marx as well as later in Walter Benjamin’s aura (Merrin 2001). In general, the critical approach of the sociologists Adorno and Horkheimer (1997) had contributed to deny the benefits of reproducibility, of which digitalisation is a major result. As a consequence of this perspective, one can assume that digitalisation magnifies the effects of reproducibility.

  4. 4.

    The underlying rationale is that one cannot know whether the signs available are a representation of the reality or the reality itself once the referent is absent. Baudrillard’s observations on excessive consumerism says that “the referential substance is becoming increasingly rare” (1996, pp. 29–30), which means that we consume without referents.

  5. 5.

    Techno-utopians typically describe a future reality in which the present conditions are improved with the aid of technologies and machinery that make our lives better (Dickel and Schrape 2017). Historically, different techno-utopias have been communicated, especially after the various Industrial Revolutions. The latest object of techno-utopia is digitalisation and its tools: crowdsourcing, blockchain, social media, etc. In contrast, critical perspectives have shown the limits of this approach as often the basic conditions of production and consumption are not overall changed after the introduction of new media devices.

  6. 6.

    The advent of digitalisation and the information society as a precursor for flatter organisations is most often an utopic assumption. Pragmatic outlooks such as Brown and Duguid (2000), for instance, observe that a more balanced view is needed, given that desintermediation doesn’t necessarily do away with intermediaries.

  7. 7.

    The Rational-Choice Theory depicts among other assumptions, the homo-economicus behavior, independent, utility-maximizer and rational for whom collective-dependent behavior would be atypical.

  8. 8.

    To cite the famous “Tragedy of the Commons” (Hardin 1968) essay, based on which Ostrom (1990) develops an alternative analysis of how resources can be collectively organised in order to bypass both depletion and the “individual-rational” behavior depicted by neoclassical economics.

  9. 9.

    Its antipodal case for “open-source” solutions is any product organised under “proprietary” systems.

  10. 10.

    A comprehensive study about the heterogeneous groups that embody the notion of “new commons” can be found in Hess (2008).

  11. 11.

    A fee applied to the total funds achieved by the call. Kickstarter, for instance, charges 5% fee.

  12. 12.

    It should be noted that even before digitalisation, social historians and sociologists observed how communities develop collective solutions for problems, such as Sennett (2012) depicted in his work. His argument is that cooperation is necessary for prospering societies and welfare. This essay, however, does not discuss pre-digitalisation periods.

  13. 13.

    Examples of Hackathons (hacker marathons) conducted in various countries show the collective action of engineers and software developers toward the creation of applications, websites and solutions for public policy, firms and other institutions. Typically, Hackathons can be considered as a successful case of crowdsourcing that uses cultural common resources (such as knowledge and information) for public or private purposes.

  14. 14.

    This largely contradicts the widely discussed notion in Economics that sellers know better and therefore quality assurance is of difficult signaling from the seller’s point of view.

  15. 15.

    Researchers such as Felstiner (2011) have observed the trade-offs of this labor contract.

  16. 16.

    Empirical data shows the effect of budget cuts in the cultural sector since 2008 in the aftermath of the economic crisis. Copic et al. (2013), for instance, show this impact in the EU member states.

  17. 17.

    Kickstarter is so far one of the most well-known websites for this purpose (Mollick 2014).

  18. 18.

    Especially in the case of cultural and creative sectors, which mostly utilize the so-called “reward-based model” (Mollick 2014). In this model, suppliers only offer rewards in exchange for money, but not any profit-sharing operation. Besides offering tangible and intangible rewards, suppliers also accept charitable contributions that do not request rewards in return. As the European Commission report (2017) observes, the cultural sectors tend to prefer this type of crowdfunding model.

  19. 19.

    Certifiers and gatekeepers are used in the sense given by Caves (2000) as part of an industry structure that retains information and selects the suppliers who are able to access certain markets. As we argue in this chapter, crowdfunding can, to a certain extent, bypass such institutions in the short-run.

  20. 20.

    The “good” mentioned here is access to the exhibition only.

  21. 21.

    For instance, by sharing the campaign online, taking part in the offline activities and supporting the organisation of collective action.

  22. 22.

    This notion is supported on the premise that commons-resource-management is based on openness, does not discriminate who accesses and does not depend on the approval of a third party (Frischmann 2007).


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Correspondence to Carolina Dalla Chiesa .

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Dalla Chiesa, C. (2020). From Digitalisation to Crowdfunding Platforms: Fomenting the Cultural Commons. In: Macrì, E., Morea, V., Trimarchi, M. (eds) Cultural Commons and Urban Dynamics. Springer, Cham.

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