CALL FOR PAPERS: FIRST ISSUE of “Culture, Climate and Change: Biocultural Systems and Livelihoods”

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Are the Open Data Warriors Fighting for Robin Hood or the Sheriff?: Some Reflections on OKCon 2011 and the Emerging Data Divide (via Gurstein’s Community Informatics)

This is thoughtful posts in which Michael Gurstein contextualises his (much needed) critique of the Open Everything movement of – as he puts it – Ubergeeks. That is, the already empowered, highly technoliterate and most commonly white, Euro-males or their descendants or colonial favourites, to put it strongly and a bit exaggerated (in order to bring across the point).

Add to Gurstein’s critique the problem of materiality focused on in this blog, then we have a perfect means justifying the end (haha, only just realised this now, this is of course wrong)  instance of the end justifying the means and a waiting around for the trickle-down effect scenario. I.e. “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows”.

Perhaps it is time to talk of tech-neo-colonialism. Recall, that many – obviously deluded and misled, yet enthusiastic – white men and women were convinced that they were saving savages from miserable, inhuman livelihoods and – importantly – closed down societies and introducing them to the right (democratic) path. The road to hell……

I spent the last couple of days at a fascinating (and frightening) event in Berlin—OKCon—a convention for the (in this case mostly European) uber-geeks who are in the process of recreating governments and potentially governance itself in Western Europe (and beyond). The ideal that these nerdy revolutionaries are pursuing is not, as with previous generations—justice, freedom, democracy—rather it is “openness” as in Open Data, Open Information, Ope … Read More

via Gurstein’s Community Informatics

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All Ownership is Conditional (via Poor Richard’s Almanack 2010)

This is a good, informative piece revealing some important foundations of the jurisprudential (or legal and political philosophy) properties of property. All property relations are conditional – the concept of absolute ownership is an idea that serves a logical function in some liberal jurisprudence and a misleading rhetorical device for various uninformed libertarians with no social conscience.

Further details developed here:

Pedersen, J.M. (2010) “Properties of Property: A Jurisprudential Analysis“, The Commoner, Special Issue, Volume 14, Winter 2010, 137-210

All Ownership is Conditional All property ownership is conditional, and it always has been. This thousands-of-years-old doctrine is seldom appreciated or understood by modern activists, politicians, economists, or even by lawyers. Many on the Left criticize the institution of private property, sometimes finding in  it the root of all evil. They may hold the institution of private property … Read More

via Poor Richard’s Almanack 2010

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Misunderstanding the GNU General Public License: reciprocity in perpetuity

The GNU General Public License is a very interesting document from a jurisprudential point of view and from a commoning perspective. It gives structure to a software commons through its articulation of (conditional) reciprocity in perpetuity.  Free Software is therefore not an open-access commons, but have in the GPL a boundary that is only permeable under certain conditions, which prevent the software pool from drying up. The culture of hackers sitting at home and in their  work places coding while selling their labour for other purposes, however, is not protected from enclosure.  The development of Free Software code – including the design of graphical user interfaces, which in effect shape most people’s (cognitive) relations/interactions with cyberspace – is no longer an emergent property of global civil society, no longer led by voluntary associations (Debian being one of the main exceptions to prove the rule), but is controlled in corporate environments, led by such corporate giants as IBM and Novell, as well as Red Hat. That is, guided as the usual business.

A critical analysis of the GPL constitutes the main section(s) in “Free Software as Property” and is pasted below without page numbers, illustrations and some formatting mangled. Get the excerpt in PDF or the full chapter, or read on without page numbers and illustrations:

….These organisational lessons provided by the example of Free Software have been the subject of a paper by cyberspace visionary Douglas Rushkoff, originally written for the London think tank Demos:

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Property as social relations – not a thing!

There is a widespread misunderstanding that “property” – the term – refers to nouns, such as “house” or “car” or (piece of) “land”. That is not the case in law and philosophy, where property most commonly is understood as social relations with regard to things.

