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Communes, Commonism and Co-ops: Rethinking the university as a hackerspace


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My abstract for the British HCI conference 2015 at the University of Lincoln. I'm on the 'HCI, politics and activism' panel.

In this talk I reflect on the history of hacking and its origins in the 'commune' of the academy (Winn, 2013). I then discuss the role of Copyleft licenses (Stallman, 2010) as "the practical manifestation of a social structure" (Weber, 2004, 85; Winn, 2015); a form of administration for the production of 'commonism' (Dyer-Witheford, 2007; Neary and Winn, 2012). Finally, I argue that the emerging form of 'open co-operative' can be understood as a latent material response to Stallman's original predicament when Venture Capitalism took over his 'Garden of Eden': mutual ownership and control of knowledge production. Significantly, the "crucial innovation" for an emerging form of 'open co-operative' (Bauwens, 2014) is a further adaptation of Copyleft called Commons-Based Reciprocity Licenses, or 'Copyfarleft' (Kleiner, 2007), thereby uniting co-operative legal structures with subversive licensing contracts. To what extent can we reconstitute higher education and the idea of the university along the lines of an open co-operative, so that academic science can continue to contribute to the common good? (Winn, 2015) All Power to the Communes!

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Communes, Commonism and Co-ops: Rethinking the university as a hackerspace

  1. 1. Communes, Commonism and Co-ops: Rethinking the University as a Hackerspace Joss Winn @josswinn School of Education University of Lincoln
  2. 2. What’s your university ‘Intellectual Property’ policy? •  Employment (wage labour) contract •  Copyright, designs and patents act of 1988, sections 11 and 215: “ownership of any such property that has come into existence in the course of employment is vested in the employer”. •  Exceptions: ‘scholarly work’, teaching resources, etc.
  3. 3. Stallman’s Commune •  History of MIT/hacking: Consultancy, patents, investment of war capital (1940) but no means to take basic research to market. Science: The Endless Frontier (1945). Redefined role of universities. ‘Linear model’ of innovation. ‘Technology transfer’. Harvard/MIT invention of Venture Capital (1947). DEC (1951). Software wars (1982-3). Stallman leaves (1984). Copyleft/GPL (1989) •  “EMACS commune”. “Distributed on a basis of communal sharing”. “…you are joining the EMACS software-sharing commune.” •  Academic labour. Hacker values/ethic are academic values (Winn, 2013)
  4. 4. Venture capital in the “Garden of Eden” •  “’It was a bit like the Garden of Eden,’ says Stallman, summing up the lab and its software-sharing ethos in a 1998 Forbes article. ‘It hadn’t occurred to us not to co- operate.’” •  “Over time, Emacs became a sales tool for the hacker ethic. The flexibility Stallman had built into the software not only encouraged collaboration, it demanded it.” (Stallman  and  Williams,  2010)  
  5. 5. Commonism •  Nick Dyer-Witheford: Commonism •  Mike Neary: Anti-value in motion •  Tony Smith: “Lacking an adequate concept of capital, [Benkler] lacks an adequate appreciation of the totalizing force of the commodification and valorization imperatives.” •  Guido Starosta: ‘total capital’ (Marx). “the real determination of value actually transcends the isolated single commodity as such.” •  Gigi Roggero: Institutions of the Commons / ‘living knowledge’. The university as the site of social struggle. (Neary and Winn, 2012)
  6. 6. Licenses as administration Weber argues that for open source communities, ‘licenses act as the practical manifestation of a social structure that underlies the open source process’. The use of these licenses acts as ‘an ordering device’ in the absence of an organisation so that ‘licensing schemes are, in fact, the major formal social structure surrounding open source’ (Weber 2004, 85)
  7. 7. Commons-based reciprocity licenses •  Peer Production License (Dmytri Kleiner) – ‘Copyfarleft’ •  The PPL is based on the CC BY-NC-SA v3.0 license with an additional restriction that favours worker co-operatives (anti wage-labour, pro common ownership)
  8. 8. 1)  the commons are open to non-commercial usage 2)  the commons are open to common good institutions 3)  the commons are open to for-profit enterprises who contribute to the commons. “The exception introduced here is that for-profit companies that do not contribute to the commons have to pay for the use of the license. This is not primarily to generate income, but to introduce the notion of reciprocity in the market economy. In other words, the aim is to create an ethical economy, a non-capitalist market dynamic.” (Bauwens 2014) (Winn, 2015a)
  9. 9. Open Co-ops 1.  That coops need to be statutorily (internally) oriented towards the common good 2.  That coops need to have governance models including all stakeholders 3.  That coops need to actively co-produce the creation of immaterial and material commons (‘crucial innovation’ – Commons-Based Reciprocity Licenses) 4.  That coops need to be organized socially and politically on a global basis, even as they produce locally. (Bauwens  and  Kostakis,  2014)   (Winn,  2015a)  
  10. 10. Platform Co-operativism Trebor Scholz: ‘Platform Co-operativism’ (cf. ‘digital labour’ research) “Worker-owned cooperatives could design their own apps-based platforms, fostering truly peer-to-peer ways of providing services and things, and speak alternatives to the new platform capitalists. Cooperative might then be able to use regulatory templates, created by companies like Uber, created at the frontiers of regulation.” (Scholz, 2015)
  11. 11. Co-operative University 1.  Conversion 2.  Dissolution 3.  Creation 1.  The co-operative movement (social history, critique of political economy) 2.  Co-operative organisation (governance, legal structures, i.e. labour and property) 3.  Co-operative learning (re- learning how to learn) (Winn, 2015b) 1.  Pedagogy 2.  Governance 3.  Legal framework 4.  Business Models 5.  Trans-national networks
  12. 12. References Bauwens, Michel and Kostakis, Vasilis (2014) From the communism of capital to capital for the commons: Towards an open co- operativism. tripleC, 12 (1) Dyer-Witheford, Nick (2007) Commonism. Turbulence, 1. Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2012) Open education: common(s), commonism and the new common wealth. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 12 (4). pp. 406-422. Scholz, Trebor (2015) Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy. Smith, Tony (2012) Is Socialism Relevant in the “Networked Information Age”? A Critical Assessment of the Wealth of Networks. In: Taking Socialism Seriously (eds.) Schmitt, Richard and Anton, Anatole. Lanham: Lexington Books. Starosta, Guido (2012) Cognitive Commodities and the Value-Form, Science & Society, 76 (3) 365-392. Stallman, Richard and Williams, Sam (2010) Free as in Freedom (2.0): Richard Stallman and the Free Software Revolution, Boston: Free Software Foundation. Weber, Steven (2004) The Success of Open Source. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Winn, Joss (2013) Hacking in the university: contesting the valorisation of academic labour, Triple C : Communication, Capitalism and Critique, 11 (2) 486-503. Winn, Joss (2015a) Open Education and the emancipation of academic labour. Learning, Media and Technology, 40 (3). Winn, Joss (2015b) The co-operative university: Labour, property and pedagogy. Power and Education, 7 (1). pp. 39-55.