“It is, perhaps, one of the most powerful developments in our modern-day socioeconomics, and it promises both to transform the capital formation landscape and to offer an avenue for a creative and intellectual rebirth.” (Lawton & Marom, 2013)
Over the past eight years or so, the interest in micro-financed business ventures and other creative projects has risen quite dramatically. Artistic activities and technological developments, scientific research, entrepreneurial initiatives, and adventurous events now try to win the public’s favor and its excess capital on crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and FundedByMe. With the pledges to successfully funded projects amounting to 422 million US dollars on Kickstarter alone (since the start in 2009), and with this financing principle emerging in new markets through an ever increasing range of platforms, crowdfunding is indeed beginning to make out a significant institution in the realms of venture capital. Judging by the current craze surrounding this socio-economic phenomenon, it constitutes a most appealing alternative at that. It has popularly been portrayed, for instance, as a possibility for more peripheral actors, who find it difficult to convince traditional funding bodies of their potential value, to access faster and more flexible funding schemes, and get their means of subsistence directly from those who best understand and appreciate what is at stake. It has been seen as a possibility for creative and innovative actors to establish more intimate bonds to customers as well as other enthusiastic stakeholders, and learn from the collective wisdom they possess from the very start of the project. It has been seen as a possibility for different kind of originators to free themselves from established institutions and structures, and in a more direct and independent way take advantage of a a widespread fan base or a certain community spirit. In connection to this, it has also been seen as a possibility to reduce risk and uncertainty when initiating a new project – the first customers already being committed to it, with sales as well as further promotion thereby being secured through a loyal following.
But it is not only from the creator’s point of view that crowdfunding has been seen as altering the conditions for value creation in a favorable way. Also from the financiers’ perspective – that of the funding public, the crowd, the community – has it been seen as a possibility to retain a bit of power over the productive forces, and to exercise at least a tad bit of influence over where society is headed; it has been seen as a possibility to impact creative and intellectual developments, without having to rely on some intermediary to channel and redirect our benefactions, and our dreams and desires of the world of tomorrow. Moreover has it been said to provide a stimulating social activity that in itself may be fun, playful, and possibly induce collective action. One that, according to Kevin Lawton and Dan Marom (2013), caters to an inert human “need to support and feel involvement in the kinds of projects and companies that we care about”, and one that may help “galvanize a community” – to put it in the words of Seth Fine, co-director of the first crowdfunded film to win an Oscar (Murphy, 2013). [NOTE: On February 24, 2013, the short documentary Inocente became the first Kickstarter-funded film to receive an Oscar.]
All in all, the crowdfunding phenomenon has been portrayed as a major (potential) transformation of how capital is allocated to creative and intellectual developments. A revolution, even, of capital formation and financial markets, and at the same time a democratization movement, which circumvents the bottleneck constituted by established financial institutions and enables an ever-widening range of initiatives to be funded by broader segments of society. Insofar as it contributes to displacing the power over art and culture, technology and innovation, to the intersection between an interested public and creators who stand detached from the demands and desires of finance capital, this funding principle may certainly appear to hold a lot of promise.
Without renouncing the potential favors of crowdfunding, and without reducing this funding principle to one working dynamics, the paper seeks, in a first instance, to deconstruct the exhilarated discourse surrounding this phenomenon. This, so as to map out the assumed logic of its liberating potential, and the kind of power regime it is contrasted against. In a second instance, the paper goes on to explore the workings of the kind of productive machineries that this funding principle may in fact entail. With a particular interest in how crowdfunded ventures play on desire and feed off “inspired crowds”, it turns to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s political philosophy to conceptualize how the power relations at work in this kind of production may be constituted – how power may be distributed and how it may work within the kind of machineries encountered here, and particularly with respect to the desiring machines they mobilize and feed upon. Ultimately, the question that the paper circles around is how one may conceive of the political dimension of the creative energy that is mobilized by crowdfunded ventures, and liberated from the desires of financial capital, in exchange for that of the crowd.
Lawton, Kevin & Marom, Dan (2013) The Crowdfunding Revolution: How to Raise Venture Capital Using Social Media. MacGraw Hill eBooks.
Murphy, Samantha (2013) “Oscar Win Is a First for Kickstarter-Funded Film”, at Mashable.com, 130225. [Online: http://on.mash.to/15gCAYJ]