Here is an excerpt from ‘Properties of Property: A Jurisprudential Analysis‘ (pp: 160-165) that comes to terms with the basics of property as social relations. Get it with all formatting, footnotes, page numbers as intended in this PDF.

Property as social relations.

To begin with, then, we need to overcome the idea that property is a simple person-thing relation that implies an absolute (or even conditional) entitlement:

“We often think of property as some version of entitlement to things: I have a right to this thing or that. In a more sophisticated version of property, of course, we see property as a way of defining our relationships with other people. On such versions, my right to this thing or that isn’t about controlling the “thing” so much as it is about my relationship with you, and with everybody else in the world” (Rose 1993: 27-28)

Hohfeld’s matrix.

The more nuanced perspective can in great part be attributed to “a pivotal article” (ibid: 42, note 10) by Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld in which he outlined ‘Some Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning’ (1913). However, because the work of Hohfeld stands as a milestone in the liberal and legal positivist traditions, not much – if any – “politically radical” work has been built on his conceptions; indeed there is a general reluctance amongst anti-capitalists to engage with liberal jurisprudence, including structural analyses of property. This can be taken to reflect the conflation shared across the political spectrum and in the public imagination that property in general is seen as equal to the very particular social relations that exclusive, private property rights give rise to. Or, private property rights, particular to capitalism, are understood as property in general. Writing on property often does not unpack a given instance of property properly, but for instance merely states that “property is theft”. That is in itself a false reference, since Proudhon arguably was among the first to seriously analyse and unpack the idea of private property, which he did not simply write off as theft (Waldron 1988)1.

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The Commoner / Call for Contributions: Property, Commoning and Commons

Two Volume Special Issue of The Commoner: Property, Commoning and Commons

Call for Contributions to Volume 2:

Download a PDF of the call.


In legal and philosophical terms the organisation of a commons is encoded into property protocols, which structure its use, access and decision-making rights and responsibilities. Property, then, is central to debates about commons and commoning: how do commoners relate to each other with regard to a given resource and how is a commons defined vis-a-vis the rest of the world?

As discussed in Volume 1, property relations are not only exclusive, private property rights as instantiated within capitalist democracy (a particular conception of property). As a jurisprudential concept, property can be used to understand, analyse, reflect upon and organise social relations with regard to things in any context (the general conception of property). The conflation of the general with the particular conceals the historical and anthropological fact that property can be and is understood (very) differently and hence consolidates existing property regimes.

The purpose of this two volume Special Issue is to instigate further debate about property, commoning and commons. The call for contributions to the second volume continues on page two, following details about the first volume. Continue reading

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The distribution of care and the tragedy of the commons – Hardin’s misappropriation of Aristotle.

This is an excerpt that introduces Garrett Hardin’s influential fiction about a tragedy of commons and reveals its misappropriation of Aristotle’s concept of distribution of care. While there is little of philosophical interest in Hardin’s fiction, it has had a tremendous impact on policy – it is one of the most important gospels of privatisation in the early stages of neoliberalism. May it rest in peace…..

The excerpt is without page numbers and with the footnotes as endnotes and other bits of formatting (especially lost italics for emphases) mangled in the transition from to WordPress.  If you want proper formatting, get this excerpted PDF (pages 143-152), or the full chapter or the entire essay. See also ‘Free Software as Property’ for an application of the critique.

The distribution of care and the tragedy of the commons.

The Tragedy of the Commons (Hardin 1968) is a story that has been much debated since its publication, but the terrain that it covers is not new. It can be traced back to the distribution of care, a philosophical concept first introduced by Aristotle. The distribution of care concerns who takes care of what and how with regard to goods and resources. For Aristotle, care would be most adequately administered if distributed to individuals, not managed in commons. He took note of “how immeasurably greater” the pleasure is, “when a man feels a thing to be his own” (Aristotle, Politics, Book 2, Part 5). Accordingly, he did not have great sympathy for commons:

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